The Unschooling Handbook: How to Use the Whole World as Your Child’s Classroom

Mary Griffith surveys unschooling
families and compiles their responses.  She reports on the theories behind and implications of Unschooling, and provides suggestions for general concerns and specific academic subjects:

Present-day Americans have difficulty imagining education that does not resemble school.  But until the 1850’s “common school” movement,

school was mostly optional.  Most knowledge children needed to become competent adults was acquired through doing tasks along with adults and knowing that this work was essential to their livelihood.  Along with the establishment of public schools and compulsory attendance laws came a general belief that school was essential for children to become modern-day citizens.  There was little discussion about whether school was indeed an indispensable institution.

In the 1970’s, educator John Holt used the term “unschooling” to describe the act of homeschooling. The term now refers to the specific style of child-centered learning advocated by Holt. Today this method occupies between ten and fifty percent of the homeschooling movement.

Unschooling in Practice:

Unschooling is an informal approach to education based on the premise that people who make their own decisions perform more competently than those whose behavior is controlled or judged by others. Unschoolers take issue with conventional education: If you take responsibility away from children, they have no stake in the outcome and learn to follow orders over problem-solving. How is one neat package of information the authoritative “education?” School puts parents in conflict with teachers. Unschooling is easier for parents because they need not plan lessons or grade tests but more difficult in that learning is ever-present and collaborative.

Unschoolers are curious and natural learners at any time or in any setting. They know people acquire skills at different paces and ages. They are interested in and tolerant of a wide variety of people. They are confident. They are critical thinkers.

When deciding whether to practice unschooling, weigh practical considerations such as legal, financial, and scheduling issues.

Resources:

Everything your children interfaces with is an implement for their learning. Supply books that respond to the children’s interests, not textbooks, but “real” books written by and for people with an interest in the subject. Help them learn to search for those books, this will help them to think and read critically. Gardening, game playing, working with art supplies, and music are all good resources; it is not important to spend a lot of money or buy “kits”.

Technology can be a part of unschooling in the forms of television, computer and internet. Just because a TV program or computer software is not designated as “educational” does not mean that it offers no potential for learning.

Your child may need an outside instructor to teach a subject that you are unfamiliar with. Unschooled children may adapt well to courses where instruction is “sequenced to develop physical skills” such as with ballet or martial arts. They may not enjoy group lessons which require strict or product-oriented curricula, where other children are uninterested, and may be frustrated by inattention or misbehavior of less focused students. If you choose a private tutor, allow your child to be involved with the selection process.

Comparisons with “Schooled” Peers:

Both parents and children worry about “keeping up” with schooled peers. Remind them that schools teach different topics at different grades and encourage unnecessary competition and verification of learning through testing. Unschoolers can keep records other than or in addition to those required by states law in the form of grids, journals, portfolios, or informal transcripts. Not many unschoolers use tests as a way of measuring ability.

Kids might want to try going to school; sometimes an experimental week in a classroom satisfies their curiosity. If they choose to attend school full time, the family may need to adjust. Unschoolers who go to school tend to do well because they want to learn, it was their choice to attend, and they are aware school is not their only option.

Reading:

Children will learn to read if allowed to do so at their own pace and in the way which works best for them. Read to your children to set the example and garner enthusiasm for reading. Children will learn to write along with learning to read and development of fine motor skills. Many parents downplay concerns about

penmanship in exchange for encouraging content by becoming scribes or using the computer as a tool. Projects or email can promote writing skills.
Math:

Math can be taught through cooking, money, games, books. Often unschoolers with no formal training in math acquire mathematics through real world applications or can catch up with formally instructed peers easily. You do not need to keep up with your child in math, she is the one doing the learning.

Science:

Science is a “matter of attitude.” It involves observation, prediction and experimentation. Studies of nature or toys like pulleys, magnifying glasses, or binoculars are all ways for unschoolers to explore science. Older teens who desire a more formal “lab science” equivalent might want a textbook or mentor.

History:

History need not be learned in chronological order or require memorization of dates and names. Maps and timelines can assist in teaching non-chronological history. Books, movies, family genealogy, environmental living programs and travel can all be vehicles to exploring history.

