Is Unschooling Our Path to Real Inclusion?

Schooling.  Achievement.  Ability.

Of course my children would go to school.  And of course they would rock it.  That is what you do.  That is what I did.

I’m not sure anymore.

My issue lies more with the path, rather than the destination.  The process of learning to read, write, do math, learn how science, history, art, all intersect is very worthwhile.  I’m not trying to sound anti-education here, but the very structure and method of today’s mainstream classroom education seems very problematic to me.

Instead of sitting in a classroom and learning history for history’s sake, what if a child learned history during the course of exploring her sudden interest in pirate ships?  What if a child learned math during the course of his sudden interest in why flower petals often follow a certain number sequence?  What if a child honed her writing skills after deciding to write a letter to her local paper, objecting to its coverage on an issue near and dear to her heart?

This doesn’t only apply to older kids, of course.  Young children learn how to count raspberries stuck on their fingertips, they learn to read because they are interested in other modes of communication, physics from bouncing a ball.  I could go on forever.

These ideas are at the heart of unschooling.  Nothing new at all.  However, now I’m looking at schooling (or unschooling) through the lens of a parent who has a child who does not have an equal place in our public education system.  I’m looking at our path to inclusion.

I’m starting to wonder if the arguments about inclusion are destined to fail because at heart, schooling is a very ableist enterprise.  It seems an awful lot like our current schooling systems emphasize ability for ability’s sake, achievement for achievement’s sake.  Such is the nature of tests, grades, and assessments.  There is so little emphasis on the process and rather a lot given to the end product.

What if, instead, a child learned what she needed to learn simply in order to do what she wanted?  What if abilities weren’t achievements in and of themselves, but they were merely tools to explore the world?  With that thinking, what would it matter if a child learned to read at five years old or ten years old?  Would it matter that a child didn’t communicate as the majority of his peers did?

In the case of unschooling, changing the emphasis to process rather than end product has the potential to circumvent the need for “special needs” education.  The very idea of “special needs” predicates the definition of not-special, or, I’m loathe to say, “normal” needs.  And when schooling is entirely geared towards achieving a certain level of competency at certain abilities over others in a prescribed time frame, some kids will be shut out.  Making education about fostering learning according to each individual’s desires and natural aptitude rather than reaching a preordained level of ability is very, very appealing to this mama.

I know.  There’s a lot more to it.  We have, after all, enrolled Mouse in a Spanish immersion transitional kindergarten class next year.  I am NOT anti-school.  I think there are some amazing things going on in schools today.  Still.  The more and more I think about it, the more appealing unschooling looks for all of my children.

To be continued (after I do a whole lot more obsessive research).  I leave you with a picture of the children in question.  (Notice LP’s comb over flapping in the wind.)  xo

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10 Comments on “Is Unschooling Our Path to Real Inclusion?”

  1. For the reasons to have cited, and more, I chose to enroll my children in a Waldorf school. (I’ve long intended to write an essay “Why Waldorf?”). The first three years, I drove nearly an hour each way to take them to the only Waldorf school in our region. Later, we moved closer. When I left my three older sons’ father, he refused to continue contributing to their education at the Waldorf school. I have used the majority of my child support to keep them there through the eighth grade. (Our school is only pre-k through grade 8)

    My first & third sons are extremely dyslexic & did require added remediation from a private specialist, but meanwhile thrived in their Waldorf classrooms. The school has had children with Ds and they are truly mainstreamed. The founder, Rudolf Steiner, developed a pedagogical approach for kids with Ds, whom he called gifts (in the 1920s, when that was hardly the norm).

    There are so many more options available today than our parents had and it can be stressful determining what is the best educational choice for your family. Waldorf worked for my kids, wonderfully so. I’m happy to have a conversation about it with you, anytime, if you’d like.

