I like to dance with ideas. I flirt with them. I think of the thought, consider, read, experiment, and test some more. Then I like to read reviews and see what others say against my idea. I feel permeable, able to absorb information that works, leave behind what doesn't, and forge ahead with a new permutation of the idea.
As a Homeschooling mom, when my children were very young, 4 and 6, the concept of Unschooling was not familiar to me. I hadn't hear of it. I struggled with making my oldest follow a curriculum, couldn't figure out how to "get" her to read, or "make" her learn her facts. I assumed I was doing it all wrong and threw my hands up in the air. Let the schools do it, I didn't have a clue what I was doing.
So off they went, to kindergarten, and first grade (even though my oldest was ready age wise for 2nd, I didn't think that was a good place for her). She started the year off great. Excited at the possibilities. Granted, they missed homeschool club the most, and had fond memories of romping with children of all ages, playing games, taking art classes, eating loads of snacks... One of my biggest concerns with sending the kids to school was needing to be on a strong schedule and not being able to snack when they wanted! The teacher assured me there were snacks in the classroom, and no one would starve. The girls started to make new friends at school and things went well.
About 2 months in, I was called. My eldest was struggling with the curriculum and wasn't making "academic" gains. We started having meetings. Specialists were called in, studies were made. She saw a reading specialist, a math specialist, and speech and language specialist. I started to realize it wasn't me! I wasn't doing something wrong, because the experts couldn't figure this out either. Even after several major studies and analyzing with Psychologists, and Special Education teachers, several years later, we never found a specific diagnosis. Non-specific learning disability. She was taken out of classes she liked, like Library, to go be with Special Education teachers. She was singled out among her peers. Different... not able.
I keep saying in meetings, "Can't we focus on her strengths instead of her areas of weakness?" Wouldn't that be the most logical approach? If I am not great at carpentry, doesn't it make sense to hire out the carpentry work, and do the job I am good at instead? Isn't that why we have specialists? We all have a unique gift we can share with others? But I was told the school didn't have the resources to work in that way. She would come home in tears over homework, telling me she knew she wasn't the smartest kid in the class. As she approached pre-teen years, I saw her recede more. Only the beginning stages, but I knew that social pressures would mount, self identification with not being good, smart, would add to big trouble in her teen years.
We considered private schools but really they were too expensive. Luckily, I work from home and decided to give it another go and to try this homeschooling idea again. I came across this concept of "Unschooling". My first thoughts were "crazy, ridiculous", how could that work? Just let them do what they want?? But as any with seed, it started to grow. I started to see the wisdom in child driven learning. And the research mounted again. Suddenly it made so much sense, and mirrored some yogic practices as well. Learning comes from within, it can not be forced from the outside. We think its important to study for the standardized test, to pass it well, but what did all that time, effort, and energy really do for us? Well, it made some money for folks at the testing industries. But what did we gain? Some facts? Some ability to work through math problems that we rarely, if ever, face in our day to day existence? If we truly needed those skills, couldn't we figure them out when necessary? Don't humans excel at figuring out what they need to do, and learning how to do it? Isn't this whole model causing so many of our adult issues, feelings of inadequacy, not belonging, self identification? We don't know what we love, or what to do, we don't feel creative. Because it has been driven out of us. Worst of all, we all KNOW this is true, because we felt it ourselves when we were children. Innately, we sense its wrong, but we accept it as a social norm, and going against that takes a strong person.
So why force another curricular system in place of the other? Why play school at home? I am choosing to take the bumpy path, and let my kids decide what is important, and then support them 200% in their personal interests. Mom, I want to make a shirt... ok. Lets do it. Mom, I want to make a website... ok, lets do it. Mom, I love minecraft... ok, lets get it for your computer. Show them you trust them, and you are there to help them, and amazing things start to blossom. Who cares if they don't score well on that standardized math test. Doesn't happiness count for something anymore? Or are we too use to having that beaten out of us too...
I decided to look up what these grown unschoolers actually do with their lives. Isn't that why we send our kids to school anyway? To prepare them for an adult life and career? Turns out, they can get into college just fine without curricular math and LA, Science, etc...
The following is an excerpt from a Blog report on a study of unschoolers as adults. By Luba Vangelova:
"Overall, 83 percent of the respondents had gone on to pursue some
form of higher education. Almost half of those had either completed a
bachelor’s degree or higher, or were currently enrolled in such a
program; they attended (or had graduated from) a wide range of colleges,
from Ivy League universities to state universities and smaller
Several themes emerged: Getting into college was typically a fairly
smooth process for this group; they adjusted to the academics fairly
easily, quickly picking up skills such as class note-taking or essay
composition; and most felt at a distinct advantage due to their high
self-motivation and capacity for self-direction. “The most frequent
complaints,” Gray notes on his blog, “were about the lack of motivation
and intellectual curiosity among their college classmates, the
constricted social life of college, and, in a few cases, constraints
imposed by the curriculum or grading system.”
Most of those who went on to college did so without either a high
school diploma or general education diploma (GED), and without taking
the SAT or ACT. Several credited interviews and portfolios for their
acceptance to college, but by far the most common route to a four-year
college was to start at a community college (typically begun at age 16,
but sometimes even younger).
None of the respondents found college academically difficult, but
some found the rules and conventions strange and sometimes off-putting.
Young people who were used to having to find things out on their own
were taken aback, and even in some cases felt insulted, “when professors
assumed they had to tell them what they were supposed to learn,” Gray
So if they can get into college, and are self motivate, more so than many of their schooled peers, and they do well, have careers, and happy lives... why make them waste their childhoods studying for tests that have no meaning? Don't you want your life to have meaning? Doesn't this become the estranged theme of adulthood? Is it because we once knew, but we were forced to follow another path because someone else knew what was best for us? What if they were all wrong???
And whats more... These grown unschoolers tend towards creative entrepreneurial jobs, instead of cubical tell me what to do jobs... no big mystery why...
"The range of jobs and careers was very broad—from film production
assistant to tall-ship bosun, urban planner, aerial wildlife
photographer, and founder of a construction company—but a few
generalizations emerged. Compared to the general population, an
unusually high percentage of the survey respondents went on to careers
in the creative arts—about half overall, rising to nearly four out of
five in the always-unschooled group. Similarly, a high number of
respondents (half of the men and about 20 percent of the women) went on
to science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) careers. (The same
held true in another recent survey of unschoolers.)
“STEM careers are also kind of creative careers—they involve looking
for something, seeking answers, solving problems,” Gray says. “When
you’re looking at it that way, it sort of fits.”
The reason for this correlation is something this survey can’t
answer. “Maybe unschooling promotes creativity, or maybe dispositionally
creative people or families are more likely to choose unschooling,”
Gray says. “It’s probably a little bit of both.”
Additionally, just more than half of the respondents were
entrepreneurs (this category overlapped considerably with the creative
arts category). But what Gray found most striking is the complete
absence (in both this and his Sudbury study samples) of “the typical
person who gets an MBA and goes on to become an accountant or middle
manager in some business. People with these educational backgrounds
don’t go on to bureaucratic jobs. They do work in teams, but where there
is a more democratic relationship within the team.”
We fear. I see it all the time as a yoga teacher. More so than not being able to do something, we are afraid of the possibilities. Because we don't trust ourselves. Why should we, we were told our ideas, interests, were not as important. We were told to be quiet, and to listen. Not to voice ourselves, or express ourselves, or pursue our own interests. I want to change that, in the classes I teach and in my own kids. I want to support their strengths, not their perceived weaknesses. I want to see them live in passion, and interest, and to be excited to wake up and face the day and do what they love.
Don't you want those things too???