Arts:

In a traditional school’s once a week regimen, focus on product, neatness, and “talent” in the arts can subdue the enthusiasm of children. Unschoolers tend to continue with enjoyed activities beyond a traditional school age. Because they are unaccustomed to “prescriptive” instruction, they may have an easier time experimenting or purely enjoying their informal arts activities. Most children prefer professional supplies to children’s kits. Some may desire formal instruction at a certain point. If so, talk with your children about lessons first – what are their objectives? Would they like reminders to practice?

Unschooling as a Lifestyle:

Unschooling is a way of life that has many advantages over
conventional schooling. It tailors learning to the needs of children and families. Unschooled children are more in touch with themselves and have a fire to learn that can otherwise be vanquished in school. Unschooling can reweave family and community. It does not arbitrarily categorize areas or levels of learning. It empowers its practitioners in their own uniqueness and so encourages tolerance of all uniqueness. It encourages the pursuit of passions and joy. A full society of unschoolers would be a better society.

If You Want to be Rich and Happy: Don’t Go to School

In his book, Robert T. Kiyosaki (1993)
has woven together compelling arguments and inspiring personal anecdotes about the destructive quality of the education system.

The education system’s inherent promise of helping young people grow up to become adults who can realize the American Dream turns out to be an illusion.

In a world that is characterized by rapid technological and global changes, the education system has become an archaic institution that continues to cling to obsolete practices.

Concomitantly, students are compelled to perform rote tasks of memorization and conform to classroom routines. Regardless of their academic performance, most of these students emerge as dependent adults who are incapable of thinking for themselves and adapting to our changing times.

According to Kiyosaki (1993), the current education system is fraught with many problems. First, educators undermine the development of creative and independent thinking in students with their emphasis on the right answer. Essentially, students are discouraged from exploring complex issues when their journey for knowledge is abruptly terminated with their discovery of the one right answer. Consequently, the students who thrive in the school system are typically skilled in rote memorization. However, they are ill-equipped to deal with the dynamic and complex realities of our society. Instead of preparing our young people to apply their thinking to changing situations, the education system has essentially produced graduates who are dependent on their superiors and limited by their lack of creativity.
Second, the education system is a competitive institution that punishes students for their failure to excel in their academic subjects. The comparison between students and the categorization of students into average and above average groups create a negative psychosocial environment. Students who are weak in particular subjects are identified and mocked by their peers, thus undermining their self-esteem. At the same time, the other students lose their sense of compassion and ethics as they are rewarded and celebrated for “winning” at all costs (Kiyosaki, 1993).

Third, schools do not teach students about money and business. Instead, educators project the prevailing perception that money is an inherently evil thing, even though the promise of education is to provide one with a good job and financial security. However, Kiyosaki (1993) contends that money in itself is not evil. Rather, it is the people’s lack of knowledge about money that has contributed to their use or pursuit of money in self-destructive ways.

People do not need a complex education in order to become rich. Rich people have acquired habits and followed principles, which have enabled them to succeed in life. In Kiyosaki’s (1993) opinion, even a seven-year-old can be taught these habits and principles. Herein lies the fallacy of the education system: Although highly specialized subjects such as medicine and astronomy require tremendous education, getting rich requires little education.

In this day and age, people need to
realize that financial security is not equivalent to possessing college degrees and well-paid jobs with solid benefits. Individuals who have thrived in the school system by complying with its rules are hampered by their dependence on external direction and fear in innovation.

Fundamentally, schools are destructive because they undermine the process of thinking and learning. Its rules and principles can only function in a static world. In reality, true security can only be realized when people possess the courage, independence and desire to explore new things and acquire knowledge on a daily basis (Kiyosaki, 1993).
Based on the above arguments, Kiyosaki

(1993) presents an alternative education system that will increase its relevance to the needs of our society today:

• Generalized principles: Students should acquire a set of generalized
principles that will allow them to apply them to diverse situations.

• Principles of money, business and finance: Students should learn
about these principles so that they can be prepared for the practical
realities of adult life.

• Freedom of choice: Students should be allowed to pursue their
interests in their work. The freedom of choice taps into the intrinsic passion
of learning within students.

• Life-long learning: Learning is a perpetual process that does not end
when people leave school. Instead of focusing on getting increased pay,
people should be concentrating on acquiring knowledge.

