Allright. So we keep having the conversation with significant people in our lives about our children, and why they don’t go to school, and whether or not we’re ‘properly’ homeschooling them, and whether we’re damaging or neglecting their needs by unschooling them………. And I’m finally prompted to find other homeschooling/unschooling groups, parents, kids and ideas, and do some reading about what I know from instinct and my life experience is complete and total common sense. And I’ve been amazed at just how many contacts, and web pages, and resources, and groups, and camps, and books, and articles are available. But before I completely dive into the world of the radical unschooler or natural learner (which I suspect we’ve actually been for a very long time), I feel it’s important to clearly state my OWN reasons, experiences, philosophies and life learnings that have led me to this position I’ve taken, on keeping my kids at home and close to us and each other.
One of the biggest reasons is a philosophical thread that Currawong and I have been on for years now – and we called it the Human Animal Liberation Foundation – or the HALF movement, because we believe you’re only half alive unless you come to terms with the fact that you’re an animal……like the rest of the creatures on the planet. And if you’re tempted to instantly protest about how humans are different, how they are conscious sentient beings, or how they have souls, or how we’re at the top of the evolutionary scale, I have these things to say to you. Firstly, how and why are we different?? Don’t we have the same bits, needs and habits as other mammals?? And secondly about consciousness……modern science has pretty much agreed that consciousness exists in the frontal lobe, and guess what…..our frontal lobes are about 10 times smaller than whales and dolphins….which we kill and eat. And as for souls, who made you an expert on souls and who has them?? There is as much diverse discussion on what a ‘soul’ is as raindrops in an ocean, so if no one can agree, how can any decisions be made about who ‘has’ them?? Talk to any person who has an animal friend and try to tell them their friend doesn’t have a soul…..at best you’ll be very unpopular. And as for being at the top of the evolutionary ladder, just tell me what other species on the planet kills on such a grand scale for territorial or religious reasons, and which other species shits in their nest as badly as us? What may appear as intelligence on viewing human achievement, can just as easily be seen as completely stupid, as our earth damaging practices defy even the biggest head in the sand tactics. So back to my point, we’re animals like all the rest of the creatures on the planet – we eat, sleep, procreate, drink and decompose back into the earth like everything else. And not only are we animals, but we’re the most domesticated animals on the planet. We proudly farm our ‘domesticated’ animals, and monoculture wild panoramas out of existence, whilst in complete denial that everything we do to them, we do to ourselves. Except we do it more to ourselves than any other animal on the planet. No other animal in it’s natural state has to ask permission to shit or wee or do it in allocated places, follow road rules and school rules and council rules and government rules, give over power of their lives and children and days and nights to bosses and mortgages and ‘media’. Follow the prescribed paths like rats in a maze, and then lock ourselves into our own cages at night. I could go on and on as you may well gather, but I reckon you’ve got the jist of my thinking. Which brings me back to the whole unschooling or free learning concept. I look at conventional schooling, and then I look at all the other mammal babies, and I wonder why we insist on expecting so incredibly much from our younglings!! I often refer to our children as baby lions, especially when they’re rolling round wrestling and giggling, or running stampede like through a supermarket, or screaming for the pure joy of being alive…..and I wonder why so many people see this behavior and want to make them sit and be quiet, and cross their legs with their backs straight, and suppress their natural curiosity and desires, and talk only when spoken to, and perform a myriad of tests and rote learnings and parrot style education. Other young mammals are pretty much left alone to explore their surroundings and limitations, to explore what their bodies can do, to watch and learn from observation of their parents and packs, and follow their mothers around and learn about what they’ll need to do when they get bigger. When they get too annoying or in the way they get a swift bite or kick from whichever elder member they’ve pissed off, and they get the point, and go gamboll somewhere else. In comparison to human years, it’s only when other mammal babies get to their teenage years, that they come out of the observers seat and start to join in the adult occupations. Why can’t our human babies enjoy the same kind of freedom??
After watching my eldest daughter go through a myriad of wonderful and nightmarish schooling experiences, and also in watching my other 4 children when they have tried school and when they socialize in general, I’m very aware of how utterly exhausting it is for little people to socially interact. Our kids go to a park or play at a friends house for a morning, and they’re totally whacked. To see, perceive, adjust, perform, run, observe, guage a stranger’s emotions, read cues, and impress, takes a hell of a lot of their entire being, and they often sleep early and soundly after any social interaction. A lot more goes into these social interactions than we may realize or remember. I often watch my children change their behavior completely, depending on the expectations of the people (particularly adults) around them. For example, a person who has the opinion that they’re loud, noisy and annoying, will often co-create loud, noisy and annoying behavior in them. And someone who perceives them as intelligent and fun to be around will get that from them. What a huge amount of perception and behavior modification must go into that behavioural trait, to pick up on it for a start, and then to enact on the expectations they perceive. And again in my experience, I just think that expecting them to do this for 6 plus hours a day, 5 days a week, is just too punishing on little beings who are still working out who they are, and feeling their way into their lives. When my kids have gone to school, they’ve spent almost as much time debriefing from the experience as they have done experiencing it. Releasing the pent up emotions and the strain of interaction and the frustration at having to suppress parts of their nature before finally being able to relax and be themselves again….or at least what I expect as themselves….it’s worth pondering how much our expectations have an impact on our children’s behavior.
