Katy Zago, an accountant from Luxembourg didn’t send her daughter to school until she was 10 years old. Her daughter attended a pre-school for two afternoons a week when she was five and then she was given the choice as to whether to go on to school or not. She decided not to go and was “unschooled” for a further five years.
School is compulsory at age four in Luxembourg and we just felt it was too early to separate, that the child needs to be able to sleep whenever it is tired. The school system just did not make much sense to us. It is artificial and disconnects the young person from its real biological needs. It alienates people.
We tried to have a lot of different activities, experiences, visits, spending a lot of time discussing, some time travelling, going to big meetings of unschoolers or home schoolers, seeing friends etc. We were just observing a lot, proposing activities, sharing ideas and experiences and facilitating things. We just enjoyed discovering things together.
At age 10 the community around us was too small and lacked diversity, and our daughter wanted to see for herself how it was to be in mainstream. She was old enough to decide for herself and to be aware of what is right or not right for her. She decided to go to school and we supported her choice.
She worked intensely for a few weeks to learn the usual schooling codes (e.g. what is expected for an exercise), and had no problem to integrate into school.
Now she plans to stay a couple of years and then look for an art school. She loves theatre and drawing or making artistic things. She’s young but quite mature for her age. I think it is due to unschooling and being with older people, talking a lot.
Kids are separated from their parents very early in our society and then always segregated by age. This is against nature and leads to a lot of problems that could be avoided. The current school system is stuck in a wrong paradigm, in a wrong idea about the child’s needs.
Education must be less vulnerable to authoritarianism and must encourage critical thinking. For example, children should be able to read by understanding what they read. They should be able to make their own opinion. Conventional schools teach how not to read by imposing learning to read before the language is developed enough.
Whatever suits an individual is OK. If it is the choice of an individual to go to school it is fine. Schools probably make some people happy or happier than if they were staying at home. It all depends on the individual itself and the experience it makes there.
Ideally, I think Peter Gray sums up very well, in his book Free to Learn the ‘Optimal Contexts for Self-Directed Education’:
1. The social expectation (and reality) that education is children’s responsibility.
2. Unlimited freedom to play, explore, and pursue own interests.
3. Opportunity to play with the tools of the culture.
4. Access to a variety of caring adults, who are helpers, not judges.
5. Free age mixing among children and adolescents.
6. Immersion in a stable, moral, democratic community.
Note how these are the opposite of the typical school context.
I think once people understand what Peter Gray means with the six items above, then it becomes clear that it is really the best way to preserve natural curiosity. At the same time, it requires a true presence of caring helpers. They should have the capacity of not judging and of being able to trust themselves and children.
There should also be enough caring adults and a diversity of caring people of all ages around the young people and this is not easy to realize in our society, but the more people understand how much sense it makes, the more it will be possible.
I don’t think home ed is better or worse than school. It really depends on the context, how one feels about it and what is right for an individual. Anybody should have the freedom of choice and be able to have access to the educational resources/contexts that are right for them at any time. I think Peter Gray is absolutely right, it should be the responsibility of the individual to educate itself but it should be given this opportunity.
If the optimal context as described by Peter Gray is not there, there is something missing in home ed, but then each individual should decide for himself where to place the cursor of more or less of item 1 to 6.
For example, if you want to become an opera dancer, you need to work very hard. You can then choose a very strict school where teachers are very critical and extremely challenging and where there is a high level of competition, but it is your choice to overstrain your body and reach excellence in dancing. Then it is ok. Or you can decide to do nothing for a while just contemplating or being lazy, just being and becoming.
It is important to make the connection between Self-Directed Education (SDE) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Having read a thesis on the interpretation on the right to education by the European Court of Human Rights and specific case-laws, I am convinced human rights can be a promising approach to defend SDE and Democratic Education.
If you are interested in this subject, please join my international working group. It analyses real case-studies and reflects on possible strategies to enable action. It tackles specific open questions, raises new ones and shares experience and knowledge on how to claim fundamental rights.
You can also read her article on the Euro Home Ed website about human rights in education here.