With this book, Kiyosaki has highlighted the key issues that affect
every aspect of life – education, work and financial security. Instead of preparing students for the realities of life, the education system has essentially sabotaged their natural ability to function in a world of change. Teaching students to conform and to search for the one right answer ultimately destroys their independence and their passion for learning and living. True learning does not end with graduation and a diploma. Only through the endless pursuit of knowledge in life will one achieve the promise of financial security.

No Contest: The Case Against Competition by Alfie Kohn (1986)

In his view, competition is a negative concept that undermines individual growth and development, as well as human relationships.

The damaging quality of competition lies in the fundamental fact that competition involves the success of an individual and the concomitant failure of another.  Kohn (1986) coins the term “mutually exclusive goal attainment” to explain how competition allows only one party to attain the goal at the expense of others.

According to Kohn (1986), the high valuation of competition in this society is based on four myths. One of the commonly quoted phrases, “survival of the fittest,” as derived from Darwin’s theory of natural selection, has been misinterpreted to mean that only the strongest will triumph over others in the perpetual struggle among various members of the species. In actuality, this phrase refers to the community’s concern for the generation of surviving offspring that will in turn reproduce to maintain the existence of the species. Therefore, instead of celebrating competition and struggle, Darwin highlights the need for different members of the community cooperate with one another in order to ensure the survival of the species.
The second myth is the belief that competition builds character. In Kohn’s (1986) opinion, only people with low self-esteem requires winning in competitions to bolster their insecurity about their abilities. Essentially, people with high esteem do not feel the need to prove themselves by winning in competitions and beating others.

Kohn (1986) cites research
studies to show that cooperative learning leads to higher levels of self-esteem than competitive settings. Competitive situations can be detrimental to the development of self-esteem because they depend on the triumph of one individual (feeding their false sense of superiority) and the humiliation of the “loser.”
Kohn (1986) also attacks the myth that competition is fun. Although the original concept of play emphasizes process before outcome, it has become lost in the competitive nature of many games and sports in contemporary society.

As they grow older, American children have lost their natural and spontaneous love of playing. Instead, they have forgotten how to enjoy the game with their focus on winning. Kohn (1986) cites an interesting study in which four- and five-year olds cooperate with one another in order to win a chess game. In contrast, their older counterparts sought to beat the opposing players.

Finally, the myth that competition increases productivity is also debunked in this book. In his meta-analysis of 122 studies on this topic, Kohn (1986) found that 65 studies showed that cooperation led to higher levels of achievement than competition while 36 studies did not indicate any statistical difference.

With his discussion, Kohn (1986) has illuminated the fallacies of competition. Nonetheless, the transformation of societal perceptions about competition will be a great challenge. Our belief in the benefits of competition has permeated our consciousness. Its assumptions and practices have become an entrenched part of our education, our business and politics. In order for our society to flourish in the future, it is vital for our contemporary society to eradicate this misguided perspective.

Learning All The Time 

“…children, without being coerced or manipulated, or being put in exotic specially prepared environments, or having their thinking planned for them, can, will, and do pick up from the world around them important information about what we call the basics.”–Holt

“Learning All the Time” advances the idea that children are not passive beings, waiting to be taught basic skills by adults.  Much rather these skills emerge as a function of adaptation to their world, where they pick up the ability to communicate and solve myriad problems. As such, children are natural speakers, scientists, writers, and problem solvers, absorbing information from their surroundings at an alarming rate. Children learn to speak and translate this knowledge into reading and writing naturally (it is estimated that when properly guided [not taught] children can learn to read in 30 hours or less). Further, the solving of intellectual problems comes to children quite easily when approached from a conceptual viewpoint where relationships between ideas are demonstrated, and children quite readily extrapolate from these relationships.

The Basics
Reading, writing and arithmetic are functions that children will derive with the help of a supportive environment and their innate critical thinking abilities.

Reading
The decrease in word complexity and the increase in the picture content in books is in part responsible for the difficulty young students have in learning to read. Holt demonstrates that the ability to read is inherent in youth, and can be attained not through intensive elementary school instruction, but through individual attention and support given to children when needed.

