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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Want to be thought of a brilliant education revolutionary? Just champion any one of The Unschooling Rules.

Unschooling Rules was based on interviews with homeschoolers and unschoolers.  I asked two simple questions.  
  • The first was, what do schools do that seems bizarre?  
  • The second question was, what do schools not do that seems critical to education?  
I then organized the comments into The Rules, informed by my own research and experience in everything from working at an environmental education foundation to serving as the Governor's appointee to my state's Joint Committee on Educational Technology to building education simulations for universities, corporations, and the US Military.  This effort was done on my free time, not using millions of dollars from National Science Foundation or Harvard or Gates or MacArthur or U.S. Department of Education. (I'm happy to take any donations, of course :) )

Having said that, some people have asked for more official citations for the rules - stamps of approval to validate their own common sense.  (I believe this motivation actually comes more from a desire to kick the can for real solutions and a love of debating methodology than self-doubt.) And they are in luck.  I suspect over the next ten years, various people will come to national attention and be hailed as brilliant and controversial and thought-leading as they champion each of these rules.  

So perhaps Unschooling Rules should be thought of as a book from the future, say 2022, that summarizes most of the bold, startling, surprising, revolutionary, and breakthrough ideas of 2012 to 2022.  Pretend it was the result of collectively 100 million dollars of grants, if that will make you feel better.  The truth is that most of these are obvious, but we will pretend they are not as long as possible.  Society is better able to absorb them one at a time anyway (i.e. that is more "realistic").  I am just impatient.  

Here are some early citations for some of the rules: 

Part One: Curricula
1. Learn to be; learn to do; learn to know.
2. Focus on reading, writing, and arithmetic.
5. Don’t worry about preparing students for jobs from an Agatha Christie novel.
Part Two: Content 
8. What a person learns in a classroom is how to be a person in a classroom.
9. Sitting through a classroom lecture is not just unnatural for most people, it is painful.
10. Animals are better than books about animals.
11. Use microcosms as much as possible in learning programs.
12. Internships, apprenticeships, and interesting jobs beat term papers, textbooks, and tests.
15. If you care about learning, start with food.
16. Embrace all technologies.
17. Listen while doing.
18. One computer + one spreadsheet software program = math curricula.
19. Have a well-stocked library.
21. Is it better to be “A Great Reader” than “Addicted to Computer Games”?
23. Build more, consume less.
Part Three: Coaching 
24. Teaching is leadership. Most teaching is bad leadership.
25. Expose more, teach less.
26. Biologically, the necessary order of learning is: explore, then play, then add rigor.
29. Homework helps school systems, not students.
31. Avoid the Stockholm syndrome.
Part Four: Customization 
33. In education, customization is important like air is important.
Part Five: Community 
41. Socialize your children. Just don’t use schools to do it.
Part Six: Credit 
46. The future is portfolios, not transcripts.
48. Use technology as assessment.
49. College: the hardest no-win decision your family may ever make.
Part Seven: [Day] Care
50. Outdoors beats indoors.
53. Parents care more than any institution about their children.
54. Children should be raised by people who love them.
55. The only sustainable answer to the global education challenge is a diversity of approaches.
Example of innovative programs:
There is a final rub, however.  As I said, I believe these ideas will trickle into the mainstream one at a time over the next decade.  Then, each can drive a significant spike of funding for schools and the members of the Academic PhD guild who specialize in writing proposals, while a few individuals can serve as the spokespeople for those ideas.  The problem is that if just one or two are introduced at a time, they will only have a little impact, probably not enough to balance the disruption required on a larger scale.  For real progress, not the well funded illusion of it, we will have to consider many of the Rules collectively.  Otherwise, while we will make the school industry very happy, we will not get out of the current, very deep rut we are in.  

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