Carlo Ricci’s “The Willed Curriculum”


Allow me to make a few things crystal clear:

  • I love the concept of unschooling. If we could wrap our minds around it, unschooling would make an excellent method of mainstream education.
  •  Other methods of education are also very good; it all depends on the student’s needs. Educators need to make the whole of the universe available to students.  As Pat Farenga says, “I’m partial to the term learning.”
  • Carlo Ricci is very cool. I admire anyone who is willing to take on thousands of years of culture and tradition to change something that obviously needs to be changed.
  • As a general rule, I prefer self-published books to those edited for mass consumption. The oddities and inconsistencies are refreshing.

The moment I saw The Willed Curriculum, Unschooling, and Self-direction, I bought it. Yes, I do think I need another book on alternative education, because reading is my chosen (preferred, inherent) method of learning.

I squeaked with pleasure when the package slid through my mail slot.

There Are Always Good Things about Any Book

If you read The Willed Curriculum, Unschooling, and Self-direction, you will inevitably broaden your horizons to some degree. Ricci quotes The Big Dudes of Education – John Holt and John Taylor Gatto – and The Somewhat Smaller Dudes such as Ron Miller and Pat Farenga. He steps away from the narrow perspective to include quotes from bell hooks and Alfie Kohn, elaborating on how such basic concepts such as love and respect have been stripped from the modern public schools. He compares and contrasts the behaviour and education of his two daughters, one of which attends school while the other is unschooled. Real-life examples are used.

I’d Have Edited His Book for Free

Books are the mainstay of alternative education. They’re a simple, cheap way of spreading ideas and information around the world. While there will always be alternatively-educated people who don’t like to read, their numbers are probably comparable to the number of people who don’t like ice cream; the majority of people will hunt down and kill any book they think might offer them the knowledge they desire.  An alternative-education author clearly has a responsibility to their readers.

Reading the 150 pages of this book almost killed me.

Ricci’s writing style is nothing more than lecture transcription. But what can be tolerated in a university lecture does not make for acceptable reading. The sentences are long and convoluted; points and phrasing are repeated… and repeated… and repeated. The chapters read with an air of lectern-thumping evangelism. The only relief from the lecturing is when Ricci regresses to Grade 6-level announcements: “Throughout this chapter I will…” and “In this chapter I will share….”

If you can stomach the crude writing style, you’ll also run into some dubious practices such as where Ricci uses paraphrasing to change a quoted sentence to the negative. Here, he claims to be quoting Pat Farenga: ‘“Another strength is that you as a parent are [not] acting as the teacher who has to know everything… and you’re [not] sort of an ATM of knowledge dispensing to kids as they punch the numbers in”’ (p.32-33).  (If you do a little hunting on YouTube, you’ll discover that Farenga did imply the negatives, and it’s just Ricci’s little writing quirk that makes it all seem shady.)  A reader may lose even more respect for the author when they read words like dialoguing and organic processes.

Ricci, despite (in spite of?) a fair amount of schooling, seems to have trouble grasping the use of vocabulary. Chapter 5 begins with “Love is the most overused term that is underused. The previous sentence may not make sense, but what I am trying to capture by using it is that on one hand, you can barely have a conversation with someone without the word love being used” [sic] (p.57). At no point does he explain how a word can be overused and underused at the same time. However, the most discrediting use of vocabulary can be found at the beginning of the book on p. 14, where Ricci says, “Where there may be some disagreement with Miller’s statement is around the issue of schooling. In other words, does the broader definition of unschooling presume that those who define themselves as unschoolers cannot attend a formal school setting?” While I do sympathise with Ricci (my own two children made the choice to attend high school, against my better judgment), there is no way the use of the prefix un will allow an unschooler to be schooled. Perhaps Ricci would like to try it in a language other than English?

The most disappointing aspect of the book, though, has nothing to do with the horrendous writing. It has to do with Ricci’s clear lack of respect for his older daughter’s decision to attend school. He writes lengthy passages criticising her school, its safety rules and its methods of educating the students. He criticises the behaviour of the other students, the teachers, and the office staff. I was hoping – assuming – that he would spend a little time talking about how he unschools his older daughter outside of school hours; apparently, he doesn’t.  He believes it more important to announce how rarely he enters his daughter’s school.

It’s unfortunate that this book isn’t able to further the progress of alternative education. Generally considered an excellent advocate for unschooling, Ricci has lowered himself to the ranks of tent-revivalist. It’s also unfortunate that, by publishing his distaste for his older daughter’s choices and attempting to change the syntax of English, he has proven himself unworthy of creating a relevant book entitled The Willed Curriculum, Unschooling, and Self-direction.

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