Writing
Writing is merely the visual expression of language. Children will learn it through associations they make in their daily lives and being exposed to large amounts of print, not pictures. The integration of larger amounts of printed material into children’s education will thus prove to be more effective than lessons on writing that are currently being given.

Arithmetic
Arithmetic is often taught to students in the form of rote memorization, e.g. 2+2=4, 2+4=6 with no demonstration of the connection between the facts being memorized. Such rote methods do little to inspire interest or learning in young students, who naturally turn to number games and other distractions when faced with such mundane lessons. Rather, relationships and fundamental ideas should be taught to encourage students to learn to see connections and underlying patterns in numbers. This does much more to establish mathematical problem-solving ability and form the foundation for learning higher mathematics.

Destructive Viewpoints
In addition to the commentary on natural learning processes and the educational system’s impediment thereof, the text notes some fundamental viewpoints commonly held by schools that may serve as an obstacle to reform.

School as a Factory
Students are treated as bottles to be filled with
information, regardless of the shape, size, or consistency of the bottle. Educational officials decide what should be “squirted in” to the bottles, and what should be done with those that do not have openings for the information.
School as a Carrot and Stick Game
Students are laboratory animals given rewards for performing “tricks,” most often ones they will not need to know devised by distant lab scientists. Students receive carrots if they do the trick correctly, and sticks (e.g. an “F”) if they fail.

School as Mental Institution
Students are “patients” sent to the institution to be corrected. When learning takes place, the schools get the credit, and when it does not, blame is eagerly parceled out to students.

Constructive Viewpoints
It is more useful to view children (and learners of all ages) as individuals who absorb and process information naturally, and perpetually learn from almost every experience.

Child Scientists
To reiterate, children are young scientists with an eye toward understanding their surroundings; such curiosity is only natural. When given the opportunity, even babies will search out their environments for clues as to how things work. The point is that parents and teachers need to let them.

Learning is Perpetual
There is a flip side to the discourse: although the learning curve is the steepest when one is young, it certainly does not taper off when one ages. Learning is, and should be, a continuing process. That does not mean that one must align all learning experiences with an educational institution. Learning should be independent and in most cases occurs naturally, with every new experience.

Underlying the discourse, as the above points may have already hinted, is the idea that living is learning, and learning is a naturally occurring process. Rather than assuming they need to intervene, parents and teachers must guide and facilitate the absorption of information that is already occurring in youngsters. In addition, they must not obstruct it with artificially simplified teaching guides, forcing-feeding memorization of facts, and in general “teaching” with an air of condescension and disdain toward students. Indeed, children are capable of quite a lot more than we think they are, and it is time we start acting like it.

John Holt’s: How Children Learn

Rather than give an overarching theory of how children learn, John Holt, the father of the modern home school movement, uses anecdotal observations that question assumptions about how children acquire knowledge and learning skills.

Holt rejects the idea that children are“monsters of evil” who must be beaten into submission or computers whom “we can program into geniuses.”  Neither are they the passive receptacles of knowledge that can only learn in a schoolroom.  Instead, he calls upon parents and educators to “trust children.”

First and foremost, Holt believes that children are born learners and that there is a curiosity in all children that begins at birth, not when they are put in school. His observations of young children reveal that their brains are trying to make sense of the world.

Children want to solve problems; they like to think. The problem is that parents and educators get in the way of this natural process by placing children in large, impersonal schools, and by teaching a meaningless curriculum in an industrial factory setting.

Holt rejects knowledge that is entirely taught in an abstract manner. He uses the example of teaching fractions as an anesthetic experience with little real world application. Similarly, he is disgusted by children’s primers and picture books with their “dumb” and simple vocabularies. Rather, Holt believes in exposing children to real world problems of increasing complexity. For example, he encourages parents to expose their children to newspapers, letters, warranties, the yellow pages – anything tangible and visceral to promote their curiosity about the world.

Staying with the theme of promoting real problems for children, Holt is nostalgic for a time when children observed their parents at work, indeed, when parents and children worked side by side. He believes childhood observation of parental work would accelerate learning on the part of their children, rather than just having information disseminated from the classroom. This is one reason why Holt is so receptive to home-schooling or as he calls it. “unschooling.”

