Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Wild Child

There is a very lengthy feature article in the Dallas Observer titled "Wild Child" looking at one parent's idea of unschooling their son. It's quite radical even by unschooling standards. However, I always find it interesting how other parents view their children's education. But I agree with Patricial Hunter , this article is not for the innocent or the faint of heart. The story features Barb Lundgren and her son Quinn. Here's how Quinn summarizes his education.

"My mother taught us everything without teaching us anything," Quinn says. "Everything I know I've experienced myself, I've taught myself, I've learned myself. The whole childhood was magical."

Further into the article his mother describes her philopshy and her concerns.

Lundgren has heard it all, but, with a few detours, has remained a radical unschooler. It hasn't always been easy. A lover of books, Lundgren admits it bothered her when one child wasn't interested in learning to read until he was a teenager. An avid traveler, Quinn once came home with a tale of living on the streets in Hawaii with a homeless schizophrenic who taught him how to dumpster-dive--a practice he sometimes continues during pit stops at home.

"What I have learned to do is withdraw from the societal expectations that exist for my child and ask some basic questions," Lundgren says. "Does he seem happy with himself? Is he making inquiries into things he's interested in?"

Here's how she describes her philosphy, "

It's all about following the child's lead and not treating him like something that needs to be molded and shaped in my image," she says. "I think that from a learning and education point of view, you always gravitate toward the things that make you feel good and the things you enjoy doing." (snip)

For Lundgren, it was an article of faith that--properly facilitated--each of her children would learn what he or she needed to learn. The gate in their brains would swing open. But as much as Lundgren loves the canon, those Great Books that form the basis of most classical education in the Western world, her three children simply weren't interested. "It's tough to get a kid to gravitate naturally to that," she admits.

Who wants to read Dante when he can play Doom?

So it seems that their interests alone completely directed their learning. I'm not an unschooler but I'm wondering if this is this true of most unschoolers. Do unschoolers completely give up on certain things if their child shows no interest? How do unschoolers determine interest level? For some of my children their initial interest was low. But after they read or explored it further they became very interested. So at what point do you give up Dante? And at what point do you decide that an interest is too consuming or not acceptable?

There was also a disctinction made between unschoolers and traditional homeschoolers that I don't think is quite accurate.

In fact, unschooling is the opposite of the approach taken by many homeschoolers, usually conservative Christians dismayed by the erosion of educational standards and pernicious cultural influences in public and private schools. Most homeschoolers attempt to offer a structured, back-to-basics curriculum in a disciplined environment. They are certainly not child-led (ever hear of Original Sin?), and their educational guru is not John Holt but James Dobson, the evangelical leader of Focus on the Family.
There are a lot of unschooling parents who are also conservative Christians. Further, I don't know many homeschoolers who consider James Dobson as their educational guru.

I'm curious what other's think about this story. I must admit this article made me squirm a little. He talks about wilderness survival experiences, living homeless, and learning to dumpster dive. He seems more like an aimless, wanderer, without much purpose to his life. Here's a quote from the end of the article,
Quinn doesn't see college in his future. He's after something bigger than a bachelor's degree. "I just go and let the universe open up to me," Quinn says. He's shopping for a bicycle so he can travel without relying on oil or other methods of transport. "I always have some new profound experience. That's what my life is about now, a moment-to-moment, day-to-day existence."
I have to be honest, I hope my children have a little higher aspirations than just living for the moment. I'm not saying they must go to college or be a career executive. But one of our goals for our children is that they understand that life is not about them. That the greatest experiences in life are when we are not considering ourselves or our experiences the end of it all. That goal wouldn't change whether I was a structured textbook homeschooler or a radical unschooler. I understand that this is not every parent's goal. But as a Christian, I hope to teach my children that life is not to be lived just for the moment but to glorify the God of that moment.

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