Saturday, 2 March 2013

Why Unschooling is Not Like Art

I saw a Facebook status from Kicking It Unschool today, looking at the definition of unschooling...


"Unschooling is like Art.

We can try to define them both...

Unschooling- 1. allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world as their parents can comfortably bear. (Pat Farenga)
2. the process of learning through life, without formalized or institutionalized classrooms or schoolwork (Freechild Project)

Art- 1. the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects
2. decorative or illustrative elements in printed matter. (Merriam-Webster)

... but those definitions don't come anywhere near touching on what either thing *really is*. Just as what is art to me may not be art to you, what unschooling looks like for my family may not be what unschooling looks like for your family."

I haven't commented on there, as it's a page for their own journey, but I did have thoughts about this that I wanted to put out there, as just because a statement is kind of pretty and appealing and inclusive doesn't mean it's not worth challenging...

In addition to the Pat Farenga quote, which I don't think is a very clear idea of unschooling (as by that definition, if the level of freedom parents are comfortable with is 'school', then school is unschooling. It makes no sense), I couldn't quite pin down why I didn't like the comparison. A couple of hours driving later, with the thoughts milling round just beneath my conversations with the boys, and the cloud of 'hmmmm' resolved into something more coherent: It's written from outside of the learner.

Just as an artist's imagination, vision, choice of medium, thoughts, creativity, inspiration, and any other number of factors might contribute to the resulting sculpture/painting/chalk drawing/film/tattoo that someone else might or might not consider to be 'art', an unschooled child's preferences, environment, interests, relationships, passions, temperament and any other number of factors might contribute to their learning. In the former case, the artist has made art regardless of whether anyone else considers it to be so; the output of different artists differs in a myriad of ways, but every single one based on the artist and not one based on what the onlooker considers to be art. In the latter, the principles of supporting them to learn and providing an interesting environment are the same for any child; how that looks when working with those principles will differ every time, but every single one based on how those principles translate to that individual child. 

It's all about the why, not the what. 

It's not about whether a child plays video games; It's about whether video games that might interest that individual child are available to them among other things, and played with them, and chatted about, and followed down tangents of interest. 

It's not about whether a child fills in a workbook; It's about why they're interested to choose a workbook, whether that workbook is bought on request with no strings either way, whether there are other interesting things available to choose too.

It's not about whether a child stays up later than a schoolchild their age; It's about whether they're supported to sleep when they're tired, how that fits in with the family, how that's adapted to as it changes.


If I, as an unschooling parent, were to have three artists instead of children, it would be my role to buy them their tools, help them find their medium if they wanted, perhaps assist them in finding a muse, taking them to places that would inspire them. My three artists would be, maybe, Banksy, John James Audubon, and Diane Arbus. I'd ensure Banksy had access to lots of independent current affairs reports; comfortable space at home and materials with which to map out designs; time at night in which to put together finished pieces; I'd keep an eye out for upcoming Richard Hambleton exhibitions, and make sure he always had enough spray paint. For John, I'd keep a good supply of pastels and watercolours, and canvases too; I'd see if there was a local taxidermist I could take him to watch, and I'd organise plenty of birdwatching trips. Diane I'd buy a good camera, keep her supplied with lots of black and white film, take her people watching, and take her to plenty of festivals and gatherings where unusual people gathered to do unusual things. 

If I was to decide instead that 'what art looked like for my family' was freedom to draw in chalk on the pavement, plus a compulsory completion of one roll of photographic film per artist each week, and someone was telling me I was missing a trick, and I then said that it was okay for me to define art this way for my artists as what looks like art to other families isn't what looks like art to mine... well I'd have pretty effectively prevented my three artists from making their art, all on the basis that whatever *I* wanted to call art was what art was, instead of looking at each of their processes and supporting them uniquely and individually.

So I agree, "what unschooling looks like for my family may not be what unschooling looks like for your family", but if we're working with principles and not labels, these differences will be all about the individual children, and nothing at all about a parent who thinks that 'some things just need to be taught'.



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