[Guest post by Lee Stranahan]
(Hey Pattereaders — I’ll have more to say about the political implications of some of this stuff in a later post, but I thought I’d set up a little bit about homeschooling and specifically ‘unschooling’ here first.)
I was reading an article about Larry Page today and I came across an interesting quote. If you don’t know Page’s name right off the bat, Larry Page and Sergey Brin are the cofounders of Google. This past week, Larry Page took over as CEO of Google from Eric Schmidt. It’s potentially a turning point for Google similar to when Steve Jobs returned as the CEO of Apple.
But leaving aside the business machinations, listen to this…
“You can’t understand Google,” vice president Marissa Mayer says, “unless you know that both Larry and Sergey were Montessori kids.” She’s referring to schools based on the educational philosophy of Maria Montessori, an Italian physician born in 1870 who believed that children should be allowed the freedom to pursue their interests. “In a Montessori school, you go paint because you have something to express or you just want to do it that afternoon, not because the teacher said so,” she says. “This is baked into how Larry and Sergey approach problems. They’re always asking, why should it be like that? It’s the way their brains were programmed early on.”
There are lots of potential jumping off points in that article, but I’m going to riff on one of my pet topics – education.
I’m a Montessori kid. This was a big deal to my mother, who made sure that my brother and I – born in 1969 and 1965, respectively – both attended Montessori schools. I mention these dates because many modern-day Montessori schools are just more or less "progressive preschools" that bear very little actual resemblance to Maria Montessori and her original techniques. This watering down of Montessori techniques have already started by the 1960s but it’s gotten much worse.
The idea that “you go paint because you have something to express or you just want to do it that afternoon, not because the teacher said so” is a very good summary of growing trend of unshooling, too — only substitute the word "parent" for "teacher.”
In my brain – apparently programmed to ask "why should it be like that?" — I think what a huge positive impact it would have on our society if our children were allowed the freedom to pursue their interests. In my little tribe of Stranahans, we have tried to do this by homeschooling/unschooling our kids but I often think about ways this could be implemented on a much wider level.
Here’s a clip from my upcoming documentary Unschooling : The Movie.
I often hear, “Well, not everyone can homeschool.” Sometimes when people say this, they mean that not every parent is qualified to be a teacher but this implies a model of homeschooling where the "teacher" is the all-knowing authority who needs to constantly mold and direct the children. That’s exactly the paradigm that unschooling rejects. Every parent is "qualified” to be able to provide encouragement and materials for their children to be able to pursue their own interests, especially in the digital age where anyone with a computer and an Internet connection has access to more resources than any Ivy League student had access to just 10 years ago.
The other main meaning of “not everyone can homeschool” is that many people have put themselves into a lifestyle that doesn’t allow it, for example one where both parents work outside of the home. But honestly, that’s a choice so saying people who make that choice "can’t" homeschool is a misnomer. They could but they choose not to.
I think it’s more accurate to say, "Not everyone should homeschool.” This is doubly true with unschooling. If you believe it’s a bad idea, you shouldn’t do it. If you have a spouse that is trying to talk you into it, work out all those issues first.
If you want to homeschool but can’t figure out how your kid will get into your old alma mater if they didn’t attend a normal school then I think you’re a real bad candidate for unschooling. The entire idea of pre-planning outcomes for your child is really the opposite of the unschooling philosophy. If your goal is to help your child’s natural interests and talents unfold, you can’t really do that with a predetermined destination in mind.
But for parents who are ready to trust that their kids will find their own path and willing to create an environment that encourages that…well, thanks for the whatever the big ‘what if’ innovation they come up with in 2021.
– Lee Stranahan