As a preamble to explaining the title of this post, I feel obligated to describe the history of the hypothesis I am going to pose here. A couple weeks ago, I wrote the following:
What I believe is the main philosophy of unschooling is to refrain from teaching a child that it needs to be taught. In the last 5 years, my youngest has learned to feed herself, to walk, to talk, to compose sentences, to communicate complex ideas, to draw, to paint and many other skills. She has a substantial understanding of the world in which she lives and of the functioning of the human body. For many of the things I have listed, she learned them because she saw us doing them and knew that they could be done. For the remainder, our role in her learning has been to provide her with access to resources, to answer her questions and to respond to her needs and wants such as reading to her.
When I wrote that, I sent my mind off brewing an idea for an experiment, however unlikely to be tried, that would demonstrate that the philosophy I described above is valid. While you are reading this, I’d ask you to remember that scientists embarking on an experiment set parameters for the experiment and do their best to observe the parameters. Otherwise, the experiment does not produce useful results. The reason I wanted to point this out is that as you read the parameters you may feel that some of the parameters would be difficult to keep. Those difficulties are one of the reasons this has sat on the back burner for a couple weeks.
Let’s suppose that we could build or create a community which was consistent with a typical community in our society in as many ways as possible except two. The first difference I would like to introduce in this community is that it did not contain a school, college or university. The second difference is that the community would be populated with adults who understood and agreed to the parameters of the experiment, and by young children who did not have a concrete sense of what school was.
- The adults would not discuss even among themselves any aspect of their own schooling.
- The community would have a community center which included a composite library of the types of materials that would be found in a public library, public school library and a university library.
- Children’s television programming would not be school centric as the majority of it is now.
- The community would have hi-speed internet access consistent with the typical community in our society.
- Children would be permitted or perhaps expected to observe adults carrying out their professions.
- Children’s questions on any subject would be taken and responded to seriously.
- In general, children would be respected as young people instead of treated as infants, toddlers, preschoolers, elementary kids, tweenies, teenagers, and adolescents.
The hypothesis I would like to put forward is that children in this community would grow up to to take up many of the professions held by the adults in the community without school. The basis of the premise is described in the paragraph I quoted from 2 weeks ago. If the concept of having to be taught was never introduced to children, wouldn’t they continue to assume that they could do or learn to do the things that big people did. If the doctors in the community never told the children about medical school, wouldn’t the children assume that the doctors had learned medicine on their own. And if, from the children’s perspective, the doctors learned medicine on their own, why wouldn’t a child interested in the field believe that they could as well?
You see, the inescapeable logic in our technological society is that the technology itself is in the end a result self-directed learning and not a result of curriculum based teaching. Consider the telephone, electricity, the internal combustion engine, solar power, and the integrated circuit. All of these things were pursued by self-directed people who had no one to teach them how to invent what they pursued out of personal interest. And from my perspective, until the proponents of compulsary schooling are willing to give this experiment a go, there is no evidence that schooling is necessary or even desireable.