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Unlearning to Learn about Learning

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(to Learn about Learning)

By Linda Dobson

learningEven if you haven’t specifically studied education, you’ve learned a lot about learning over the years. Remember how we create a habit by engaging in an activity so long and so often that we begin to do it automatically? Well, the way we parents think about learning has become, for the most part, a habit.

In order to approach education differently, you will find you need to think about it differently. this may take a conscious effort to break the old habit to make room for the new. The fastest path to stop thinking in the old way is to do away with, or unlearn, some of the ideas that fuel it.

Learning about Teaching

For example, “I had to stop telling my two daughters to ‘look it up,'” remembers Shay Seaborne, founder and moderator of VaEclecticHomeschool, an e-mail discussion list, from Woodbridge, Virginia. “It doesn’t make sense not to share the answer if you know it. Making kids look it up can generate resentment and resistance to looking things up later in life.” However, this only happened when Shay slipped into “teaching mode.”

See also Homeschooling: Focusing on Learning, Not Teaching

“Rather than trying to bestow knowledge upon them,” says Shay, “my children strongly prefer that I simply share my interests and enthusiasm. It is when I am genuine, not consciously trying to instruct, that they are receptive to the experience.”

If you ask one hundred home educators the most important thing they unlearned, you’ll get one hundred different answers. Sandra Strauss learns at home in Ontario, Canada with her husband and three children. This former teacher works part-time finding families to serve as hosts for international students visiting Canada for exposure to English and the Canadian multicultural experience. “I had to let go of the belief that children, when left to do what interests them, will do nothing valuable,” Sandra recalls. “Now I know children can and should do what they want. My role has become helping them get and do what they want in life. It turns out the best thing I can do for them is stay out of their way! I ask for their input, answer questions, and give my opinion when I’m asked and, at times, when I’m not asked.”

Cultivate the habit of unlearning and turning ideas about education upside down and inside out. This will lead you to some of the best learning about learning you’ll ever find.

The Teacher Unlearns

When I began homeschooling, even though I was a “teacher” I didn’t have visions of “teaching” my children as I had taught in a classroom. I had done enough reading and had spoken to enough people to know that this approach would not work in our family. I felt challenged as I had to reexamine many of the beliefs I had adopted about learning and keep only those that supported the growth of the children and our family.

This is an ongoing process. I had to let go of the belief that the only way my children could learn was by me directing their learning. Being a “teacher” at this time was something I had to “un”learn. Whenever I tried “teaching,” my children would tolerate it for a short while, and then it became too strenuous. I would remember a professor whom I really admired in my teacher education. He would say, “Learning should be like ‘licking honey from a slate.” I then would stop and let go of my control of how they were supposed to go about learning.

~ Sandra Strauss


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