NOBODY DUMBED HIM DOWN
"A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another." -- John Stuart Mill
Soon after Cassidy was born at our ranch in Colorado, Luz handed me a book by John Holt. It said, “Children do not need to be made to learn, or shown how. They want to and they know how.” Also, that if there is one thing that holds children back and often turns them against learning, it's schooling -- sitting in unpleasant schools where intelligence and interests are often ignored.
In town, with Cass on my shoulders, we read the signs, talked to shoppers and clerks. Soon he was speaking in sentences. Luz and I read stories to him and by age four he could read virtually any book. Holt was right: Cass did not need urging in order to learn. He once told a librarian, "I'm interested in everything."
In Connecticut, we let Cassidy determine what, when, where, how much and with whom he would learn. We did no "lessons" but answered his questions and helped him gain access to the real world. We called it unschooling -- no textbooks, no curriculum, testing, assignments, none of it unless he asked for them. We paid attention to his desires for information as well as his basics. Schools claim it is more important to "feel good about yourself" than to know how to read, write and calculate. Our idea was the opposite: if you have skills and knowledge, you will have self-esteem.
As Cass grew, he was still curious and interested in many things. We did not limit his learning. People observed that he was bright, confident and capable, "He must be smart to have learned so much so young." We answered, "Children are born smart. It's just that nobody is dumbing him down."
I believe that because he did not go to school, Cass was able to easily acquire all the essentials while he avoided the many negatives that schools teach. We encouraged his curiosity and helped him gain access to the world. His life was the polar opposite of sitting with peers in boring classes and being told that his interests are not important. We trusted him.
Cassidy learned about dinosaurs and fossils, so that at eleven, he began to volunteer at Yale's Peabody Museum of Natural History. They had a variety of tasks for him. The next year, because of his knowledge of dinosaurs, they put him in charge of the Information Desk in the Hall of Dinosaurs on Family Days. At fourteen, he was a teacher at the Eli Whitney Museum, once giving an “enrichment” class in origami to public school teachers. He earned his own money with jobs he found. The Hartford Courant published the SAT scores of the valedictorians at all CT's high schools. Cass scored higher than half of them, by soaking up knowledge in his own ways.
Cass went to Hunter College because it was in the middle of his favorite place, NYC. He had an apartment downtown and took the subway to school. His friends told Luz and me that he always seemed to know the right thing to do. That was when we knew our experiment had been a success, because he had always chosen his own path, instead of having others direct him. He breezed through college – always on the dean’s list. He held jobs, worked on a political campaign, was president of the film society, and graduated Magna Cum Laude.
For Cass (and other kids we know), attending school had been not just unnecessary, but irrelevant and, we believe, would have been damaging to his mind and spirit. Today, public schools are worse than ever. From the government's viewpoint, school is for obedience training, not for teaching knowledge. Parents need to weigh the "convenience" of school against the dumbing down that goes on there. Do children belong to the state?
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