Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Natural Learning, Unschooling and Trust

by Beverley Paine

John Holt's work had a huge impact on me as a young mum - I first came across his books when my daughter was four and my son two and my youngest not yet conceived. I have a collection of his quotes but the one Karen pointed out is definitely the one that seems to resonate and reverberate the most for people celebrating life as natural learners: "To trust children, we must first learn to trust ourselves.... and most of us were taught as children that we cannot be trusted."

My parents' idea of childhood is foreign to me as is their concept and definition of trust. I grew up without experiencing the trust John Holt is talking about. However, my parents had trust: they trusted that I would be the child they wanted and needed me to be, in particular (I deduce) to reassure them they were good parents, the best parents they could be (I dislike using the words 'good' and 'best' for this reason!)

My 81 year old mother recently said to me that all she wanted was for me to be happy. The comment irked me. Why? Because I wanted to say: 'What about what I wanted?' The assumption that I wanted to be happy, together with her idea of what happiness is and should be, definitely wasn't what I needed in my life.

When I first read the quote by Holt about trust I understood - or thought/assumed I understood - what he (a contemporary of my parents) was writing about. But back then I was only beginning to understand trust: I had so little trust in myself. In fact, I don't think I had anything other than an tiny glimmer of survival instinctual subconscious trust in myself. What I did have was tons of ego and arrogance which fed a superficial 'copy' of trust in self: in effect, I believed in myself and my ability to do what I wanted and make it happen. Fortunately for me this included educating my children at home at a time when very few others were publicly doing it. Being in constant contact with my children forced me to learn about trust, to develop and nurture the kind of trust in myself that John Holt was talking about.

So, in order to trust ourselves, for many of us, we need to think deeply and get to know what trust truly is and what it means in our lives. For me this meant a journey of discovering the meaning and place of faith in my life.

I could not, as a young mum embarking on a bold social and educational experiment on my children, feel confident enough to simply trust my children. I had to experience it grow, bit by bit, backed by evidence that trusting actually worked better than the model I had grown up with and which surrounded me on all sides! And without nurturing the understanding of trust within myself and giving myself permission to trust my own instincts and understandings and ability to learn I really don't think I would have reached the place where I am today.

My children - and other children - taught me about trust. They taught me to trust. I simply gave myself permission to let go of the need to hang on to thoughts and attitudes that didn't make sense. My children helped: they are bold, brave, stubborn and independent enough to say no or demand why they had to do things that didn't make sense. Bit by bit I began to see their logic and unpick the insanity that passes for normal life. Along the way I read really great books that helped me understand why I thought and acted the way I did: Challenging Assumptions in Education, Dumbing Us Down, How Children Fail, The Continuum Concept.  But most of all I thought deeply about everything - and more importantly - gave myself permission to let go of unhelpful attitudes and thoughts that simply didn't produce the results they were supposed to.

I see many families applying trust, in the same way they apply education, to their children's lives. They kind of layer it on, hoping that it will work wonders, or simply work. They have definite ideas (like my mum) about what they want to achieve by doing things this way. My life as a mum and home educator has taught me that is the long way around... a shorter route to experiencing the trust John Holt talked about is work from the centre out: get to know yourself, get to know the child through the diligent practice of observation and reflection and celebration. Work with who you are, who the child is, and develop strategies for building the life you each want to experience. Trust naturally develops and grows in this kind of nurturing environment. And because it comes from our centres, we own it.