Don’t “unschool”; instead, light a fire in children’s minds

I would like to thank Hannah Layosa (“Free Range: Arrested Development,” Aug. 25 Xpress, Letters], for writing about her experiences with unschooling. Sharing our childhood experiences, both positive and negative, helps us to see “through the eyes of a child” and shape an education that best meets children's needs.

It is interesting that the author mentions two tragedies in the article: the first, her own dissatisfaction with being unable to acquire the kind of age-appropriate education she was “entitled to as an American,” and second, the trauma her sister and many other American children must endure in order to acquire that education.

If we have created an educational system in which a child must endure trauma in order to learn [the] basic skills necessary to help them succeed in life, then we must seriously examine our systems.

Free Range Childhood, which operated through the summer, but will not be in session this coming year, is doing just that.

Though familiar with “unschooling,” we were not — nor will be in the future — an “unschooling” establishment. Rather, we are rethinking an education in which children can be honored, respected and listened to as individuals possessing inherent wisdom, curiosity and value. Instead of coarsely overriding a child's natural gifts, interests and ambitions in order to fulfill the demands of an institution, we are facilitating a more gentle and natural path of learning.

I, myself, struggled under both public and private educational systems, experiencing institutionally condoned emotional abuse. At age 14, my ninth-grade year, my mother suggested I try home schooling, as there were a growing number of children finding it a fulfilling and successful educational path. I began to teach myself, with the assistance of long-distance courses and the dual-enrollment program of our local community college. I quickly began to love and seek out learning opportunities! I became passionate about literature and history, art, anthropology and social justice. I began to travel extensively, play and perform music locally with my home-schooled sister, as well as becoming a published writer. I tutored at the local library, worked various side jobs and volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and other social organizations. I relished every moment of discovery and self-awareness as part of my learning process. And I was free to learn because I loved and enjoyed it.

W.B. Yeats said, "Education is not filling a cup but lighting a fire." It is that conviction, accompanied by the belief in the basic human dignity and rights of each child, that will continue to compel myself and other insightful minds to pioneer new, more compassionate and liberating communities of learning. For the children's sake.

— Mary Ellen Phillips
Waynesville

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2 thoughts on “Don’t “unschool”; instead, light a fire in children’s minds

  1. Piffy!

    oh boy, yet another person attacking alternative schooling for something that no one claims it to be.

    this seems akin to criticizing Obama for being a Muslim commie.

  2. denise

    Um, hello…Sounds to me like you WERE unschooling and ya didn’t even know it – LOL!

    ” I began to teach myself, with the assistance of long-distance courses and the dual-enrollment program of our local community college. I quickly began to love and seek out learning opportunities! I became passionate about literature and history, art, anthropology and social justice. I began to travel extensively, play and perform music locally with my home-schooled sister, as well as becoming a published writer. I tutored at the local library, worked various side jobs and volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and other social organizations. I relished every moment of discovery and self-awareness as part of my learning process. And I was free to learn because I loved and enjoyed it.

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