Setting The Stage: What Is Unschooling?
This week’s writing prompt:
Starting in September you will begin crafting your Artist’s Manifesto.
Today’s blog post is meant to get you thinking about the areas in your artistic endeavors that you may need to ‘unschool’ yourself in. Are there any outdated lessons, behaviors or judgement towards yourself or other artists? Think about your childhood: what were your experiences with art making? What did you love best? What do you wish you had experienced?...etc.
Spend a few minutes this week writing about this.
What is Unschooling?
Unschooling is an educational philosophy and practice coined by educator John Holt, a teacher, writer and influencer of the ‘youth rights’ theory. In 1967 Holt published a book titled How Children Learn in response to the mainstream idea that children are ‘monsters of evil who must be beaten into submission’ or ‘little two-legged walking computers whom we can program into geniuses’. Instead Holt argued that the unschooling theory lets children acquire knowledge best by guiding their own learning and allowing the learner to follow internal cues and pursue learning for intrinsic reward. In this self-directed approach children still need the help of adults but only as guides and not authoritative figures. In his book Learning All the Time, published shortly after his death, John Holt argues that,
“Teaching does not make learning...We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions - if they have any - and helping them explore the things they are most interested in.” (Holt, 1990)
In 2002 Lisa Rivero published an article in the Roeper Review titled Progressive digressions: Home schooling for self-actualization. Rivero contributed to the idea of education for self-actualization and proposed that creative learning is a key component of that education. She emphasized that when lacking it may impact negatively the learner’s self-actualization process. The focus of the creative learning model is to adapt education to the child rather than the child having to adapt to the education and school practices.
Rivero shares the following as some of the main principles of creative learning: embracing dichotomies (accepting that the child may not always fit into a particular style /model of learning); valuing the inspirational and innovative parts of creativity (putting less emphasis on specific skills, and more on interest based inquiries); digressive learning (allowing for the covering of a wide range of subjects, freely passing from one to another); encouraging divergent and immersion learning (allowing the learner to engage in their topic of choice and its tangents until no longer interested); combining work and play (allowing more time and freedom to learn and work). Rivero emphasized that much of a child’s creativity may be stifled by the teachers’ or parents’ negative or even encouraging and rewarding behaviors and urged educators and parents to remember that every learning matters and to unschool themselves so they may make themselves open to creative learning (Rivero, 2002).
How I learned about unschooling goes back to an event that took place in 2012. After seeing how dissatisfied and overwhelmed my daughters’ grew with their schooling, I decided to pull them out and homeschool them for the school year of 2012-2013. I was very privileged at the time to be able to do this. This was done to the dismay of many concerned friends and family who thought that the girls would fall behind in their studies without a set schedule and curriculum of learning. To prepare for this experience I joined the Washington Homeschool Organization and attended that year’s conference.
This is where I was introduced to the term, “unschooling”. Critics of this philosophy worry that children won’t be socialized, will lack the necessary skills to enter the job market and would be scattered and unmotivated. Proponents believe children will find out their interests faster and earlier in life, will be more self assured, and much better equipped for the job market and life in general. My daughters completed a year of unschooling and returned to public school for the rest of their school career. When I asked them to reflect on this unschooled year they told me that throughout the year they shared much of the fears of the critics, but towards the end, and upon returning to school, they sided with the proponents of this method. They had not missed anything, were not behind in their studies and now had an example of a different way to learn.
Flash forward to 2017 to me in my undergraduate program at Antioch University Seattle. I decided to create my own visual arts concentration. I realised that I needed to know more so I may better craft my pathway. I was particularly interested in how the principles of unschooling may help the artist find their own voice, trust their process, and build creative longevity. I wanted to address unschooling as a catalyst to and creativity as the initiator of self-actualization, fulfillment of one’s own potential as an artist.
I soon realized that in order for me to become the artist I deep down knew I was, I would need to unschool myself of everything I knew about traditional art education as well as anything I had been told about being an artist and living the life of one.
Holt, J. C. (1967). How children learn. Da Capo Press.
Holt, J. C. (1990). Learning all the time. Perseus.
Rivero, L. (2002). Progressive digressions: Home schooling for self-actualization. Roeper Review, 24(4), 197-202.