    • jisun says:

      I really like Waldorf theory as well. My only issue with it is how inaccessible it is because it doesn’t really exist in a public educational setting (although I know there are charter schools that use Waldorf ideas). Then again, homeschooling isn’t accessible to all either because many families need both of their incomes. But we can’t afford to send the kids to a private Waldorf school, so it is kind of out of the picture.

      I’m a big fan of anthroposopical medicine as well, also Steiner. :)

  2. Ginger says:

    As you know we kind of “unschool.” There are schools like this as well. Search Democratic schools and Sudbury. Piper goes to a democratic school two days a week. We fully intend to school Jude the way we’ve schooled the others. There is no reason why she can’t be a part of setting her own goals through life.

  3. Nadine says:

    I think “exclusion” begins the day we ship our kids off to school and “exclude” them from life and all the learning opportunities that living in the world imparts. We set them up from the start with the idea that they must “earn” their place in the world by memorizing facts, completing boring worksheets, testing and earning a grade that will determine their readiness to be “included” in the world some 12 years later. There is no greater lie we can sell our children. Our children are part of this world with all their “special” and “not so special” needs….they do not need to “earn” their place there by jumping through hoops and obeying commands, they are already in and of this world. Everything a child needs and desires they will seek, learn, and master….they went from crawling to standing up in order to reach that thing they really wanted on the coffee table. They went from standing to walking in order to follow what they did not want to lose sight of…..did we need to institutionalize them so they could master those skills? Did we need to grade them so they could be now “authorized” to go from crawling to walking? They learned to speak without lesson plans. We as parents interrupt that desire, curiosity, and natural learning process at a state mandated age, when we wake up one morning and inform our children that we (and the state) see it best if someone now takes over what, how and when they will learn things……hmmmmm…..why? Were they failing? ….so many conditioned thoughts that we do not question.

    • jisun says:

      Yes, I really take issue with the framework/time limits on the way education is today. And I also question the need to have children in a contained classroom to learn. I often hear the argument that the social aspect of learning in this method is very important, but I’m really not sure what about the modern classroom gives socialization that couldn’t be had in other ways. The pass/fail idea as well… All things that are really making me question it all!

  4. Lisa says:

    Sigh. A whole lot to think about. Especially since we are currently embroiled in battling our school district over inclusion for Finn. I love everything you’ve said here, and I wish so much that I were the kind of parent who could do unschooling or homeschooling, but I know myself well enough to know that I’m just not. And on some level, keeping Finn out of the public school system – however much I loathe it at this point – goes against my ideas about inclusion, because inclusion goes beyond school. Whether I like it or not, school is where his peers are, where his community is, the very community that I want to embrace him. So if I keep him out of that “community,” how can I expect that community to know him, to accept him, to embrace him? That being said, I very much agree with you about school being a very ableist institution, and in many ways, it really just sets kids like Finn up for failure. I find myself feeling very down about this stuff, because it often looks like a lose-lose proposition.

    • jisun says:

      I have thought about this aspect of community as well and it is one reason that o lean towards homeschooling all or none. I also see that homeschoolers have very wide communities. They can choose to participate in group education, do community sports, etc. So in that way, I’ve reconciled that concern. But I can see that it isn’t for everyone. Heck, in bit entirely sure it is for me. But I see what happens to kids in the school system (Ds or not), and I keep thinking, I’m not sure if I can do that. I dunno. Let’s talk in six months. ;)

  5. Miriam says:

    I think that too many people confuse school with learning. They’re not the same thing. And for many kids, the rewards are the whole point of their education. Whether or not they were interested in what they were learning, whether or not it made sense, whether or not they could apply it in the context of real life; these things are largely beside the point. Some kids are better at getting rewarded. Some aren’t very good at it, for a whole bunch of reasons. School is not the great equalizer, not even close.
    You’ve brought up a very good point, about inclusion. I think that my feelings are that ultimately everyone loses when some kids win and some lose; and if schools were more focused on learning being it’s OWN reward I’d be more supportive of them :-)


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