5 Ways to Improve the Public School Experience with Unschooling Techniques

Bohemian Mom
Activist Post

As an unschooling parent, I often struggle with the thoughts of what happens to all the other children that are still in the public school system. While we believe very strongly in the benefits of having our children at home and following an unschooling lifestyle, I know that it is simply not possible for everyone. What can be done to help those children?

How can we care so much about our children while knowingly walking away from the other kids that are stuck in what I feel is a completely inefficient model for gaining knowledge?

We can’t completely ignore these challenges. While I am not there in the U.S. to personally advocate changes, I can offer up some tips to help bring some homeschooling philosophies of learning into the classroom.  It will require an open mind and a willingness to try something new, but I believe these ideas could revolutionize the way our public education system functions.

It will seem idealistic to some, but isn’t that what we need? Our children deserve new ideas to help guide them into the quickly changing future. Our public school systems are deeply rooted in an archaic mindset and it is vital to change sooner rather than later.

I started to think of what an ideal school setting would look like to me, as an unschooler. If we look at the ways in which home educators teach, there are many components that can be introduced on a larger scale and used in schools now! In my opinion, these things could make our children successful on a whole new level. Happiness, confidence, and seeking out their own passions can take precedence even on a large scale.

The following ideas are how I think that can be achieved.

Change the way we view educating children
The secret of education is respecting the pupil. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

First and foremost, we need to begin by looking at all children as individuals, and make sure that they know it is okay to be exactly who they are. Acceptance by others is one of the easiest ways we can instill a positive sense of self esteem.  One of our biggest problems with a mass education system is that children are judged on one path and one centrally-dictated curriculum. They are also constantly compared to peers and encouraged to do things no matter what their own ideas of happiness or success are.

Throw away the list of arbitrary rules that make children feel mistrusted right out of the gate. Children need to feel like they are being guided, not controlled. Allow them the freedom to make choices individually about what they would like to do for at least part of the day, and then respect and encourage those choices.  By showing children respect, we will gain it too — as well as boosting their self esteem and allowing them to pursue subjects of their passion.  This can be done by simply allowing them choice and encouragement!  This concept is already proving successful by some Montessori schools.

So many children dislike school yet they spend a huge percentage of their lives within those walls. By treating children as equals rather than subordinates that need to be controlled, it’s my opinion that they will enjoy their childhood and find excitement in learning.

Most people learn best by doing! As soon as kids are 12 or so, I think it would be a great idea to offer different internships in the fields that cannot be covered in the classroom. Get children out in the community learning from everyone around them. Let children follow their passion and see how far they can take it.

Very little about being confined in school resembles the “real world”. Why not get children out in it as soon as possible? Mechanics, plumbers, electricians, contractors, computer programmers, and even artists are all people that have a wealth of knowledge to offer, yet it seems as though what they do or what they have to offer counts for very little.

Many high schools in Northern Europe use apprenticeships as part of their standard curriculum.  Most students graduate and can go right into a career already trained.  While others may only need another year or two of university to build on their specialty.  The whole system is less costly and more effective toward educating young people for the profession they desire.

Accept that learning takes place all the time and in many ways
Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion has no hold on the mind. Therefore, do not use compulsion, but let early education be rather a sort of amusement, this will better enable you to find out the natural bent of the child. – Plato

Whatever a child shows interest in is important, period.  Let their creativity shine through in what ever way speaks to them. Offer as many possibilities in a day as possible, but never force anyone to partake. No real passion is born out of coercion. Passion is something we should be building up in children; that is how we will end up with happy adults that follow their dreams. Show them the possibilities in the world, not just the path that most take.

The hardest part is for adults (especially teachers and parents) to let go of what we have been taught is important.  Useless facts, memorized dates, etc. are all wonderful if pertinent to your life, but when it is not, it very rarely stays with us.  We need to show our kids that what they love has value, whether that is playing video games, learning about animals, or reading Shakespeare.  It all holds value and they are learning all the time.

Disclaimer:  Even most unschoolers feel that reading and basic math are important, as they are the basic tools that help us learn on our own.  However, even these can be taught in creative ways that tickle the passions of the student.  For instance, math concepts can be taught by playing card games or calculating outcomes of reward systems; and reading can be taught using only material the student wants to learn about.

Open up the system for competition
Class size is perhaps the biggest challenge to implementing some of the other changes suggested here.  Of course, homeschoolers are usually in a one-on-one situation, which is obviously not achievable in public education. However, nearly everyone in education would agree that smaller class sizes are more beneficial to the students.  The question becomes how best to achieve this goal?

For years the debate has been about money.  Special interests on all sides say that more money is needed to achieve this goal.  Yet, America already spends far more per student than any other developed nation — with rather unimpressive results I might add.

The U.S. government currently spends over $10K per year to educate each student. Sure, more money might be helpful to achieve this goal if spent properly. However, trusting that will happen with all of the special interests and bureaucracies seeking their cut is highly unlikely.

In my opinion, the only way to reduce class sizes in public schools is to open them to competition.  In other words, open public funding to private schools to compete with public schools.  Drop the centrally-dictated curriculum or board-certified teachers’ requirements for these private schools to receive funds and let the free market determine who’s most effective at educating our children.

Naturally, parents want the best for their children and will choose a school that gains a reputation for success, however it is defined by the parent.  Whether the school is geared toward apprenticeships, learning foreign languages, the arts, meditation, or sports shouldn’t matter in regards to how funds are distributed.  Again, it’s more about choice.

We don’t need to look any further than Canada to find an example of how this could work.  In Calgary, students can choose between public schools, Montessori, Catholic schools, and a host of other private schools.  Each of these schools receives funding per student as if they’re a public school. However, each is still strictly regulated by curriculum and teacher certifications.  I say shave those regulations back even further and let parents decide what’s important in a school.

Utilize technology
If the schooling system does not rapidly close the gap between what it does, and what it should do in response to the demands of the 21st century, it will simply become irrelevant. – David Hood

I know that many schools and individual teachers are starting to see the importance of this, but I think it needs to be happening at an even faster pace. The world is so much different decade to decade; we need to help keep our children on track.  I would argue that teaching and utilizing technology effectively in education may be one of the most important things to helping prepare our children.

So many jobs that are now supporting families did not even exist five years ago.  Personally, our family’s travel lifestyle is only possible because of the Internet and this technology.  Keeping that knowledge from children, or making them feel that it is a less valuable way to spend their time seems completely outrageous to me.  They need to learn it in order to be able to make educated choices about their own future.

Tablets like iPads are just the latest gadgets that parents are told can be damaging to our children, but I wholeheartedly disagree.  Young boys and girls need to know how to function on these tablets in order to open up all possibilities to them in the future.  It’s far more beneficial than spending countless hours practicing penmanship which still goes on in schools.  Besides the operation knowledge of this technology, the educational applications are endless — the Kindle app alone holds thousands of backpacks worth of books.

Finally, with these handheld devices, students literally have access to all of the world’s knowledge in the palm of their hand.  The ramifications of that ability on our current brick-and-mortar educational paradigm are almost too many to list.  I do not expect that my unschooled kids spend the entire day on the Internet, but allowing children to play games and learn in unconventional ways online will allow them to discover technology first hand and learn how to harness it.

In the next installment, I will offer 5 additional ideas about what can remove from the outright destructive aspects of public school, so that our children can learn in a healthier, safer environment. 

This article first appeared on Bohemian Travelers family travel blog.

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