The Temptations of Curriculum 

It’s happened again! Every so often I stop seeing my childrens’ joy, focus and learning in everything they are already doing, and revert back to thinking they’re not ‘doing enough’. My schooled mind eh. As I have previously written about in this blog! The ‘shoulds’ start to come out to play. And amongst things I start feeling I ‘should’ be doing, is structuring my children’s days with some good ole National Curriculum. Follow the set courses for their ages in the individual subjects. Ideally at a set time on a set day, even?!

(Instead of talking about insurance, property value, property developing, architecture, arson, supermarkets, community facilities, graffiti, neglect… y’ get the picture)

But phew what a relief it would be for my schooly self to see that they were working their way through the course for their key stage. I could feel secure in the knowledge that they were doing their learning in the culturally acceptable way. A way that there is written evidence for, that I can see and understand. And best of all, I could tell naysaying friends and relatives about it! See, THIS is what they’re doing! Haha.

And when I say ‘naysaying friends and relatives’ I actually mean the voices in my own head. Mostly.

What it’s like in my head.

I have tried coercing my kids to undertake National Curriculum related learning, especially when we first began homeschooling. In the beginning they liked some of the computer programmes, apps and courses I found for them. Some were the ones that operate like games, but stick in subject questions to be answered before you can progress to the next bit of the fun game. Alongside these they were playing their own complex, computer sandbox games. Developing their own detailed worlds. Designing, planning, negotiating, buying, selling, playing, socialising. Without the ‘educational’ interruptions. After a while they just opted for those instead. Of course they did! 

Because despite the already lameness of a game that interrupts your play with educational stuff, they were just not interested in those subjects at that time. And even if they were, coercing anybody to undertake a set course you have decided they should take misses the point.

As humans we want to find out about the things that interest us in our own way. Don’t we? I certainly do. Children are no different. And at this point in history, with access to so many different types of information, we absolutely can. We might read books, magazines, blogs, watch TV programmes, talk to people, Google, watch YouTube, visit places, listen to podcasts or radio programmes. Or we might take a course. Or just look at stuff. Anything really, that we find works for us. The point is, we choose how, what and when to learn, and when we get the chance to do this we are focused, and enjoy it immensely. Sometimes we are aware we’re learning. More often we are not. We’re in a state of intense concentration that has been described by Amy Spang in Life Learning Magazine as ‘flow’. We’re just enjoying ourselves, basically! Curriculum, that is, what someone else has chosen to include for us to study, when we should study it, and in the methods we should study it, takes away the personal, individual and motivated way of learning all humans are born with. It usually takes away the ‘flow’. We end up finishing topics just to check the box and move onto the next one. What a shame.

The move to secondary school is often where this standardised type of curriculum learning really solidifies into a meaningless chore, moving from subject to subject every hour. Being stuck there, lots of children try to make the best of it. They try to please teachers and achieve the ‘right’ answers and grades, concluding that they like some subjects, and dislike/are no good at others. 

And after all that, thirteen years of National Curriculum at school has not even fully prepared us for a so called ‘decent’ job. Are we joking here?! It’s only prepared us for the next level of education?! The degree, or ‘proper’ training, that we then commence in order to be ready for a career. Is there really thirteen years’ worth of set curriculum stuff to be learned BEFORE we even get to a college or a trainee position? On top of all the great stuff its possible to learn naturally, throughout our lives, from birth to 18? 

I’m not saying that a class of 30+ school children with one teacher can learn six school years’ worth of arithmetic in twenty hours. Neither am I saying that every child is motivated to sit down and do twenty intensive hours of arithmetic study! I’m exploring the difference between school and unschooling here, and how it relates to thinking I need to coerce my children to complete curriculum. 

Moving forward to the situation at age 18 and older. Unfortunately, despite the fact that very few jobs require single degree subject knowledge in order to actually get the job done, we have come to a nonsensical place where we judge suitability for employment, and a person’s worth, with degrees. I accept that to access certain careers, my children will need qualifications in certain subjects. But when they get to a stage where they have ideas about what they’d like to do, they can then choose to undertake those qualifications. They may enjoy them, or they may see them as a necessary evil. But the point is they will be choosing what and when. At any time in their life! They wont have had years of being forced to study the National Curriculum, which is at best a guess of what we need to learn to live our lives competently, and what the majority of us will forget most of after leaving school, as outlined in this article by Will Richardson.

So, note to self. Please stop thinking about forcing, sneaking, coercing them to complete curriculum stuff now! I really have no right to remove their chances to discover things in their own way. To use up their wonderful energy and enthusiasm learning what a group of strangers have decided they should learn, for their age, this year. Which the group of strangers may then change next year. I have faith in my children that they dont want to be incompetent in this life. And as such, with our attention and help, learning is everywhere for them. In everything they do. Maybe they’ll design their own curriculum as Caitlyn Scheel describes for Praxis. We’ll go on to support and facilitate them in choosing whatever courses and qualifications they choose, in their own time, if they wish.

“All I am saying is this…Trust children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves. And we learned as children we could not be trusted”. John Holt.

Acknowledged, this is some hard to swallow stuff for those unfamiliar with unschooling. But I’m not trying to persuade others. This blog is my childrens’ and my journey deschooling ourselves and trusting each other. But there absolutely is a revolution happening in our culture, in terms of the way we see and treat children. For more information, I recommend the courageous and thought-provoking writing about consent based education by Sophie ChristophyHappiness is hereLife Learning MagazineRacheousWendy Priesnitz, and Carol Black.

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