I see unschooling or natural learning as a continuation of the ‘continuum concept’ – whereby it’s far kinder, more life instructive, and easier on everybodies resources to see kids as passive observers at first, watching grown ups live, to work out how to do it themselves when they grow. And to be taught ‘real’ things, and concepts, and stories, and advice, rather than what we do to our kids in western cultures. We put them in artificial, plastic, brightly coloured fake environments, give them toys that usually bear no resemblance whatsoever to practical tools and everyday items, talk to them in stupid voices and give them dumbed down baby versions of reality, treat them like little princes, princesses and consumers, let them roam around the social environment with no boundaries and be little brats a lot of the time, and then all of a sudden, at an unannounced and unprepared time, usually when they hit their teens, we change all the rules completely, expect them to catch up instantly with ‘growing up’, tell them that they’ve got to make big decisions that will impact on the rest of their lives, and start telling them the ‘truth’ about stuff, that often leaves a youngun angry and frustrated at a hypocritical, betraying, parental and authoritative hierarchy. All at the same time as we give them over to the care of strangers for a large portion of their lives, and often give them the message that they’re ‘hard work’ and that huge and onerous sacrifices have to be made for them, usually at the expense of their parents life, liberty and freedom. And I haven’t even touched on the birth experience and what that sets up within an individual. There’s a beautiful quote by Anne Sullivan, who was the teacher of Helen Keller that goes….
“I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built upon the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think. Whereas, if the child is left to himself, he will think more and better, if less showily. Let him go and come freely, let him touch real things and combine his impressions for himself, instead of sitting indoors at a little round table, while a sweet-voiced teacher suggests that he build a stone wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow out of strips of coloured paper, or plant straw trees in bead flower-pots. Such teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of, before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experience”
Couldn’t have said it better myself. Which brings me to another point. In all our searching for the perfect ‘schooling’ environment for our children and us, we more often than not found in talking to other parents, the concept that they weren’t actually happy with the schooling version they’d opted for, but considering they could never deal with their children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, had decided that a compromise for cheap or functional child care was worth the few worries. When did we collectively decide that the children we co-create in love and grow in our wombs are actually too much work for us, a hassle, and infringing on our lives?? For the majority of our species existence on the planet pre industrial revolution, when we were living agrarian, interdependent and survival based lives in close knit communities and family units, do we have records of the stress involved in child care, and the desperate urge of parents to offload their children onto strangers? Or do we have stories of cohesive, collaborative, co-operative family units that shared the tasks of survival and a close bond at the same time?? Do we maybe have so many ‘youth’ problems because they’re pissed off at feeling unwanted?? After being brought into life without consultation, being told that you’re a burden and a lode stone??
“The founding fathers in their wisdom decided that children were an unnatural strain on parents. So they provided jails called schools, equipped with tortures called education. School is where you go between when your parents can’t take you and industry can’t take you” John Updike
We actually really love our children. We love watching them learn things and be awed by insects and spider webs and birds in knot holes. We love the spirit and the creativity with which they approach life. We love the complete and total focus and absorbtion they show when we’re telling them something they’re REALLY interested in They go completely silent and still, and it’s like their whole bodies are open and taking the information in on all the levels available to them. And we love the hard, frustrating, angry bits between us all too, because they provide grounds for us all to learn how to get on with each other better, to think about other people, and to adjust our behaviours to improve our relationships. We love watching their independence emerge, and giving them the freedom to express whatever mood they’re in. And learning how to overcome our parents patterns and habits enough that we can become better parents, and set up healthier blue prints for our children to parent from.
But one of my greatest reasons and urges that leads me towards unschooling or natural learning is my own life experience, that has shown me time and time again, that lessons that I learn for myself, in my own way, and from my own experiences, are far deeper, richer, and connected knowings that keep growing and interlacing with my other knowings and being built upon, to create wider and deeper wisdoms and truths for myself. Or more simply, all the best things I’ve learnt in my life, I’ve learnt on my own, from my own experiences and comparisons. Time and time again, in groups of salespeople, or religious folk, or inspirational speakers, or teachers, when they’ve pulled out the ‘inspirational or educational’ story, that’s usually come from a manual or someone else, I’ve had a far better story from my own experience that happened to me and I learnt from. We’ve all been so disempowered by our own schooling and societal expectations, that we think our narrow western culture is full of choice, and forgotten the galaxies, universes and worlds that are yet to be explored if we only remembered they exist! We’ve been taught in a standardized, universal manner that there’s only certain realities and truths, that can only be accessed by certain people…..or as Ivan Illich puts it…..
