Monday, April 23, 2012

I Don't Have Enough Leisure to Debate Unschooling

Megan Erickson:

Reading Astra Taylor’s n+1 essay “Unschooling,” I was reminded of my first semester in a classroom. Like many student teachers, I’d been offended by the idea of myself as an authority figure. Standing in front of the class at the chalkboard felt like a lie. Was I smarter than my students? No. Did I know more about the subject I was teaching? Not always. I was so afraid of humiliating kids that I refused to call on a student unless her hand was raised.

In practice, that meant that over and over again I gave a lot of outgoing kids the chance to speak, while effectively ignoring the ones who weren’t interested. When no one’s hand was raised, I wasted time wondering what to do next. In the middle of the semester, my students filled out their evaluations. “Dear Ms. Erickson,” one student wrote, “when no one raises their hand, it’s okay to just call on someone.” He was right. It was okay. I’d been protecting tenth graders from something they were perfectly prepared to face.

It is this false and misguided sense of children’s fragile identity that informs the educational philosophy of “unschooling.” Demographically, unschooling is homeschooling for middle class people with master’s degrees. Its heroes are Paul Goodman, John Holt, and A.S. Neill, the author of a once influential but largely forgotten book called Summerhill, about a boarding school run entirely by the students.

Following these introductory paragraphs, whole essay is slightly askew. No Paul Goodman did not advocate for wishy-washy teaching in traditional classrooms. Nor did he recommend a coddling education insulated from adults or conflict among children. Setting aside the complexity of Goodman's work, I'm not even sure it is consistent enough to neatly summarize.

On the whole though, I don't care enough about this to read Taylor's essay or try to analyse Erickson's quick slide from A.S. Neill to Lisa Delpit. In 2012, the entire conversation is an elite indulgence.

You see, right now the Mayor, the state government, the federal government, and the richest people in America all seem to want to close or otherwise destroy all the schools in my neighborhood, and they've got a good start on the process.

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