What About Classes, Teachers, and Curricula?

What About Classes, Teachers, and Curricula?

A reader asks, “What about classes, teachers, and curricula when you’re unschooling?”

I know there are some within the unschooling community who are going to disagree with me on this.  They believe any teaching, any classes, and any curricula is antithetical to unschooling.  This is actually one of the reasons I prefer the term “self-directed homeschooling”.

I don’t see taking classes, having someone teach another something, or using curricula as necessarily incompatible with unschooling.

Can it be?  Absolutely – if the ones doing the learning aren’t the ones choosing to take the class, choosing to have someone else teach them something, or choosing to use curricula.  To me, the presence or absence of the consent of the ones doing the learning is what determines whether or not taking a class, having a teacher, or using curricula would still qualify as unschooling.

If your unschooled child is interested in taking a class, even if that class is at the local public high school, all that means to me is that the child is self-directing his own education and has decided a class would be worthwhile.  

If your unschooled child asks someone else to teach them something, teach it to her, for cryin’ out loud.  Yes, there is a difference between learning and teaching.  Teaching someone something doesn’t necessarily mean they are learning anything.  However, if a child is asking for explicit instruction, I find not providing it (if you’re capable of doing so) extremely disrespectful.

If your unschooled child wants a piece of curricula to help him master something that’s important to him, let him have it.  Let him read it and use it the way he wants to.  Jarrod and I both infinitely prefer to read something when we’re trying to learn something new.  Erica prefers video.  Curricula is one option.  A resource.

As I see it, unschooling is essentially freeing children to learn the same way we do as adults.  

As adults, we recognize a need or a desire to learn something.  Then we go out and locate the resources and materials we want.  

As adults, we can choose to utilize any resource we want.  Maybe a class is the best way.  Maybe direct one-on-one instruction is the best way. Maybe a book is the best way.  Maybe a video is the best way.  Maybe trial and error all on our own is the best way.  The point is that we aren’t beholden to any one method or resource; your child shouldn’t be, either.

We attend class, we study, or we practice until our need or desire has been satisfied.  Then we move onto the next thing.  

So will our kids if we respect the process.  

It’s an Easy Out

It’s an Easy Out

Here we are at the third and final of three posts about one objection to life learning.  In the first post, the objection is that I am a lazy parent.  I’m setting my kids up to fail was covered in the second post.  And finally, we have reached the “easy out”.

Someone who thinks that self-directed learning is an “easy out” for kids must believe that if kids are left to their own devices to make empowered decisions about their lives and chart their own educational courses, they will join their lazy parents on the couch with an extra box of bonbons to share while they all watch the Kardashians.  It’s a fear-based response.  

Most of us have grown up and been, ummm, conditioned, to accept the outside-in, authority-directed, classroom-style approach to education as the best way to make sure that our children learn everything they need to learn. Breaking free of that mold requires a complete paradigm shift in how we view education.  It requires a tremendous amount of trust in children to learn and grow at their own pace and in their own directions.  It requires a tremendous amount of faith that life will prepare a child for what he or she needs to know.  It is not an “easy out”.

Here’s the thing: self-directed learning looks to some people like an “easy out” for kids because a lot of times it doesn’t look like school, and sometimes children choose not to focus on something right now that we (or someone else) think(s) they should.  That doesn’t make it an “easy out”, though.  

Think about your own life.  How hard do you work when you’re immersed into something that interests you? What are you willing to do?  What are you willing to give up? What are you willing to hold your nose and endure – all for something that is important to you?  How much do you retain when you’ve chosen to spend your time and energy to learn something?  

Now, take all of those questions, but answer them with a subject or a “something” in mind that someone else told you that you have to learn because they said so.  Add to that, you’re not the slightest bit interested in learning it.  Do your answers change?  Mine sure do.

Self-directed learning can look like an “easy out” for parents too because a lot of times, it is not parent/teacher-intensive in the way that we’ve been, ummm, conditioned, to expect learning to be.  The parent-intensive part of life learning is learning how to partner with your children to mentor and guide them throughout their childhoods. It’s modeling a lifelong love of learning for your kids.  It isn’t for the faint of heart.