“Schools are designed on the assumption that there is a secret to everything in life, that the quality of life depends upon knowing that secret, that secrets can only be known in orderly successions, and that only teachers can properly reveal these secrets. An individual with a schooled mind conceives of the world as a pyramid of classified packages accessable only to those who carry the proper tags”
A prime example of what I’m trying to convey is spinning. My mum bought me a spinning wheel as a birthing present when I was 30, sat me down, told me to spin one way, ply the other way, and learn when to stop. Then walked out. That was it. I sat, and I tried and fumbled, and sat up till 3 in the morning for a couple of weeks so no-one could see me look awkward, and I got it. And went off. I spun a lot and got a lot of fleece and started making hats and jumpers and totally delighted in it. Expecting from the stories I’d heard that if I went to the Spinners & Weavers Guild they’d fall over themselves in delight, I went along and was shocked to be completely ignored. Not only was I a bit ‘different’, but I was a new spinner who was bringing along big garments I’d made, had taught myself, and was doing stuff that THEY didn’t know about (yet). They were horrified. I didn’t fit the mold of the submissive supplicant begging their wisdom at all. So they ignored me for 3 months, then finally made friends with me, then learnt from me, then pretended that they’d learnt what I’d taught them themselves. But there were also a sizable group of other women, who did celebrate what I was doing, and admired my difference. But I just didn’t fit with the accepted paradigm. So I kept going my own way, and felt rejected and the like, and thought it was all a bit sad, till a few years later when we were travelling round the country selling my spun out, self taught wares, and sold a beautiful mantle from single ply mohair to a fellow stallholder at Eumundi. She got so inspired by me she decided she was going to learn how to spin, got herself a wheel, and decided to go to the local Guild in a few days. She asked me along, and I turned up a bit late with a suitcase full of single ply mohair creations that tripped them out completely, and only found out later that my friend had spent the first half hour before I’d got there, being told in no uncertain terms that you COULDN’T spin mohair on it’s own, it HAD to be blended, and there was CERTAINLY NO WAY that you could spin mohair single ply…… I realized then that it was really fortunate that I hadn’t been enfolded in the arms of a Guild, because they would have filled my head with rules that might have taken me years to unlearn. But I also need to mention that I did an introduction to spinning class, which taught me a lot of basics about staples and spinning and spinning wheels and fleeces, which I found interesting and still usefull. But I mostly had a purely personal, explorative and expansive learning experience, with no boundaries, and to this day, after much searching on the net I can say unequivocably that there’s nobody else in the world that crochets and creates like me. And the only reason that is so, is that I taught myself. Of course there’s a whole lot more to this story to furnish my point but that’s enough for now. I was fortunate to learn from my spinning experience what these great men found in their lives also…..
“The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education” Albert Einstein
“I never have let schooling interfere with my education” Mark Twain
“The only time my education was interrupted was when I was in school” George Bernard Shaw
But do you know the most profound result of my spinning experience, that has gone on to influence every single part of my life? In realizing that there were whole worlds to be yet explored from striking out on my own and following my own instincts, I also started comparing the rich and unlimited world I resided in creatively, with the societally accepted creative world. Most people when they want to knit or crochet, go to a wool shop, buy a pattern, needles and wool, and follow that pattern, that’s most likely a rehash of a pattern from the 50’s, which is a process that I engaged in many times before I learnt how to spin, but in comparison such an incredibly narrow paradigm compared to me spinning a yarn, creating a concept, weaving in feathers, beads or raffia, playing around constantly with the tools I use, and always making something different. And from this lesson, I started to realize that this is actually a pattern repeated throughout our whole society. We’ve been trained like lab rats to think that we live in a consumer led society full of choice and limitless possibilities, and we’re really living in tiny fishbowls. We think we’ve got housing choices because we can choose from the 5 different designs from a housing developer, and maybe if we’re radical we can choose between mudbrick and strawbale, but what about tree houses and caves and yurts and gypsy vans and ferro concrete structures and trucks and buses and cars made into underground grottoes and underground temples and hobbit homes and dogs piled on an indigenous woman for shelter? And all the other possibilities shown and written about in the incredible book “Shelter”. We think we have choice in our goods because we have a range of shops in those horrible super malls that are all owned by the same corporation, and have forgotten the hand made furniture, pottery, clothes, furnishings, rugs, shelving, bedding and artworks that are possible coming from the unlimited creativity of passionate artisans. We think we have a choice in food because we have so many ‘products’ and name brands available in our shops, and we’ve forgotten bush food, and home grown and made food and a huge range of vegetable and fruit heirloom varieties that have been lost to us because they weren’t attractive to mass production and supermarkets. We think we have a huge range of musical and entertainment options, when most of our music and media comes from corporations who have agendas to make profits, and have well and truly shaped and honed their musicians and movies before they are allowed into the mainstream, (incidentally, most movies obsessively display the ‘one man against the world’ scenario, over and over), and a lot of which has gone through the ‘appropriate’ channels of learning music and acting in ‘schools’. Most of these modern royalty are hugely wealthy, and we talk about them as if they’re our family, yet we’re never likely to meet them let alone talk to them. And we’ve forgotten the huge richness and community available in self taught musicians playing improvised music, local theatre groups performing self created plays, public gatherings of theatre sports, community get togethers around fires telling stories, and a myriad of other ways we can have music and entertainment on a local, real, handmade, inspired and improvised level. We think we have a large range of religions and belief systems, but in essence we have many varieties on similar themes, all of which are pre-packaged and have their resident prophets, mystics, messiahs etc, that followers are expected to follow and quote ad nauseum. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about ‘pre-packaged’ beliefs versus self taught beliefs or beliefs based on your own life experience. And it occurs to me that we are all multidiverse beings completely unique in our experiences, and anytime you purchase a pre-packaged belief there’s bound to be parts of you that don’t quite fit. Which tends to sit at the back of your head as a vague insecurity, and many religions solve this insecurity by trying to get as many other people as possible to believe what they believe, under the umbrella of the more the merrier, and the easier to believe you’re ‘right’. The basis of many of our world conflicts in fact is this urge to get other people to believe the same things so there’s strength in numbers. Which just smacks of insecurity to me. Whereas I have a spirituality and belief system that is a bit from here and a bit from there, and an experience here and a nice story there, and I know other people who are the same, and the remarkable thing about self made beliefs is the complete lack of insecurity. Because it’s a custom fit. None of the people (or me) who I know, who have self created beliefs, feel any need whatsoever to convince other people that we’re ‘right’. Because we’ve created our own, we’re perfectly happy to respect other peoples versions of spirit. There are no unfitting bits. Imagine how our collective spiritualities could grow, learn and expand if we moved away from pre-packaged beliefs and really worked hard towards working out our own ways. Imagine how much respect and true acceptance for other people could be felt. We think we have a huge range of philosophies and educational schools of thought and concepts and bodies of knowledge because that’s what we’ve been taught in schools and universities, but how much have we lost by subjecting our children to standardized education?? How many thoughts could be created from an ‘untrained’ mind, supported and allowed the freedom to range freely through an unlimited universe of possibilities??
