Inventing the Child - Unschooling and Normal Families

I was asked to write not only about all those bad children’s books, but also to provide some good examples. What’s the point of criticizing all the books your children want to read, if there is no alternative? Sure, I’d still say that you can read the problematic books anyway, but point out the problems to your kid, but it is better of course to just have a good book that follows your own ideology. So, that is what I’m doing today. Be aware, there are many more examples, but in my recent attempt to write shorter articles (just in case that’s a reason people are turned off from reading here), I’ll just focus on some and come back to all of this again in the future.

“Wenn die Ziege schwimmen lernt” (When the goat learns swimming) by Nele Moost and Pieter Kunstreich is a wonderful book that criticizes our school system. It’s about animals that are supposed to learn things they naturally can’t do, like swimming or flying, and teachers that are disappointed that their students are so bad. The book is deceiving because at first it seems like it just is about students not being able to enjoy school.

When the schedule is announced, everyone is unhappy, just like in reality. Some subjects are liked, others aren’t, but this still seems like what everyone went through in school. This could still become a “but actually it isn’t so bad”-kind of book.

The titular goat doesn’t see the point in learning to swim, because, as it says, it can just cross the water where there are some stones. The teacher gives it a lecture and it promises to try harder. Still, simple every day school routine.

The teachers conclude that the students are just hopeless and shake their heads until they get dizzy. Slowly, we see something creeping in as the teachers really appear to be very odd and narrow-minded.

But it’s the amazing last page that is the real winner of this book. The teachers give up and leave. First, the students are confused and don’t know what to do, being used to follow their instructions. But then they start doing what they can do best and finally they realize that without teaching, they are actually capable of doing exactly what they need and want to do. They are “unschooled” and I couldn’t have said it better. Good stuff.

“Papas Freund” (Papa’s Friend) by Michael Willhoite is about a kid whose father leaves his family because he wants to live with his male partner instead.

The book tries to show a homosexual relationship as normal as possible, the everyday life, showing that there is no inherent difference here.

In the end, its goes a bit heavy with the message by declaring “Being gay is just another way to love,” which still might be just okay for kids at that age to express it this way. The book is not perfect because it’s all a bit idealized and the boy doesn’t seem to have a problem with his father leaving them at all. But still, this book is relatively old (1991) but is serviceable enough in my opinion as many people probably wouldn’t show it to their kids anyway.

“The Great Big Book of Families” by Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith is amazing in its subtlety. It just shows families, people, jobs, situations, without judgment and shows cultural and sexual diversity as a given that doesn’t need to be highlighted at all.

It starts out with this page that makes fun of the idea of a “normal family” by saying, well, in the past, books wanted to tell us that families are only like this. It ridicules what many people still consider the norm and that’s a great way of establishing to think outside the box for kids.

It then shows a variety of ways families can exist, showing that every family is as good as any other, no matter what they consist of. Race isn’t even mentioned but just shown as normal.

It’s similar with jobs as the book doesn’t shy away from showing reality, even if the idea of unemployment is shown more tragic than necessary, I think. I mean, sure, for most people it is, but it creates the idea that having a job is the most important thing in the world and I’m not sure kids need to learn that early on (or ever).

That should be enough for now. There are other good books, but we have enough time to get to those at some other time.

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