The other day while driving, I was listening to a radio program discussing young people taking a ‘gap year’ off between high school and college. In the program they interviewed both politicians as well as young people who had taken one or several gap years. The general perspective of the adults in the program, was that while one gap year can be acceptable, taking two or even three years off between high school and college is unacceptable and ill adviced. Their argument was that young people on gap years are a high cost to society, despite the fact that most of the young people interviewed in program were working while on their gap year. They argued that it costs society billions when young people wait with attending college because they after college become more attractive to the labor market and therefore earn a much higher salary than they do if they start working straight out of high school.
The young people who were interviewed, had gone to school for at least 12 years without pause and felt like they needed a break from school, to get into the world and try their hands at different things, also to find out and discover what they wanted to do with their lives on a long term basis.
They wanted experiences from real life, wanted to work and travel and for once in their lives, be able to decide for themselves. Several of them mentioned how they had made the decision to take several gap years very deliberately, because they knew that if they had started at college straight out of high school, they would have been so demotivated that the chances of them dropping out was very high. Some of them had no idea what they wanted to do in life and so felt like they needed the time to try different things and get to know themselves better because they saw that if they simply picked some random direction, there would be a great chance of them dropping out, which would in turn be a disempowering experience. So they had taken their lives into their own hands and had given themselves these gap years to figure things out, so that when they eventually decided to continue studying, they would have had matured and be more clear about what they wanted to do in life. They also accurately mentioned that even when one finishes college, there is no job guarantee and many graduates end up on unemployment benefits.
One of the things that were very interesting about the program was how the adults spoke about the young people relative to ‘society’s demands’. They spoke about the young people as spoiled freeloaders who were causing harm to society as a whole by being egocentric and only thinking about themselves. The fact that the young people felt like they needed to take a couple of years off to find out what they wanted to do in life, was seen as entirely unnecessary and self-placating.
The adults spoke about society in a context of being nothing but a zero-sum game, through which it is a burden on all of our shoulders to keep the wheels of the economy going.
Is that what society is? Something that we grow up in, and cost a lot of money to while growing up and not earning an income, and that we must spend the rest of our lives paying back, as were we nothing but debtors coming into this world?
The solution, from the perspective of the adults in the program was that young people should go straight from high school to university (or another higher education program resulting in increased earning capacity) and as quickly as possible get into the labor force to contribute to society.
The question is whether we truly contribute more to society by rushing through the education system and rushing into the labor force.
Consider how many of us as adults work in jobs we either hate or couldn’t care less about or that we know deep inside is not where our skills and abilities best comes to use. Consider the lack of work ethic that exists in so many industries due to the fact that the only reason we work is to make enough money to survive. Spending our lives slaving away at meaningless jobs is certainly not something we do ‘for society’, at least not in any benevolent or altruistic way. Society has, in this obscure optics, become an absurd ‘overlord’ to whom we owe our lives.
Society is not a fixed and determined external structure. The earth and the ecosystems in which it is maintain its equilibrium is, to some extent. There are certain physical laws that cannot be messed with, because the consequential outflows of doing so could be potentially life threatening.
Society however, is something that we have co-created and are continuously co-creating as a social construct, a social construct with physical infrastructures like medical systems and tax systems and welfare systems, but not as something fixed or unchangeable. We decide, every day, what society is and what society isn’t. At a fundamental level, society is the way we as human beings agree to organize ourselves in our collective and individual lives. The origin of the word comes from the French ’societe’ which means ‘companionship’ or ’friendly association with others’ and originates from the Latin words ’societatem’ which means ’fellowship, association, alliance, union and community’ and ’socius’ which means ‘companion’.
Society is thus a mutually supportive and equally agreed upon union between companions, agreeing to share their lives for mutual benefit, and not a before mentioned external authority to which we owe our lives.
There are so much more important issues in this world than maintaining the economic status quo of societies on a structural level. It is important to maintain a high standard of living yes, but so is actually ensuring that we have a world to live in; in fact it is the most important issue, especially in this day and age.
Kids are our most important assets yes, but not just to keep the wheels of the economy going, but to in fact ensure that we have a future as a species on this planet. By treating them, and each other like numbers in a zero sum game, we are shooting ourselves in the foot.
If we cared for and nurtured the potential existing in the future generations, if we valued each individual’s unique skills and abilities, I have no doubt that we would see an entirely different world in less than 20 years.
Imagine if young people were given the space, time and resources to try different things out. And here I do not mean on a purely theoretical level, which is what we are offered at school, but on a real, practical hands on level. Imagine if kids, already as they enter into their teenage years got to get out into the world and try their hands at all kinds of different jobs, working side by side with adults as mentors, to really find out where their skills and abilities best comes to use.
