Monday, March 06, 2006

Ministry of Silly Questions: But What If They Never Want to Learn Anything?

Excuse me while I laugh myself silly. Okay. I see this question surprisingly frequently when the topic of unschooling comes up. I only say surprisingly because if you've been around young kids at all, you know that they are learning dynamos. Four and five year olds are famous for their never-ending "How?" and "Why?" questions. Why do we, as a collective culture, assume that such questing for knowledge automatically comes to a screeching halt at around the age of six? Could it be because that is the age at which such inquiries typically slow to a trickle? Why should that be?

I remember learning that asking too many questions was just not cool. And I remember where I learned it. Not from my parents, who were happy to tell me why birds hatch out of eggs but I hatched out of mommy's tummy, and why certain wavelengths of light make the sky appear blue, and to even tell me they didn't know the answer to why nickels are bigger than dimes although dimes are worth more. No, sadly I learned that questions=uncool in school. I learned it when an exasperated teacher didn't want to see my hand raised yet one more time. And I learned it from the sidelong glances of my classmates. Geek, those glances said. Teacher's pet. Brown-noser. Nerd. It's easy to see why we assume the the desire to learn dies a gradual death for most children, so that by the time they are well into "school aged", the biggest concern that people would have about unschooling is that the kids wouldn't want to learn anything.

My experiences with my own children have completely belied the notion that the desire to learn does anything except accelerate drastically as kids get older.

Just for kicks and grins, I wrote down some things my kids have wanted to learn today:
- What human blood looks like under a microscope
- Why some male birds have extravagant feather displays (as evidenced by the hugely colorful wild tom turkey in our yard this morning) but other males are plain
- Why so many of our English words derive from Latin, but some Latin words disappeared completely with no English derivatives
- What makes some trees grow tall, and others branch out wildly (tree trimming day at our house, today)
- How the Native Americans made their tipis stay together at the top (this after trying to construct a tipi with the aforementioned branch trimmings)
- Why ballerinas wear toe shoes
- Would it be possible to build a battle robot at home
- Why an Academy Award is named an Oscar
- Why Czechoslovakia is not on our wall map but is on an old globe
- How we can tell with our ears that notes which are an octave apart are the same note
- Does the word octave come from the Latin octo
- Why no one really knows who Homer is, although he's one of the most famous authors of all time

If my kids wanted to learn any more, I might just collapse in exhaustion. As it is, I think Google is my middle name. So the short answer to the question "What If They Never Want to Learn Anything?" is that this will never happen unless we, as adults, do something to compromise our children's very nature: their innate drive and compulsion as intelligent sentient beings to learn and grow every day. For those of us who find our own ability and desire to learn new things has been severely stunted in the past, I recommend just sitting down and thinking about all the things you're curious about - what would you delve into if you had the time and could give yourself permission to do so? I think the answers will amaze you. You are still that child. As unschooling parents, our first job is to deschool ourselves, to open ourselves back up to that childlike wonder and curiousity about our world. Raising unschooled children is the greatest gift to a parent, because it brings us back into touch with our birthright: curiousity and a never-ending drive to learn.

1 comment:

Latha said...

Reminds me of Vi's questions:

Why is a cup circular?
Why do whales have to live in salt water?
Why do bluejays fight?
Why do we need eyebrows?

And on and on....