School Teaches the Exact Things Needed to Learn Properly as Adults

School Teaches the Exact Things Needed to Learn Properly as Adults

Of all of the objections I have heard about self-directed homeschooling, this one tops the cake.  Apparently, school teaches the exact things needed to learn properly as adults, and when you remove a child from an authority-dictated, subject-by-subject approach to learning, you are setting your child up for failure.  I guess I should apologize right now to my stunted children for setting them up for failure… except that I think that objection is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard.

First of all, stop and think for a minute about how you actually learn as an adult.  You get to choose what you learn about.  You get to choose how much of it you will learn.  You get to choose which resources you will use to learn the material.  You get to choose how long you will study the material.  You get to choose how you will study the material.   You get to decide when you’re done with the process.  Your job might require that you learn something new, but you chose the job.  You can quit your job if the terms of employment are unacceptable to you.  Does any of that sound like how kids are taught in school or at home with schoolish approaches to education?  Are kids whose classes and curricula are chosen by someone else really being prepared to learn the way they’ll learn as adults?

I respectfully and completely disagree with the assessment that “School teaches exact things needed to properly learn as adults.”  That’s what the DOE and the NEA have hoodwinked people into believing.  Have you looked at school drop-out rates?  At functional illiteracy rates?  Have you asked graduates how much of the information that they supposedly learned in school they use, or even remember, as little as a year or two later?  The answer I get when I have asked that question over and over again is that adults use very little of what someone else deemed important for them to learn in school and remember even less of what wasn’t important or relevant to them.

How about talking to employers?  Are they happy with the quality of prospective employees coming out of school? What I’m hearing is a litany of complaints that graduates cannot write well, do not have the skills necessary to compete in a 21st century job market, and lack the interpersonal skills necessary to cooperate in the business sector.  The overwhelming majority of those potential employees are coming out of a system wherein the underlying philosophy of education is that it is something someone else (an authority figure like a teacher or a parent) doles out to you in small doses over many years, whether you are interested in it or not.

On the other hand, if engaging with life and your passions teaches you the exact things you need to properly learn as adults, what happens?  Well, I have a 17 year old who recently wrapped up an internship with Congressman Trent Franks’ office and employment with Alex Meluskey’s Senatorial bid campaign, and was recruited for a position with the Americans For Prosperity. The real world skills he’s gaining by forgoing the what we think of as the traditional, brick-and-mortar approach to school have far, far surpassed what he would have learned otherwise.  And that is just one example from one of my own kids.  There are tons of other stories of highly successful, motivated children who did not receive what we currently think of as a traditional K-12 education.


What About College?

What About College?

We’re all familiar with the list of academic requirements for admissions into a college or university.  Each one has a list of courses that your child should have taken in school in order to be an acceptable applicant to that college.  So, if someone is directing their own learning, how will he/she ever become a competitive applicant for a college or university?  

Sometimes people ask that question because they genuinely do not understand how life learning works, and they’re curious about how someone whose childhood is spent far outside of the brick-and-mortar norm as a life learner will be able to integrate into college.  Other times, it’s not really a question.  They’ve made up their minds that life learning isn’t a viable approach to education, and they’re pulling out what they think is their trump card.

My short answer to the question, “when your child gets older and wants to go to college but didn’t learn the skill sets necessary then what?” that I was asked is that they’ll either learn them or take some remedial classes to get those skills. The window doesn’t close on higher education when a student turns 18 and finishes high school.  Additionally, they’ll learn those skills quicker and more efficiently when going to college is a goal they are working toward, rather than a track they’ve been put onto by someone else.DSC_0475

My 17 year old hates, hates, hates math – but he’s plodding along diligently through his math book because he does want to go to college.  The possibility exists that he won’t have enough math credits to go straight to a university after high school because he is very busy doing other things that are more important to him.  He’ll have to go take a placement test at a community college and maybe take some remedial classes to shore up his credits.  It’s not the end of the world.

