In case you missed the ubiquitous memo, it is once again back to school time. The retail rush is on – get all your school supplies and new clothing before the sales are gone. Parents are sharing memes about getting their kids back on a schedule and out of the house. And, everyone is trying to shove that final bit of summer-time energy into these last two weeks before the first bell rings.
What if I told you, all that retail therapy was intentionally designed to distract kids from the fact that they will no longer have all the time and space to explore the things that truly interest them? What if you knew that rushing around to get all those summer-like experiences is not necessary? What if I told you that it is OK for a child to be bored – that it is, in fact, the catalyst for most creativity? What if you discovered there is another way for kids to learn all they need to survive, and thrive, without the ridiculous stress, timetables, restrictions, intimidation, or coercion? Would you believe me if I told you that back to school propaganda is one more way to convince you and your child that they are not capable of learning without the societal institution known as school?
For many of the families I work with at Deep Root Center, the call to action went far beyond the unhappy kid who was still complying, to the utterly disenfranchised, despondent, child who was acting out and no longer cooperative. In all fairness to parents, most kids will not blatantly say, “I hate school! It makes me feel uneasy, uncomfortable, and anxious.” Instead, all that stress and anxiety around school take on many disguises from seemingly unprovoked melt-downs to sleepiness or insomnia. Your child may suddenly lose the ability to choose clothing and get dressed in the morning, or become indecisiveness around food choices. Or, they lose interest in all the things that formerly excited them. A formerly chill kid may become decidedly un-chill and overly sensitive.
No, for the most part, they will not say, “I want to leave school.” Since, the two main concepts they have learned from the institution are that: 1) they cannot be trusted to make good decisions, and 2) they will not be motivated to do what is required without all the punishment and rewards schools employ to get them to do what they want them to do.
When a child has reached that deeply flawed understanding of learning, it takes tons of time filled with constant, gentle, nurturing reassurance before they fully comprehend that they can be trusted to, capably, make good choices about their life and education.
Slowly, they begin to understand that all their interests and passions, which are often shunted to weekends and summertime, can become the fuel for all of their learning. I know they have begun to reach this point when they start to ask, “does this count?”
This is the point in this post where all the disclaimers are obliged to live – yes, most of us went to school, yes, most of us survived, and, yes, some of us did just fine – with no major complaints, and no (or little) residual trauma. However, most of the adults I speak with usually say something like, “where was DRC when I was growing up?” Or, “man, my child could have used you guys. We went through Hell, getting them through school.” (The latter is actually the reason DRC received a $10,000 anonymous donation last August.)
Imagine that you had the opportunity to focus on the things that only received part of your attention because you spent the majority of your time locked into a system that required your full concentration to simply survive. How could your life have been different? Would you have followed a different career path? Would you be more curious and open to exploring all the possibilities? Would you be happier?
Now envision your child – what would happen if they were allowed to get completely engrossed in those things that they normally save for their “downtime?” What would it look like if they were able to shake off all that societal pressure that holds them back from fully exploring the abundance of subjects that they are interested in? What if they could fill their personal buckets of knowledge from a place of contentment, excitement, and wonder? Would they be happier?
These questions about our system of education are all receiving national attention through respected sources and outlets. Dr. Peter Gray, the author of Free to Learn and a regular column in Psychology Today (here is one related to back to school from 2014), is a well-respected developmental psychologist who has spent much of his career researching the role of play throughout human history. Kerry McDonald is a Senior Education Fellow at FEE and the author of, Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom. She also had this opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal, recently, and here is another related to back to school. Jeremy Stuart just released the independent film Self-Taught, which follows six young adults who were unschooled through much of their childhood. Not to mention, Ken Danford's new book: Learning is Natural. School is Optional. These are just a few examples of media around self-directed education in the past couple of months. You can learn more from the Alliance for Self-Directed Education.
*note – Deep Root Center owns copies of Free to Learn and Learning is Natural. School is Optional. We are happy to lend them out to anyone interested in borrowing them. We also have a license to screen Self-Taught and we are looking for suggestions for venues. The film is also available for private viewing at Deep Root Center. Simply let us know if you are interested in watching it.
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Summer Programs begin tomorrow. There is still room either week. Register today!