A Deeper Truth | UNschooling
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(photo by Robb North (flickr)

My wife and I (well, more-so my wife) are looking into unschooling our daughter Jamison. It is a form of homeschooling that follows your child’s interests, therefore not killing the desire to learn in the child. There is no curriculum, but a way of working different subjects into your child’s interest at the moment. I’m pretty excited about this because I really feel the public education system is stuck in a paradigm they cannot get out of. It’s too big and only seems to be deteriorating more and more.

But ultimately the idea is that exploring the world and absorbing knowledge is something we inherently want to do. Funneling everyone through the same curriculum kills that energy and desire – or at least it can for many people. I know school was certainly not set up for me as I thought I was dumb until I took a philosophy class in college. It was also hard for me to focus on school with the craziness of what was going on at home but that’s another story.

So this brings me to my whole decision making process about getting my PhD. With getting into web design recently, and wanting to start projects that make a difference, I find myself wanting a PhD less. Why? Because it many ways it is an old paradigm of climbing a ladder into the ivory tower, jumping through ambiguous hoops along the way. I ultimately want to make a difference in this world by thinking differently, by helping others see themselves and the world differently. I want to learn from other people who are already seeing things with fresh eyes.

Seth Godin’s idea of poking the box has also motivated me. I don’t necessarily want to teach in university, but I do want more knowledge. Would I get that in obtaining a PhD? Of course, I would, but I also do a ton of self-directed learning and reading. Back to unschooling, I don’t need a school or a professor to motivate me to learn, to write, to think outside the box. Another thing Seth Godin talks about is not following the status quo, but inventing it. That’s completely what I feel I was made to do. Going to receive my PhD is just following a very typical line of getting approved. It also keeps you in a very narrow understanding of the world. You must study a specific line of study, and although that very subject could be very open, it can still be narrow.

I want to speak from the outside looking in. If I jump in, it will be much harder for me to see. I want to comment on and transform psychotherapy. It’s an old process. Yes, there are newer theories and such, but it’s still an older process of change. I believe in it very much, but you better believe there is something we’re missing, something that will help us evolve, and it might not be about studying to be a therapist and then getting licensed, and then sitting with clients going through the same process. I don’t know what it will look like but it can be better.

I don’t buy into the line “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” That’s stupid. We evolve and grow all the time. Our ideas and how we live always can too. Yes, there are times when we need to just chill and enjoy where we are and I agree with that, but I am also made to keep thinking. It’s just how I”m wired. And I’m realizing more and more that if I squeeze myself through a PhD I will spend a lot of time and money on something that might not really help me in the end to step outside the box – to reinvent the box. I want to unschool myself and those around me.

  • 3D
    Posted at 04:54h, 22 June Reply

    First off, there’s no inherent benefit or virtue in being on the “outside looking in”. It’s just as blurred a view as what you get from the “inside looking out”. The fact is, insight can be had and combusted from either side of the pane of glass. What the PhD facilitates (by obtaining it and using it) is a formal process of bringing others along with you, as you expand knowledge.

    And honestly, the vast richness of information and the access to it, which is afforded by an academic pursuit, is beyond comparison — and even beyond comprehension — to those who are not part of that world. The internet gives only a hint of the knowledge resources available. Which is to say, rigorous education and a focused attention on a defined problem (a problem which, actually, might be noteworthy for how ill-defined it is) remains a good way to learn and one which should not be casually dismissed. Nor should it be seen as necessarily opposed to orthogonal ideas.

    Expanding knowledge often only means filtering out the interesting ideas from the dull, a process that many, many people can relate to and want to perform better.

    So, don’t be a dullard, get a PhD.

  • JMac
    Posted at 09:19h, 22 June Reply

    Thanks for the thoughts 3D. That might be true, but it’s still not the only way to obtain knowledge and have an impact on the world. I’ve wanted a PhD for a while but have fluctuated back and forth recently, not sure I want to do it – at least right now. It’s a lot of work and a lot of money to me something I”m not sure is going to actually get me more money. Is it going to hurt? No. Ultimately I’m still up in the air about it but need to decide cause it was going to be this fall that I started. Your thoughts are interesting, but what has become interesting to me is stepping outside the paradigm of higher education as best. It is a very old system of old boys club. The masters degree I received was amongst PhD students and I therefore know how to access that information if I wanted to. Academia is not the be all end all.

    Also I disagree with you whole heartedly that there is no benefit in being outside looking in. I think there is great benefit in having perspective. This is what I help people do everyday in therapy and it is very helpful to them – and myself.

    Lastly, I still might get my PhD someday. Maybe it will be this fall, i’m not sure.

  • 3D
    Posted at 13:48h, 22 June Reply

    What you call an old boy’s network I call a formal process. And what you know to be the benefits of “outside looking in” are not anything I would deny or trivialize. I only tried to point out that “outside looking in” only goes so far and has limitations. However, those limitations may be less formidable than the ones associated with the alternative approach (the “inside out” approach practiced by a troubled individual who’s trying to work things out by themselves). But still, I wonder if the approaches you apply in your practice were formally — or informally — shown to be helpful and codified as such, prior to being introduced to you.

  • JMac
    Posted at 16:13h, 22 June Reply

    Yea, and I hear you. You are arguing the other side of myself. You are arguing why I would get a PhD, in that it would force me to crystallize and more clearly construct many ideas I have. I go back and forth with seeing the need of a “formal process.” Sometimes I see it as you explain it, and other times I feel it is just hoop jumping.

    Also, let’s say I agree with you. I have already spent 6 and a half years in higher education so in many ways i have that “structure” in place to work from within and without. Yes, a Phd would most certainly enhance and grow my knowledge, ability to write, communicate, and think, but to what degree more than if I don’t get it and is that degree worth the time and money necessary to obtain the Phd?? Those questions keep me paralyzed, mixed with a dislike for formal education, assignments, and the tediousness of academic papers (although I do well.)

    Your turn. : ) (part of me wants to be convinced)

  • 3D
    Posted at 18:10h, 22 June Reply

    It’s social work and psychotherapy that you’re thinking of getting an advanced degree in, yes? Why not make a list of the three or four individuals who have most spectacularly impacted your current practice and thinking. Ask what education process facilitated their insights. Consider adopting that process as your own.

    Beyond that, I’ll warn you of this: Prior to my prelims, it was an exquisitely painful torture to sit through yet another perfunctory lecture and take one more manipulative exam (where those who did the best on the exam had already known the material before they entered the class, which is common in graduate-level classes). Only when I got beyond all that did the magic begin happening. I can’t imagine going through it again. I thought at the time there was an upper age limit to the human capacity to take college classes (and, at that point, I had crossed over the age-threshold for class-taking and suffered because of it — Even though, in the end, I was glad I persevered and endured it). So, Good luck. I don’t think there’s much more that I can contribute.

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