A Hippo is a Lot Like Unschooling
My kids love hippos. They're on a bit of a hippo frenzy lately, really, It all started when M. played a computer game at a friend's house called Impossible Creatures. He created a whole armada of flying hippos that he thought were the cutest thing ever. Then he decided that for his 10th birthday, his theme for his party would be Flying Hippos. He even made a "pin the wings on the flying hippo" game, and decorated his cake with a flying hippo.
Now they've been watching any nature documentary on hippos that they can get their hands on (their favorite so far: PBS Nature's Hippo Beach), and our library lists have seen more than a few hippo books checked out. As often happens when one or both of the kids embrace some new facet of learning, I usually end up knowing way more about that subject than I ever did before, and hippos are no exception. A hippo is a bit of a living paradox: an aquatic mammal that can't swim. A huge and densely heavy animal that can run at speeds up to 30 mph. Or as M. says "A hippo is an exercise in faith. You pretty much just have to believe that it is what it is."
That's where the unschooling comparison comes in.
As I posted before, I've been reading and posting on the Dr. Phil message boards about unschooling. It's been a long time since I've been exposed to the mainstream views about unschooling and I guess I've forgotten (perhaps a bit purposefully) how virulent the opposition is to such a radically different method of learning for kids. For someone who only knows and can only believe in the educational methods that they themselves were exposed to, it can be very difficult to imagine how such a thing as unschooling could work. Perhaps as difficult as imagining an 8,000 pound animal that can run as fast as a racehorse. Yes, unschooling really works best as an exercise in faith. You have to believe that children are born learners or it wouldn't be possible to get all of your previous experiences out of the way and let your children learn in utter freedom.
Once you see it in action, however, it's as undeniable, as big and strange and wonderful as that amazing creature, the hippo. And every bit as real.