Monday, April 4, 2011

Cross Processing The Unschooler

Same child, very different results.

Cross processing is the procedure of deliberately processing film in a chemical solution intended for a different type of film.  The results can be stunning, but a cross processed imagine is obviously not an accurate representation of the original subject.  The overall photo is the same, but the colors can be dramatically different and the overall tone of the image is affected.

Now, what exactly does this have to do with unschooling, you ask...consider the following:

"If my child was given the choice between reading and playing video games...of course they'll choose the video games."

The phrase above is a common statement from those that do not "get" unschooling.  It is used as "proof" of sorts of why unschooling can't work....because of course children will choose the "mindless" entertainment of video games over reading (which is educational, you know, and therefore "no fun" in the child's mind).

Here is where cross processing comes in - people are developing their opinions about unschooling and unschooled children based on a thought process that would normally be used in regards to schooled children.  Yes, they're seeing a picture....but the color and tone are off.  Is that opinion then accurate when viewing unschooling?  No.

You cannot view unschooled children the same way you view schooled children.  The reason people try to is because they assume that what is the norm for school kids is the norm for all children in general and fail to realize the sort of effect that school can have on a child's development and attitudes towards certain activities.

Will a child really always choose the video game over the book?  In the case of a typical school child, yes, probably (though there will always be exceptions).  In the case of an unschooled child?  It's difficult to say...their choice will vary depending on a number of factors.  Simply put, you cannot base your assumptions about an unschooled child on what a schooled child is like when they have lead drastically different lives.  Lifestyle is key.

The Schooled Child

Schooled children spend large parts of their day in school.  School is essentially their job.  As an adult, did/do you come home from work wanting to do more of the exact same task you do at work at home on your off hours?  Of course not!  You would probably want to come home and unwind, perhaps take a hot shower, change into some comfy clothes, and engage in a bit of mindless entertainment (in the form of television, Internet, or perhaps even a video game.)  Adults are allowed to do those things.  It's seen as normal, even healthy after a hard days work.  However, when a child comes home from school they still have homework to do, most likely...and when they engage in mindless entertainment it's often met with criticism and they're then told that they should "do something constructive/educational" or "read something".  Why?  Didn't they put in enough educational time for one day?  When is enough, enough?

Now besides the whole school-as-a-job thing...there is the fact that many schooled children have issues with reading.  Some struggled with it (be it that the method of teaching didn't suit them...or perhaps because they weren't developmentally ready for reading...) or they have negative associations with it.  Some have those negative associations because of required reading that they detested, others simply just see reading part of school and therefore something they do not wish to do for recreational purposes.  It's part of the job, why do it at home?

The choices are reading a book which is not their idea of fun vs. something like video games that have always been classed as mindless entertainment by the adults in their lives.  Yeah, I'd probably choose video games too!

The Unschooled Child

Unschooled children, meanwhile, are unlikely to have drawn any lines between video games and reading in terms of what is "fun" or what is "educational".  They're given the freedom to do whatever they want, whenever they want, and follow their own interests.  Learning isn't their job, it's just part of life.  They explore and learn everyday because kids love to learn!  All children have a natural love of learning and a desire to least until traditional school comes into the picture.  Forcing something is a sure fire way to make it undesirable (anyone who has/had a toddler can tell you this!)...but forcing isn't part of the unschooling lifestyle so the natural desire to learn remains intact.

Unschooled children learn to read in their own way whenever they are ready for it.  There is no required reading list.  There isn't anyone pushing them to read or do something "constructive" so they are free to choose the activity without any negative associations that might taint their decision. 

Reading is fun.  Video games, likewise, are also fun.  They haven't been demonized or classed as "mindless" or "worthless" fact video games can involve a lot of reading and be quite educational, though the unschooled child doesn't think about them that way.  There is no fun vs. educational.  There is only fun vs. fun and their choice will vary depending on the situation, their current interest, their mood, the setting, perhaps even the time of day.

Reading an enjoyable book vs. playing an enjoyable video me think about it.

The Big Picture

Of course it's not just about books and video games.  There is a lot more to it than that...but overall the same assumptions that lead people to assume all children will choose the game over the book also leads them to believe that there is no way a child would choose educational activities.  People worry that their children, if given the chance, would waste away in front of the television and never do anything, much less acquire a well-rounded education.  Honestly, if you pull your child out of school tomorrow to unschool...they're going to veg out in front of the TV, computer, or game console for awhile.  They need time to "deschool" and get over bad associations/habits they learned in school.  Parents, likewise, need to deschool and shift their mind-set away from attitudes that tells us things like "tv/video games/surfing the Internet/movies/anime/comic books are worthless", "non-fiction is better than fantasy novels", "math can only be learned from worksheets", "my child needs to know X by X age or grade level", etc.  We need to step back and see the worth in all things, not just those that our traditional schooled mindset says are educational.

Schooled Children As The Norm

Our society has become so accustomed to compulsory education and public schools that it's no surprise when assumptions are made about all children based on what is typical among schooled kids.  However, our current education system is a relatively new concept.  Children existed, learned, and developed long before we started putting them in school.  Meanwhile, in recent history, school has become a major part of most children's lives and has many long term effects on development...and we would do well to recognize that much of what we assume to be typical childhood behavior is a result of that education process.  When you remove that from the equation you need to rethink a few things...and stop viewing those outside the typical school format for what they are.

Unlike cross processing photography, I do not believe that people are deliberately processing their views on unschooling with assumptions meant for schooled children.  I'm sure they have no idea they are doing it!  However, it would be helpful if those people could step back and consider for a moment whether or not their assumptions really apply.  I encourage people viewing unschooling to keep and open mind and ask themselves "what would life be like without school and how would children be different?"....then, perhaps, you'll have an opportunity to see what a beautiful picture can result.  ---


  1. Incredible article Kim! Putting things in that perspective is very helpful. I really hope I can move past my fear of no schools... Considering my own love of learning I really should know that you dont need school to nurture it... And in fact school hampered it! Thankfully I have a good bit of time before I get to that point.

  2. wonderful it would be if I could show this to Mom and be like "LOOK AT THIS AND STUDY IT!" lol