Born to Learn by Kytka Hilmar-Jezek

Title: Born To Learn: Unschooling in the New Paradigm
Author: Kytka Hilmar-Jezek
Publisher: Family Healing Services (self-published)
Released: August 2012
Source: Amazon (free special for Kindle)

Synopsis:

All children are born to learn and their learning is as natural as breathing. In fact, children are learning all of the time.

With the advent of the internet and so many parents working from home, it’s time to bring the children back home too. Learning happens inside and out, in social groups of all ages and as they venture out into the world. This slim book discusses unschooling from the perspective of a veteran homeschooler turned unschooler and parenting expert.

In this ground breaking work, which was originally an interview she shared at a educational telesummit, author Kytka Hilmar-Jezek smashes all of your old beliefs and takes you on a journey of possibility in the new paradigm. This book closes with a collection of powerful quotes on learning and education from some of the world’s greatest visionaries, scientists, entrepreneurs and thought leaders.

Since we are probably going to be an eclectic homeschooling family, I love reading about unschooling and thinking about how I can incorporate as much of it as possible. I have thoroughly enjoyed titles such as Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto, The Unschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith, and Free Range Learning by Laura Grace Weldon.

So, when I received an email to let me know the Kindle edition of Born To Learn: Unschooling in the New Paradigm by Kytka Hilmar-Jezek was available free for one day only, I was excited and replied enthusiastically. I immediately downloaded it and read the entire book the same day (it’s very short).

I was disappointed.

The book is not a galley proof; it was published about 7 months ago. Yet it was riddled with typos and grammatical errors. Punctuation issues, incorrect use of its and it’s, words missing letters – the sheer number of errors was distracting. The book needs some major editing.

I hope this was unintentional, but there was an underlying tone throughout the book that felt condescending and judgmental. Several times she used phrases such as “I guess you missed that memo” and “newsflash.” The book felt more like a diatribe against those who do not adhere to her philosophies. A few examples:

  • “When mothers left the home and placed the care of their children into impersonal holding cells such as day-care, the unraveling of family began…”
  • “I believe that the inner life of a child in school is one of a wounded and confused being who cannot comprehend why he cries for the fulfillment of his innate expectations go unanswered.”
  • “The parents are as sick as the schools they force their children to serve their sentences in…”
  • “If you put your personal beliefs and values aside and you look at it from a logical standpoint – we could say that school is a form of segregation, against a child’s civil rights. Rosa Parks does not have to sit on the back of the bus anymore – but so why should our children have to sit in school?”

I have to admit, I find some of those statements downright offensive. There is no mercy toward those who may have special circumstances which guide their decisions. There is no acknowledgment that some families may make different choices because either 1) their child actually does thrive in a school setting, or 2) their local school is fantastic and does encourage its students to think for themselves, question, and be creative. These possibilities are not mentioned at all, even in passing. It was as if all families are viewed as having the same choices available to them, and all schools viewed as being the same oppressive, evil entity; therefore school is never a valid choice.

There were moments when I agreed with Hilmar-Jezek wholeheartedly. The natural inquisitiveness of children should be encouraged, they do have a powerful, innate desire to learn. Children need to be given opportunities to seek out deeper knowledge when a topic interests them, as well as the space to actually experience it. I loved when she wrote: “We have to understand and accept that learning is so much more than the acquisition of mass quantities of information. Education should strive to awaken the child’s natural capabilities, and not educate.”

But I wish she had allowed statements like that to stand on their own. It would have been inspiring had she focused on encouraging parents to listen to their instincts and the great aspects of unschooling! Superior attitudes and assumptions about those who make different choices just ruin it. For me, the acrid tone of the book was so strong it tainted all of its good points. I just couldn’t get past that, especially since I’ve read a number of fantastic unschooling books whose authors did not feel the need to resort to gross generalizations about, and negativity toward, others.

If they are able to overlook its editing problems, readers who consider themselves radical unschoolers, extreme adherents of attachment parenting, or who have an intense distrust of the U.S. public school system may enjoy reading Born To Learn: Unschooling in the New Paradigm. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for me.