Imagine if we stopped seeing society as something that we owe our lives to, and instead started seeing it as a social network of mutual support and co-creation, as a place where we are supported to discover and develop our potential, to contribute to creating the best world possible.
We would see the most amazing inventions being created, inventions that could clean our oceans, restore our rain forests and cure diseases. We would see kids growing up taking active and voluntary responsibility for their own lives, and for the world. There is no one who does not want to contribute, who does not want to be of value and purpose to the world. But what we are doing at the moment through our school systems is not harnessing or nurturing anything of real and substantial value.
If taking one or two or three gap years is what is needed for young people to find their way in life, then let us give them that opportunity. But even more than that, let’s stop seeing society as a burden on our shoulders; let’s stop seeing society as a bank we owe our lives to. Let’s stop seeing children as a form of debt and currency, with which we keep the wheels of the economy going. Let’s see children for what they truly are: pure, unleashed life potential, and let’s remember that we too as adults, despite having been subjugated into passivity and apathy for all these years, have this life potential within us. There is nothing stopping us – except us.
You cannot force someone to learn. You can threaten them, you can punish them, you can force them to sit still and listen (or pretend to listen), but you cannot force them to learn.
No one can be forced to learn.
Why is it then, that our entire schooling system and the strategies with which most parents raise their children are based on the very premise that children can be forced to learn?
How many of us have not experienced information being forced upon us through threats of punishment?
I am sure most of us remember times when we were children where our parents or other adults tried to force us to learn. We would make a mistake, either innocently or due to doing something we knew we shouldn’t do and they would scold us or even berate us and they would devise punishments to teach us about the consequences of our actions.
What did we learn?
We learned how to hide our mistakes, to pretend like they did not happen and we learned how to lie better to avoid that experience of being scolded, even to ourselves. We learned that when we make mistakes, our parents and other adults gets angry with us, that it is us who are wrong, that there is something wrong with us – not with the actions we took. Very seldom would parents or other adults take the time to actually support us to understand the course of actions that created the mistake in the first place and how to prevent them in the future.
Learning is something that happens on an internal level and no matter how much outside force is exerted, if the person is unwilling or unable to learn, they will not learn. They might be able to copy behaviors or become good at pretending that they’ve learned – but real learning can only happen if the person takes the information in and makes it a part of him or herself.
What does it mean to make information a part of ourselves?
When we make information a part of ourselves, we come to understand it on an intrinsic and internal level, where we integrate it as a part of who we are. We can only do that when we see a purpose with learning that information, when learning that information is relevant to us and the context we are in.
When information is being stuffed down our throats, often without reasonable explanation, how much do we actually learn?
How many of us remember even a fraction of what we learned in school or even in university? Do we not remember much more about the people, the relationships we formed than the knowledge we were supposed to integrate? Why is that?
“Traditional education focuses on teaching, not learning. It incorrectly assumes that for every ounce of teaching there is an ounce of learning by those who are taught. However, most of what we learn before, during, and after attending schools is learned without its being taught to us. A child learns such fundamental things as how to walk, talk, eat, dress, and so on without being taught these things. Adults learn most of what they use at work or at leisure while at work or leisure. Most of what is taught in classroom settings is forgotten, and much or what is remembered is irrelevant.” – Russell Ackoff
We force children to mimic us, to copy behaviors and to parrot the teacher or parent and we call that learning, but what would if we were to apply a different strategy where learning is seen as a self-directed process happening internally within the child, within which the parent or teacher more than anything stands as a facilitator?
Instead of trying to force children to learn information that is important to us, or that we believe to be relevant while they are off learning things because it matters to them (like how to navigate social hierarchies or getting skilled at playing computer games), we can decide to take on a different role in the child’s learning process.
In a real learning environment adults are no longer superior entities whose role it is to enforce authority, but who instead work with and assist the child to navigate, assess, sort and reflect on information, to discover what is meaningful to them.
Real learning requires more than the passive corporation of the child, student or participant – it requires a self-directed will to learn where the information has meaning and purpose to the one who learns it.
If we cannot force a child to learn, we also cannot take responsibility (or credit) for a child’s learning process. What we can do instead is to provide the child with an optimum environment and space for learning where information is available, where there is time and resources to delve into subjects on a deeper and more substantial level. We can assist them to make meaning of what they see, read and hear and help them to contextualize what they see, read and hear to their own lives and the life we collectively share.
There is good news and there is bad news in all of this.
The bad news is that our school systems and most parenting strategies are based on the idea that learning is something that can be forced, that children can (and even should) be intimidated into learning. This means that real learning most often happens outside of school and outside the iron grip of parenting and it means that children (and everyone else) aren’t learning a fraction of what they could be learning.
The good news is that realizing that learning cannot be forced actually gives children a point of power that we seldom realize (or admit) that they have.
This also means that we cannot decide what a child learns and more importantly, we have to admit that we never could.
