About the Book
The many interlocking problems of this nation and this world are escalating so rapidly that only swift changes in thought and action can save either. The generation about to enter schools may be the last who can still reverse the negative megatrends converging today. In order for these children to learn the needed new ways of thinking, the present generation in charge of society must begin to set up for them a kind of education it never had and arrange to educate itself further at the same time.
~ James Moffett
(The Universal Schoolhouse: Spiritual Awakening through Education)
What do young people need to know to cope with the rapidly changing world that is upon us? How can we teach our children to live in ways that protect the bio-systems that all life relies on? How can we educate people for a life of meaning, and for work that sustains both themselves and the planet? And, to the point of this book, can we do this in the context of contemporary public schooling, set up as it is to promote curricular conformity and standardization, individual competitiveness, nationalistic sentiments, and corporate interests?
Parents have been asking these questions at least since the emergence of the alternative school movement in the mid-20th century, but these have taken on new urgency now with the convergence of the multi-faceted, global crises we face and the increasing standardization of the curriculum coupled with rigid accountability practices such as high stakes testing. Across the country, millions of parents are deeply dissatisfied with the education their kids are receiving and seek alternatives in private schools, charter schools, and independent schools. They see that too many bright, creative, and energetic children are falling through the cracks, losing interest in learning, or developing “behavioral issues.” They know intuitively that if kids are not engaged in learning, they will not develop the capacities to deal with the problems of the 21st century. Between 1.5 and 2 million families have taken the dramatic step of opting out of public and private schools altogether and assuming the enormous challenges of home schooling or “unschooling” their children.
People seek educational alternatives for a variety of reasons: the desire to instill a particular religious perspective, worries about sex, drugs, bullying and violence in schools, and concerns that schools are overly focused on tests. Scratch below the surface of these differences and one discovers that most parents want their children to enjoy learning and become independent thinkers, self-reliant workers, and creative problem-solvers. Most parents care deeply about the social, emotional, and spiritual development of their children, and have nagging doubts that institutionalized education can ever meet their child’s distinctive needs or unleash their full potential. Unschooling has become a compelling option for contemporary parents who sense that the current fixation on common standards, rote learning, and over testing threatens to dull the minds and passions of an entire generation of young people.
Unschooling in Paradise is a work of narrative non-fiction that chronicles one family’s experiment unschooling four such “bright, creative, energetic” young boys. Part memoir, part manifesto, the book uses humor and an easily digestible portion of educational philosophy to show the unique ways that children go about learning and to celebrate the intellectual and spiritual potential that lurks within all people. Unschooling embraces the idea that children possess an ‘inner compass’ that can guide them into and through rich and authentic learning experiences, and Unschooling in Paradise shows, in detailed and engaging stories, how this actually happens.
The book is not a how-to manual for educating children at home (there are plenty of those). Nor is it an impassioned plea for the elimination of public schools—Dr. Kesson is a well-established and widely published curriculum scholar, educational researcher, and teacher educator who has written books with such titles as Defending Public Schools: Teaching for a Democratic Society and Curriculum Wisdom: Educational Decisions in Democratic Societies. It does not contain arguments for teaching Bible-based science or diatribes against the moral failings of teachers, schools, teacher unions, or secular society. It is the story of one young family’s earnest, imperfect, and occasionally hilarious attempts to create a new way of life based on voluntary simplicity, inspirited and compassionate relationships, sustainable living, free thinking, exploratory learning, and cultural creativity. Though the narrative is set in a particular locale (rural Oklahoma) and at a particular time (the mid-1980’s), which gives the story character, depth, and a sense of place, the themes—how children learn; why schools fail to engage kids’ interest; the nature of free inquiry; productive idiosyncrasy; spiritual and moral development; children’s inventive thinking; creativity, play and pleasure; and how to nourish ecological intelligence in the next generation—will resonate with all people who want to see children grow into intelligent, caring, productive, engaged, and enlightened human beings.
Unschooling in Paradise makes it abundantly clear that there is a fundamental mismatch between the way people are designed and the way schools are designed. Further, it argues that schools designed in and for the 19th century cannot meet the multi-faceted and escalating crises of the 21st. Nor can they, inertia-bound as educational institutions tend to be, prepare human beings for the evolutionary leap that must be made to change the course of events on the planet. This book argues that the very fundamentals of education need to be challenged in order to bring about change, and offers a unique window into the amazing things that can happen when there are no lesson plans, no required subjects, no learning standards, and no tests, but rather deeply engaged interactions between children and adults who are themselves seekers after wisdom. It asks how we can become attuned to the inner compass that guides young children and explores how to draw out (ēdūcere), the soul-felt desire they have to learn about and engage with the world. With warmth and humor, it challenges conventional wisdom about how best to educate children and points the way toward what we need to do to create truly dynamic conditions for learning in today’s world.
Read an excerpt: Doing “Good Science”: On the Virtues of Simply Messing About
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