Tag Archives: learning

The What, Why, and How of Unschooling

Unschooling is the practice whereby teachers facilitate the acquisition of knowledge which is of the highest value to the student. This seemingly unobjectionable practice is extremely controversial. The reason for this is that many people have been brainwashed into believing that what a child needs is education, education being forced learning. The problem with education is that it requires the ability to control other’s minds. The retention of technological knowledge requires the retainer to voluntarily retain the information given. It simply cannot be forced on to someone. “Aha! That’s where you’re wrong!” cries the objector, “I learned so-and-so at a school, therefore you’re whole theory is incorrect.” This objection is wholly untrue. It assumes that the school made him (or her) learn so-and-so, when in reality he (or she) must have committed it to memory because it was of value to him (at least at the time). The only reason that a person could learn in school is because that person saw that knowledge as valuable, either as a method to get good grades in order to graduate, in which case the information is forgotten as soon as it is done being tested for, or the information is of practical or recreational value to the student, in which case the information is retained until it ceases to have these characteristics associated with it. It is obvious that the former is functionally useless and the latter is what will bring about a successful child; a child who has the necessary information to produce the results he or she endeavors to achieve.

A student will learn the most (both qualitatively and quantitatively) when able to have the knowledge that the student most desires to have. The only way to judge the quality of information is subjectively. The subjective valuation of the information by the individual and for that same individual is the only proper measurement of utility because the usefulness of any technological knowledge differs from person to person. For an example (and these are just generalizations; the reverse may be true, although unlikely) a plumber places less value on knowledge of snakes than an ophiologist, and knowledge about the fine details of plumbing is of little value to an ophiologist. It is clear from this that the student should learn what is of most value to himself (or herself), using the medium that he (or she) most desires. Then there is the question of how much to learn of something. This can only be answered in the same way that the question of what to learn was answered: according to the subjective value judgements of the child. The school, in trying to dictate what the child must learn and how much of it is to be learned and the exact methods to be used, will inevitably draw the child away from learning what is more valued into what is less valued, otherwise the school wouldn’t need to exist because the child would do exactly what the schools wanted him or her to do in the first place.

The real question seems to be: How is it possible that children learn anything in schools? Besides the school just happening to teach what the student already finds valuable, what causes the student to learn what is taught? The student must learn something after all, or how would he or she be able to pass all those tests proving that he or she learned it? The answer is that a student really doesn’t learn (very much, anyway) at a school, and the student only retains the (worthless, at least to the student) information long enough to pass the tests on the subject. Many people do well in school, but (almost) nobody remembers the vast majority of what they were actually taught — just what was useful and relevent. Now the question becomes why does the student want to retain the worthless knowledge in order to pass tests? Because public education is free and compulsory, it’s use has become the norm, and, therefore, the only practical method of gauging the average person’s intelligence and knowledge is by knowing that the person in question has completed a high school education, with brownie points to those scoring high grades. The reason for this is that schools do teach some useful information, and (nearly) everyone goes to school, so the way to discover those who are really knowledgable is to find those who performed the best in school. This creates an environment in which students (for the most part) value getting a diploma and excellent grades, and, therefore, value (temporarily, only for the duration of time needed to pass exams) the information presented to them in school. Thus the government wastes the most critical learning period of a child’s life.

If “education” is the worst and most wasteful method of learning (or lack of learning), what are the particulars of this thing called “unschooling”? How does one engage in this practice of unschooling? Unschooling is not so much about what the teacher does so much as it is about what the teacher doesn’t do. The unschooling teacher doesn’t demand that their students perform tasks (like “read this book” or “listen to what I’m saying”) or take tests or go through courses. With unschooling, what the teacher does do is engage with the student, discovering what his or her interests are and guiding the student to find new and more valuable interests while providing the resources which the student needs to learn and pursue those interests. Unschooling is more about what the student does than the teacher. The unschooling student pursues the knowledge that he or she values the most by following his or her passions and interests. The unschooler can learn anything anywhere using whatever is needed.

I realize that at this point it would be helpful to use some examples to better illustrate how unschooling plays out in real life. Young children are always asking “why?”. Most parents are annoyed and discourage this kind of thing, but unschooling teacher encourages it, answering the questions to the best of his or her ability, and when necessary, discovering the answers with the student. As children get older, they still ask these questions, but typically in relation to the pursuit of specific knowledge regarding an interest which the student is attempting to learn and partake in. These interests are many and varied, with every student being different, and therefore having different interests and preferences as to how they want to spend their time, resources, and labor. One of my particular interests since the age of twelve or so has been coffee. I learned all about the different kinds of roasts and the different flavors resulting from these roasts, the best way to brew coffee (french press or vacuum pot), how coffee is grown, processed, and roasted, what the characteristics of coffee from different origins are, and finally, I learned to roast my own coffee and continue to do so to this present day. I have done/am doing this with numerous other subjects/passions/hobbies including, but not limited to economics, history, political philosophy, personal fitness (including nutrition), religion, finances/money management, entrepreneurship, business, travel, and accounting.

Many people are probably wondering: what does unschooling have to do with voluntaryism? Sure unschooling may be the much preferable method of learning, but how does this tie in to the non-aggression principle? My answer is that it doesn’t — not exactly. However, there are conclusions that are directly related to non-aggression which naturally tend to favor the use of unschooling. Voluntaryism is firmly against any form of governmentally funded schools, so that is a conclusion that makes voluntaryists look for alternatives. Voluntaryists know that the government distorts the economy through its interventions, so we suspect that the current system of schools and education may not best satisfy consumer preferences, but only exists because government interference. This also makes voluntaryists consider methods of learning radically different from the statist quo of public schooling. Voluntaryists know that public schools are the primary method by which pro-government ideas and solutions to various social, moral, and economic problems are transmitted in a positive way (indeed, as the best way), and act not as centers for learning, free-thinking, the store-housing of knowledge, and innovation, but as prison camps designed to indoctrinate the nation’s youth with government propaganda. This causes voluntaryists to question all of the tactics used in public schools and instead contemplate what would actually be the optimum approach to scholarship. It is for all these reasons that, while not strictly concerned with the non-aggression principle, voluntaryists generally, though not neccessarily, are in favor of unschooling.

As a closing comment, those who have teenagers who want to learn real history and economics and would like to unschool, I suggest the use of Liberty Classroom. I personally use Liberty Classroom and find it a valuable resource which is well worth the time and money (and will help out your favorite voluntaryist website when you buy through my link).

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