DISCLAIMER: This whole post is kind of a long disclaimer, because I think I lack the personal experience to give nuance to quite a complex set of ideas. In fact the gist of this article is 'Here are some interesting links that probably explain everything better than me'.
So, If you really want to find out more about self-directed education and unschooling I would strongly encourage some further reading and web exploration, starting with the sites mentioned below. I can provide a tentative definition, but why not hear it from the horse’s mouth?
Local is Lekker
Firstly, from South Africa comes ‘Growing Minds’, host of the Learning Reimagined Conference I attended in Joburg last month. The site is full of articles, written by children and adults alike, who are actively ‘unschooling’ and reflecting on their experience.
You could also check out the websites of two self-directed education centres in South Africa. Free Range Education Centre in White River is part of a global network of ‘Agile Learning Centres.' AGLs are designed to facilitate freedom of choice in how children spend their time. Riverstone Village is an education centre based on the Sudbury model, which emphasis democratic processes that flatten social hierarchies between adults and children. I was lucky to be able to visit Riverstone Village the day after the conference, and I will write about my impressions of the space and its philosophies soon.
Both Agile Learning Centres (ALCs) and Sudbury model schools are based on strong principals around children’s rights and perceived capabilities. They recognise that learning comes naturally and often joyfully to children (/all humans) and that the enforced learning practices of conventional schooling undermines this very potent urge. Their claim is that by allowing children to explore their own interests in their own time, learning occurs without need for pressure, force or any wilful manipulation by adults at all.
There are many international examples of these kinds of schools. The Agile Learning Centres Network connects like-minded SDE schools all over the world. There are also numerous Sudbury schools, with Riverstone being the first of its kind in South Africa.
Alongside these more formal learning institutions (which I have also heard being referred to as ‘unschooling schools’) you find unschooling itself, which is essentially a departure from home-schooling, where all formal curriculum is abandoned. Instead, parent’s ‘follow the child’s way’ allowing them to freely investigate their interest and impulses over whatever time duration they desire. I am really hesitant to make broad claims about unschooling, because I have only interacted with a few unschooling parents and children since attending the LRC conference. I also stand to correction on this loose definition!
Suffice to say that unschooling works in loads of different ways as each family and unschooling community work out their own process and best practices. Some unschoolers interchangeably refer to it as ‘life-learning’ to emphasis the idea that learning and living are entangled and should not be considered separated. At the conference, I also noticed a big emphasis on parents being mindful to ‘deschool’ themselves from dominant conceptions of how learning works and perhaps more important how control in conventional schooling systems works. As such, unschooling is as much about the parents attitude, and their ability to adapt, as it is about the child’s life experience and development. I plan to write more about this too, as these principals resonated with me a great deal as a teacher, even though I am not a parent.
There are a whole lot of unschooling blogs out on the blogosphere and they are pretty easy to find, through Google and Youtube. Quite unsurprisingly, all four keynote speakers, were unschooling parents and are also all activists in the sphere of self-directed education. They have websites, books, videos and podcasts galore published between them, some of which I've listed below.
Akilah S. Richard’s work focuses particularly on supporting families of colour enter into and thrive at unschooling. Her website ‘Raising Free People’ includes a podcast, essays and a video blog documenting her families’ own unschooling experience as well as offering advice, courses and public speaking.
Bayo Akomolafe is a writer and poet, philosopher and professor. His personal website 'Bayo Akomolafe' is full of essays and offerings. He runs several projects to do with alternative ways of knowing the world of collaborating, including the Emergence Network, which is a collective of "trickster-activist-artists inspired to rethink our patterns of responding to crisis" (his own description, but wow!)
Teresa Graham Bret is the author of the book Parenting For Social Change and hosts a website by the same name. Her career in inclusivity work at universities, as well as her own experience of parenting (and of being parented), lead her to address issues of ‘adultism’ in mainstream society. This is the recognition that adults are granted superior status as humans simply because of their age - and that this often results in abuse of power, manipulative control and a lot of excuse making, at children's expense.
Koalin Thompson is a South African artist who recently did her Master's in Fine Arts with her children as collaborators. She spoke about this process at the conference and the exhibition description can be found here.
Now that I've effectively let you all know that I am NOT the expert here, I feel more at ease about explaining some of the question and I brought to the conference, the impressions I got from the conference, and the questions I've asked subsequently. This topic isn't going away, I just want to prise it open carefully to make sure nothing spills.
Read more teacher thoughts, stories and musings here!
A daunted but determined teacher irons out the fabric of her brain.