And just before I move on, to take a bit of a side step into music, my soul mate Currawong has had a parallel journey with his self taught and improvised drumming, that I’ve had with spinning and creating. He began in a truly transformative and trancelike experience, drumming for the first time on a beach in front of a fire on new years eve, and he sank into his body and went into a trance and became the rhythm and was so lost to a blissfull reconnection with his innate rhythm within, that he felt like he became a snake. Many people that night were blown away by the fact that it was the first time he’d ever drummed. And afterwards, when the magic had dimmed a little, he kept drumming, and he drummed at the market we’d created with all the other drummers. In spite of being told to ‘stop that noise!’ and ‘get off your drum!’ and ‘you’re not a drummer’ and being told over and over to go and ‘learn how to drum properly’, he kept trust with his intuition and inner rhythm and kept doing his own thing. And in spite of a seemingly endless panorama of African trained drum rhythms and Eastern traditions and all the schools of ‘proper’ drumming, he kept going his unique way and kept trying to chase his own drumming. On our trip round the country he bumped into an enormous African man who had taught himself to drum on his mothers kitchen table while she danced, and had only had a real drum for a short time. This man was as fluid and expressive as all the other drummers I’d seen (apart from Currawong) were stiff and rigid. His hands danced over the skins and the energy he emitted was huge. Currawong was wrapped and absorbed everything completely, and finally felt supported in his own way. This man also told him to be who he was, and stay with his passion, and sit on as many drums as he liked and do it his own way. Which he has to this day. Regardless of coming across many other ‘properly trained’ drummers along the way, who, intimidated by his uniqueness and completely wild talent have kept trying to tell him that he’s untalented, and miss-timing, and ‘should’ be doing so much more, and keep trying to assert authority over him. Yet his untrained passion has taken him to places and met people and given energy to others that out surpasses any experience the ‘properly trained’ drummers can offer. And funnily enough, though they wont admit it, many of them have started modeling parts of their drumming on him and his improvised wildness. Another example in music, did you know that in the 17th- 19th centuries, it was considered an essential part of a composers repertoire to be able to completely improvise for 15 minutes in a performance? And if he couldn’t do this, was considered to be only half a musician?? And now we have classical musical training that has honed pieces of music hundreds of years old to ridiculous lengths, and most musicians, like trained monkeys, can play these pieces perfectly, but flounder when it comes to playing anything else, let alone improvise? Do you think we’ve gained or lost by becoming such ‘trained’ specialists??
Now we come to my personal experience of school. It was absolutely horrendous. I have no memories until I’m 7 when my father died and I started actively participating in my life and remembering things, but one of my first memories is being teased soon after my fathers death that my ‘dad was squashed like a tomato’. So I got ‘headaches’ every morning for a year, and thankfully my mother let me stay home. At one point, worried about what I was ‘missing out’ on, my mother went to talk to my teacher, who told her that primary school was mainly for getting childhood diseases out of the way, and learning the basics of reading writing and arithmatic. Most of which I’d taught myself anyway, and she said I was so far ahead I could probably miss out on two years and not suffer. She thanked my mother for teaching me to read, and my mother said she thought the teacher had taught me to read….in actuality I’d taught myself. School was full of teasing, harassment, fair-weather friends, moody teachers, sexual harassment, coercion, disempowerment, hierarchies, control….this list of negative words goes on and on. I was taller than most of the boys, had long socks and long skirts, was a fundamentalist Christian, wore think glasses, and had braces on my teeth. You can imagine how popular I was. Most of my schooling was spent in deep depression, and a kind of furze of waiting….waiting for it to be over. Of course there were happy times and the odd inspirational teacher and experience, but I’d have to say to this day that there is not a single thing I learnt that I’ve retained in my memory and use regularly. I take quite a bit of pride in the fact that I got through schooling and never learnt my times table. And guess what. I’ve never suffered from that fact. I did have one very clear moment of epiphany however, in year 8. I was walking the school grounds with a friend, and in a very clear moment of realization, told her that I reckoned that if you could put a baby in a bubble, and only ever feed it positive statements, and tell it how it could walk on water and fly and heal and read thoughts and any other wonderful thing that you could imagine, and made sure that all the negative statements and people who would say otherwise and tell them all the scientific ‘facts’ were kept away, that you could release them from the bubble and they would do all those things and more. Maybe I was on to something…..