It also means that there are no leaders or followers in these Hunger Games that we call schooling – and the question we must ask ourselves is whether we even need schools or teachers for that matter, if education was always in the hands of the individual, to decide and direct themselves to either learn or not?
“After school, kids are devouring new information, concepts, and skills every day, and, like it or not, they’re doing it controller in hand, plastered to the TV. The fact is, when kids play videogames they can experience a much more powerful form of learning than when they’re in the classroom. Learning isn’t about memorizing isolated facts. It’s about connecting and manipulating them. Doubt it? Just ask anyone who’s beaten Legend of Zelda or solved Morrowind.”
– James Paul Gee, Professor of literary studies, Arizona State University
I don’t play computer games. I find them to be too loud and too intense. So I don’t play. As a child I did play some games from start to finish but it was never something that I got hooked on. I played Candy Crush for about three months until I got tired of it. Then I deleted it from my phone.
This does however not mean that I cannot understand or appreciate why others play computer games. In fact, I have spent a good amount of the past couple of months exploring the world of game development and gaming in general. I have watched some amazing films documenting the resilience and genius creativity of game developers such as the documentary Indie Game: The Movie and two TED talks, one titled Gaming to Re-Engage Boys in Learning and another that inspired me greatly with game developer Jane McGonigal titled Gaming can make a better world. I have furthermore talked at length with my students about their favorite games and it taught me a lot about gaming. For example: Minecraft is the number one game among my younger students and one of my first grade students recently explained to me why it is so popular.
He said: “Anna, do you know why Minecraft is so fantastic!?”
“No” I replied.
“Because everything is square!” He said.
So there you have it, the mystery of why kids love Minecraft: solved.
The way I see it, because computer games happens to be the number one interest of my students, I have an obligation to honor and explore that interest with them – to latch onto their journey through life and through that assist and support them in any way possible to grow and expand, even if that growth and expansion takes them far beyond my comfort zone or realm of knowledge.
So I am not writing this to advocate why gaming belongs in the education system. There has been written thousands of reports and papers and articles about that, including the previous post I wrote on the matter.
In this post I will focus on the point of how we as teachers and parents can promote an educational environment of self-directed learning, where we as adults stands as catalysts and facilitators rather than as someone who is blocking learning opportunities because they do not fit into our preconceived ideas about education. I will do that through sharing an example from my work with gaming in class.
Ever since I started working as a teacher, I have tried to find ways to engage my older students (ages 11-15) to no avail. I have come to realize that they in many cases have been in the school system for so long that the school system in many respects have managed to ‘lobotomize’ them to the point where they will either go with the motions of daily school life in a zombified state or they will assume a position of reluctance and defiant apathy towards anything that is presented to them by the school system. They are not there because they want to be but because they have to be. Learning is not something they do to expand their horizons but because it is expected of them.
It has been a challenge to find a way to make learning authentic for them, as I to them am seen as yet another adult who does not understand what they are going through or what their life is like, but who nonetheless tell them what they need to know and when and why they need to know it.
When I embarked on the journey of using gaming in my work as a teacher, I had no idea just how far I would be able to reach the students through opening myself up to their interests. I had no idea that they had so many resources, so much passion and lust for learning – and that is in itself a disturbing fact.
As I mentioned in the previous post, the initial lesson plan was developed my one of my colleagues and I found his idea to use gaming to be so inspirational that I immediately took it, ran with it and developed it further.
In the previous post I described the projects I did with the younger students where we worked on developing board games inspired by computer games. With the older students however (ages 11 – 15) we embarked on a journey where the students created their own fantasy computer games. They got the task of coming up with an idea to a computer game where they were to write out a script describing the game environment, the characters and the background story.
We had a lot of fun talking about computer games, game music and game development and the students would share with me what games they played and what they liked about them. We talked about how their parents did not like them playing as much and they would share how much they learn from playing the games. What was interesting was that even though we did not actually play any games in class (we did look at trailers from games), and even though the students primarily had to write – they were more engaged than ever.
We also started playing with the idea of having their games produced as real computer games. We talked about how long that would take as several of the students asked if we could do it for real. I explained to them that it most likely takes several years (with the proper training) to create a computer game.
Then I had an idea: what if we got a hold of a game developer who could review the students’ games?
I searched online and within a matter of days I found a game developer who was more than happy to participate, having been a gamer himself and understanding the value of gaming in education. We set up a date where he was going to come to speak to the students and I told them that I was going to share their games with him and that we was going to come and review them. Knowing that a real game developer would look at their work completely changed their production process.
What they created was amazing.
All the students were engaged in their games and a fifth grade student who normally does not do any homework (in any class) would send me his scripts and not only that; he would edit them two or three times and send me the updated versions without in any way being prompted to do so by me.
