When I met Homeschool Therapist, Michelle Barone, MA MFT, I had never heard of “un” schooling, but boy have I learned a lot since. I was delighted to speak at her extraordinary Unschooling Summit in May 2012. The more I learn from her about unschooling the more I see the connections between my work and hers.
She helps parents take back their rights to guide their children to LOVE learning rather than be taught to be obedient, compliant, and overly focused on achievement and getting A’s. I help people re-learn how to enjoy the process of organizing their lives, home, work, and time by reclaiming their right to design their entire approach to organizing and decision-making to fit the way they think and function. Just as we all learn in our own way, we all organize in our own way.
What is ”Unschooling” and why is it such a big deal?
Unfortunately, schools are no longer serving us as a resource for educating and preparing our children for the realities of adult life. In fact, the design of our approach to schooling has become so complex and bureaucratic that it is actually causing harm – especially to kids who are sensitive, gifted, or neurodiverse in any way.
We have designed school systems to serve the “convenience” needs of administrators and according to what corporations / businesses say kids “need to learn.” But not everyone cares to have a career in business, nor should they. The unintended consequences of not designing schools to serve the needs of how children really learn best is that schools are a breeding ground for diagnosing children as having something wrong with them.
The primary reason that kids, parents, teachers and doctors think there is something “wrong with” kids is that they “don’t function well at school.” Read the criteria for diagnosing ADHD and you’ll see that most of the criteria are things like “difficulty sitting still all day in class” or “doesn’t do what they are told to do all day.” No human being naturally prefers to be told what to do all day long or not having input into what or how to learn.
Instead of asking how to design our approach to education more humanely, we assume we have to “fix” what’s wrong with the kids who don’t thrive in an environment of being scheduled, asked to sit still, and follow other people’s agendas all day.
Schools are designed in a way that inadvertently teaches kids to believe that:
- Other people know better what is best for them
- Their ideas about what they need or want to learn don’t matter as much as what the “experts” say
- Social situations are a source of emotional stress and possibly danger. Many people learn to avoid groups and social encounters in school. You are highly vulnerable at school to be bullied if you are too different or passive, to be pressured to conform, or be outcast, shunned or ignored if you aren’t naturally outgoing or pleasant. Conversely, popular kids learn to put up an “image” of themselves to be liked. That has it’s own kind of stress.
- Should seek approval from others and “get along” by doing what they are told without asking a lot of questions (e.g. getting A’s and submitting homework “on time” is more important than just about anything else that may be going on in their lives at home or in the family.)
- They should expect to bring work home every day. Schools don’t teach us to set boundaries between and home life: Schools actually teach usthe opposite. As a result, we spend much of our adult lives dealing with this chronic issue of putting work ahead of family life.
At school, you are required to obey, expected to regurgitate what other people think, punished for challenging authority or rules (no matter how ridiculous they are), and conditioned to always say the “right things” to “get along” in order to get A’s. After 12 years of this, we become adults and wonder why we don’t even know what we really need, and why we never feel like we are enough or doing enough.
We have been taught to try to please everyone BUT ourselves and have no idea how to feel satisfied.
We are rarely encouraged to articulate our needs, and then wonder why we don’t know how to communicate our needs to each other and have strained relationships with families and kids.
In many schools, we are inadvertently systematically taught to believe that our whole life’s success depends on us getting good grades and conforming to other people’s expectations of us.
When I began helping people with ADD and other neurodiversities design organizing systems to fit themselves, it quickly became clear that, like me, almost every one of my clients had been traumatized by their experiences in school. And yet, most of us had spent our lives believing that the problem was us – our difficulty “conforming” was called “defiance” and “disrespect.” Our “resistance” to being told what to do, to being on time, and to functioning the way others wanted us to earned us labels like “rebellious” ”difficult” and “challenging”.
These kinds of meta-messages we receive throughout our lives deeply penetrate our sense of identity and self-worth. This core “programming” devastates our ability to develop self-confidence and to enjoy our lives and relationships. It is so deep that is almost impossible to see.
But once you start seeing yourself with respect, a whole new world of possibility is unleashed. Deep layers of grief, anger and frustration emerge during the healing process. As you are learning new ways of being, the unwanted thoughts and attitudes continue to persist, but now you realize they aren’t really you. It’s takes time to change the programming and have it become “automatic” but the process is worth it. After all, if you don’t start the healing, all that time will be making the problem worse.
In some cases, the old “default settings” that have been installed in us will never be fully and completely erased. Learning to live with the “residue” and continuing to rebuild yourself is not easy – but it is possible. I think the body of work called “deschooling” is addressing exactly this process.
I’m so looking forward to exploring this concept further with Michelle. I have a hunch that my work with Agile Life Design is actually providing tools that facilitate designing your way through the healing process of “deschooling.” Design thinking tools empower you to think for yourself, advocate for your needs, respect yourself, and continuously tweak and change your environments, relationships, approach to learning, and daily living / working systems to change, grow and evolve with you.
I love the respect-based alternative to “schooling” that unschooling provides. Imagine how different the world would be for those of us with ADHD, high sensitivity, creativity and giftedness if we didn’t have to spend most of our adult lives recovering from the effects of how we were raised?
Can you even imagine growing up being deeply respected, nurtured, and encouraged to cultivate your natural love of learning – your way? with the support and cooperation of adults who take your ideas and needs seriously?
Want to learn more about unschooling? I personally can’t wait to hear all the other brilliant speakers Michelle has so generously spent time interviewing and making available on the web for us – FREE! Thanks Michelle E Barone for your GREAT work on this GREAT idea!