Homeschooling & Unschooling

This weekend I visited the National Portrait Gallery, and came across an exhibition on the famous Bronte sisters. I read about Charlotte Bronte’s early life, and how she had gone through periods of going to school, and other periods where she would stay at home. Charlotte wrote quite strongly and emotionally about how school life disrupted her freedom and time she could spend writing, and being able to spend the time as she wanted to.

This isn’t the first time I’ve read about schools stifling creativity (Ken Robinson’s TED Talk is a recommended one if you haven’t seen it), or in some way stifling one’s ambition. I have come across several individuals who are, in my opinion, successful and living well, doing work that they truly care about, or were in some way meant for. (One example is Isaac Morehouse, who was homeschooled, and now also homeschools his children – his interviews with his son Nolan, here (aged 8), here (aged 9) and here (aged 10), are quite extraordinary).

I used to, like many others, look upon homeschooling, and unschooling, with a questioning gaze. For example, with unschooling – to leave children to their own devices, playing computer games and making lego? I couldn’t quite fathom how this was a good idea and could lead to healthy, successful outcomes.

However, my perception has somewhat changed in the last 12 months, as I’ve read more about it and studied education and the schooling system with more of a critical eye. Thinking back to my own time spent at primary school, and the early years of secondary school (i.e.before the real pressure kicked in and I had to choose the “sensible, academic subjects”, which would lead to a safe, secure, high-profile career), and I fondly remember about how I used to love creative writing, and letting my imagination run wild when I put pen to paper. It seems a distant memory, but I remember it quit fondly. I have also always enjoyed stories of fantasy, myth, and cartoons too. From around Year 9 (i.e. aged 14) onwards, was the time when we started to be prepared for GCSE English – i.e. preparing for “the syllabus” – and so creative writing turned more to analysis of plays and poems, and rote learning for exams that were to come.

It is only in the last few months that I have rekindled my love of writing, having been set on a path away from some of my true interests which I feel my schooling largely contributed to. Whilst I am mostly writing about (non-fiction) topics I am interested in, I have half-heartedly planned to take part in the annual NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) competition which comes around each November. My writing muscle is slowly developing and getting stronger, and perhaps I might toy around with a little creative, fiction writing.

Unfortunately the school syllabus is far too rigid, one-dimensional, and in many ways irrelevant – and increasingly so for the world that we live in today. It is so important for children and teenagers to be encouraged to pursue what they care about, what they are interested in, their true intrinsic motivators, rather than to merely do the subjects they think that they are supposed to do, and for the purposes of passing the exams they are supposed to take.

Though numbers are still relatively low, the number of home- and un-schoolers in the UK is increasing year on year. One of the only downsides I see to that model is the lack of social support and interaction with peers; perhaps more concrete communities can be formed as numbers grow. Unschooling, in particular, allows for a free and autonomous form of education and, I wonder, if that is one which can lead to greater self-direction, autonomy, mastery, purpose and, ultimately – fulfilment. There are certainly parallels between home-schooling and entrepreneurship that have been identified. A lifestyle choice to keep an eye on for sure… (Speaking of self-direction, several high-profile individuals have drawn comparisons with unschooling and entrepreneurship).

Home- & Unschooling side, one does feel that mainstream education drastically needs to change, especially given the world we now live in. Unfortunately, given the sheer size and complexity of “education”, and “the system” operating like it has for so long, I find it difficult to see how existing schools and colleges can make the drastic changes that are needed. Perhaps it is up to new schools, such as School21 and Floreat, which somewhat offer a small beacon of hope for the future.

(Note: you may be wondering – what’s the difference? Homeschooling is where a syllabus is still used, and traditional subjects still taught. On the other hand, there is no syllabus used for Unschooling, with activities led by the interests of the child, and facilitated by parent. You can read more about the differences here and here)

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