Thursday, March 18, 2010

Unschooling, Collapse and Emergent Culture

Whenever I read another report about the ways in which schools in the U.S. are becoming more controlling and coercive, I try to remember something Eckhart Tolle wrote in Stillness Speaks:

The dysfunction of the old consciousness and the arising of the new are both accelerating.  Paradoxically, things are getting worse and better at the same time, although the worse is more apparent because it makes so much 'noise.'

The current system of conventional compulsory schooling makes a lot of noise. Whether it's the re-working of a failed national policy or the absurd politics of textbook content or the crime of doodling on desks, what happens in the schools reverberates through our culture in ways that make the system seem so monolithic and all-consuming there appears to be nothing it does not ultimately touch.   

Kind of like the Roman Empire in its day.  Or any empire, for that matter -- an analogy that reminds me of another author's work, and makes me hopeful, actually, in a perverse sort of way that you anti-civ folks might recognize.

In his 2005 book, Collapse, Jared Diamond makes the point that civilizations often go from peak to collapse relatively quickly.  Empires, in particular, tend to be "noisiest" -- to borrow Tolle's term -- at their peak, when they are using up the greatest amount of resources at the fastest rate and extending their dominion to its farthest reaches.

School -- that all-consuming empire -- penetrates so deep into our culture, and so far into our cultural mindset, that it's helpful to remember that all that cacophony erupting from the current system masks some joyful sounds coming from a different quarter.  

  • The first Autodidact Symposium, held last week in South Carolina and organized by adult unschooler Cameron Lovejoy, offered an inspired three-day glimpse into the world of young adult unschoolers who are beginning to make their way into, and make their mark upon, the world.
  • The upcoming Life is Good Unschooler Conference in the Pacific Northwest continues to draw increasing numbers of new and returning unschooling families each year.  
  • Small regional gatherings, like ARGH in Eastern Tennessee, MUGs and SMUG in Virginia and Montreal, respectively, and the big Rethinking Everything conference in Texas, bring together the families and individuals who are making those joyful sounds, whose lives reverberate with those joyful sounds, who are reaching out and finding one another and creating lives and livelihoods that have pretty much nothing to do with that seeming monolith known as school.
As Diamond argues, the seeds of an empire's ultimate collapse are sown early on, though it may take generations for the over-extension to play out, so that by the time signs of collapse become obvious it is so far along as to be pretty much inevitable.

There seems to me a certain inevitability about the collapse of our current system of compulsory schooling, though I suspect it will continue to raise a racket for some time to come.  Meanwhile, it's gratifying to see and be a part of an emergent culture that's making a different kind of noise, something that sounds to me a lot more like music.  People's music.  Yours and mine.


  1. Yes, dinosaurs make a lot of noise as they die...and it doesn't necessarily happen quickly. But they do become extinct, fortunately. And I agree that the smell is in the air.

  2. Maybe dinosaurs had their day in order to give us so many apt analogies in ours. And I hadn't even thought about the smell... ;-)

  3. ah, i do love this post... thank you... yes, here we are, making our music and isn't it beautiful?!

    when our son was young we were unschoolers. it's heartening to know that the movement is alive and thriving now.



  4. Never heard of the word unschooling but I definately think it's a word of change. If only our schools were more useful and didn't teach us to be a collective unoriginal being, the world would be so much brighter

  5. I too oft think of the change that is happening before my eyes. Nice post. :-D

  6. Yes, you've laid it out so well. Rigid structures are collapsing all around us but we are turning our attention to the growth of what is more transparent, powerfully authentic and beautiful. That is indeed music.


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