Holt is full of ire against teachers and educational institutions, whom he believes actually serve as a hindrance to acquiring knowledge and learning skills. If the aim of education is to create independent thinkers, then educators must learn to refrain from “unasked teaching,” which he argues only frustrates children into believing that they are not smart enough to learn. This destructive process to Holt shatters their self esteem and extinguishes their confidence in their ability to learn for themselves and, at worst, turn them away from learning forever.
Teachers, rather, should be more passive, be willing to take a step back, and give direction only when students need – and ask for, help. Teachers make the mistake of believing that they are essential to the learning process and that students can not work without them.

Holt maintains that the best results can be gained
when a student is given time to figure things out and to develop hunches that become more and more sophisticated with experience. For Holt, there are no stupid mistakes as children develop their cognitive skills.
The concept of self esteem is the second fundamental belief that Holt espouses. Self confidence is the key to a child’s learning. Overbearing teachers and parents, coercive educational institutions, the rote drudgery of learning and endless testing – all serve to create a sense of anxiety, of
crushing curiosity, of making learning a painful rather than a natural and pleasurable act. Over time students come to believe that they are failures. Indeed, Holt asserts that stammering and stuttering are the consequences for some children of destroyed self esteem.

Fear of failure, punishment and disgrace, along the with the anxiety of constant testing, severely reduces students’ ability to perceive and remember, and, thus, drive them away from learning. Holt, with his trust children philosophy, believes, perhaps naively, that they have a strong sense of what is right and have an innate self correcting mechanism that will help them to (eventually) solve a problem. Most instruction, especially reading, Holt argues, is self taught anyway, so why the need for overbearing teachers and parents? Holt believes that learning can be pleasurable and that learning in the form of games can be the first step in having children embrace a lifetime of learning.

Growing Without Schooling: A Record Of A Grassroots Movement 


Growing Without Schooling: A Record of a Grassroots Movement is a compilation of the first 12 budding issues of the newsletter ‘Growing Without Schooling.’  These Newsletters were published between 1977-1979 in an effort to promote ‘unschooling’, a term used by GWS to aid definition of education reform.  Unschooling, From a legal perspective, this term refers to the “changing the laws to make schools non-compulsory and to take away from them their power to grade, rank, and label people i.e. to make lasting official public judgments about them.” (P.17)

The beginning of each new issue offers the publisher’s updates and pertinent news regarding the ‘Unschooling’ movement, in addition to data concerning the newsletter such as distribution, subscription information and publication developments. Following these brief updates comes a profusion of insightful ‘tidbits’ or pieces of information compiled by the publisher and written by seemingly wise everyday people. The issues covered include letters, stories, informed opinions, and narratives on just about anything ranging from social change in issue #1 to court ruling in issue #11. All such cultural excerpts being evidence and indicators of the need for education reform and unschooling.

In a nutshell, ‘Growing Without Schooling’, outlines the grass roots movement of education reform under several broad categories among others not listed here. The categories are scattered throughout the issues in easily digestible portions making the reading quite entertaining and informative. Among the major categories are the following:
• Legal Concerns – The sections concerning this category include court rulings; the need for lawyers, beating the system, legal strategies, state laws and a letter to a legislature. These pieces stress the legal tone of ‘Unschooling, what is required in the movement and issues concerning it.

• Homeschooling Methods – Like the previous category, this category circumscribes an important element of education reform, the question of how to educate alternatively. Subjects covered in this category include serious teaching, how much teaching is enough, learning specific subjects such as choral reading, teacher ‘skills’, home-school guidelines, stories about home schooling and so on. This provides a vital additional guideline to the unschooling effort, in turn aiding the unschooling movement.

• Things learned Outside of Conventional School – In a less formal manner, the necessity of experiential, community and individual learning are stressed in ‘Growing Without Schooling’.
The reason being implied that conventional schooling simply does not emphasize this important type of learning so vital to everyday living. For example, there are contributions from writers concerning Growing up in Denmark, breeding worms in cities, working through Math problems without the answers and playing guns for emotional health/as an emotional outlet for a kid in an unhappy home.
• Movement efforts and information – Also included in the topics are letters and writing pieces about the unschooling movement. As with other movements, keeping abreast of developments, issues and concerns is vital to the momentum of such a cause in fear of losing concern, knowledge and understanding of such a movement. GWS does well in adding topics such as success stories from various States, unschooling in Holland, local groups, information on unschooled children such as how certain parent’s home-schooling efforts succeeded.