At 14 I left home and went from school to school for a while, in a string of disempowering experiences where I learnt how hard it can be to try and crack your way into groups of children who have been subjected to standardized learning in static social groups. My life experience was already starting to outrun those of the other children around me – they were still living in their family homes for a start – and I found the patronizing manner of teachers expecting me to have led a sheltered life chafeing. So I left school. At the end of year 11. And decided to take the money that was the legacy of my father’s death and go backpacking and hitchhiking overseas. You have no idea how many people in my life told me I was an idiot. I should put a deposit on some land, or buy a car, or put it in a special bank account, or do a myriad of other more sensible things with my money. And leaving at the end of year 11?? How shortsighted, how stupid when there’s only a year left to go, and I was so nearly finished!!
It was the best thing I ever did. I learnt so much about me away from my family and friends, and about the world, and how differently and similar other people lived, and how every country comes up with their own words for other countries rather than there being only one descriptive word, and how to scull beer, and how to make friends, and how many ways of being there were in the world….at least in Europe.
And years later after many more independent learnings and experiences, I decided to try university. I realized that I’d always had a chip on my shoulder about university. I’d always thought I was clever, but deep down suspected that if I had to compare my brain to the university brain, I’d come up lacking. An attitude seriously supported by the majority of university students I met who had that “I’m the only one who knows the TRUTH because I’ve been to university, so don’t bore me with your folk wisdom” attitude. So off I went. Unfortunately (or fortunately more like) for me, I’d lived with my sister in the halcyon days of university when it was all free, and was what people did while they worked out what they REALLY wanted to do with their lives, and full of radicals, and artists and performers and delightful eccentrics. I walked into high priced modern university and was horrified by what I saw. There was a whole mob of serious 18 year old babies, who were sitting in their classes in the getting to know you sessions, and when asked about themselves and lives and why they were there, were stating they were there to be a such and such, and expected to earn so many thousand a year when they got out of university. All wearing conservative name brand uniforms, and all rather bland. I learnt very quickly that getting good marks in university was nothing to do with intelligence, and everything to do with how well you could read your lecturer, and give them exactly what they wanted, and reflect their version of the ‘truth’ with lots of quotes and references from university sanctioned books, which were written by other university students, who had got to the top and were allowed to publish ‘the truth’ as a reward for their years of study, sequestration, self denial, and parrotesque learning. Funny how after that they all agree……. I also learnt a lot when I sat in a philosophy class, and two young girls stood up after two sessions and told the class that they were pulling out, because they hadn’t learnt to ‘think like that’ at school, and to delve into these age old (and rather boring) arguments that were meant to stretch and tease the mind was just too hard. It struck me then like a bolt from the blue that school was basically a procedure that trained you mostly to follow orders and time schedules, shut up and be passive, and if you happened to fall through the net and enjoy your torture, you went on to university to continue it on a ‘higher’ level, and if you didn’t (which is actually probably preferred) you went on to be factory, business or military fodder. And when you did get to university, you had to be thoroughly enculturated and ‘trained’ before you were allowed to actually develop ideas and opinions of your own. It occurred to me that the greek and roman ideal of universities being places of unbiased, seeking, and independent thought was a crock of shit in the modern day. To my mind, universities are glorified TAFE’s, that are basically teaching job training in a self aggrandized and pompous way. I didn’t see any ‘higher thought’ going on.
“School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is” Ivan Illich in his book Deschooling Society
I stayed for 6 months, did an essay in philosophy that answered dualism with a combination of animism, pan psychism, and quantum physics, and it was so deep that my tutor didn’t even understand it. She passed it on to the head of the philosophy department, who gave me a high distinction, and told her that the argument I put forth was one that was being discussed in the higher eschelons of philosophical and quantum physical realms, and that if I stuck with my argument I’d be able to do a doctors or thesis on it in the future. I had my answer. My brain worked. And it compared well to the university trained brain. I realized I was starting to use big words and get a bit arrogant and trying to bamboozle people with my vocabulary, and that my natural creative process was beginning to be changed, and I quit. Happy with what I’d learnt. And glad for the experience. As Noam Chomsky says….