Another student, a seventh grader who suffers from a learning disability and because of that normally only write a few sentences, wrote an entire page. At the end of one of our lessons he said: “by the way, I did some drawings at home.”
With an inconspicuous look on his face, he pulled four drawings up from his backpack and handed them to me. What he had done floored me.
He had drawn four drawings that must have taken him hours to draw, one depicting the character from the game, one the environment, one of the logo for the game and a portrait of the character.
He had done exactly what the other students had done in writing, only through drawing. And I had no idea that he could draw.
We had our meeting with the game developer once all the students’ games were finished. It was a huge success. He talked about his work, how games are created, how many hours of script goes into each game, how he became a developer. He showed us games he had developed and gave us the ‘behind the scenes’ tour into the world of coding and programming, much of which was presented in a highly advanced technical language that I could barely understand. The students nodded as they sat and listened in complete focused silence for nearly two hours.
Afterwards, the fifth grade student who normally does not do homework, have continued on to developing his own game, using a professional coding platform.
The seventh grader’s (the one with the learning difficulty who normally does not have many successful experiences at school) grandparents created a WordPress profile for the sole purpose of leaving a comment to his game on our blog where all the games are published telling him how proud they are of him. His mother had sent an email to their entire family sharing his game.
Another seventh grader created such an amazing story, with such rich detail and reflection on the inner lives of the characters that I suggested to him to keep developing it and maybe make it into a story. I eventually told his parents who had no idea how good a writer he was and who are now trying to convince him to write a book.
All the amazing results that came from this project can be contributed to the fact that I worked with something the students were interested in, something that is a big part of their daily life and that normally is not given any value or supported by adults.
I provided a structure and an idea in which the students could unfold and explore their creativity but all the work was their own. When they had an idea, I ran with it. When they wanted to change something in the lesson plan. I ran with it.
I have been amazed and astounded to see aspects of the students emerge that I had no idea existed and it has made me keenly aware of how much we as teachers and parents are missing out on by not engaging with children on a real and authentic level, to actually get to know them and understand them and what their life is like, without fear or moral judgments about what they ‘should’ be doing or becoming.
One aspect of this project that I am particularly satisfied with is how the project had a direct correlation with the real world. This is something that I have long advocated and this project underlines that perfectly.
When a real game developer became involved in the project, the students took the project seriously, because they were being taken seriously as having real and valuable perspectives to share with the world. They got to see a man who had chosen a career path doing something that their parents would judge as being a waste of time. It made a real impact on them.
This is something that could be easily copied to other subjects or themes or projects where, if a class or student is working with food as a topic for example, a chef can be invited to cook with them or taste their recipes. Or if a class is working with democracy as a topic, they can work with changing things in their local environment or school that they are not satisfied with. They can experiment with various democratic methods such as writing petitions or letters to the newspaper or even direct social intervention and investigate which methods are most effective for change.
Not only does it establish a direct and very real connection between schools (as life-preparation facilities) and ‘real’ life, it also provides the students with a entrepreneurial aspect that is remarkably absent from most schools.
If we are serious about making this world into a better place, we ought to be equally serious about the interests of our children, to listen to what they have to say, to support them to grow and develop their utmost potential, which may just be incrementally different from what we would have imagined or preferred.
I have stopped seeing myself as a teacher who’s job it is to transfer knowledge and information into the minds of my students. Instead I see myself as a sparring partner, as someone who has experience in various fields and who can assist them to develop and materialize their visions and goals into substantial and valuable content.
It is a position of honor and great privilege and it is a responsibility that requires the utmost amount of humbleness and courage because it requires us as adults to take a step back and admit that we do not know everything there is to know about the world. We have to be willing to let the children educate us and so transform us so that we may be fortunate enough to stand next to them as they direct their own learning and explore their potential in life.
Teachers all across the world are struggling to engage their students.
Standardized tests and archaic curricular that must be rushed through in a matter of months, are filling up the classrooms.
At the same time, we see a development in our society towards an increased integration of technology into our children’s lives. While struggling to stay awake at school, most kids will gladly spend an entire night in front of the computer, playing games, surfing the web or chatting to friends on Skype.
The question that many parents and teachers ask in concern, is whether the investment in technology is compromising our children’s education. They will say that it is hard enough to motivate them as it is, without some screen distracting them and pulling them away from what matters. While that may be true, I am here to share a different perspective.
A couple of years ago, I made it my mission to teach in a way that was relevant to the students. I started experimenting with various topics and methods with the aim of unlocking the students interest of learning rather than sitting across from them, one zombie regurgitating information to another – just because that is the ‘normal’ way to do things.
I discovered that every single person in this world wants to do something that matters; something that is real and that has a real impact in the world. No one wants to spend years on end in artificial facilities doing simulations of real life while being told that their perspectives don’t matter – and this is exactly what schools do.