All in all, Growing Without Schooling is indeed a record of a Grass Roots Movement. It gathers and collects information about an alternative means to education and documents it in the classic information archive known as a book. This is no regular book however, it is no novel, not a textbook, nor a journal or a collection of articles. GWS is a compilation of wisdom about a type of education that is simply not adequately addressed by some major school systems. It is therefore a priceless record of knowledge not to be underestimated or under-acknowledged by conventional knowledge systems.

Punished by Rewards, The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes

 
This book by Alfie Kohn strikes at the heart of the conventional rewards system that is entrenched in our schools and our society.

Although rewards require little effort to administer and yield immediate results, they do not address the underlying problems that will remain unresolved in the long run.  Kohn identifies five key problems with the use of rewards: 

• The rewards system is basically used as a controlling tool to elicit 
desirable behavior.  Students who feel that their teachers control them will not develop a natural incentive to study.

The rewards system intensifies the imbalance of power, and thus increases the distance between teachers and students. Knowing that their teachers are always judging their work will generate feelings of anxiety and stress, thus lowering the quality of their performance.

• The use of the rewards system does not address the underlying causes of the problem.

• The rewards system undermines creativity and innovation by rewarding individuals who conform to expected standards of behavior.

• Ultimately, the rewards system destroys people’s enjoyment of activities and replaces intrinsic motivation with extrinsic motivation. Essentially, when people are intrinsically motivated to perform tasks, they do not need to be given a reward for doing so.
According to Kohn, even praise may have a negative impact on children’s performances. Fundamentally, praise cultivates the children’s dependency on the opinions of others. Children who are overpraised perform in order to please their parents or other adult figures. In the long run, they lose their sense of identity and intrinsic motivation for performing activities they once enjoyed.
In contrast to the tacit control imposed by the rewards system, the three Cs – content, collaboration and choice – provide alternative guidelines for dealing with non-compliance of children. First, educators and other adults must consider whether the content is developmentally appropriate. Such content should meet the needs and

interests of the children. Second, collaboration should be encouraged, thereby empowering children, and encouraging their involvement in the learning experience. Finally, choice is a component that enables children to take part in the decision-making process.
Ultimately, Kohn has painted a powerful vision of children who will grow up to become responsible and intrinsically motivated adults. Their self-image will not be dependent on rewards and praises from authority figures. Rather, they will possess the passion and strength necessary for their vocation in life. This future, however, can only be realized if the current rewards system is replaced by an alternative perspective that truly nurtures the growth of young children.

Freedom and Beyond 

The only middle school in Gainsville, Georgia, is getting ready to make some major changes  njo the way it educates its students.  The school plans to adopt the “Programs of Choice” educational format; a format wherein students will still receive instruction in the basic academic courses as required by the state, but with a particular emphasis on linking the subjects together, and giving the students more intellectual freedom.
     
School officials hope that this new style of
 education – allowing students a greater freedom of choice concerning their academic studies – will improve academic performance, attendance, and behavior.

This method of reasoning is not new. Indeed, allowing students a greater amount of educational freedom is a central theme in John Holt’s book entitled Freedom and Beyond (1972), which attacked traditional ideas concerning education, called for a restructuring of schools, and addressed several problems that are often attributed to open schools and the free schools movement. Such movements reached their peak popularity in the 1960s and early 1970s, and were largely inspired by the Summerhill School, which was created in England in 1921. At the Summerhill School, students were permitted to study the subjects of their choice, with teachers supporting their decisions.
The first part of Holt’s book deals with the meaning of the word freedom, and its relation to education. Freedom, he notes, is something of which we know very little. We have been raised to believe that the only way in which our society can function is through the creation of rules and rigid structures, often imposed and created by authority figures. Holt explains the limits of freedom in education, and describes the tensions and problems faced by free schools. He warns us not to confuse freedom for unstructured education, devoid completely of any rules. Such a system, he agrees, cannot exist because, “Every human situation, however casual and unforced, has a structure.” In the free schools, there is not an absence of structure, but rather, a more flexible one.

