By: Catherine Bleish
I would like to introduce you to a different method of learning, an education system that mirrors many of the strengths found within the Bitcoin network — unschooling.
As Bitcoin is to the Federal Reserve Note, unschooling is to standardized education. This decentralized peer-to-peer method of learning provides students with the opportunity to follow their own interests and capabilities without the negative pressures and influences found within centralized models of education. Bitcoin provides power to the users and unschooling provides power to the students.
When we look at the whole range of decentralized systems, we see the intrinsic value in such models. In fact, decentralized systems can be found all over nature and society. When you take a bird’s eye view, it seems that decentralized systems are the natural, efficient and secure way for people to function. This brings clarity to the success found in both Bitcoin and unschooling.
What is unschooling?
The concept of unschooling was developed by John Holt, who identified schools as the reason children were failing to learn. “The human animal is a learning animal; we like to learn; we are good at it; we don’t need to be shown how or made to do it. What kills the processes are the people interfering with it or trying to regulate it or control it.” His first two books, How Children Fail and How Children Learn, revolutionized modern thoughts on conventional education.
Unschooling is often also called life learning, and can be described as child-led learning. It allows you to teach your children the fundamentals of reading, writing, math, and science by creating learning opportunities surrounding their unique interests. I have heard it described as “living as if school does not exist.”
Human beings are learning creatures. It’s how we survive and thrive. We take data, process it, and act upon the conclusions we draw. I have never met a person who does not want to learn, only people who do not want to learn specific topics they are told they must. I was this way. I had to fight my school to let me into classes advanced enough to challenge me. In lower level courses I had trouble paying attention, found myself distracted and longing to be elsewhere. In my AP level courses I found myself focused, driven, and doing work beyond that which was assigned.
Lovers of Bitcoin know that its power is in the network. Decentralized, distributed, peer-to-peer and open source, the Bitcoin network provides protection from the problems that national currencies face. These problems include manipulation by governments and central banks, control of the money supply by one or very few authorities, and a cloak of secrecy in decision making. The Bitcoin protocol prevents these types of scenarios by ensuring the power remains in the hands of the users themselves.
Unschooling provides protection against the problems that conventional education systems face, problems many of us who were educated in the modern compulsory school system know all too well: teaching to a test, forced learning of topics of little interest to the students, indoctrination of particular viewpoints that usually benefit the ruling class, the expectation of all students to learn at the same pace, and a lack of decision making power for the students and parents themselves.
Interest Based Groups
Just as the Bitcoin network uses a system of mining pools where machines work with each other, unschooled children are brought together based on interests and help each other learn by working and playing alongside one another. Children who enjoy gardening get together and get their fingers dirty in the soil. Children who enjoy gaming meet up with fellow gamers and build critical thinking skills. Children who simply want to play outside find themselves at the local park or pool learning valuable communication skills.
This tends to be how we group ourselves as adults. This could be in the work environment where adults who want to work for a common cause or are trained in a specific type of work all find themselves in close proximity. Whether it’s churches, interest groups, or community service groups, we find ourselves surrounded by people who are interested in the same things we are, not necessarily the same age we are.
This is in contrast to the standardized education model of grouping children by age. Yes, it is great to have kids around fellow kids, but ultimately we find ourselves around people of all ages, and it is important to teach your children how to function in interests-based groups as opposed to age-based groups. The modern education system forces children to be in close proximity with the same people year after year, no matter their actual interests or skills. They have to wait for extracurricular activities to get this interaction.
Decentralized Models Work
There are successful applications of decentralized systems all over society and nature. Consider ants who forage for food. When one ant finds something edible, they release a pheromone to let other ants know there is something worth traveling in their direction to get a piece of. Each individual ant responds to their identification of this pheromone and acts accordingly. When bird flocks migrate, they instinctively know how and when to change positions to effectively travel long distances.
Even humans do this. Watch an aerial video of traffic in a country that doesn’t have traffic signals. Cars, bikes, horses and pedestrians all find a way to their destination without a centralized authority telling them when to turn or how to get there. It looks absolutely terrifying to those of us accustomed to traffic lights and speed limits, but statistics indicate these deregulated traffic environments are safer and have fewer accidents.
Centralized networks or structures have a singular point of failure. Look at modern education. From a national level you can see that federally mandated standardized tests create a centralization of resources, energy and brain power. This really became the status quo under the No Child Left Behind legislation passed by Congress in 2001, and more recently, the controversial Common Core Curriculum. What happens when this centralized method of teaching children fails? It trickles down to every single student participating in the massive standardized testing system. In contrast, a distributed education system is far more resilient and effective, allowing students to follow a unique and personal learning pattern that best fits their interests and capabilities.
Parents who choose to unschool their children are there to facilitate learning, not dictate it. This may mean de-prioritizing the so-called fundamentals. Children seem to be more naturally inclined to hyperfocus on issues, and unschooling may mean allowing them the freedom to do that. When you want to learn, you do. It’s as simple as that.
Applications at Home
If your children are already in school, homeschooled or have yet to begin school, you can begin to apply this philosophy into your daily life. Understanding that humans are designed to learn, you can feel confident giving your children the freedom to explore the universe in a less structured fashion. This could manifest in outdoor play time, exploring age-appropriate websites and social media, making crafts, or simply helping you in your day-to-day routine. You can plan family outings to museums, nature centers, or attend a local unschool meetup.
More specifically, to facilitate math skills and financial management, ask your children to pay at the checkout counter. To teach them about health and nutrition, ask them to plan one meal or more per week. Help them shop for and cook their meal to encourage strategic thought and an understanding of chemistry in the kitchen. This will empower your children and help them prepare for life outside of your nest.
What other ways can you create a learning environment for your children? In our house we provide constant access to age and skill appropriate toys, games, books, crafts, and movies. We bring our children with us almost everywhere we go, allowing them to interact with a wide range of diverse people. We attend local unschool and homeschool meetups and make sure to attend community events in our town.
Some parents are resistant to the idea that their children will learn all the necessary skills to function in life without a standardized curriculum. The most convincing opportunity for me was attending the Rethinking Everything Conference two summers ago. I was able to witness hundreds of unschooled children and their families. These children were the most empowered, passionate and creative children I have ever met. Many of the teens have their own businesses and nearly every child was far more advanced compared to their compulsory schooled counterparts.
Attending this conference allowed me to meet adults who were unschooled as children. Not one of them was unhappy or dissatisfied with their educational background. Many entered and attended college, graduating with honors, and were successful individuals. If you are curious about this decentralized method of educating your children, I highly encourage you to expose yourself to these students.
Like Bitcoin, the strength of unschooling is in the network.
If you are interested in unschooling, here is a list of resources you can check out:
There are even conferences you can attend to learn more and gain exposure to the beauty unschooling can bring into your life.
Happy decentralized learning!