Feb 6, 2012

The one thing I hate the most about unschooling...

is the horrible pressure placed on kids to learn to read. Alone. Driven by their own motivation. Expected to work out when they are ready. Given the responsibility for their own literacy.

As though the huge task of learning to read is somehow optional in engaging with the outside world, and not a necessary "skill" to learn in order to be able to learn.

Unschool-ey person, this may not be you
Now, this rave may not apply to your unschooling family. Your child may have taught themselves to read - without help. Or maybe your child has a learning disability that has hindered their reading so there are other dynamics at play. Or maybe you are unschoolers who support their kids with strewed books, games, activities, and step-by-step material. 

This post absolutely is not about you. I promise.

I need to vent, and I am sorry if I offend you but I have chosen to vent right here, on my blog. I just can't take it any more!

A few thoughts about reading
Learning to read is complex. There are many stages and skills that need to be acquired to become a fluent reader.

Reading is not automatic, something that happens at a particular age, or a skill that is only a question of motivation. 

Chances are, virtually every person in your child's life can read. Our society's dominant communication method is the written word - you cannot search Google without being able to write or read. Not even youtube.

Reading can be wonderfully evocative and inspiring - a time machine,  a stirrer of emotion and passion, the best educational vehicle we have. 

Our children should be tempted, intrigued, encouraged, to enter into this relationship we adults have with the printed word. 

Not locked out.

Parent reading-aloud to child is great - but if this is the only way your child is able to access the books and other material they are interested in, it will erode their confidence, and dull their curiousity. The same need for independence that drove your child to feed and clothe themselves is also there in the need to choose their own material to read and experience it first-hand.

Think of illiterate adults: it is difficult to imagine a greater motivator than avoiding embarrassment, or lack of employment prospects for them to learn to read...yet as an adult it is horribly hard to learn to read. Many coping mechanisms - I forgot my glasses, can you fill it in, I have bad handwriting, you write it down etc etc - and avoidance become a habit.

Please, please consider your child and help them avoid that "avoidance".

A few thoughts about unschooling
I like the idea of child-led learning versus being shackled to a schoolroom and a state curriculum. Many, many times we have left the week's plan (if there actually was one!) and gone off on a tangent down a "rabbit trail" sparked by our girls' questions or wondering. I love that flexibility...

"I want to be able to swim better" - of course.
"I want to cook my dinner tonight"- yes, here's how you might go about that...
"I am in love with Greek myths, so I am going to read this book now" - yay!
"I really want to make polymer goop" - um, I think we might have a kit for that.
"I'm building a cardboard Tardis" "What bird is that?" "I really want to dissect that rat"...

I would never force our girls to learn something they didn't want to. However...

I would never expect our 6 year old to get herself to the library alone, find, and get a book out on her current interest. Or have the wherewithal to decide she wants to improve her handwriting over time. Or magically work out the times table. Or indeed decide what food she wanted to eat every day. Or expect her to wash her own clothes...

It is a question of degree. Independence is good, but good enough parenting is about involvement and active support.

Reading as an essential skill
Maybe the way to see reading is as a "must have" - a key to learning that isn't "school" but as essential as learning how to feed yourself with your own hands. 

"Unschooling" seems to be an intellectual device to distance us homeschoolers from the "bricks and mortar school" baddies down the road. I get that distinction, I like it.

Approach reading in a creative way. It doesn't have to be workbooks and chalk and talk. Reading can be taught socially, with games, interactive computer resources, or just one on one. It takes time - a lovely, close together time.

Unschooling problems - when it goes badly...
These are all real-life, true examples I have personally seen or heard first-hand:

  • Child feeling inadequate and consequently shy in case a new friend asks them what they are reading or to play a game or some other activity that involves literacy
  • Elaborate lies, pretending to be able to read fluently when other kids are having that "Have you read Harry Potter?" style conversation - the parents truly believed this kid was not bothered at all by not being able to read
  • Wanting to go to school rather than try to learn to read on their own (it is really quite hard!)
  • Those missed years of learning (because of being stymied in their reading) leading to never really catching up, and feeling like a loser
  • Parents who see their kids as a bit "lazy" or "not motivated" when in reality it is that huge hurdle of having to learn to read alone
  • Older kids discouraged by the simple childish nature of most "learn to read" materials - as though they have missed the boat (this is HUGE)
  • Stopping homeschooling altogether because the family can't cope with the years of waiting and pressure on everyone until the child is "ready" to read
  • Learning disabilities and developmental delays missed for years because those early reading skills can shine a spotlight on those issues
  • Kids who decide to go to into mainstream school (as is their right, after all!) who are actually not able to because their reading level is years behind their age peers
The rant is over : )
Yes, there are problems with unschooling (like all methodologies in education) and benefits there too. But PLEASE really engage with your child and get them reading. 

Go together on this stage of the journey so they can potter off (mostly) alone on the later stages. 

Imagine your day as a homeschool parent without being able to read. How would you survive? How would you explore? Literacy is the dominant paradigm - get into it!

Thoughts? Comments? Ideas? "Been there, done that" you'd care to share?
No flames please, but I am very happy to hear your take on it : )

1 comment:

Ingi Mc said...

With you on this one! We aren't "radical" unschoolers - like you we follow rabbit trails and trust that their interests will lead them to paths of knowledge (so much to learn, so little time!).

We are also lucky - the kids virtually taught themselves to read (Wombat Girl before starting school).

But HOW reading opens up new worlds! Of imagination, of knowledge, of accessibility.

I just read that 52% of Australian 15-19 year old do not have the basic literacy standards needed to participate in general life skills. 52%!!!! And I know as a high school teacher that probably that many kids did not read novels, were unable to access technical journals or even textbooks because they did not have good reading skills. I'm so glad my kids aren't going to part of that cohort.

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