An Extraordinary Life, Unschooled

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When you look at great, influential people of history, people who’ve made significant contributions to the world in which we now live, we have much to thank them for. I’m currently reading Walter Isaacson’s, Leonardo Da Vinci, An Autobiography. We cannot underestimate or deny his genius- wildly imaginative, passionately curious, visionary, painter, sculptor and architect. But what about poet, musician, paleontologist and unschooler?

Leonardo was born illegitimate, without privilege or affluence. He never received a formal education. He could barely read Latin or do long division. He did, however, become one of the most inspiring, clever and brilliant human beings to discover, through his curiosity, how to learn. Leonardo took his learning very seriously. He spent much of his youth outdoors, where he marveled at the natural world and explored ideas and concepts that were of interest to him. One thing Leonardo was curious to know more about was the tongue of a woodpecker. He studied this in great detail. There was no reason he needed to know this. It was simply a curiosity. We can all be a little more curious about life, and what were capable of.

We might all take a lesson from Da Vinci. His intense observation, wild imagination and experimentation are what fueled him. This is something we can indulge in ourselves and our children.

We should be so bold as to not just take “received knowledge”, but we should be willing to question it, to be imaginative and think differently. One brilliant passage, where Da Vinci’s free thinking attitude challenged the people who ridiculed him for his lack of formal education says,

“I am fully aware that my not being a man of letters may cause certain presumptuous people to think that they may with reason blame me, alleging that I am a man without learning. They strut about puffed up and pompous, decked out and adorned not with their own labors, but by those of others…

They will say that because I have no book learning I cannot properly express what I desire to describe- but they do not know that my subjects require experience rather than the words of others.”

For those that say unschooling does little to equip young people for life, I say,  Leonardo Da Vinci’s extraordinary life is proof that it works. When children are curious and interested, and feel they are learning something important to them, their creativity and their ability to apply imagination to intellect will soar. The greatest gift we have is our mind. The innovators of tomorrow start with the curiosity of children today. We must be willing to think outside the box in education.

Our efforts should be in indulging our childrens’ curiosity. We should be inspiring them to to think about what they find worthy, what they want to spend their time exploring and pursuing and let them do that. Let’s give them the time and the space to explore their world like Da Vinci once did.

In the words of Walter Isaacson, we must be relentlessly curious and creative, we must treasure knowledge for its own sake, retain a childlike wonder, observe, see things unseen, go down rabbit holes, get distracted, procrastinate, think visually. Let your reach exceed your grasp. Indulge fantasy. Create for yourself. Collaborate and be open to mystery.

 

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Building A Sturdy Bridge

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One can choose many paths to take in life. We have the unique ability to flex our power in making choices and decisions. As a young child, we grow and learn naturally. Our curiosity is a fantastic teacher. We may choose one toy over another or we may prefer to bang on the kitchen pots and pans over building mud houses in the sand box. Our power of choice is strong, and our parents allow us this freedom, until they don’t. Choice and freedom slowly start to erode somewhere in childhood, usually by the age of 5- when we enter compulsory education and the probationary life begins.

Our choices are now limited and narrow because now we are “expected” to participate in school. What we need now is to be taught. By an expert. Who knows more than we do. But didn’t we show our parents that we were and are capable of learning and growing on our own? What suddenly changed? Did we give any indication of short comings in our development? Why is school then the answer?

Life in school, is like being on probation. Probation is defined as “the process or period of testing the character or abilities of a person and subject to a period of good behavior under supervision.” We punish, guilt, shame and emotionally manipulate them when they don’t oblige us. We ask them to conform, follow directions, not ask questions, and perform to unreasonable standards and testing, year after year until they graduate. This way teaches children to doubt their own minds and their worth as a person when the grades don’t measure up and it creates adults who will then tolerate emotional manipulation and abusive relationships because that’s been their model.  If we are to raise free thinkers and confident individuals, we must create an environment that provides a healthy model that benefits the child’s well being, personal integrity and autonomy.

We have seen first hand what happens when a child is given freedom to learn on their own, follow their curiosity and study their interests at their own pace. They build the bridge of their choosing to cross. By doing this they take responsibility for themselves at a much younger age. Being personally invested in the process makes a huge difference!  Alfie Kohn, American author and lecturer in the areas of education, parenting, and human behavior said,

“The way a child learns how to make decisions is by making decisions, not by following directions.”

Let’s choose to get out of the child’s way and allow them the space and time to develop their talents and inclinations and encourage them to express who they are as individuals, in an environment that will not stunt their passions and curiosities and spirit.

 

Fitted For Freedom

 

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“An education is truly “fitted for freedom” only if it is such as to
produce free citizens, citizens who are free not because of wealth or
birth, but because they can call their minds their own. Male and female,
slave-born and freeborn, rich and poor, they have looked into
themselves and developed the ability to separate mere habit and
convention from what they can defend by argument. They have ownership of their own thought and speech, and this imparts to them a dignity that is far beyond the outer dignity of class and rank.”
~Martha Nussbaum