• Simone Penn

The Mechanics of the Penn UnSchool Academy 2020.

From where I stand at this moment, the mechanics of how my child will learn and become educated are actually quite simple.

I’ve worked this out based on my observations of the self-taught skills Judah has already acquired - with zero intervention (only facilitation) from me, I might add. A decent example of this is how my son taught himself to ride a bike. In any event it’s safe to say that these conclusions have been drawn organically.

I’ve noticed a six step process which seems to have taken place for my son with each skill and milestone he’s accomplished.

If I think about myself, as an adult, I use the exact same process to develop skills, and acquire knowledge, too. The difference is I have the luxury of doing this with autonomy, agency, and (relatively) free from interruption. I hope to fascilitate the same for my children going forward.

I also want to say that what I’ve observed with myself, my children, and the people closest to me is that true acquisition of new knowledge happens in small and inspired bursts, which then unravel and manifest exponentially over time. So I’m also not worrying about making sure the process outlined below is happening constantly throughout the day. This feels a bit too forced for me. I want to wait for these momentous opportunities for learning to present themselves and then be ready and willing to enable them.

So long as this IS the process I facilitate for learning if and when my child is ready to learn I will feel like a successful educator. What happens before and after, I shall call life. I predict a great enmeshment of these two-states-of-being as well.

So here we go:

1. Interest: what is undoubtedly the cornerstone of the entire process of learning is a self-identified interest in the subject matter. I have absolutely no interest, whatsoever, in coding. So I will never learn to computer-code. My son loves maths so he initiated his education into addition and subtraction, at the age of four, by calling it “the plus game”.

2. Inquiry: after the initial burst of interest, the process of inquiry inevitably follows. I would say this is where the largest opening, for parental facilitation, lies. When Judah came to me with his idea of the plus game I had an opportunity to connect him with real resources and tools to foster his interest and proclivity towards numbers and maths.

3. Immersion: and then the magic happens. Because I’ve identified an interest in something, and set myself on the path of inquiry into that something, I then seek to immerse myself. Multiple books have been written on this phase/idea. Some call it the flow state. But basically you’re wholly engrossed with what you’re doing. Hours flood by as you engage totally with the subject matter. Again, it’s magic.

4. Mastery: the result of the time spent immersed with the subject matter is a degree of mastery over the skill. Once my son had taught himself to ride a bike he then spent hours in the driveway, uninterrupted, teaching himself tricks and how to turn etc. He was eventually satisfied with his time on the bike and came home a relative master.

5. Refine or refuse: I’ve noticed that at this point there seems to be a natural sort of respite or pause in the process. It seems once a reasonable level of mastery has been reached one must now decide if this skill is worth integrating into everyday life or if, for want of a better phrase, “I’m over it”. As an aside, if my son “gets over” something at this point in the process I actually don’t mind because I know he’s not bored with it and just giving up but rather because he’s mastered it and now no longer sees the value in it. I have done this so many times in my life with so many things and I can honestly say that it is, in my opinion, one of the key markers of a discerning adult. I value this skill. The skill of editing.

6. Integration / Incorporation: assuming that, during the above-mentioned respite, the learner has consciously decided to select the new found skill or knowledge cluster as valuable for his/her life going forward, then it becomes, almost, a part of the learner.

7. Fluency: the result of this integration is fluency. My son is now so proficient at, and with, LEGO that I would say he’s fluent. I can’t think of a better word to describe it but if one thinks of language acquisition then the fluency level is obvious. Or walking. If integration is the phase whereby walking becomes the default mode of transport, over crawling, then fluency would be that point in time when we walk from the couch to the table without even thinking. We walk on instinct.

So there it is.

I further propose that the process above results in focus. And for me, focus is the absolute and ultimate goal of education. I can say with total certainly that if I had developed a value for, and the skill of, focus at an earlier age my education would have been much more successful.

Looking at this list I should actually have called this blog ‘The mechanics of Learning’, because the more I think about it the more I cannot find a skill I’ve acquired that hasn’t followed this pattern. Well, a skill I’ve CHOSEN to acquire that is!

So lastly, where does this leave me, as the mom? What is the role of the parent (who is also now the principal, head of department, and home room teacher)? I would answer this question as: simply to identify opportunities to facilitate. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.

I anticipate another blog about how this transpires and manifests for us but so far ‘facilitation’ is certainly the best word to use.

Identifying this process has given me the greatest bout of relief in terms of educating my kids so far, because I’ve seen it happen already, and the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

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