“The whole educational and professional training system is a very elaborate filter, which just weeds out people who are too independent, and who think for themselves, and who don’t know how to be submissive, and so on – because they’re dysfunctional to the institutions”
“We are students of words, we are shut up in schools, and colleges, and recitation rooms, for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bag of wind, a memory of words, and do not know a thing” Ralph Waldo Emerson
My partner Currawong had a maybe even more horrendous time at school. In kindergarten, when a boy was accidentally injured by a group of boys of which he was one, he was singled out and dragged before the class and screamed at and derided until he was a blithering mess. Welcome to school. Then there is another memory of writing letters in different colours, thinking that he was being really clever and creative. His teacher hauled him up before the whole class and told him what a stupid little boy he was, and how ridiculous it was to write letters in different colours. To this day, sometimes when he feels criticized, he feels again the unwarranted public drubbing he got in both situations, and slips into the defense mechanisms of an attacked little boy. And it was a very long time till he was an adult and used coloured pencils again, and when he did it was a cathartic and teary event. A part of him was killed on both those days. Then there was the day he and another boy were caught kissing little girls in year 4, and got hauled up in front of the older school and told they were dirty disgusting little boys. Another part killed off and another brick wall in place. Throughout his schooling career he fought for justice and respect for his difference (he discovered punk rock, which screamed the words of his anger and disaffection at an early age), and kept trying to be treated as an equal and with respect. As you may well imagine this attitude produced many clashes. At the age of 14 he had a similar experience to me, and was half living at home and half on the street. When being dealt with like the rest of the children who were still at home, he rebelled against the patronizing attitudes and disrespect of his life experience. When he left school to become a printers apprentice (he was one of the ones who became factory fodder), as a parting gift, his year level coordinator told him that he’d never amount to anything. He didn’t read a book until he left school, maybe as a stubborn resistance to being coerced. But when he did start to read, he read Dante’s Divine Comedy, and The History of The English People by Geoffrey of Monmouth. He discovered Breugel the elder and medieval art, taught himself to train and ride horses, and capably began the process of his real self education. The violence and destruction of creativity and confidence that was visited on him throughout his school life remained with him, and a legacy was angry tirades to new concepts, an absolute fear of failure and of looking ‘stupid’, and a fear of trying new things unless he knew he could do them and ‘look good’. Learning and creativity became associated with pain, anger and fear. But through his self education after school, falling in love and having a family, the discovery of his inner drumming style, and the confidence and determination to carry it out despite criticism, many of these traits have been healed. Now at the age of 38, he’s proud to say that he failed every year of high school, and never climbed the heights of standardized education.
“It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education” Albert Einstein
My eldest daughters experience of education has been a more modern and no less horrendous affair. Starting off at a suburban state school, I was advised to send her to an alternative school after she was talking to the teachers about organizing an anti-bullying group that could meet at her mums place. She’d informed the teachers that if they brought the cakes, her mum would do the tea and coffee, and we could all discuss how to stop bullying. I’d always treated her with respect and as an equal, so this was normal behavior to her, but a bit shocking to the teachers. They said that the other children just didn’t know how to relate to her, as she was so advanced. So we found a delightful, self directed learning private school, in a sprawling mansion, and we were very happy for a while – until she was stuck in a class with 3 girls and 15 boys and it stopped working for her. So we went to a state school, where she was horrifically bullied, and the principals solution was to punish both girls equally. It ended when the other girl slammed my girls head in a door, and the other girl was suspended, and we decided that we’d had enough. I still remember clearly our discussion as we sat outside one night, telling each other how much we hated school, and realizing that it wasn’t against the law to stop sending her, and that we could just let her stay home. This realization may seem simple now in retrospect, but it was a huge moment of going against the mainstream tide at the time. So she stayed home for a year, lay in her bed mostly and read books, and we just left her to her own devices, to do whatever she wanted. After a year, we bowed to pressure from loved ones, and started her at another state school. For the first quarter of the year she had a teacher who absolutely adored her and she thrived. Her year off had not done her any damage, and she quickly caught up with the rest of her class. We had a parent teacher meeting with us and my mum, and we were all in tears as her teacher told us how much he loved her, how special she was, and how if all students were like her he’d be out of a job. Not long after he had to replace the principal, and a relief teacher was brought in, who hated her as much as the other man had loved her, was cranky and divisive, and quickly split the once cohesive class into two groups and made them compete against each other for lollipops. And he was fresh out of teaching school. That was the end of that school. Then we found the Waldorf school, and we thought we’d found heaven on earth. She loved them, they loved her, and all seemed sweet. Till the newness wore off and the other girls who’d been together since pre-school started bitching about her and shutting her out, and accusing her of causing divides in their class. The learning methods were lovely, and she was loving it, but after 6 months she was already kind of over it, and wanting days off to stay at home and just be. So we took her out and went travelling round the country for 3 months. Boy did they give us shit and judgements about what we were doing. But we thought travelling was a far better education. When we got back, she decided that she wanted to go back to school and live with her oma (my mother) and have a more normal life than our transient one. So she did, and went back to the same school, where all the same bitching and cold shouldering was still there, and escalated into worse. The boys decided they hated her this time, and sexually harassed her mercilessly, telling her nasty things out of others earshot, drawing offensive graffiti on her pencil case, and generally making her life hell and destroying her self esteem. And bless her feisty socks, she had enough, left the school, enrolled in a open access internet school, and learnt from home. At the same time her oma bought her a grand piano, and found her a professor for a teacher, and she started coming ahead in leaps and bounds, having found her passion and realizing that playing the piano was the only thing she wanted to do. In 3 years of formal learning she got to grade 7 level, outsurpassing kids who had been learning since they were 5. And despite her open access music teacher telling her to forget about getting into the music conservatorium, and that she wasn’t emotionally ready for it, she not only got in, but based on her performance got into a level that she’d been told she’d never be offered. So guess what. All that pain and suffering and schooling was for absolutely naught. She’s found her passion, and she’s excelling at it, and will continue to do so, I’ve no doubt at all. And if for any reason it was to fall through, her substantial self taught talents of painting and writing will be an excellent reserve. She could have sat on her bed reading, instead of enduring all those years of torture, and would still have got the piano and teacher, and auditioned for the conservatorium, and got in based on her performance. As Grace Llewellyn so eloquently states….
