Self-directed homeschooling (or unschooling) is a huge departure from the prevailing philosophies and practices that characterize traditional schooling. In order to successfully unschool, here are 11 things you must believe about education, in no particular order….
An Education is a Deeply Personal Thing
Someone’s interests, passions, questions, and curiosities are deeply personal. Whether you encourage or dismiss those sends a powerful message to your children about their worth. When you crowd those out of your children’s lives in favor of what you think they should know, the message you are sending your children is that what they want to know has less value than what you want them to know.
Think about your own life for a minute. Think about something that you’re passionate about or that you want more information about. Imagine having someone else intrude on your pursuits with their own agenda for you and what you should know. How do you feel?
An Education is Not Something One Person Should Ever Do to Another
Someone who believes in self-directed homeschooling soundly rejects the notion that a “good” education must be directed by an authority figure, with or without the consent of the one who’s supposed to be doing the learning.
Think about your own life for a minute. Remember the last time someone else wanted you to learn something that you didn’t have the slightest interest in learning. If you were an adult, you probably had the good fortune to be able to decline that request. But how would you feel if you couldn’t?
No, We Don’t All Need to Know the Same Things
An education should not be a cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all endeavor. Things are standardized in a classroom setting for the convenience of administrators and teachers, so that children can be herded from one grade to the next all more or less on the same page. The real world doesn’t function that way. In the real world, the base of knowledge and skills is vast and varied.
Think about your own life for a minute. Envision the five or six adults you spend the most time with. Do you all know exactly the same things? Do you even need to know exactly the same things?
Human Beings Learn More and Learn Better When They Are Interested in the Material
This is an indisputable fact. I think it’s even self-explanatory!
Think about your own life for a minute. Remember the last time you were tasked to learn something that you weren’t the slightest bit interested in and you didn’t have the option to decline. How did the learning process feel to you? How long did it take to learn? Would it have gone smoother and faster if you’d been interested? Do you use what you learned? Do you even remember what you supposedly learned?
Learning Cannot be Forced
This goes hand-in-hand with the indisputable fact that human beings learn more and learn better when they are interested in the material. Even if you are the most gifted teacher in the world, you cannot force a student, who either isn’t ready for what you’re trying to teach or isn’t interested in what you’re teaching, to learn. You might be able to bribe them, manipulate them, coerce them, or leverage their interests and get them to do the work – they’ll “learn” it to pass the test or get you off their backs, and then promptly forget it.
Think about your own life for a minute. Remember the last time you were tasked to learn something that you either weren’t ready for or weren’t interested in? Your grade for the semester is riding on you learning this stuff. You do it, right? And then what? It gets shoved into the mental equivalent of the trash bin.
We Only Really Need to Know What We Actually Need to Know
There’s a lot of talk in educators’ circles and homeschoolers’ circles about what kids “need” to know. That talk usually revolves around standards, scopes, and sequences that were actually selected and implemented by people who want schools to churn out an assembly line of ready-made worker bees. The bottom line is that, for a self-directed homeschooler, what we “need” to know is easy to define in broad terms and resists efforts to mass produce it. We only really “need” to know what we actually need to know in order to be who we are right now and do what we want to do right now, and be who we want to be next and do what we want to do next. Life has a funny way of preparing people for what they “need” to know – if we get out of the way and let it.
Think about your own life for a minute. How much of what someone else told you that you needed to know do you actually use? How much of it do you even remember? Now, don’t you think that if you truly needed to know what they said you needed to know, it would be important enough that you’d remember it and…yes, use it?
Real Learning Often Comes in Fits and Starts
Self-directed homeschoolers dismiss the notion that a steady progression during the school year, going methodically page by page and assignment by assignment through a textbook, is necessarily evidence of real learning. What we’ll often see instead is an explosion of knowledge, skills, and interest followed by a period of relative quiet. What some may worry is no learning happening there, we see as a period of integration and contemplation.
Think about your own life for a minute. You’ve discovered a need or a desire to know something. You go find the resources, and you study or practice. With intensity. Single minded focus. It’s like a fire burning. Everything else is a distraction. And then…when that need or desire is met? You need a break. You’ve got to figure out where everything you just learned fits in and what to do with it next.
Knowing How to Learn is Important
Teaching my children how to learn is more important to me than teaching them any facts or theories. If children learn how to learn, they are set up to be lifelong learners. They can easily fill in any gaps in their knowledge or skill base that may crop up over the course of their lives. If children only know how to learn it if is doled out to them in paragraph form in a textbook by a teacher standing in front of the classroom, they are at a serious disadvantage.
Think about your own life for a minute. If you know how to learn, how hard is it for you to find the resources you need in order to learn something new? If you know how to learn, how hard is it for you ask the right questions and find suitable answers? Now…what if you didn’t know how to learn?
People Can be Wildly Successful Learning What They’re Interested in Learning
For some reason – possibly because there are so many adults out there who are stuck in joyless jobs that they loathe – many people just accept the premise that someone cannot be successful learning what they’re interested in learning and doing what they love. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my children following that joyless path that will suck the life right out of them! I’d rather listen to the people who have built lives of abundance doing what they love!
Think about your own life for a minute. Pick your least favorite subject from school. Did you choose a career path based on that? Or, is what you do with your life largely supported by things you’re good at and love doing? Do you choose to seek out more of what you hate?
“Gaps” in an Education are Normal and Acceptable
For reasons that escape me, a lot of homeschoolers are terrified of having their children end up with gaps in their educations. It is impossible for anyone to know everything – no matter where they got their educations. Choices have to be made about what to learn, when to learn it, how much of it to learn, and how to learn it. What separates a self-directed homeschooler from everyone else is who we think should make those choices and why we think those choices should be made. In a self-directed homeschooler’s world, the person doing the learning will make those choices. In a self-directed homeschooler’s world, those choices should be made based on the direction one’s life is leading them in, not on an arbitrary decision made by an authority figure.
Think about your own life for a minute. Let me ask you an absurd question: Do you know everything? Even in your own chosen field of career or interest, do you know all there is to know? How much of a problem are the gaps in your education? What do you do if and when those gaps actually do pose a problem for you?
The Scope and Sequence of a Traditional Education are Artificial Edicts
Some faceless, nameless bureaucrats decided what children in school will learn, when they will learn it, how much of it they will learn, and which resources they will use to learn it. There’s absolutely nothing magical about the scope and sequence of a traditional education. Self-directed homeschoolers recognize that it is as okay for a 9 year old to learn how to read as it is for a 3 year old to learn how to read. Self-directed homeschoolers won’t refuse to teach chemistry to an 11 year old because it “isn’t time” for the child to learn chemistry. The best scope and sequence for children’s education is the one that fuels their passions and love of learning, building the knowledge and skill base that they need in order to do what’s important to them.
Think about your own life for a minute. Do you need someone else to tell you what to learn, when to learn it, how much of it to learn, and which resources to use to learn it? Or does that seem disrespectful and controlling to you? Are you capable of figuring out on your own what you want or need to know, when to learn it, how much of it to learn, and which resources to use? Guess what? Your child is too.