For the past couple of weeks, I have been in conversation with a graduate student at Columbia's School of Journalism who has made her thesis project on the subject of unschooling. For the unschooled, unschooling is a style of educating that is based on the notion that people have an innate drive to learn about the world and do not require experts, institutions or a state-mandated curriculum to do so. For a parent embarking on this adventure with their children, it means taking a gigantic leap of faith, esp. when said children are often found sitting around on the couch all day reading yu-gi-oh comics interspersed with some sitting on the floor reading Tintin comics. It has been a good experience talking with this grad student because she has really challenged me to assess why we are doing what we are doing.
We have embraced this philosophy for a variety of reasons, including the early experience of observing our infant children learn to walk, talk, read, etc., by watching and copying us and each other. I mean, if it worked for those things, couldn't it work for other, less important, less complicated things, like algebra? The experience to date has been very interesting. There are many times when I despair that the whole thing is a flop and I will have two illiterate know-nothings who will blame me for their wasted childhoods. Sometimes there are weeks like that. Months? Well, maybe a month. But then something happens and the light shines brightly again, I learn (again) that when someone figures something out on their own: on their own schedule, under their own motivation, it is the most powerful experience a person can have. The weeks of doubt melt away when these two people do things so amazing and wonderful and creative (and normal and ordinary), that I know we are on the right track.
Last week, the grad student stayed and hung out at our house for a typical, low-key day (rare though they may be!). She stayed at our house for six hours and we had fun, talking and playing. Lucy taught her to spin at one point. Right near the end, when I was feeling pretty good that we were a nice example of how unschooling works, she asked Lucy why her favourite doll had no fingers. The truth is that Lucy bit them off at some point. But Lucy just looked at her. So she asked again, "Did she have an accident?" Lucy nodded yes.
"How did that happen?"
Lucy's answer, "Sealing."
" What? Sealing? You mean hunting seals??"
"Yes, she had a sealing accident."