I’m constantly inundated by flyers, emails, and table tents telling me to go to one talk or another. I wish I could attend all of them. But then, I wouldn’t have time for social events and school work and jobs. Still, I try to make it to as many as possible, even if I should conceivably be working on something else.
So, even though I had a Computer Science assignment due the next day and was relatively sleep-deprived, I attended an event hosted by the Pomona Student Union (PSU). This was a talk by Astra Taylor about her upbringing within a movement known as “un-schooling.”
Her parents told her school was always “optional.” She regarded it as something very curious where you are forced to sit in a room for hours on end with people of the same age, and where you are not trusted to know when to eat or go to the bathroom.
Now, one of my friends got up before the talk was finished, saying later that the talk seemed like a description of her experience with home-schooling in too narrative of fashion. He deemed playing basketball a better use of his time.
The thing is, learning about other people’s lives in abnormal situations is intriguing. That’s why The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is highly reviewed and recommended. Essentially, the book is about her crazy childhood and how she grew up through it to become a high-functioning human being in regular society. Really, the reader doesn’t learn too much from the book except maybe child-rearing strategies (to avoid), but you read it nonetheless. I felt similarly about Astra Taylor’s talk.
(Side note: Last semester I was on the committee to choose the book all first-years are sent and supposed to read before attending Pomona. The Glass Castle was one of our finalists. It’s quite well-written, intriguing, and emotional, if you’d like to look into reading it.)
Essentially, Astra Taylor was told by her parents:
“The world is our classroom.”
“Follow your curiosity.”
“When you’re bored, you’re boring.”
She and her siblings were free to explore anything they chose. They could delve into passions, pursue them till satisfaction, and then move on. The threats of failure, competition, and grades were all unnecessary. The children were intrinsically motivated.
This gets at the core question in the debate over compulsive schooling: “Do we trust curiosity?”
Personally, I don’t have an answer to this. I just find it hard to believe that, with so many distractions in this day and age, a child left to his or her own devices would be so motivated to learn. Then again, I’m a product of over 12 years of structured public schooling (until college, but, no matter what they tell you, a private liberal arts education still has its bureaucracy). Maybe I’m being pessimistic. Maybe I should trust more in humans. Thing is, I see myself as intrinsically motivated. I think I could have flourished in an “un-schooling” environment; I’m just not sure it’s for everyone. People have different types of learning styles; I believe some need more external motivations. But maybe this is just me being stereotypical Pomona pretentious and thinking I don’t need the bureaucracy, whereas other plebeians don’t know how to function without it. *shrugs* This is a topic that merits further discussion. And that’s what I like about the speakers who come to campus.
Still, one of the most intriguing parts of Astra’s story was the tale of when her younger sister could not read at age 9. Astra began to grow concerned, and talked to her mother about it, who told her not to worry, her sister would learn to read. Then, her sister became interested in something no one would read to her about—vintage barbies. So, she taught herself how to read in order to look them up on eBay.
OK, so, I’m not supporting extreme demolition and reconstruction of all school systems, but Astra Taylor made a point that really stood out to me. In order to be a well-rounded and interesting person, one must build a life of curiosity and creativity OUTSIDE academics. And that’s what I challenge my peers, and myself, to do. Just don’t be boring, k? I want to have intellectually stimulating conversations with all of you.