“In the end, the secret to learning is so simple. Think only about whatever you love. Follow it, do it, dream about it….and it will hit you. Learning was there all the time, happening by itself”
Our children have had a very brief schooling career to date, and since writing this all down and realizing just how much thought and life experience we can contribute to the unschooling or natural learning movement, I’m hoping that it will also be their last. They went for two terms, my girl got hit by sticks, told not to sing popular rhymes, and loved her experience in general, and my boy got punched full fisted in the head three times, learnt how to tease and hassle and bully, and loved playing with the boys. The school had no policy for bullying, though it had a strict one for clothing, and I was very dissatisfied with the general attitude of ‘boys will be boys’ when it came to the incidents with my boy. I thought that the only reason boys were boys was because we all accepted and colluded with the pervading attitudes, and it could have been a good opportunity to do better. Currawong and I, with 4 children and 10 years of relationship under our belt, were asked more than once if it was okay with the officials, and if we’d asked permission to be physically affectionate in the school grounds. Shock horror, we held hands, hugged and kissed in front of children (I still wonder how those children thought they were conceived and born..) There was also a bit of a rebellion afoot, as a lot of other parents were not happy with the bullying situation, and not long before we got there, an official ban was made public on parents talking in the car parks, as it was fomenting dissent. Both of our children came home exhausted and stand offish from their school days, and both of them degenerated in their relationships with their siblings and us. Not to mention getting lots of sicknesses, the last of which was whooping cough, which is a whole other story in itself, and was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and caused us to take our children out of school for a period of time so we could all enjoy a long period of good health. 3 terms down the track from their schooling experience, I find it interesting that they can’t remember a single lesson, poem, song or experience at school apart from playing with their friends, even though the school they attended had a strong routine of rote, singing the same songs and rhymes every day in a repetitive manner, believing that this was the best way to ‘teach’. Meanwhile, they all clearly remember the first time they spewed, a huge amount about the natural world and animals, and every other detail of things they’ve been passionately and intensely interested in. Most of which predates their school experience.
“Nothing that is worth knowing can be taught” Oscar Wilde
“My grandmother wanted me to have an education, so she kept me out of school” Margaret MeadAt this point, I’d like to draw your attention to a man named Sir Ken Robinson, a professor and fellow of Oxford university, who talks all around the world about whether schools kill creativity. He points out that formalized schooling was developed around the industrial revolution to create workers for industry, and the whole system is kind of stuck in a rut, educating generations for a future that none of us have any idea about. There are no more ‘jobs for life’ as there were when formalized schooling was developed, and in a way we’re educating our children for a past that doesn’t exist anymore. He also points out that because of the way our education system has atrophied, it discourages art, creativity, dance and all the more creative arts. English, Maths, History, Science and Geography are still encouraged over music and creative pursuits. Even though there’s a glut of trained Mathematicians, Historians etc, who are incredibly well educated bar people and the like, there is still the push towards the ‘higher’ modes of education. Whereas if you look at cutting edge technologies and industries, often they are looking for eclectic people with varied skills, individuality, and creativity – that formal education often beats or bores out of children. He also talks about how many many creative folk are talked out of being musicians, artists, poets and the like, and told that they’ll never make a living from it, dissuaded from following their passions, and forced into more conservative occupations instead. I personally know of so many people I’ve met during my life, one of which who stands out in particular, who wanted to be an artist, and was told to stay with his skills in maths and technology instead. So he did. Got an incredibly high paying job in computers, and had everything that his skills and money could buy, and was totally miserable. For years. And thereby made his family completely miserable. For years. Till one day when watching “What The Bleep Do We Know”, he had an epiphany, realized that he really could create his own reality, and all he’d ever really wanted to do was art and play golf. They made the commitment to sell their house and move interstate to get away from family expectations, and never looked back. He played golf and got a job in a sports complex, and started going to TAFE to do art, and the culmination of all these experiences turned a miserable and bitter man into an inspired, emotional, happy family man. He even made a trip to America to attend an ‘Inner Coach’ workshop, which was basically a whole bunch of sporting coaches who’d independently searched the world and ideas for the best way to teach someone the sport they loved, and all discovered that you can’t actually teach anyone anything, and the key to success was in empowering people to FIND THEIR OWN WAY to do everything, and liberate their coach within. They’d all found each other and realized they were on the same trip, and run workshops now to try and help people unlearn what they’ve been taught, and honour their own internal instincts.