I also discovered that what students care about, is the real world around them, that which they hear about in the media or read about in the news. Above all, something that almost all my students had in common was a passion for modern technology, the Internet and computer games in particular.
I decided to embark on an adventure with my students, an adventure into ‘their’ world, the world of computer games.
I have never myself played a lot of computer games. It is simply not something that I’ve found particularly interesting. I do however have a passion for modern technology and all the opportunities that the Internet opens up. So I make it a point to stay up to date with the latest technological developments, gadgets, social media sites and various apps coming on the market. So on one hand, I embarked on a journey into the world of gaming simply because it was something I respected that my students were passionate about. On the other hand, it was made easier by the fact that I was already open to the current developments of modern technology.
I know that many adults are cautious towards the current developments and that many parents worry that their children are gaming too much and that they do not spend enough time outside playing or spend time with their physical friends (rather than the ones they meet in cyberspace). I also understand that there are some pitfalls and dangers about the Internet, such as kids having access to pornography, issues with privacy and cyber bullying.
However, it is also my perspective that the current development of modern technology is unstoppable and that if you as a parent prohibit your child from having access to a computer or the internet, they will simply find another way to get on – because being online has become an integrated part of what it means to be a child today.
Because the development of technology and digital media is like rushing river of rapid development, the best way to approach it is through embracing it by going downstream with the flow, rather than trying to fight it or slow it down, which is virtually impossible. It is something that like a force of nature has its own momentum.
Our Gaming Project
The students and I started the project with the younger students (ages 6-9) working on creating board games inspired by their favorite computer games. I laid out the foundation of the way we would be working with creating the games by saying that my goal was for this game to be so fun and challenging that they would want to play it with their friends. I shared with them how I had created board games as a child that weren’t a lot of fun because they weren’t very challenging.
So the first few lessons we spent creating a plan of how we were going to design the game. We talked about various ways that board games can be structured and how they don’t have to go from ‘start’ to ‘finish’ but can be circular, like labyrinths or have a completely new structure entirely.
I started asking the students about the computer games they play and I could see how genuinely pleased they were with being able to talk about their passion in a ‘school setting’. Most of the younger students have Minecraft as their favorite game so they would tell me all about it and what they liked about it and what elements from Minecraft they thought would be cool to incorporate in our board game.
Many of the students had lots of ideas that incorporated digital elements, where I had to show them how it unfortunately wasn’t transferrable to a physical board game. Instead we had to ‘translate’ the elements of the computer games into the board game in a way that could work effectively.
One group for example decided to create a game where, during the game it switches from day to night and at night the monsters come out, just like in Minecraft. We then had to figure out a way to incorporate the day-to-night element into our game and together came up with the idea of using an hour-glass that, when it runs out, the game switches from day to night.
Another student decided that in his game there should be four different ‘worlds’ or ‘games’, each based on its own computer game, so there was a ‘Minecraft world’ and an ‘Spiderman world’ and to go into each world you’d have to go through a portal.
Throughout the process of creating the games, the students would speak and write, for example to create cards to use in the game or through writing instructions for the game. These elements are all included in what is my actual task as a teacher, to teach them a language. We could have done the exact same project focusing on math elements or art – or even all of these in a multi-disciplinary project. The point is that throughout this project there has been absolutely no resistance or boredom coming up within the students.
I call it ‘sneaky learning’ when I am able to incorporate elements like grammar that otherwise would be perceived as ‘tedious’ and ‘boring’ and the students don’t even notice that they are learning grammar. They are doing it because it is an important part of the game. Like one student said: “If you don’t have instructions, you can’t understand how to play the game”. So obviously we had to create instructions, but it wasn’t a deliberate ‘language learning lesson’ and therefore working with the language came natural and with ease – because it had a purpose, because it was a tool to be used to support something that the student was passionate about, proud of and invested in.
Through this project, the students have created the most amazing and inventive board games. They have come up with ideas that I would have never thought of. Throughout it all, I have stood as a sounding board to assist them to manifest their vision and to make suggestions and share perspectives that may support them to consider details they hadn’t thought of before.
The result of doing this project is that students go home and write more cards by themselves without being prompted to by me as ‘homework’. One first grader (7 year old) even continued to work on the game while he was sick at home. Another student considerately went to the store and bought an hourglass with her pocket money – again, without being prompted to do so by me.
It is my perspective that all learning is supposed to be like this, no matter how old you are or what subject you are busy learning. This doesn’t mean that learning will always be thrilling or fun. When you are passionate about something, it sometimes requires some hard work or that you do some tedious task, but the difference is that the students have not resisted this aspect of learning in this project, because what mattered was their creation process and their vision of a final result. The more I have stepped back and humbled myself as an adult, the more the students have stepped forth and shown me their potential, their strength, their passion.
