Unschooling UNEDITED by Linda Dobson
There have been lots of great blog posts and responses to negative blog posts written about the unschooling fiasco presented by Good Morning America this week. Something I haven’t seen addressed, though, is bugging me. Where in the world did “news” people get the idea that unschooling is something new?
Do they not know how to use Google? Couldn’t they find the overflowing cornucopia of books, blogs, newspaper and magazine coverage dating back for literally decades? Anyone with a true interest in homeschooling would know it’s important to understand its history. The failure to do so indicated to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the practice that their “reporting” was beyond faulty; it was a joke.
Such coverage of the topic did nothing but bug everybody. The coverage got homeschoolers – en masse – angry with their misrepresentation. It got non-homeschoolers waxing hysterically against it.
While the family did a valiant job with their return appearance, the old adage holds true: You never get a second chance to make a first impression. A percentage who viewed the first piece didn’t even see the second. Another percentage who viewed the first piece already had their minds made up and there would be no changing them.
An eternal optimist, I’ve been looking for the good in what happened. The experience contains lessons for all of us and, if we all learn them, the world may eventually accept unschooling’s place on the whole of the homeschooling continuum to the same degree homeschooling has generally found a comfortable place in the mainstream.
Lesson for journalists – Do your homework. When you don’t, everyone who knows more about a topic than you do sees you as fools with an agenda other than unbiased, well-researched reporting of facts.
Lesson for homeschoolers – If you think you may get involved in public relations, think of the Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared.” There is a lot of information available to help prepare you for what you face. Mary Griffith first wrote her very helpful booklet, The Homeschooling Image: Public Relations Basics over 15 years ago, and she covers the basics succinctly. For example, “Decide what message you want to convey. This may sound contrived, but whether you intend it or not, you will be perceived by those who know little about homeschooling as representing the entire movement…You will have a limited amount of time to make whatever points you want to make, so keep your message simple and clear.” Mary quotes Michael Levine’s book, Guerrilla PR, as stating, “Boil your message down to a ‘SOCO:’ a Single Overriding Communications Objective. According to Levine, ‘Your message should be concise to the point of haiku when conveying it on television.”
“Think about the questions you are likely to be asked, and what your answers should be.” (Or better, request the questions you will be asked, as well as input on final product.) Role play with said questions ahead of time. Mary additionally includes a list of the questions you can pretty much count on hearing. They’re still very much the same.
Mary also interviewed Melissa Hatheway, then a HomeSchool Association of California board member, about her radio experience. Melissa relays a story about doing an interview, then receiving a “nice letter from [the host] saying she would homeschool her kids – when she had kids.” Interviews like Melissa’s, similarly conducted by countless others, is how homeschooling grew – both in numbers and acceptance – across the country.
Lesson for non-homeschoolers – You got a raw deal. You received a very perverted picture from Good Morning America, but it was a good lesson in not believing everything you see just because it was on a morning news program. As with everything else related to the education of your child, you’re going to have to do your own research and exploring to get an honest picture, not only of homeschooling, but of other alternatives, as well as the traditional school system. Your child only gets one shot at this, so it takes more than five minutes to figure out what’s best for him or her.
Consider, for example, the following snip from “EducationCEO” blog post called “Could Homeschooling be the Next Big Thing in Education?” and written April 23, 2010: “Just today, the Cobb County School Board announced that it will cut 734 jobs; 579 of those are teaching positions. Just last week, the Fulton County School Board announced that it would slash $4 million from the arts budget, putting both the band and orchestra programs at risk. As I watched the news, a parent (and former educator) stated that she would have no choice but to homeschool her kids. The budget cuts will force districts to increase class sizes and her kids would not get the level of attention they need (and deserved) in order to be successful. I am still thinking about her words because I am inclined to speculate that the number of families who opt to homeschool will increase during the 2010-11 school year for that particular reason.”
Budget cuts and teacher layoffs are happening all across the country. The system that has steadily grown over its brief 150+ year existence is ready to implode. You might also want to read (“The Ugly Truth of What We Teach In Schools.”)
Lesson for all of us – Continuing to look at learning with what I call “school mind” instead of “education mind” will keep too many children from learning all they can and being what they could be. The comments from parents on many of the blog postings about unschooling reveal the ongoing confusion in our society that being schooled is synonymous with receiving an education – it is not.
If you’d like to read more on this topic, you can find it in my book, The Ultimate Book of Homeschooling Ideas. (NOTE: Be careful of fakes. Someone just self-published a book with this title.) Here is the summary:
SCHOOL MIND VERSUS EDUCATION MIND
Compulsory Attendance (time in institution away from real world) +
Curriculum (study chosen by strangers and lack of interest) +
Lack of Meeting Existing Standards (tests, measuring against others, and “fix the child to fit in” mentality) = Schooling
Time (freedom and opportunity) + Purpose (intrinsic motivation and interest) +
Focus on What Is Being Achieved (love and support) = Education
The public school system isn’t working. It’s imperative to change our collective mindset about learning, and homeschoolers can help simply by doing what has worked in the past.
Again, from The Ultimate Book of Homeschooling Ideas:
School mind asks, “What should my child know at grade level X?” Education mind asks children what they are interested in and further observes active children to gather its own clues. School mind asks, “Do they need to know this for a test?” Education mind asks, “Do they need to know this to improve their lives in some way?” School mind asks, “What can I teach them?” Education mind asks, “What can they learn?” School mind asks, “What answers have they retained?” Education mind asks, “Have they learned how to learn?”
With just a little practice, we can all turn these and similar questions around to point the way to real education for all children, and those eager to create sensationalistic “journalism” can go look elsewhere for fodder.