between learning, school, and education

Today I stumbled on to a term I'd never heard before: unschooling. While investigating this interesting concept it occurred to me that I've encountered the topic of education quite frequently in the last few weeks. I have probably shared many of the links in this post on facebook, my shared rss items, and twitter, but I'm going to try to collect them and my thoughts here anyway.

I very much enjoyed Seth Godin's discussion of the conspiracy behind the creation of a public school system. (4 mins)  I'd never heard any such theory before. I don't know to what extent his books address this sort of issue, if you've read his work please let me know.

Ken Robinson I discovered through his fantastic TED talks (each ~19 mins) on reforming the education system. After watching his latest one a month or so ago I went digging and found this extended version (1h 23m) of it. I have since gone ahead and added a couple of his books to my ever increasing list of Things To Read.

The articles "Consider Dropping Out Of School" a first person account of both doing so and suggesting it to others and "The End Of Men" a fantastic look at the trend of women increasingly edging out men in academia and the workforce both prompted me to get involved in a couple very informative discussions about the value of formal education.

Now, back to the original topic unschooling. There are a couple of good overview articles for those who, like me want an introduction to the idea, but for those interested in the hands on getting the job done info it seems the unofficial go to girl is Sandra Dodd. If you have kids and wish to explore the option give her your ears; you can tell that she speaks with the frankness of a mother who clearly understands the difference between theory and Getting (sh)It Done. Finally if you watch only one video I've posted here, make it Astra Taylor's excellent talk on her experiences in unschooling (~45 mins + Q&A).

I want to say that while I find the concept interesting, in no way do I believe that teachers are somehow doing it wrong. I count several teachers among my friends, including some of my own teachers who I've maintained a friendship with since quitting school. I will say that it seems when I ask these friends about work that the bulk of the conversation has to do with the mechanics of teaching either large groups of kids, or specific problem children. It feels to me that while the work of a teacher is genuinely where the rubber meets the road, in terms of education as a larger system they are not the ones at the wheel.

I'll finish with this off with one of the most hurtful memories I have of high school.  In my first year I had a cool young math teacher whose opinion I valued highly.  One day he started a discussion with the class regarding a TV special he'd seen about a young girl who could perform astounding feats of arithmetic in her head. "The way she learns", he said "is incredible, it's like she just has to know!"

I immediately blurted out, "I know how she feels, I feel that way too sometimes!" thinking of books I'd read, things I'd researched, experiments I'd done.  I was excited to learn that the feeling was shared by others.

He gave me this genuinely mournful and dismissive condescending look and slowly shook his head. You know the look. The one that smacks of their wisdom and your naiveté. "No Rob, it's not the same". He changed the subject. My joy of learning simply wasn't as good, or as worthy as this savant's was, end of story.

Of course, I did not quit school several years later because I'd been stung by a teachers careless words, I quit because, among other things, I almost never experienced that feeling while I was there.  I'm glad to say that to this day I still find my own brand of joy from reading, learning, and trying to work things out on my own.  Remembering it now though, I wonder how many other students he may have inadvertently snuffed the desire to learn out of, and how many other similarly careless teachers are out there in classrooms today.