As I wrote in the current issue of Life Learning MagazIne, unschooling is the way of the future, for all ages. So I’m always surprised that so many people think it is wrong, weird, or witless…or even anti-intellectual. In fact, it’s just the opposite; our current education systems are based on outdated science, and unschooling reflects current cognitive research.
When schools were created, it was thought that learning was a sequential process that involved structure, uniformity, and memorization, and relied on extrinsic motivation and control – things like praise, rewards, and punishment. Now science knows differently; modern cognitive research is demonstrating that learning is open-ended and spontaneous, and that people – including children – learn best when they are intrinsically motivated (or what researchers Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan refer to as “self-determination”) and can build on their everyday experiences. We also know now that tests, grades, and a third-party curriculum can actually impede learning. (I’m working on an article about extrinsic and intrinsic motivation for the next issue of Life Learning Magazine, and hope to accompany it with a piece about the science of self-organizing systems and how that relates to children.)
Research has also demonstrated the negative effect of emotions such as fear, anger, anxiety and stress on learning. Additionally, there is research showing that lack of control over one’s life and learning can lead to what Martin Seligman called “learned helplessness,” which leads to the giving-up that is incompatible with new learning.
All of this shows that children’s learning processes should be supported, rather than the content being provided, which is the opposite of what happens in schools. Life learners / unschoolers are living like that with our children. And many of us were allowing children to do what comes naturally long before science proved it was the best way for kids to learn. I hope science can somehow, eventually, trump the vested financial interests of the education industry so all children can learn as Nature intended.