A Planet Without Schools

Somewhere out there in the universe, I imagine there is a wonderful world where children don't go to school at all. They are not removed from the rest of society to be measured by the strengths and weaknesses of their age level peers. They are not force-fed facts. They are not tested on skills and judged on their abilities. In fact, no standards at all exist for knowledge acquisition.There are no lessons, no progress reports, and absolutely no teachers telling the children what to do. 

Does this sound a little bit like "unschooling" to you, my dear Montessori friends? Bear with me.

Somehow on this planet, the children learn everything they need to know to thrive in their world's delicate ecosystem and to become fully functional, sophisticated adults with a purpose for and enjoyment of their work. Burdened only by their innate thirst for knowledge, without universities or workshops or required professional development courses or pay raises, they continue seeking new experiences that expand their minds and hearts. They die of old age, knowing that they led full and happy lives. 

It sounds like a dream, but when a child is born, this is his world. Do we take the newborn babe and thrust lessons in speech and crawling at him? This would be considered ridiculous, of course, because we assume that he is just a little nothing of a baby, ineducable at this point because he doesn't even talk! We wait until he looks more like a small adult than a baby before becoming his "teacher", and then we get a little nervous. What if we aren't instructing well enough or often enough and the child falls behind his peers? And what if it's our fault for not being on top of our game?

We must take a look at what is accomplished in the first three years of life without us intervening at all. It is pretty incredible when you think about it. A newborn babe's body transforms miraculously from one that fits perfectly curled up inside a womb to a body that can walk and run alongside his parents and nourish himself when he feels hungry. Cries turn into babble and into words and sentences that can even navigate basic adult dialogue in his native tongue. If the child can learn so much on his own in the first three years, why can't he do it just exactly in this very same way for the rest of his life?

If we could let go of our preconceived notions about what children must know by what age and resist comparing them to each other...

If we could embrace every child and find the potential that exists...

If we could recognize that the child has far greater skills for learning than we do for teaching...

If we could stop talking about it and start watching instead...

If we could just get out of their way and trust them...

 You don't have to visit another planet. The natural instinct for learning self-sufficiency and life-long joy is already right here on Earth. The child has the power to teach himself! We just have to take a deep breath and allow it to unfold.

But don't take it from me...

"Supposing I said there was a planet without schools or teachers, where study was unknown, and yet the inhabitants - doing nothing but live and walk about - came to know all things, to carry in their minds the whole of learning; would you not think I was romancing? Well, just this, which seems so fanciful as to be nothing but the invention of a fertile imagination, is a reality. It is the child's way of learning."

- Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind