Who are the most important people in your life? Your family? Your kids? If you were suddenly on your deathbed, who would you wish you spent more time with?
We don’t like to think about it but it’s better to think about it now when you can still make changes. My Mum died when I was 19, she was just 48. I remember her saying that she was so over us being in school. She couldn’t wait for it to be over. I always felt that she disliked the arbitrary system and disagreed with much of what was expected of us. I often wonder what she would think of unschooling. As far as I am aware she had never heard of it. I’ll never know. Oh, to just sit down over a cuppa and have a chat. We never had that. I was still just a teenager, not even two years out of school when she was gone. She waited, we waited, to live without school. We never really had the chance.
Her death is a constant reminder of just how short life can be. What if I face the same fate? What if I die young too? I don’t want to lie on my deathbed and wish that I had spent more time with the most important people in my life.
“Everyone wants life satisfaction. Everyone wants happiness. But is living lives totally separate from our loved ones actually satisfying? Does that actually make people happy?” The Way We Play
But it’s not just about us. What about all of the time taken away from them? Australian primary school students have on average more than one thousand hours of “compulsory instruction time” per year. That doesn’t include the hours devoted to homework. How is it that children as young as five are expected to spend so much time away from their families? It can’t purely be due to the misconception that school is the only place children can learn. Finland’s education system consistently tops the international education rankings, with 632 average hours of instruction time a year, minimal homework and no tests until 16. If our goal is to provide the “best education”, why are our kids still spending so much time in school?
What is filling up all of these hours? Is it necessary? I love this TED talk from an American middle and high school maths teacher. He realized that 99% of the US population do not use the maths they are forced to learn. If it was up to him he would not require all kids to learn maths, he would rather teach those who are genuinely interested like the few who are eager to become an engineer.
What about reading? Everyone should be taught how to read, right? Many assume kids won’t learn how to read unless they are taught. It’s not true. “As long as kids grow up in a literate society, surrounded by people who read, they will learn to read” without instruction. I’ve seen it. There are many accounts of self-taught readers. Unfortunately, most kids are stuck in the one-pace-fits-all schooling system and expected to learn to read on an adult derived schedule which can take far longer and create stress for the child.
So much time wasted forcing kids to learn what they are either not interested in, don’t need or are not developmentally ready for. Worse still, many school leavers may be left with the realisation that, despite their education, they are ill prepared for real life.
“There were no sex classes. No friendship classes. No classes on how to navigate a bureaucracy, build an organization, raise money, create a database, buy a house, love a child, spot a scam, talk someone out of suicide, or figure out what was important to me. Not knowing how to do these things is what messes people up in life, not whether they know algebra or can analyze literature.” William Upski Wimsatt
Some people argue that schools don’t raise kids. That you can’t expect schools to do it all. The parents are responsible for the real life learning part. They’re right, I don’t think schools should be teaching kids the fundamental lessons required to function in modern day society. They should be giving kids their time back so they can learn it on their own terms because they are more than capable and will do a better job at it.
One of the first videos I watched when learning about unschooling was this:
It was confronting. It made me reflect on my own schooling experience. What do I recall from school? What was I left to figure out on my own? He was right. I wasn’t taught life skills. Much of what I was taught I learnt to pass the test and swiftly forgot. As Albert Einstein said, “Education is what is left after you’ve forgotten everything you’ve learned.”
All of that time and money spent on my “first class education” for what? Sure, you could say it opened doors for me. All of that fear and pressure worked in the end, I got the grades to get myself into University, but unschooled kids go to University too, if they want to. The difference is, they had the freedom to learn on their own terms without fear of punishment.
“We learn simply by the exposure of living. Much that passes for education is not education at all but ritual. The fact is that we are being educated when we know it least.” David P. Gardner
It’s hard to imagine how kids will learn without explicitly being taught. School does that to you, it takes away the trust you had in your own intrinsic desire to learn about the world, and in turn, your child’s too. From the moment you were born you were hungry to learn. Think about how much you figured out all on your own. No teacher. No adult intervention. Is there a switch that turns off on our 5th birthday? Are we suddenly no longer capable of learning without instruction?
“If we taught babies to talk as most skills are taught in school, they would memorize lists of sounds in a predetermined order and practice them alone in a closet.” Linda Darling-Hammond
Just picture that for a moment. Fortunately most toddlers are left to learn language naturally. But children are forced to listen to academic instruction earlier and earlier despite it proven to cause harm. Kids are being suffocated with endless arbitrary content and standardized testing when they should be playing. Independent self directed play, not “play-based” adult led learning. “Play is not something you do to a child” Happiness is Here
How does all of this testing affect their self-esteem and confidence? Does it crush their innate desire to learn?
I was an average student. I would pass or do okay in most subjects. I accepted that. Until grade 12. Finally, a subject that I was genuinely interested in. The assignment was to write an essay. I went to the library. I researched. I was fascinated. I wrote. I enjoyed it. I got an A. My first A. Suddenly, I realised I am capable of doing well with this academic stuff. A bit late to the game. I can’t help but wonder if I was given the freedom to always learn and discover on my own terms would I have ever doubted my capability?
“I know of nothing more inspiring than that of making discoveries for oneself” George Washington Carver
Wouldn’t life be richer if we could all live our childhood years with the freedom to learn unbound by the restrictions of school?
Are you on the fence about choosing this life like I was? It’s a huge leap. Going against the norm always is. Are you worried about what people will think? How you will respond to their concerns? Life is too short to let your doubts and worries decide for you. Deschooling is a lifelong process. Support is key. And there’s lots of it. Reach out! Ask questions. Comment. Send a message. Those of us who are living this life want to share it, we all want everyone to know how amazing this life can be.