In a recent thread in the Cider Press on http://www.permies.com there was a question as to whether Homeschooling was a part of Permaculture. At the time I had not earned enough apples to answer with my thoughts and by the time I had I couldn’t find it. I have been giving it a lot of thought though, and thought I would write an blog post about it.
First of all – homeschooling is not mentioned in the Permaculture Designers Manual, not even in connection to Social Capital and People Care, so technically homeschooling is not part of permaculture per se.
Yet I feel very deeply that maybe it should be – for several reasons. This doesn’t mean that people who don’t agree with this or who doesn’t want to homeschool shouldn’t use permaculture in many other areas of life, I am as always open to everyone finding the way that works best for their family – even if I don’t agree, it is not really any of my business.
First of all growing up in the care of your parents and learning from their work is the natural way of learning for children. Relationship matters, attachment matters – which is why Homeschooled children of even poorly educated parents do better than their schooled peers (cf. Gordon Neufeld TEDx – Relationship Matters). It is the way children have grown up all through history, it is what they are hardwired to do. In Permaculture we work with nature not against it – and taking children and putting them into class rooms away from the real world and teaching them about the real world is in my view akin to monocropping (esp. if those schools maintain the custom of the industrial age of age segregation). Children learn by doing (don’t we all?) and there is very little doing in a school, and when ever there is doing it is artificially set up to meet the learning goal of the teacher – there is very little room for detours into other areas, when those glorious moments happen, the teacher is often forced to bring the kids “back to subject” because they have a curriculum to cover. The organic learning situations where you talk about one subject and bounce of to the next have very little space – and in todays test oriented schools there is less and less time for these ventures. The way we learn when we have those organical talks, shows us that everything is interconnected, and that indeed is also what permaculture teaches us.
My second objection to schools in relation to Permaculture is that it teaches children to fit in, which also teaches the children to be far more materialistic than they necessarily need to be. In my opinion the whole sickness of “keeping up with the Joneses” is founded in school – it comes mainly from peer pressure, which stems with children spending a disproportionate amount of time with other children and not with parents, grandparents etc. Peer orientation is described in the excellent book “Hold On to Your Kids” by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté. I have many friends who have struggles with their children around which stuff is OK to buy or not – struggles that I don’t have… my children have very short wish lists for christmas and birthdays and they have always worn second hand clothes, and not once have they complained about it. We learn in school that we need to learn things that we find boring because that is the only way to get a “good education” which is the only way to get a “good job” (which usually means something that isn’t manual labour, which also means something that makes more money than manual labor, even if it is never explicitly said that way). So we suffer through drudgery, to someday be able to make more money than the next guy… more or less. And in our jobs we then again we suffer through drudgery. The better we are at accepting the suffering, and the better we are at parroting the teacher, the better grades we get and the better grades we get the better schools/universities we can get into later on in life. This is exactly the circle we are trying to break in permaculture. Many many people in permaculture have stopped the race to the top, stepped off the corporate ladder to only God knows where, to take their own life in their own hands. I think it would be wonderful to raise children who do not see that as the only possible future for them.
Before I close of today’s rant I want to plug this little video Schooling the World – White Man’s Last Burden which is about how the western cultures have pushed our values on indigenous cultures across the world, among others by schooling them. I saw this and many many pieces of a puzzle I had been working on in my head fell in place. A few years earlier I had read a book by a Danish pedagog Erik Sigsgaard “Er Opdragelse Nødvendig?” (Is Upbringing Nessesary?) where he questions whether parents really need to teach their children anything, and one of his points in the book was that the Danish nobility were talking about the peasants and their ways of raising children, saying that those peasants were always talking about “what the child wanted”, and off course, when the first schools were introduced by the nobility, they promised the parents to treat the children as well as they would be at home – one letter even promised that off course they wouldn’t hit the children! A few decades later it was of course quite a different song, and even today schools complain that parents spoil the children so that they haven’t learned to bow to the collective in the class. When public daycare was introduced in Denmark in the 60s and 70s the pedagogs there would talk about how the children were “protesting institutionalisation” when they cried while being dropped off by their mothers in the morning, today they claim that the children are simply mirroring the mothers mixed emotions about dropping them off (blame the mother always…). This paired with the John Holt book “Escape from Childhood” and Sugata Mitra’s TED talk about Self-teaching made me realise that school is the experiment, not unschooling. Unschooling is what children have done always, schooling is a new thing. It hasn’t just been shoved down the throats of the indigenous people’s of the world – it has been shoved down the throat of the working peoples of the West too – to serve some very specific purposes to some very specific people. That is not a goal I want to continue to contribute to. And I realised that even if numerous reformers have tried to change schools from within, they have never really achieved the one thing that schools cannot do: Let children learn in their natural environment, which is the family (and the tribe), among people who love them unconditionally. To me homeschooling is the ultimate people care. To do that we need to trust children, and to trust parents, like we trust nature.
Children learn what they live, and if we want them to learn permaculture they need to live permaculture. For my children composting is the most natural thing in the world, finding edibles in nature normal, reducing consumption hardly a thing they think about, they just don’t consume very much, reusing resources and recycling is not something they learn with big posters and flyers – they live it every day. Not perfectly always, but who is? That is why I think unschooling and permaculture go hand in hand – we are trying to create a better planet for our children, but we also want those children to grow up and be responsible stewards of the land – and that we cannot teach them by putting them in buildings of concrete and steel and teaching them about environmentalism.