Based on the example from this project, taking the students passion as its natural point of departure ought to be a focal point of all education. Because we have all been educated in the same wretched school system, we have come to take it for granted. We have come to accept (because that’s what we’ve been taught) that learning is not fun, that it is forced upon us and something we must learn to force upon ourselves. Learning in schools happens through intimidation, competition and force and the question is how much is actually grasped at a foundational level within the students. I mean, how many of us remember anything we learned in school? What many will say is that they remember specific teachers who were passionate or fun or they will remember specific projects where they got to work independently or choose their own topics.
With the day and age that we live in, it just happens to be so that modern technology, digital media and the Internet is one of the biggest interests of kids today. It would be a shame to not embrace that momentum and let the stream take us on a journey together with the kids, a journey where we can be there with them and stand as support along the way. Because one thing is certain; modern technology is not going anywhere anytime soon. But our kids are going places, that’s for sure. The question is whether we are going to be stubborn and stay behind in fear of the unknown or whether we are going to go on this journey with them and see where the river of modern technology takes us. Because if we don’t, we are holding them back. We are dismissing and diminishing something that matters to them. We are trying to force them to learn in unnatural ways through intimidation and then we miss the opportunities where real learning could have taken place.
There is not a single human being on this planet who is not aware of how much easier it is to learn when it is something you have decided for yourself, when learning is something you want to do. You do not only learn more easily, but you also remember it better. When learning is self-directed and passionate, it integrates into you and becomes part of who you are as a real time expansion of your being. It is something that never leaves you. This is what learning is supposed to be like.
“Rules in the absence of principle are often found to be irrelevant by children. Principles lived fully make rules unnecessary.” —Karen Tucker
We are facing a time in history where breaking with the conventions of yesteryear is not only inevitable but in fact a necessity. Radical unschooling represents such a break with conventional thoughts, as it challenges everything we thought we knew about education and parenting.
Out with the old. In with the New.
The realization that we exist in an Orwellian system of control is slowly but surely making its way from the fringes of society to its mainstream arenas. The walls of segregation are thinning and the veil of wool that we have pulled over our eyes is slowly but surely starting to unravel.
We realized long ago that the revolution would not be televised. The time of paramilitary overthrows of totalitarian regimes is over. The grand idea of a global revolution has become archaic in a world where the powers of a system that should not be, has wormed itself into every fiber of our existence and has engulfed the world in a paralyzing toxic haze.
One by one, we are starting to realize, each in our own way, that to subvert the subjugating mechanisms of this system, we must to become creative, and as the Icelandic activist and member of the Pirate Party Birgitta Jónsdottir puts it: find ways to hack the system from within.
All over the world, people are finding ways to subvert the system of control, from guerilla gardening to co-op farming and alternative media outlets. This is done, not through vehemently fighting against the system and demanding that it change, but through understanding that, as corporate whistleblower Richard Grove puts it: “The system wasn’t broken, it was built this way.”
We must assist the system to collapse – and we do that through immersing ourselves into the system, through changing it from within.
Hacking the System from Within
The iron claw of the system reaches into even our most private and intimate spaces, but instead of looking upon that with apathy and trepidation, we can use this as an opportunity to start hacking the system virtually anywhere, in any place, in any area of our lives – and we can do that as individuals without necessarily having the support of large communities, vast financial resources or intricate knowledge about how to take down the overlords of the military-industrial complex.
Each one of us has skills and abilities or unique insights into sustainable solutions that can be used to defuse the firewalls of the system, from independent journalists that tirelessly work towards exposing the cognitive disinformation oozing from the mainstream media to high-school kids inventing affordable 3-D printers in their bedroom.
We can hack the system in our personal lives through recognizing the inner mechanisms installed through predictive programming, where our minds too are subject to the system of control, for example through the alluring promise of happiness and fulfillment offered to us by the advertisement industry. Once we understand the mechanisms and see them for what they are, once we admit to ourselves that we too fell for the magic trick, we can begin the process of restoring (or for the first time creating), our sanity.
We can hack the system in our relationships with other people, through agreeing upon principled ways of living, where we see that which is best for everyone, (including children and animals) as being of equal importance, thereby disrupting the patriarchal, authoritarian and speciesist narratives that for so long have governed and restricted our lives and our ability to co-exist peacefully with one another on this planet.
Education and upbringing is a hallmark example of the extent to which the system of control has saturated our lives, bodies and minds. We do not realize is how extensively our way of seeing the world and more importantly; how we see ourselves in it, is a direct result of our upbringing and education. As Ivan Illich, the author of “Deschooling Society” puts it: “School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is.”
One of the most prominent examples of how it is possible to hack – and thereby take directive action to reprogram, the system in our day-to-day lives is through radical unschooling.
