Knowledge is wilder than we think

I heard someone a while back insist that ‘unschooling is a bad idea’, and that those children unfortunate enough to have parents who didn’t ‘educate’ them wouldn’t know subjects like ‘geology, math, and sociology’. Of course, what escaped his critique were his own assumptions about knowledge and its merits.

We’ve been tempted into believing that knowledge is a tame thing – a thing we can underline, categorize, discipline, control and appreciate only when grouped into headings and subheadings. And it is. When we construct knowledge as the inescapable product of disciplinarity, we tend to perpetuate people who are passive, bored, listless and disempowered; we tend to extend the lifespan of a civilization that feeds off the existential magnificence of its citizens, replacing questions with homework, replacing play with ‘playtime’, replacing learning with curricula, replacing the joy of living with the imperative to be productive. Within the boundaries of disciplinarity, the only way to access the world is via a power system that actively resists our spontaneous urges to inquire about our world and our particular interests about it. We learn to see ourselves and appreciate ourselves through grades and predetermined outcomes. Our bursts of curiosity are quarantined, labelled and silenced – and then replaced with an ‘unnaturally’ linear trajectory of learning that has nothing to do with our own questions and emerging life paths.

And yet, knowledge is not all this.

Consider the possibility that knowledge is wilder than we think. Even more radically, consider the possibility that there is no such ‘thing’ as knowledge – that what we collectively perceive as knowledge are culturally efficacious aspects of experience that often serve collective visions of the world. If we see knowledge not as a ‘thing’, an object ‘out there’ that we strive to capture through practice, but as an epiphenomenon of our own stories, then what changes? Disciplined and academic knowledge does serve in certain ways, especially in ways that do not allow for flights of fancy…ways that perpetuate a mechanization of society. The logic of unschooling defeats this programme of rationalization, however. It sidesteps hierarchical disciplinarity, and restores trust in the ability of children to learn without being dragged into assembly lines or rewarded with A’s. It makes knowledge subversive to the dictates of State and imperial might. By removing learning away from the bailiwick of classroom management, away from the politics of correctness, away from the industry-set objectives of ‘getting a job’, learning is truly liberated. Geology, in a sense, has little to do with stones and dirt; but it has everything to do with the commodification of our experience of them, the standardization of perceptions.

Going through school is not an adventure in learning per se; that’s probably not the concern of most people who send their kids to school. They send them often because they are scared they won’t get a job eventually; they are scared because their own schooling experience has conditioned them into accepting that the experience of industrial education is not only necessary to being well and alive, but that it is inevitable…