Have you ever watched a horde of happy children? Seen them explore the amazing world around them? Heard their myriad questions? What busy bees they are! Drawn irresistibly to the flowers of experiences, drinking in the nectar of new knowledge, transforming it inside themselves into the honey of creative expression: they draw pictures, tell stories, enact dramatic, dancing, singing performances of what they have discovered. They are learning. Constantly. Effortlessly.
Learning has two parts: instruction and education. Instruction is the ingestion of the structures of the world. New knowledge becomes part of the learner; both the learner and the knowledge are transformed. Education means “drawing out”, like water from a well; it is the outflowing of the transformed knowledge of the learner shared with the world. Quite simply: instruction is the nectar, education is the honey.
About three years ago, a hive of bees in France mistook the waste product of an M&M’s factory for nectar. Instead of honey, they produced a blue sugary substance, essentially spitting back out what they had taken in. This was me in school, because that was how I got good grades; and “good grades” was the purpose of school. School was a data processing job that I performed as required.
After school was the time for enjoyable things: Drama Club, role-playing games, reading and writing science fiction and fantasy. Make-Believe. I had whole worlds in my mind of “irrelevant” information that weren’t the answer to any quiz. They weren’t “School”, which was Work, they were Play; and therefore weren’t “education”, which really meant, “useful for growing up and getting a job”.
When I did grow up and get a job, I discovered that all I “knew” was how to give the authorities over me the answer I thought they wanted. So I worked in service jobs, and then in construction; obeying orders, performing tasks, Working. After work was the time for enjoyable things: role-playing games, reading and writing science fiction and fantasy. Make-Believe.
What I loved to do wasn’t Work, and therefore had no validity. It was something to do after all the Work was done. It would be years before I began to even consider that what I created naturally was as real and valid as what I was required to do. First, I had to witness my own son make honey, instead of blue sugar-water. It happened because my partner made a momentous decision:
“I’m going to homeschool him.”
“Will you help?”
“Sure, of course, what do we do first?”
“Nothing. First, we Deschool him.”
Deschooling, she explained, was the process of permitting the child to return to beginner’s mind by deliberately doing nothing.
“Okay, I get it, so like let it go fallow, like a farm.”
“No, not even remotely. And stop with the metaphors, you suck at them.”
Unlike a fallow field, she had no intention of turning his mind over, and then planting ideas into it. Rather, the point of deschooling was to leave him alone until he began to ask questions all of his own.
“How long does that take?”
“As long as it needs to. The point is to trust him, children are born curious, right?”
“So, we trust him. We leave him alone. We don’t try to teach him, we just let him live.”
After the deschooling, she introduced him to Shakespeare.
“Really? Shakespeare? In third-grade?”
“It’s a Shakespeare-for-kids, see? It gives the storyline and the context, and some of the language. He can watch the plays and read the scripts later, when he’s ready.”
So they read Twelfth-Night-for-kids. Then, instead of a quiz, or a list of reading-comprehension-essay prompts, they just talked to each other about it. Then she gave him ink and watercolors, and he created a lovely illustration of a missing-person poster by Sebastian seeking his twin sister Viola. It was a sequential art piece, showing the poster both from a distance, and then close-up. He conveyed Sebastian’s concern at losing his twin sister in the shipwreck that separated them. He understood the story, not in the “school-y” way; but in a beautifully human and expressive way. He had taken the nectar of Shakespeare’s story and made honey.
This was my nectar, slowly displacing all that blue sugar-water. Thanks to his example, I’m learning to believe in my Make Believe, and know it is honey, too.