Life Without School: A Plea To Unschool Our Learning

I find it heartening that people in other countries reach similar conclusions about the need to rethink education and the role of children in society as I and others do. Even though our cultures and political systems are quite different, our education systems have the same underlying operating systems that control and predict student behavior.

A few months ago Johan Van Eeckhout of Belgium asked me if I’d like a copy of his recent book about unschooling, but since it wasn’t translated I also asked if he’d speak with me about it in detail, which he did. The title in English is Life Without School: A Plea To Unschool Our Learning.

Johan describes his book as “an exploration of the properties and qualities of unschooled learning. Learning is guided by the interest of the learner. The contrast of learning in school cannot be bigger: In school we actively learn to distrust our own interests and align with the teacher's interest, or be dis-interested and bored. The historical background of the school institution shows us why this lesson is and has been the goal of schools around the world. Interestingly enough, a lot of school reforms enlarge the impact of school on our lives rather than limit it, and the schools’ critics very often appear to be their best defenders. The closing chapter of the book explores the resources unschoolers can rely on for their own learning processes and their children’s.”

During our talk I learned he and his co-author presented a paper about their new book at an education research conference in Holland on June 6, 2018. Johan notes:

“The conference was a PIP talk (PIP stands for pedagogic in practice) … Two specialists in the field read and reviewed our book. On this basis, a discussion was held. All of the people present were active in the educational field. “I think we survived pretty well ... as a matter a fact we focused on the critique of education as such and elaborated the argument that education was a way to not come to terms with our own desires to learn and live fulfilled lives. At the end of the conference several people told me they were touched by our plea, that this really was the first time they found out why they had been doing what they did for all these years.”

Years ago I spoke in Bogota, Colombia at a university education conference. My host, Erwin Fabian Garcia Lopez, made my visit most enjoyable and informative and we’ve stayed in touch since. A paper he helped write, Homeschooling–Unschooling Children, Adolescents and Youth: An Approach to the Calculation of Microeconomic and Macroeconomic Spending in Colombia, received first prize at the Global Home Education Conference 2018. He and his colleagues then presented the paper on May 18, 2018, at an education conference in Moscow.

Along with this news, Erwin also attached an English translation of a new paper that will be of interest to those who want to create alternative schools: Characteristics of a Really Alternative School (RAS). The largely Spanish-language references they cite provide more support for Self-Directed Education beyond our usual English-language research base, and their ideas come through clearly despite a few translation difficulties. They don't shy away from addressing the deeper social and personal issues that complicate any real effort to make schools better, and conclude, “Not even the most alternative, revolutionary and innovative of the schools ceases to be that: a school.”