Unschooling Lets Kids Control Their Own Minds and
By Wendy Priesnitz
Appearing to hang around and do nothing at all is
dangerous – whether you’re a teenager in a public place, an adult at
work, or a child in school (or even in some homeschool settings).
Inactivity is perhaps one of the most frowned upon states in our
culture. And certainly, many parents get nervous when their kids don’t
seem to be accomplishing anything – especially something that the
parents have organized or mandated. Adults are “supposed” to organize,
and kids partake…at least until they turn a certain age (18 maybe), at
which point they’re supposed to miraculously know how to take control of
their own lives. In fact, the danger of allowing kids to control their
own minds and activities may be one of the main concerns many people
have about unschooling.
I can recall sitting at my desk in school as a
child, pretending to read a text book as a cover for thinking (or
“daydreaming” as it was derisively called), or practicing looking
attentive while the teacher was talking and my mind was somewhere else
entirely. I knew that she wasn’t in charge of my mind or my life, but I
had internalized the message that such realizations were subversive, and
that it would be disruptive for me not to hide that knowledge.
Nevertheless, unlike some of my peers – most often boys – I got away
with going my own way in school because I was an otherwise well-behaved
girl who got good marks.
And now, because I’m a well-dressed and groomed
adult, I get away with “loitering” in public places listening to music,
observing the passersby (because that’s what writers do!), or scribbling
in my journal.
Years ago, my unschooling daughters weren’t always
so lucky when they spent time in public seeming to be nonproductive, and
found themselves being looked upon distrustfully by many adults. But
their freedom to direct their own childhood thoughts, time, activity,
and learning helped them become the productive, balanced, happy,
inquisitive, aware, free-thinking adults they are today.
Not all kids are so lucky. As I was loitering this
morning at my favorite sidewalk café, I listened to a couple of moms
feverishly programming their children’s upcoming activities, apparently
unwilling to leave a single minute unorganized and dangerously
nonproductive. Not for those kids any time to watch ants crawl along the
sidewalk, to play in the snow, ride their bikes, or skate aimlessly
around the rink, just for the sake of enjoying skating; no time to
consolidate or expand upon any bit of information they might remember
from the whirlwind of facts jammed into their brains at school, no time
to think or to daydream. No, they might miss an opportunity to “learn,”
to advance their school careers, to compete in an organized,
skill-building activity. No time to learn how to think for themselves.
That would threaten adults’ erroneous belief that they are in change of
their children’s minds and their learning.
Now that is dangerous, as I knew so well as a child
in school. But just think what a world it would be if we could embrace
that danger and any risk why might think it entailed…if all adults
respected children’s ability to think for themselves and trusted that
they could learn what they need to know. What if adults could put aside
their doubts about kids and their need to control them and, instead,
could partner with them in everybody’s best interest? What a world it
would be, indeed.
Wendy Priesnitz is Life Learning Magazine's editor, an
unschooling pioneer, the author of twelve books, a
journalist with over 35 years of experience, and the mother
of two adults daughters who learned without school in the
1970s and '80s.
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