Monday, February 6, 2012

Thoughts from 1998: Language of Learning

Here is one of the things I rediscovered from my old website:

Thoughts on unschooling and the language of learning

A message I posted in one of the unschooling folders on AOL:
Subject: some unschooling thoughts
Date: Tue, Jan 6, 1998 6:33 PM
I had a few thoughts today... (quit laughing, Lori!)
I was thinking about how people learn languages. I think most people would agree that the best way to learn a language is immersion. To live somewhere that the language is spoken, so you are surrounded by it, and you pick it up through context, because you need to know it, and by using it. That lessons may or may not be helpful, but on their own, they're nowhere near as effective as immersion is.
Then I was thinking about how our kids learn *everything* that same way. That we speak math here, we speak science here. We speak the "language of learning" at our house. So the kids pick it all up through context, needing to know, and using it themselves.
What I was realizing is that this is, I believe, part of why unschooling works as well as it does, and why some people seem not to be able to understand the concept. I know of homes where the "language of learning", especially math and science, are definitely *not* spoken. People who do not live lives filled with learning *can't* see how kids could learn by living. It would be like telling them that my kids will learn Mandarin just by living in my house, without anyone ever being here who speaks it. It makes no sense.
So I'm wondering why it is that some homes speak the "language of learning" and some do not. And I wonder if homes where they do "school at home", with lessons the primary mode of learning, speak this language less, or if there wouldn't be a noticeable difference between a "school at home" home, and an unschooling home.
Here we are, just over 14 years after I originally posted those thoughts.
I had forgotten writing this bit about the "language of learning," but I still believe that it's true.
Lately, I've written a few things various places about the paradigm shift people go through to become unschoolers, and how the language on each side of that shift may use the same words, but they don't have the same meanings. Unschoolers have an entirely different world-view and basic beliefs about what is good and right and true about how people should live and learn. I now believe that there is a HUGE difference between "school at home" homes and unschooling homes. 
It is this very thing, the abundance of resources and opportunity and discussion, that "learning" is not separate from everything else, that is the difference. Also, we are not only literate, but numerate, and well-versed in a wide variety of pursuits. Discussions cover a very large range of topics, and look at things from a variety of perspectives.
Anyone who sees learning as a special event, who still talks about teaching and lesson plans and curriculum and unit studies and such, is on a very different path from ours.
I saw a lovely little video yesterday, a performance of the "Three Little Pigs" by a comedian who had rewritten it "as Shakespeare might have." His point was that people have very small vocabularies these days. That Shakespeare had a working vocabulary of 54,000 words. Current day Americans have an average vocabulary of 3000 words. (Those are his numbers- I've seen many widely different claims for what those numbers are, but one thing is clear: the average vocabulary is rapidly decreasing.)
I wish there was a way to find out what mine is, what the vocabulary of my kids is. I bet you dollars to doughnuts that it's larger than average, by far, and likely much, much closer to the Shakespearean figure. It is much easier to discuss a wide variety of topics when you have the vocabulary to support them. It is difficult to manage a discussion about a concept you have no words for. Likewise, with a family of people who are actively engaged in learning all sorts of things all the time, we are able to share that with each other, enhancing the learning environment here.  All the knowledge and experience we gather adds to the variety of ways we are able to talk about things.
It is that comfort level with discussing ANYTHING that makes the difference.
The question still remains: why do some people live a life of constant abundant learning, and others do not prioritize learning at all, leaving it for somewhere and somewhen else?
Just came across a chapter from a book by Lucy Calkins, called "Raising Lifelong Learners." The chapter starts with "Talk: The Foundation of Literacy."She has some good stuff to say about the importance of talking with your children. I especially like her bit about how many adults don't really talk with children, they ask them "fill in the blank" questions, as if that was conversation. It isn't.

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