Yesterday afternoon, I felt hungry and wandered into the kitchen for a snack. I grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl. It not only looked appealing, but that sweet, crunchy, 100-calorie snack had way more to offer than just a pretty shape and a ruby skin. According to a very detailed analysis I found on the Internet, my apple, assuming it was similar to those studied, contained all sorts of nutrients that benefited my body. More than just calories, carbohydrates and protein, it contained fiber and vitamin C. There were polyphenols that helped regulate my blood sugar and lowered my risk of atherosclerosis, asthma, and colon, breast and (especially) lung cancer. It didn’t stop there, that apple also decreased my total and my LDL cholesterol and provided my cardiovascular system with anti-inflammatory benefits. (I’m just hitting the high points here. There was quite a bit of information for you apple lovers out there to chew on as your time and interest permits.)
Even if all the as-yet analyzed and identified macro- and micronutrients found in apples could be isolated and produced in capsule or pill form, they would not add up to the wonder that a whole apple is for my body. Just the act of biting into the tight skin of an apple acts to subtly whiten my teeth and stimulate my gums. The balance of fiber and other phytonutrients, rather than their individual parts, is what seems to give a cardiovascular benefit. Applesauce and apple juice made from whole apples doesn’t manage our hunger or satisfy us as much as eating the whole fruit. My personal belief is that it’s not only easier to just eat the food, but it’s certainly more pleasant (and less expensive). Mother Nature seems to have her act together, so I choose to let her do the work for me by simply eating a wide variety of whole foods.
What does this have to do with learning? Well, I see eating whole foods as an analogy to unschooling. An apple is a whole food, greater than the sum of its parts that delivers its highest benefits when eaten whole; similarly, unschooling is a holistic way of learning that conveys benefits beyond the sum of its parts. In the same way that my desire to satisfy my hunger led me to pick up that apple, resulting in not only a delicious snack, but a cascade of health benefits; a child’s desire to play an instrument, write a story, or build a robot leads them on a pleasant exploration that results in deep and intrinsic learning. They can decide how to proceed and how to pace the activity. They can experiment unobserved, seeing what works and what doesn’t. When no one else sees their setbacks, they’re more likely to learn from them because there’s no shame or disgrace to get in the way. Since failures serve as excellent feedback, learning happens more effectively. And they have the satisfaction of knowing inside that any progress was a result of their own efforts and not that of an adult who guided them through an exercise.
As an example, when Christian decided to make a color organ, it involved many design iterations, material selection, a good understanding of LED lights, wiring, sound sensors, controls and more. One way of looking at this project is to say it was a multi-subject project composed of science, geometry, art and music. Yes, but it was so much more than that. The time (days, weeks) that he put into the planning, design, sourcing, improvements, and then filming to document his efforts would be outside any normal educational expectations. The enjoyment he got out of the process and the pride in the finished product were priceless results.
So while nutritionists continue to break foods down into smaller components in an effort to shortcut nutrition, whole foods advocates maintain the wisdom and the simplicity of eating a wide variety of foods close to their natural state. Likewise, learning experts continue to study ways to motivate students in imposed environments, such as classrooms, while unschooling advocates see the results and the ease of natural, self-directed learning. I trust Mother Nature to know more than we do about what is good for our bodies and our minds.
© Jean Nunnally and Clear2Learn, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jean Nunnally and Clear2Learn with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.