Ever watched Dr. Phil? He’s the talk show host who’s known for asking his guests, “How’s that working for you?” A retired psychologist, he appears to be a leading authority, dispensing wisdom and practical advice to his guests and viewers.
In a series titled The Great School Debate, Dr. Phil explored the topic of unschooling. I think Dr. Phil did a pretty fair job of trying to understand the philosophy without immediately making it controversial. But there was one thing he said that I just can’t get over. And it wasn’t about unschooling. It was something he said about himself.
He confessed that as a kid, he hated school – a lot. To quote, he hated “every minute of every hour of every day of every week of every month of every year” that he was in school. That was not the surprising part – lots of successful adults would admit the very same thing. No, what shocked me was what he said next. If he had not been made to go to school, he averred – if he had not been externally pushed to learn – he would have become, in his words, “a vegetable.” He went on to say that he had absolutely no thirst for knowledge as a child, and if he had been left to his own devices, would have just “sat there like a lump”.
What amazes me is that even when children do not like school, they still buy into the lies school perpetuates – even the bright ones, like Dr. Phil.
My brother-in-law, another bright guy, is a perfect example. When my husband and I first introduced him to the unschooling philosophy, his reaction was that he would have been “too lazy” to make a go of it. Mind you, this is a man whom I know to be highly intelligent and self-motivated. In the years I’ve known him, he has taught himself one thing after another – and excelled at all of them. But clearly somewhere along the way, he started believing what schools have been peddling for years: that not getting good grades means you’re stupid, lazy or both.
What unschoolers know is that every child has a thirst for knowledge. We humans are wired that way; we’re curious, inventive, and creative. Even the most bored, unmotivated “lump” in the classroom is curious about something. Follow that same kid home on the weekend and you’ll probably find out what it is, because that’s when he’s got the time and the freedom to pursue it.
Unschooling provides children with an abundance of time and freedom for pursuing passions. Learning isn’t relegated to a certain part of the day, nor is it ever proscribed or mandated. When children are free to explore what truly interests them, you’d be amazed at how driven they can be. “Vegetables” don’t exist in the unschooling paradigm.
I don’t believe for a minute that Dr. Phil lacked a thirst for knowledge. I’m fairly certain what he lacked instead was an interest in what he was being made to learn at school. Make no mistake, those are two entirely different things, although we have been conditioned to think they are one in the same.
Too many of us have swallowed the belief that school is a necessary evil. We may hate it, but like cod liver oil, we need a good dose of it in order to thrive. If that’s what you’ve believed up until now, then please ask yourself one question. In Dr. Phil’s words – “How’s that working for you?”