Not so long ago I attended a group gathering made of mostly natural learners and eclectic learners. It was a semi-structured activity for that day which was engaging and enjoyable for the majority. Being me and all about observation rather than smaller engagement, I noticed one child who, rather than leaving the circle because he wasn’t interested, insisted on staying and destroying others enjoyment in the activity. His mother commented ‘he doesn’t like to be taught’. Why then was this child compelled to stay? I got to thinking about this child and wondered if there was some extra motive that no one had noticed. Was he craving the knowledge in a different format perhaps? Was he subject to peer pressure or was it the fear of missing something which held him there? Was he really against teaching or was it just the label mother had placed on this child to excuse away his reaction in an easy to blame something else fashion? All of these questions came to me. Then I started thinking, well what is teaching, really? From this experience, these ideas came, I’m going to attempt to share a revelation I’ve had recently. It’s to do with the word teaching and what it implies to most unschoolers vs what it actually means.
Before delving into this topic after my experience, my understanding of unschooling was very much tainted by bias in the community away from teaching. This always rubbed me the wrong way because I have always loved listening to lectures (for those who don’t know, there is not much interaction in a lecture between pupils and teacher so they really are like a human book even more so when you watch them online and are not in the theatre) To me, good teaching has always been that. It’s like reading without all the effort lol. (Man! Do I dislike all that effort!) It took until this experience to realize that I have a different definition of teaching than the majority of the unschooling populace.
If you talk to most unschoolers and even delve further, to radical unschoolers you’ll notice a trend, they all cringe at the idea of teaching. That, on the surface, is no real surprise since the basis of this form of education is child led and intrinsically that means the child is doing learning and teaching appears to be mutually exclusive from that. (Please note, this is not to say they can’t occur at the same time, but that you can only be teaching something you already know and learning something you don’t know.)
I came across this quote from the father of unschooling, Mr John Holt. It reads,
“I doubt very much it is possible to teach anyone to understand anything, that is to say, to see how all the various parts relate to other parts, to have a model of the structure in ones mind”
It seems that even the great minds have it confused from my perspective, or at least the interpretation of these comments has been skewed out in the wider community.
To teach, by definition, means to impart knowledge… That’s it… Nothing more, like the human book I described earlier, a good teacher, (meaning one who is not corrupted in their teachings by either the schooling system’s true purpose or by forcing bias towards faith without observation) simply shares information. Learning however, is connecting the dots and is a very different thing. Learning appears to be what Holt is describing. His use of the words “to teach” in this context just don’t fit with the definition.
Teaching is not this big evil thing that all unschoolers seem to think it is, it has a purpose, the same purpose as a book, or a documentary, or a physical example of fact, to impart information and build on knowledge. The difference is a good teacher will not tell you how to connect the dots and more importantly, will not judge your abilities to connect dots in the same way as others anymore than an artist will tell you how to interpret their painting.
There’s also one more thing a good teacher will do… They will allow you to quit. Forced indoctrination of irrelevent subject matter is the big topic in unschooling that just begs for attention here because I believe this is what most unschoolers perceive as teaching, perhaps from their own experiences etc. You can put the book down, turn off the documentary or choose not to experience physical influence but (while your there at least,) society tells you it’s the end of the world if you quit school and for a short time (a child’s critical developing years) it’s even illegal and that falls under human rights violations. But one thing frequently gets overlooked here, and that’s the difference between teaching and this global system of education. They are not the same thing. One is a method of knowledge passing on and the other is an industry, church and government invented system to indoctrinate you with a set of beliefs about what they think you need or they could make money from.
Herein lies the problem for many unschoolers, they have been indoctrinated to believe they are one in the same. Ancient societies taught, they shared knowledge verbally, they imparted skill using physical experiences and examples, they role modeled. This is true to the principals of teaching. The consequences of not learning these imparted skills were real too. Not imagined up by the state like today, for example, the world leaving you behind if you don’t pass an exam. For them it was very real. Don’t learn how to be a good hunter or gather and you don’t eat. Don’t learn to get along with others and you won’t have their help. Did you know that ancient nomadic societies rarely had bullying or taunting? It didn’t work because people en mass would remove themselves from anyone who was toxic to their life without a second thought. The consequences of that were too great to risk so it just didn’t happen.
I’m a firm believer that there is no sense in reinventing the wheel, feel free of course to question how and why it works and you may end up on a tangent no one has discovered yet, but I do believe a happy medium exists when you take what is already known from others and apply it further in areas of curiosity specific to the individual. That would include being ‘taught’ in the traditional sense on occasion.
What are your thoughts on this taboo word in the unschoolers world or even its interpretation in the mainstream education system?