Meanwhile, in regular schools, the structure revolves around the
teacher giving information and orders to the students. It is not as though free schools lack rules. In such institutions, children are aware of boundaries but still allowed space for self expression and creativity. Holt provides an example of this flexible structure by describing a British school, run by psychologist Margaret Lowenfeld, which had a special room designed for those people who wanted to make a mess, and a soundproofed room for those who wanted to make noise. However, in regular schools and in society at large, we often find rules that are vague and therefore, highly restrictive.

As the title of the book suggests, Holt goes beyond the free schools movement. His book conveys the sentiment that learning is a life-long process, and should not be confined to a building, separated from outside interactions, or cut off from the real world. He also voices the argument that we must look beyond ‘education reform’, as we currently understand it, and examine our basic beliefs concerning schools and schooling itself.

Holt stresses that reforming our educational system means changing our conception of education, rather than simply modernizing schools and buying more equipment. In going beyond educational reform, the book also addresses the issue of schooling and its relation to poverty.

Holt argues that schooling does not necessarily end poverty, nor is poverty entirely caused by a lack of education. He argues that getting a degree will not necessarily improve a person’s chance of getting a job, if his field of specialty is already overcrowded. Schooling and teachers are also damaging to the poor because they reinforce their feelings of exclusion, humiliation, and inferiority.
To support this claim, Holt draws from a passage in James Herndon’s book entitled The Way It Spozed to Be (1971). The passage describes a white teacher who claimed that, while a young girl, she had been taught only to speak to ladies and gentlemen, and that her black students were not, and never could be, ladies and gentlemen. Therefore, she refused to speak to her black students for the entire school year, and sent them away from the room if they attempted to speak to her.

Herndon’s book contends that a deschooled society would be more appropriate for the poor. Such a society would provide them with different paths of learning and advancement, rather than the singular path provided by our rigid educational system, which is too narrow and often fraught with obstacles that specifically hinder the poor. Herndon also argues that open or free school may be a waste of time and money for the poor, and further notes that, only recently have we come to accept the notion that learning best takes place in an institution. Such a notion makes education a costly endeavor for our society.

Holt goes on to argue against big budgets for education, proposing instead a more hands-on approach to learning where students are productive as they learn. Holt notes the idea proposed by social scientist Paul Goodman, who suggested paying a small salary to many kinds of workers and craftsmen – i.e. garage mechanics, carpenters, etc. – in return for which they would agree to let some children observe them working, and answer any questions about their work.

The book concludes by pointing out that schools have diverted from their principal mission: to promote the growth of the children in them. Instead, they have been relegated to a custodial function where they resemble jails instead of centers of learning. In such a system, students don’t feel compelled to learn, and will often act in a way that makes it difficult for others to learn.

The book also criticizes school sports for creating an environment of “winners and losers,” the indoctrination in which schools engage, and state school attendance laws, which, if they must exist at all, should allow students to choose the days on which they will attend. Finally, Holt implores us to end the “tyranny” that schools exercise over our children, stating that this is the only way we can save their souls.

Flow – The Psychology of optimal Experience

Steps toward enhancing the quality of life.

Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

For more than two decades, the author
 has been studying states of “optimal experience” (happiness, in plain English) – those times when people report feelings of concentration and deep enjoyment.

These investigations have revealed that what makes experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow – a state of concentration so focused that it amounts to absolute absorption in an activity.

Everyone experiences flow from time to time and will recognize its characteristics: People typically feel strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities. Both the sense of time and the emotional problems seem to disappear, and there is an exhilarating feeling of transcendence.

This feeling can be controlled, and not just left to chance, by setting ourselves challenges – tasks that are neither too difficult nor too simple for our abilities. With such goals, we learn to order the information that enters consciousness and thereby improve the quality of our lives.
Flow is interrupted by internal conflict and a preoccupation with socially conditioned desires. People in a state of flow are alert and attentive, constantly processing information from their surroundings. The focus is still set by the person’s goal, but is open enough to notice and adapt to external events. The total involvement with the environment is described as “expanded consciousness” by people who practice meditation.

The rock climber Yvon Chouinard described one of his ascents on the fearsome El Capitan in Yosemite: “Each individual crystal in the granite stood out in bold relief. The varied shapes of the clouds never ceased to attract our attention. For the first time, we noticed tiny bugs that were all over the walls, so tiny that they were barely noticeable. I stared at one for fifteen minutes, watching him move and admiring his brilliant red color.

