About five hundred folks, from young children to adults, gathered at the Marriott in Westlake, Texas, last week, for the Rethinking Education conference. The event took place all over the hotel: hallways, lobby, lounge, even the space in front of the elevators on several floors. The whole place had been converted to a free kid zone (the opposite of “kid free”).
The event seemed to stratify into young kids, younger teens, older teens, and adults. I saw not much mixing between the groups, except that very young kids sometimes orbited their parents as they attempted to listen to a keynote talk, causing bit of tolerable noise and disruption.
I spent most of my time with the adults, but I saw lots of kids, who were for the most part friendly and exuberant. Just as I would expect in a self-organized five-day gathering, there were some difficult moments. Someone broke the glass in the elevators, and there were at least a couple of little fights among the kids, including a little kid in a dinosaur outfit whom, it was rumored, walked around making dinosaur noises and punching other, bigger kids.
(My father, hearing about these events, is scandalized. I think he imagines a prison riot, and nothing I say has succeeded in creating a category in his mind mid-way between “prison riot” and “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies.”)
I appreciate the patience and forbearance of the parents in reacting to these events. Unschooling requires patience and trust. I think that is the number one requirement for unschooling parents: saint-like patience and trust. We want our children to be safe, but we need our children to gain experience, too; to try things, even a lot of things that could end badly, so that they learn about the consequences of their choices. My own son has a habit of making sardonic comments worthy of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. I wish he would say friendly things instead and open his heart to humanity… and yet, I sorta remember being like that at 15, too. Today I am occasionally capable of kindness, and I have good theoretical knowledge of polite behavior, so there’s hope for him, too.
I did a couple of talks about being a high school dropout surrounded by college grads. These went over very well, much better than I expected, actually. Being a technical guy in a non-technical environment, I worried that I’d come across as an alien life form. Apparently that was not a problem. I was happy to see a few young adults in the audience, too. I videoed the talks, and I’m thinking about putting them online.
The most exciting and satisfying part was being with all these other adults for whom unschooling is normal. These are people who don’t panic at the thought of not knowing exactly what their children will do for a living, in ten years.
You know, the idea of not sending your kids to school AND not driving through any sort of curriculum at home is truly bizarre and frightening to most educated people in the world (who are themselves products of compulsive schooling). I regularly fall into debates with folks who imagine that unschooling will cause our very society to unravel, and then implode– as if that hasn’t already been happening despite widespread kid imprisonment call public school! I think, rather, that rejecting compulsory schooling would renew society, because we need a society of self-created hard-to-manipulate adults to counteract the rampant international consumerist corporatism that now controls the world.
Public schools were created as a tool to produce a docile and undemanding citizenry. This has led to amazing paradoxes in America, such as our expectation that fire departments should be a public service, but that somehow medical care should be considered a private luxury. The way things are, here, is not a result of a strong sense of our culture or philosophy as Americans. It’s a result of our collective inability and unwillingness to take responsibility for our own thoughts. Radical unschooling is part of a radical corrective for that.
(That there was the rant portion of this post, if you’re scoring at home.)