Another issue with formal schooling that Currawong and I have talked about for years is that of creating ‘age ghettos’. Totally unnatural in my mind, and something that is never again repeated for the rest of our lives, and also something that causes most of us huge amounts of misery and pain. Look around again at all the other mammals and creatures on the planet, and tell me if you can find any examples of them putting the young of the species of the same age in groups together. When animals are of the same age as babies, they’re usually competitive, racing each other, butting heads, testing their mettle with each other, which is a healthy thing, but they’re never left on their own with only the same age peers. There’s always other adults, older babies and younger babies, and all the other differentiating groups that give perspective. In my experience, Currawong’s, and our childrens, putting kids of the same age together in large groups is intensely competitive, creates a jostling for places in the pecking order, and usually involves many put downs as kids vie for status, supremacy and esteem. Our boy was in a class with 20 other boys the same age, and it was awful. Full of fighting, stick hitting, hassling, teasing, bullying, name calling, jostling, comparisons, put downs and punching. Yet I can guarantee you that if you took any one of those boys and put them in a group with older kids and younger kids, you’d see completely different behaviours in them. It extends them to try and impress and get on with older kids who they look up to, as well as gentle and modify their behavior to be with young ones. And the comparisons are less intense, as they expect to be at different Ievels with kids of other ages. I watch it all the time with my mob of kids, as well as in the huge variety of social situations that I’ve seen them and other kids in. I truly believe that sticking people in age ghettos is one of the most damaging elements of formalized education, that leaves the most lasting and disempowering legacies on our adult psyches.
And finally, we come to a natural learning or unschooling-esque precedent that is very close to my heart. A genetic and cultural legacy I’ve inherited, that gives me and my family a mandate for freedom. You see, Currawong and I both claim genetic inheritance from a very small and rare race of European – the Frisian. Me a bit more than Currawong, (some of my family are mormon and have traced us back for a very long time to Friesland), but enough in Currawong to mean that our children are almost full blood Friesian. It’s where Friesian cows, horses, and dogs all come from, who incidentally are all black and white, or in the case of the horses, black. It’s a tiny province in the top end of Holland, that used to be a lot bigger, and is not actually Dutch. The Fries are their own race. The Romans did a survey in 0 BC of all the tribes on the European continent, and the Friesians are the only nation still in the same place, speaking the same language. Incidentally, their language is the closest root language to English. Around the 11th century they had colonies all over the world, had a huge merchant navy, and many people’s traded in Frisian coins. In the 14th century, they had a very famous leader called Redbad, who was well known for killing any Christians that came into his land. It was a stronghold of paganism for a lot longer than in the rest of Europe. 700 years before the French Revolution, the Fries practiced anarchistic social autonomy. There was no ruling class, no monarchy, and no hierarchy – everyone left everyone else to their own devices, to believe what they wanted, and govern themselves. And respected each others truths and realities. I think it’s fair to say that Friesians were totally peacefull and aimiable, unless you messed with their freedom, and then they killed you. Simple as that. Montmarche annexed Friesland, and that was fine, until he sent in the tax man and the taxes were too high, so they killed him. But then being sick of being so small and being annexed all the time, they finally decided that Montmarche was the better devil that they knew, and as he was being besieged by the Danes, they went to his castle and killed all the Danes. As a reward, Montmarche rewarded them with a very long scandanavian law text that gifted them with freedom forever, and a promise by the Pope to excommunicate anyone that pissed off a Friesian. I’ve got an excerpt from that law text on a wall in my kitchen, and I consider it my mandate for freedom. It’s also part of the reason that it’s been said about the Fries that “All Friesian’s are born noble”. It goes like this…
“ That all Friesians would be fully free, the born and the unborn, so long as the wind blows from heaven and the child cries, grass grows green and flowers bloom, as far as the sun rises and the world stands…”
I love it. And just to finish off, there’s a little story that says it all. Somewhere around the 17th century when the Fries were annexed to Holland, Queen Beatrix brought out a decree that everyone had to bow down to her or they’d be beheaded. And within 3 months she had to change that decree to everyone but the Friesians. Because the Fries bow to NO-ONE! And she was beheading Fries after Fries after Fries. I’m proud of my heritage, and it’s been an innate instinct in both Currawong and I (and our children I’m realizing) to bow to no-one, no matter how much they may want us to. We instinctively seek justice, equality, and freedom, and have shaped our lives to contain large amounts, as well as share, all of them. Our family maxim is ‘Love, Respect, Peace and Freedom’, because we believe that when you get down to it, that’s all that us human animals really want.
I think that’s about all of it. This has turned into quite an epic, and I’m surprised at how easily it’s all fallen out. But again, not surprised at all, as I realize that this has all come out easily because we’ve talked about it so much and so completely over the years. I realize now that we have a very thorough and exhaustive philosophy about natural learning or unschooling our children, or rather to give them the freedom to become who they are, without expectations, competition, comparisons, disempowerment and societal mores pressed on them. And we feel that we’re the best qualified people to help them be themselves, find their own passions, nurture their innate talents and instincts, and make it to adulthood with their individuality and strong wills intact. I’d like to say again that we really love our children, and we feel no need to have time away from them, to purchase child care, or to give them over to anyone else to educate or care for, as we have more than enough love, inspiration, self education, willingness to explore, and intelligence for them all. At the same time, and with all that being said, we truly respect our children and their wishes and desires, and negotiate with them about nearly everything, so if at any time in their development they decided that they really wanted to go to school, we’d support them in that choice also.
This is our natural unschooling or natural learning philosophy, based on our conversations, life experiences, and learnings. Thank you for reading!
PS If you’re wondering about the anomaly of me stating that I was writing this philosophy BEFORE I did any research on unschooling and the fact that I have many quotes liberally sprinkled throughout – some of which are unschooling quotes – this is because there’s an unschooling site on Facebook that I joined that had lots of of quotes about schooling and unschooling in their profile. I simply picked out the ones I liked and used them in this document to give it some outside references to furnish my points……