Unlearning What We’ve Learnt About Education

My Unschooling Book Series (10)

I’ve got stuck. The words aren’t flowing and I’m tempted to give up. However, I’m pushing on hoping inspiration will strike. I have no shortage of things I want to write about. But what’s the best way to say things?

I wrote:

There is no doubt that our kids will learn if only they are given the freedom to do so. The success of unschooling doesn’t really depend on the child. It depends on the parent. We might have to change our ideas about what education is and how children learn. Unlearn what we’ve been taught.

But what do I write next? I’ve listed a lot of points I’d like to make in the form of questions. Now what am I’m going to do with them? Order the points better and expand on them? Add some stories to illustrate the points? I’ll keep thinking. In the meantime, I’ll post the questions because I don’t have anything else to offer.

Is it necessary to force kids to learn? Or are kids naturally curious people?

Is it even possible to force kids to learn? We may be able to persuade them to learn using bribes or rewards or shame or punishments, but is this real learning? Will children retain knowledge gained in this way? If they feel what they’ve learnt is irrelevant or uninteresting, will they let go of this knowledge as soon as they can: when the exam is over, the essay has been written, the page of the workbook has been turned…? Is forcing kids to learn a waste of time?

Do children need to be taught? Or is education more about learning rather than teaching?

Does a school or parent-written curriculum really contain all the knowledge that our children will need to set them up for life? Or do our children have a better idea of what is important to them?

Maybe what’s important to kids is irrelevant because parents have more life experience than children? Are parents in the best position to see The Big Picture and therefore know what a child will need for his future?

But with the world changing so fast, how can we know what skills and knowledge our kids will need when they get to the stage where they’re looking for employment? Surely if a child loves learning, they’ll be able to keep up with a changing world and learn new skills as they are needed?

Is it essential children use and develop their talents? Do you believe we all have a mission or something special to accomplish in life? Could our talents be wrapped up in our mission? Are our passions and interests part of who we are? Do they make us unique? Does following our interests and passions and using our talents make us fully alive?

Does learning take place outside of school hours? Do children learn from all experiences in their lives or only from the ones that we think of as being ‘educational’?

Do children have to do things they don’t like so that they are prepared for the ‘real’ world? Perhaps kids should be forced to learn things they’re not interested in, even if they don’t retain the knowledge because it’s good for them? Or do children decide for themselves to do things they don’t particularly like? Could they actually be capable of working hard at difficult tasks that aren’t necessarily pleasant?

Should we push our kids to learn? Or should motivation to learn come from within a child?

Does learning continue throughout our lives? Does it matter if we don’t all learn on the same timetable? Is it better to learn when we are ready? Do kids really ‘get behind’? Or do they learn at the perfect time for them? Is it never too late to learn something?

We might not have enjoyed our own school days, but we survived. Is this a good enough reason to impose a similar learning system, to the one we endured, on our children? Or do we want something better for them?

Unlearning what we’ve been taught about education doesn’t happen overnight. Is it okay to take our time when pondering new ideas? Is it possible to accept ideas we initially feel uncomfortable with?

Image: I took this photo of Sophie while she was filming Imogen’s music video Wunderkind. Learning doesn’t necessarily involve a desk, school hours, and somone else’s ideas about what we should know. It can look like a music video shoot at 6 o’clock in the morning!

Thank you, Alison, for your comment (on a previous post) on this topic. If anyone else has any more points that could be included in my list, please share them!


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  1. Reply

    I was just thinking this afternoon how strange it is to think we need to cover everything kids need to learn for their whole life in school hours. I’m still learning things at 54 and my parents are too. That is what keeps us vital. Often we learn things from our kids!

    1. Reply


      It’s just as well we continue learning after we finish school because I didn’t learn very much at all when I was a child. I’m glad I got a second chance to get a good education. Of course, it’s an ongoing education. It’s exciting to think we’re still learning and we will continue learning for the rest of our lives!

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