Radical Unschooling Paves the Way for a New Humanity
Unschooling is an educational philosophy, but even more than that, it is a form of direct political activism that aims at empowering the future generations through a total paradigm change – and it is all happening inside the home.
Educator John Holt coined the term ‘unschooling’ in the 1970’s. Holt believed that children did not need to punished or threatened into learning, that each child had a natural capacity and ability to learn. Unlike traditional homeschooling that aims at bringing the traditional school classroom and curriculum into the home, unschooling takes the approach of ‘learning through living’ where the child has no textbooks, no tests and no curriculum to follow, but instead can follow its own interests and passions, with the guidance and support of a parent.
Common – and for most provocative – examples of how different unschooling is from traditional schooling includes: no fixed bedtimes for children, no restrictions on food and no restrictions on media consumption. Unschooled children wake up and go to bed on their own accord. They have no chores, no homework, no textbooks to read and they learn in the way that is most comfortable and interesting to them. As such an unschooled child might spend weeks or months on end playing Minecraft or building with Legos, all supported and facilitated by their parents. Unschooled children are also not expected to learn how to read, write or learn math according to any specific time-frame or method and are often self-taught at that.
Radical unschooling takes unschooling a step further as it rejects any notion between educational and non-educational spaces. As protagonist Sandra Dodd says: “everything leads to everything.”[i] Radical unschooling is further more an approach to parenting and education where equality and respect become practical and tangible principles that can be transferred into the participants daily lives. The parent is no longer an authoritarian figure who’s role it is to modify behavior through punishment, but a partner and a facilitator who makes it possible for the child to explore and develop their unique natural learning abilities. Education is no longer about the child preparing itself to be functional in a dysfunctional society but about exploring life in a natural and expansive way. Radical unschooling thereby becomes not only a way to transform the notion of what a family is or how education happens but can even be utilized as a tool for self-transformation of who we are as parents and human beings in our relationships with one another.
By showing that a child that learns from home (and life in general) in its own pace without any restrictions, is just as equipped to step into society, perhaps even more so, than a traditionally schooled child, radical unschooling parents are challenging the very foundation of our education systems. It can however only work if the parent dares to step out of their preconditioned ideas about life and as such become a catalyst for change.
Radical unschooling provocatively questions the very foundation of our education systems and playfully shows us how it is possible to not only succeed by stepping out of the schooling industry, but also how tremendously limited we have become because of it. As John Holt says: “Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.”
A specific element of radical unschooling thus has to do with a detoxification period that parents as well as child who have been in the school system, have to go through called ‘deschooling’. One of the key aspects of deschooling is that especially the parents have to go through a process of deconstructing and letting go of preconditioned fears and beliefs programmed into them through their own school years. This could for example be the parent thinking that “a child needs boundaries and routines” or that “punishment teaches the child that there are consequences in life.” (Author Charles Eisenstein has long been a protagonist for the process of deschooling and regularly hosts seminars on the subject. [ii] In his seminars he encourages participants to investigate the effects that schooling has had on them.)
Another aspect of the deschooling process is a period of ‘binging’ on things and activities that previously would have been seen as ‘sinful’ such as gorging on candy, computer-games, movies or staying up very late. According to many unschoolers this is a natural part of the process that will slowly but surely even itself out, where the child and adult will become more inclined to making decisions that are best for them as they get in contact with their authentic selves beyond the limitations of rules and restrictions.
Dangers of unschooling
Unschooling is often criticized as leaving children unprepared for stepping into society. Those critical of the philosophy fear that unschooled children are left unsupervised and unsocialized and that they will have trouble integrating in society, as they grow older. According to a survey[iii] done by professor Peter Grey Ph.D at Boston university for Psychology Today, unschooled children do not only go onto higher education such as college, but tends to do remarkably better than their traditionally schooled peers.
Unschoolers have claimed that one of the reasons why unschooled children do well in college and university is because they have been self-motivated to learn their entire life. Often they have discovered a passion for a specific area already in their early teens, so when they start college they are self-driven and purposefully directing their education. Prominent unschooled people who have gone on to being successful in the system includes filmmaker Astra Taylor, astronomer Lisa Harvey-Smith and professor of law at Duke university, Jedediah Purdy.
So perhaps the greatest danger of unschooling is how it questions everything we thought we knew about education and shows us that the traditional school system is not only failing at its basic task of educating the young, but that it was never meant to in the first place.
The greatest anarchistic experiment of our time?
Radical unschooling might very well be one of the greatest anarchistic and open source experiments of our time. As Sandra Dodd says: “I never knew how much damage school did, until I saw someone who hadn’t been”. It begs the pertinent question of what the world would look like if all children were supported to harness and explore their unique natural learning abilities? Radical unschooling might very well be a significant key to the transformation of the world system, exactly as it will be significant to transform the way we live with the earth, the way we conduct business, how we work together or the way we view and speak about gender. No stone can be left unturned when it comes to subverting the subjugating mechanisms that has become our accepted ways of co-existing.
