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The young and the reckless

Long Story Short

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When I was 11, I went to a progressive school in Portland, Oregon.

We called our teachers by their first names, wrote reports on anything that interested us (I chose Watergate that year), and had guitar sing-alongs. I loved the freedom, and so did my classmates. Still, it wasn't quite as loose as "unschooling," a concept that's emerging in Colorado Springs (see here) thanks to a new resource center.

Unschoolers believe that children are natural learners, and that, given free rein, they'll pick up what they need to know without the pressure of classes, teachers, tests and grades. In practice, unschooling adults simply help kids learn about whatever interests them — or leave them alone to play with their phones and watch TV all day.

All of which initially struck me as a little crazy and reckless. Wouldn't most kids, given the choice, fail to learn any basic skills if they weren't forced to? Wouldn't I have done the same at their age?

I'm still not sure. But after I had been considering the concept for a while, I recalled an autumn day when I was 11. I had been misbehaving in class, when my teacher told me, "Go outside, and don't come back until you're ready to learn."

Surprised and elated, I ran out to the playground and hopped on a swing. Then I wandered the basketball courts. Then I just stared. Fifteen minutes after my great escape, I wandered sheepishly back to class. I didn't cause Claire any problems for the rest of the day.

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