Dinner with unschooling friends; kids mixing and mingling all around, is the perfect place for a blog post to begin. Lively conversation, intense debate; it's all excellent fodder for my brain to percolate on educational philosophy and our collective parenting culture. This particular evening led to lots of conversation about the way our culture views laziness.
Webster's says that the definition of lazy is: averse or disinclined to work, activity, or exertion; indolent. Sounds pretty negative, huh? Particularly because we live in a culture which values work and productivity above many other things. We've created a system of pay-offs and incentives to train children to become workers so that we can continue making more, being more, doing more, and then we hurry up and do a little bit more so that we can finally relax when we're 70. Interesting system, I think. And not very supportive of creativity, mindfulness, or letting things unfold in a gentle manner.
As we sat around the table and debated, a visiting grandfather insisted that his skepticism of unschooling stems from the belief that structure and discipline must be taught, and that said structure and discipline are necessary in order to achieve future success. He was educated in England, and when he looks back on his childhood, he is certain that if he had not been required to go to school, he would have been completely and totally lazy. He also believes that he would never have accomplished the things in life that he has, had it not been for his education. When I asked him about the word lazy, he explained that he probably would have laid on his bed and read most days, and would never have been motivated to explore or learn anything new on his own. And here lies the question: What does it mean to learn something new? Why isn't reading a book all day as valuable as attending a compulsory class?
This fascinates me. And I'm also not surprised to hear it. If you've been educated by a system from a very early age which maps out your learning and schedules your time for you, of course you are going to wonder whether it is possible to do anything of your own accord. Many of us who are raising unschooled children were not unschooled ourselves and have had to work hard to re-train our brains in this way. What I realize now, of course, is that a child who chooses to "laze around" and read all day is learning a whole lot. To some it may look like laziness, to me it looks like an education.
Chances are good that folks like this particular grandfather may indeed have never become lawyers or accountants or physicians, had it not been for the gold stars and incentives handed out in school. But the bigger question to me is certainly, what else would they have accomplished at their own pace and in their own time? The external motivation that school places on kids to work hard for future success is tempting. However it involves handing over our children's internal motivation to a team of adults who may or may not have their best interests at heart.
And what about success? Why can our culture not value the success of the child who chooses to become as juggler as highly as the one who chooses to study law? Imagine the possibilities in a community where a child's internally motivated choices are valued regardless of standardized test scores, future earning potential, or eventual retirement benefits. Imagine the sense of health and well-being that would radiate from a community of people following their internally motivated passions freely, pursuing lifestyles in alignment with their interests and talents. Quite possibly, road rage, stomach ulcers, and ridiculously jam-packed schedules would become a thing of the past. People would become human beings, not human doings.
From the outside looking in, I suppose our unschooling lifestyle could be considered lazy, by conventional standards. We go to bed when we're tired. We wake up when we're not. We eat when we're hungry and we read or play and take adventures when we feel like it. Some days we're busy and some days we're not. Some days just not killing each other is the best we can do. But it's rarely about productivity and it's never about anyone else's agenda but our own. We focus on ourselves, each other and our place in our community as well as the world. We build relationships and explore possibilities. We don't call it lazy, we call it our unschooled life.
Becky is the unschooling mother of three (Janey, 12, Macy, 10 and Charley, 7) attempting to raise her children with compassion and respect. She taught elementary school for 9 years before discovering unschooling when it was time for her oldest to go to Kindergarten. She credits Sandra Dodd, Mary Griffith, Jan Hunt, and just about every other person she interacted with at her first HSC Home=Education conference 6 years ago, as her inspiration to find a more natural way of living and learning with children. She is a passionate and radical transportation activist and is starting a non-profit carsharing organization in her town. You can read more of what Becky has to say at http://lifewithoutschool.blogspot.com She can be reached at ashlandcarshare@gmailcom.