“How could one ever be bored
with so many good things to see and feel! This unity with our joyous surroundings, this ultra-penetrating perception, gave us a feeling that we had not had for years.”
Children experience flow in the freedom of play. Play has been called: “the work of childhood.” The importance of healthy social play in child development should not be underestimated.

Lifelong flow depends on self-knowledge, which is a process of continuous discovery. Out of that self-knowledge can come a passion for a special interest that can develop into an important part of the advancement of civilization.

At some point, for most people, our present educational system interrupts flow. Internal gratification is replaced by external judgment and “hope,” that fraudulent lie that if you suffer in the present, you will be happy in the future.
There is absolutely no justification for an educational system interfering with flow. Absolutely none. To do that blocks real learning and real happiness.

One of the reasons that home schooled children are more successful than institutionally schooled children is that the rigid structure that blocks the flow is absent. It would be wonderful if society could appreciate this process and allow the two systems to merge.

Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense


As a public high school English teacher,David Guterson possesses an insider glimpse into the problems of our education system. One of the core weaknesses of the education system is the restriction of learning within the four walls of the classroom.

In his book, Guterson (1993) not onlyjustifies his decision to homeschool his children, but also explores the critical role of homeschooling in challenging the premises of public education.

Although people choose to homeschool their children for a variety of reasons, one of the key reasons is their disillusionment with public education. With its standardized curriculum that is designated for the masses, the education system imposes its stamp of uniformity on every student, with little respect to their distinctive strengths and weaknesses.
In contrast, homeschooling offers a child-centered curriculum that promotes the children’s pursuit of their interests. Rather than impose their expectations of education on their children, parents allow their children to take the initiative in the learning process by guiding them in the right direction.

Guterson and his children follow the latter’s interest by going on excursions and exploring topics such as salmon or flight in detail. This type of education is premised on the belief that children are spontaneous learners who are intrinsically motivated to learn in a conducive environment. Instead of educating their children for future employment, homeschoolers are concerned with the cultivation of the love of learning by igniting all of the body’s senses (Guterson, 1993).

In spite of its orthodox methods of learning, homeschooling has shown that it is academically superior to public education. According to Guterson’s father (described in the book, a criminal lawyer who has defended homeschoolers in many cases) homeschoolers have higher test scores than their counterparts in public education. Although the public is concerned that many of the parents are not certified for teaching, Guterson, Sr. points out that that homeschoolers perform equally well on the standardized tests, regardless of their parents’ academic levels and credentials (in Guterson, 1993).

Guterson (1993) also addresses another prevalent concern that homeschoolers are not given adequate opportunities to socialize with their peers. According to Guterson (1993), schools often provide a negative social environment with its emphasis on forming cliques, competition and tracking. On the other hand, homeschoolers are liberated from the pressures of school life to form their own perceptions in their interaction with people of all ages within the community. Without the negative influences, properly taught homeschoolers are more likely than their counterparts in public education to develop sympathy and compassion towards others.
Nonetheless, it is important to note that Guterson (1993) is not a completely biased author who paints an idyllic portrait of homeschooling. In Chapter Seven, he depicts the economic sacrifices made by homeschoolers who have to devote a substantial amount of time and energy in their children’s education. Because they homeschool their children, homeschooling parents do not have a two-person income. Thus, the decision to homeschool one’s children involves a serious undertaking that affects other aspects of life.

In order to overcome financial difficulties and obstacles, Guterson (1993) highlights the use of the Internet, public libraries and low-cost community resources that can be integrated into the education. At the same time, he also proposes an interesting idea that brings homeschoolers and public schools together by allowing homeschoolers to use public school resources.

Ultimately, Guterson’s work is a celebration of an alternative
conception of education and learning. He believes that homeschooling offers an education that extends beyond the artificial environment of schools and exposes children to the real world that abounds with learning opportunities. Even more significantly, he supports homeschooling as a parent and a teacher because it combines the best of both worlds (family and school): “[Parents of my students] love their children with a depth I can’t match; and finally teaching is an act of love before it is anything else” (p. 10).