UPDATE: The author has replied to my review on Amazon. The Kindle file on Amazon was mistakenly a galley proof. She also gave some comments that helped put her viewpoints in context. Although she and I have a number of differing opinions – that hasn’t changed – I think it is well worth reading her response.

  • Oh, no. This book would drive me insane. I actually teach in a correctional facility, so the school to jail comparison infuriates me.

    That last statement is particularly grating. While some schools themselves are still segregated because of the structure of neighborhoods, throwing public school out the window would leave so many kids with absolutely nothing in terms of learning at home.

    Have you read How Children Succeed by Paul Tough? That was one of my favorite education reads from the last year.

  • No, I haven’t read How Children Succeed. I just looked it up on Amazon… it’s totally going on my TBR list now. Thanks for the recommendation!

    I appreciate your thoughts on this. I could go on and on and on about it. LOL! Really, the whole “evil school system” thing is a pet peeve of mine. It pops up too often in online homeschooling communities, but thankfully, my local group isn’t like that at all (some of the families even homeschool some of their children, while sending a sibling to public or private school – whatever works for that kid, you know?).

  • Wow. I agree that it takes all types to make the world go round but there’s no way I could make it through this one based on the clips that you provided above. I work full-time at the moment for a number of reasons (and don’t feel that I need to explain my reasonings) but I would never call myself sick for it (though hopefully she meant cold sick? LOL!!). I do hope to stay at home more often once baby 2 comes but honestly I don’t feel confident in my own abilities to leave schooling solely in my hands. Anyway–neither here nor there. Thanks for mentioning Free Range Learning. I think I’ll check that one out.

  • Yeah… I don’t think she meant cold sick, Trish. LOL!

    I work, too. Mostly part-time hours, although depending on the time of year and number of gigs, it can be full-time hours. I always feel a little caught between worlds because of that. Not really a SAHM, but not dealing with the same pressures of a working parent, either.

    And you know, you bring up some great points. I think you’ll enjoy Free Range Learning. It’s definitely for homeschoolers, but I think many of the concepts and ideas can apply to any family.

  • Hi everyone,

    I wanted to acknowledge and thank Monika for her updates at the book page at Amazon.

    Let me input a couple of things:

    1) After this review, I discovered that my virtual assistant uploaded the wrong file (so much for outsourcing!) and I immediately went in to correct that, so as per Amazon, it is up to 72 hours for the correct and properly edited version to appear.

    2) This was originally a spoken telesummit/webinar which was transcribed. The subject matter was “radical unschooling” and the general theme of the entire series was that the school system, as it currently exists is beyond flawed – many argued it is broken. Numerous referrals were made to the work of John Taylor Gatto how moderns schools work. Also discussed was how children learn with numerous references to John Holt. The main argument of the interview (book) was that children learn all of the time, no matter the environment. Based on that I asked the question “Is school necessary for learning?”

    3) The “newsflash” and “didn’t get the memo” comments were taken out of context in that I compared it to adults getting an office memo and then another, another, etc. It’s difficult to explain, but in the spoken version it was funny and added comic relief to a serious and touchy subject. I suppose in written form, that did not come through, and I appreciate your suggestion to consider putting it us as an audio.

    4) The school to jail references were direct quotes made by John Taylor Gatto and were in the form of “based on that, we could summarize this”.

    In my defense, I invite anyone here who wants a copy to make their own judgment before looking at a few snippets, taken apart from the work as a whole to share an opinion.

    My work with homeschoolers, unschoolers and Waldorf schools over the last 20 years has only made me passionate about all forms of learning and I have nothing but respect for all parents who are courageous enough to seek or create alternatives for their child’s education. My own sister is a public school teacher and I have a deep respect for what she does.

    My only request is that you judge for yourselves (by actually reading it) rather than making an opinion based a review. Also, there are 6 or so other reviews that were 5 star and those people found great value in the content.

    Yes, Free Range Education is a wonderful read, I agree. My email is waldorfinspired (at) yahoo.com if anyone wishes a complimentary pdf copy to formulate their own thoughts.

    My final intention is that all parents have access to all sorts of information to formulate the best choices for their situation, their unique parenting style and their personal education decisions.