How Will They Learn?
'Tis the season for questions and concerns, mostly from well-meaning strangers.
What amazes me is that, of all the concerns people express about unschooling (life-learning), the top four perceived problems have nothing to do with learning school subject matter.
Concern #1: Socialization
How will my children ever learn how to socialize if they don't spend 6-8 hours a day or more for 12+ years with children within six months to a year of their age?
I could ask how children who spend most of their time on weekdays in school and in after-school programs, sports, and other activities with others their age and with all adults as authority figures manage to learn to function in a world where you spend most of your time with people who are not your age and where your boss, a police officer, or other authority figure could potentially be younger than you.
Concern #2: Fitting In to Society
How can unschooled children learn societal rules and how to fit into society if they are not in a traditional school environment like the majority of students...who make up the majority of society?
I could ask how a school society, with its cliques, bullying, dress codes, need to wear certain clothes or shoes or have the latest electronics, etc. prepares children to fit into adult society. And if we want those things carried over into adult society.
I could argue that unschooled children, being out and about in the real world, learn to navigate the ever-changing society well because they're experiencing it, immersed in it, daily. I love that my children are able to make their own decisions about whether they want to conform to societal pressures, or perhaps do something different, and perhaps better for our society. Some of the most successful people in the world started out as societal misfits...or are still societal misfits. Fitting in is overrated.
Concern #3: Relating to the Real World
This one usually isn't in the form of a question, but rather a statement. Unschooled children can't possibly learn to relate to others or function in the real world in the same way traditionally schooled children can.
I won't argue with that. They don't relate to the world in the same way that schooled children do because they're not indoctrinated into school culture.
Our children interact with a vast array of people on a daily basis: parents, grandparents, friends, pastors, atheists, EMTs, cashiers, curators, volunteers, babies, elderly people, Christians, Jews, Muslims, UPS drivers, neighbors, school kids, homeschooled kids, homeless people, rich people..and many complete strangers who ask them why they're not in school, just to name a few. They have freedoms of time, choice, and travel that schooled children don't. They don't have many of the pressures that schooled children do. They have some pressures schooled children don't. And they're encouraged to ask why and to not blindly follow what others are doing, wearing, listening to, or how they're acting.
I do admit, there are things to which they can't relate. They can't relate to sitting in a classroom for six hours a day; to not being able to make the majority of their own choices for a good portion of their young lives; to asking permission to go to the bathroom; or to not being able to discover something about which they want to learn more and then heading to a library, museum, science center, or their own back yard to learn more at a moment's notice.
I would think learning to live in the real world has more to do with interacting with it than studying it in a classroom.
Concern #4: What About Prom?
There is Homeschool Prom. Really.
After these concerns come the concerns about what my children are learning.
I've had many people ask each of the following:
- How will they learn to stand in line? I didn't know this was a huge deal, or something learned in school. We've been to Disney World, amusement parks, and the grocery store. I think we have that one covered.
- How will they learn to take tests? My children love testing their knowledge! They take tests for fun - to see what they have learned. To them, it's a game, not an anxiety-riddled task as it is to many.
- How do you know they're learning enough? I admit, I have a yearly freak-out over whether my children are learning enough. Then a friend, family member, museum curator, or member of our community has a conversation with one or more of my children and tells me how impressed they are by not just the information my children have stored in their brains, but the knowledge they've gained through combining said information with experiences they've had. They get to learn at their own pace and study what captures their interest, which has the huge benefit of retaining much of what they've learned. Many students who have to learn about something because that's what the textbook chapter is about don't retain that information and, without real world experience to reinforce what they've learned, don't filter the information through experience in order to transform it into knowledge.
And my children know how to cook, clean, shop for groceries and find the best price per pound, assist with home repairs and improvements, care for babies and toddlers (yes, they change diapers!), and so much more as a result of living and learning through unschooling.
- What about college? If they want to attend college, they can attend college. We, however, don't expect them to attend college at any specific age, if at all. I know too many people who went to college fresh out of high school because they felt like that was what was expected of them and now have a lot of debt and aren't using their degree at all. I'd rather my children put their money to good use and know what they want to do with their degree before they get it.
Unschooling, to me, is giving my children the resources and the ability to learn whatever it is they want to learn, taking advantage of teachable moments (and hours, and weeks, and months) and nurturing in them the self-confidence to follow their passions. My hope is that they are able to discover for themselves what path they want to take in life and are able to make a living doing what they love.