Thursday, May 11, 2006

Sudbury vs unschooling or maybe not

Last week I didn't post much because most of my computer time was taken up with responding to some posts on a German email list that I'm on. German not being my first language (or even my second) it always takes twice as long to type as in English because I have to keep looking up the right words, correct my grammar and often I don't succeed in expressing myself nearly as clearly as I want to.

In spite of all this, when I feel strongly about something I take the time to get involved in the discussions. This particular list is one that has been set up to discuss practical ways of achieving freedom in education in Germany and members come from the whole spectrum of educational alternatives, from religious Christian homeschoolers through unschoolers to those who are interested in democratic schools (eg the Sudbury or Summerhill model) to children's rights advocates.

There is a remarkable sense of openness and cohesion among the various types of homeschoolers in Germany at the moment. The feeling here is that we need to stick together and support each other. We can't afford to let ourselves be divided into bickering fractions based on our differing motives or methods. Many people straddle various camps, for example religious fundamentalists who practise unschooling or current unschoolers who started out with a more structured form of homeschooling.

Many of those who advocate the Sudbury system, however, seem to have a problem accepting homeschoolers and this is where some conflict arises. For one, many are saddled with the same prejudices about homeschoolers as the general public. In his book, "Free at last - the Sudbury Valley School" , Daniel Greenberg writes (my translation into English from the German translation), For example, there is the question of whether unschooling enables the childen to find their way in society, when the children are at home for most of the time. Of course there are cases where the parents of unschoolers visit each other a few times a week to give their children social contacts.

So here we have the idea that the most unschoolers only get the opportunity to stretch their social wings within the social circle that their parents have appointed for them. That's not the way I experience it. Currently both my eldest children are often off exploring their own interests and interacting with their friends with not a supervising parent in sight, and that's nothing rare among unschoolers, as far as I know.

Another issue is that many Sudbury types seem to subscribe to a worldview that perceives parental influence as something negative and undesirable. Although I agree that young people need to have a place where they can explore unfettered by parental influence, I think that for a healthy development a strong, healthy bond to the primary caregiver is necessary. Then letting go and enabling the child to experience independence at its own pace, as one does with a toddler, will do the rest.

I have nothing against Sudbury schools. I think that they are, like homeschooling (in its different forms) another great educational alternative which suits the needs of different people.

1 comment:

Dagmar said...

Hi Scatty,
finally scrolled along again after a long time - great, your posts! Thanks a lot and a pity that you do not publish a German blog, too.