Each area of our lives that we dare to look upon with brutal self-honesty and see for what it truly is, through the veil of conformity, and thus take responsibility for changing, will be a significant and imperative key to rewrite the codes that govern our lives. It will not happen overnight and it will not be a global revolution where the whole world will joyously join together in some grand awakening. Instead it will happen one individual at a time, on a one-on-one level, from within the very depths of the system, in the miniscule seemingly insignificant everyday moments of our lives.
Radical unschooling shows us how each of us can take the process of changing the world into our own hands by starting with ourselves. Radical unschooling is an example of the transformation that our societies (and minds) has to go through, for us to upcycle the toxic waste of the past and turn it into something of substantial and lasting value – not just for us, but for generations to come.
The other day while getting my hair cut, I struck a conversation with the hairdresser who has two children of her on. We talked about how difficult it is for parents to know whether they’ve sent their child to a good school or not. I could see a subtle look of concern in her eyes glancing back at me from the mirror when I shared with her how different the schools are and how the child might be taught something in one school in grade 1 that in another school is only being taught in grade 6 or maybe not ever.
She said what most parents say when asked about the quality of their child’s school: “Well, it seems good.”
Like most parents she has little to no idea what her children is being taught in school, because school-life and home-life has been inexorably separated and severed from one another. Teachers and parents barely have time to meet or to talk and when they do, it is only to make sure that everything is going according to schedule when it comes to the development of the child’s cognitive and social abilities.
Let me tell you a little bit about my work:
I go to over 20 different schools every week. In some preschools, the teachers hug the children each morning when their parents drop them of. They make sure to have a personal and individual conversation with each and every child and this is not a show they put on for the parents, because they do it whether the parents are there or not. It makes it a safe place to come to school, even for someone as young as 3 or 4. These preschools (and schools in general) are often private, small in size and/or run by a cooperative of parents. The state- and municipality-run schools are usually bigger in size and have a constant influx of teachers.
Unfortunately most parents don’t get to chose which schools to send their children to and even if they do it’s difficult to know whether the school is good or not. Often you only find out when it’s too late.
I teach students individually or in groups of three. Through teaching this way I have discovered that each child has its own entirely unique and individual learning requirements. No child is in the exact same place in its development process; some benefit from more structured and calm environments. Others learn best when they can take initiatives and push themselves. Some are good at math but bad at reading. Each one has their entirely own unique needs for an educational environment that will support them to grow and develop their potential.
The way the school system is build doesn’t even come close to supporting each child’s unique requirement for learning, not even by a long shot. When 30 students are stuffed into a small room with 1 teacher and are expected to rush through a standardized curriculum, at best we call it a ‘one size fits all’ system – at worst it is a system that prohibits each individual child from reaching his or her full potential.
The fact of the matter is that children can learn, all children have the potential to expand and grow and even defeat the odds that comes with poverty or learning disabilities.
So on one hand the education system is random. It’s like a lottery where, if you’re lucky enough your child might just end up in a school where there are teachers who teach because it is their passion and where there are resources. On the other hand, the education system is also tragically predictable in most cases, where it is almost guaranteed that your child will not be able to reach its full potential.
As parents it is our responsibility to be the main caretakers and guardians for our children in those first vulnerable years – but when it comes to education most of us have completely handed over the reigns to the education system, turning a blind eye to the fact that it is in no way equipped at providing our children with the education they require to truly reach their full potential, academically as well a personally.
It is time that we as parents start daring to see what is actually going on in the world of education today – and that because no one cares about our children as much as we do, it is our responsibility to make sure they get the education that will foster and nurture their full potential to develop.
Whether that means getting involved with the school board or setting up impromptu lessons around the dinner table or investing in sound educational materials for our children, we have to stop relying on the hope that the problems we see in schools today will sort themselves out.
If you don’t have the skills or resources to teach your children, if you don’t know what’s actually going on in school, if helping your child with their homework is daunting or something you resist doing – then start there. Start by taking one step, just one step towards ensuring that your child won’t just become another number in the statistics used by corporations and governments to serve some obscure and delusional agenda leading our world into even more dire straits than what they’re already in. The change starts with you, because without you, your child won’t stand a chance, and your child is the future of tomorrow.
If you start today, you will give your child a head start to face tomorrow and it will be a gift that will last a lifetime, with the potential to change, not only your child’s life, but also the world as we know it.
If you are ready to get involved in a political and economic change of paradigms and thereby also a change of our education systems, I invite you to investigate the Equal Life Foundation’s proposal of a Guaranteed Living Income System. This proposal suggests a groundbreaking change in political paradigms that doesn’t ‘take sides’ but instead presents a completely new approach to solving the problems we are currently facing in this world.