by Kathleen Kesson
(InnerWorld, San German, Puerto Rico, 2018)
Reviewed by Dada Maheshvarananda
Homeschooling is the education of children at home or elsewhere as a legal alternative in the United States to compulsory school attendance laws. Parents or other adults usually supervise the education. This is called “home education” in Europe and many Commonwealth countries. According to the US National Center for Education Statistics, about three percent of all children in the United States were homeschooled in the 2011–2012 school year.
However this book is about unschooling, an educational method and philosophy that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning. Unschooling encourages exploration of activities initiated by the children themselves, believing that the more personal learning is the more meaningful, well-understood and therefore useful it is to the child.
There is no better guide to unschooling than the author, Kathleen Kesson, Professor Emerita of Teaching, Learning, and Leadership at Long Island University Brooklyn. This book describes her five-year unschooling experience with her four sons on their rural property in Oklahoma. She admits that this book “blurs the lines between essay, memoir, narrative nonfiction, and manifesto!”
She says that her four boys “taught me much of what I know about how children think and how they learn, more than I have gathered from two graduate degrees in education, reading scores of books about the subject, and decades of teaching in formal environments.”
This book is a devastating critique of today’s schools in the United States that were designed to produce obedient workers for the Industrial Age. Certainly there are some things that all children need to know in the twenty-first century. However the author writes, “Put a hundred great scholars in one room to decide what these things should be and they will debate endlessly. I know this because I have served on panels and commissions loaded with very smart people charged with coming up with answers to [this].”
Instead, she advocates for productive idiosyncrasy, which challenges the current fixation on common standards, standardized learning, and testable outcomes, arguing instead for multiple forms of instruction and expression that address the “whole” child, their various needs, and their different timetables for learning.
She encouraged her boys to “mess about,” freely observing the natural world around them, playing, thinking creatively, and wondering about it, which is, of course, the thirst for inquiry that is at the heart of good science and lifelong learning. The results were astonishing. When they had to return to public school, they were far ahead of their peers.
One chapter is titled, What About God? In that, the author notes that “Unschooling… is an incredible opportunity to explore together the magical mysterious world we are born into and ponder the unanswerable existential questions.”
I have recommended and made presents of this book to all the parents I know who are homeschooling or considering it, because Kathleen Kesson’s advice is so practical and wise. In fact it should be read by everyone who cares about our future.
If you want to know more about Dr. Kesson’s work, or order the book, you can visit her website at kathleenkesson.com
New NHE books, India
AMGK in India is working on new textbooks including story books for all grades starting with Preschool to go along with an NHE curriculum framework. The title of the books under work in progress so far are “Who loves me?” “Kalyana Sundaram” and “I am kind” and “Tiny Green Island”.