If you ask my 14 year old about that same thing, she’ll give you the same answer.  If going to college is important to her, she will do the work to get there when it needs to be done.

On a personal note, as a parent, I believe that if going to college isn’t important enough to my kids for them to do what it takes to get there, then I don’t want them going anyway!  I also don’t believe that getting a college degree is the end all/be all that it was when I was a teenager. The notion that you should “get good grades in high school so you can go to a good college so you can graduate with good grades so you can get a good job” baffles me.  That’s out-dated advice, a relic of the second half of the 1900s.  My kids will only go to college if there is a compelling reason for them to do so.  Otherwise, they will take all of the real world skills and wisdom they have learned as children and teens, and forge their own paths.



Kids will be Ill-prepared for the Real World

Kids will be Ill-prepared for the Real World

In Part One, I addressed the “lazy parent” aspect of this objection to life learning.  Up next – I’m setting my kids up to fail.  This one just drops my jaw.  It’s simply nonsensical.

My children learn the same way we learn as adults; they’re just getting years of practice, with guidance, doing so before they’re 18, on their own, and holy cow! – have the freedom to finally start making their own choices! My children make the same decisions about how to spend their time as we get to as adults.  My children have the basically the same freedom and flexibility to discover and explore their interests as we get to as adults.  I could go on and on like this, but you get the picture.  Since the overwhelming majority of their lives will be spent as adults, I don’t see how allowing them to learn now the same way they will learn as adults is setting my kids up to fail.  If anything, I see it as empowering them.

But, the proof is in the pudding, so here goes:

Jarrod has traveled to different parts of the country by himself to take part in various advanced trainings for the US Naval Sea Cadet Corps.  He just got back from three days in Michigan, where he attended Hillsdale College’s Liberty and Learning Youth Conference.  Jarrod will earn the ranks of Chief Petty Officer (US Naval Sea Cadet Corps) and Eagle Scout (Boy Scouts of America) within the next four months.  He interned in Congressman Trent Franks’ Arizona district office for over a year, and is now employed with Alex Meluskey’s Senatorial bid campaign.

Erica just earned her Petty Officer Third Class (US Naval Sea Cadet Corps) stripes. She has twice qualified for a national archery competition.  She has devoted hours of her time and energy into teaching herself American Sign Language.  Blessed with natural talent in visual arts, Erica has also learned incredible lessons in self-discipline, self-motivation, and attention to detail as she has sought out the resources she needs in order to continue to hone her skills with paintbrushes and pencils.

And Jillian?  She’s not too young to get in on this action.  This little girl doesn’t let anything get in her way.  She has decided that she wants to learn how to read, and by golly, whether she enjoys the lessons or not, she’s fully committed to doing them.  Each week during her horseback riding lessons, she’s learning to take responsibility for the care an maintenance of a horse.  And, she has a website, Discover Math and Science With Jillian, that would have more on it if I had more time to help her with it.

That isn’t even close to an exhaustive list.  Not one of my three kids has the same strengths or weaknesses. Their interests are wildly divergent.  They don’t all need the exact same, cookie cutter education – not if they’re going to embrace their passions and succeed beyond their dreams.

I didn’t share this to pat myself on the back or brag about my kids (although, they are pretty awesome).  I shared it because the objection that people who approach education like I do are setting their kids up for failure is unfortunately not an uncommon one.  It’s also total bunk.  Anyone else within the self-directed or unschooling community could make this same post about their kids.   The only difference would be the activities and achievements of each child.  I’m telling you, these kids do amazing things when they are empowered to make real decisions and chart their own courses.

There are some objections and criticisms of self-directed homeschooling that, while I still don’t agree with them, I can at least understand why someone might think the way that they do.

This is not one of them.

The belief that unschooled kids will be ill-prepared for the real world is so patently absurd that it’s hard to take it seriously.  But, take it seriously, I will…and refute it with two simple questions.

What is this “real world” that unschooled kids won’t be prepared for?

It helps if both the critic and the self-directed homeschooler are on the same page as far as definitions go, so the first thing we’ll need to agree on is what this “real world” is.  When I hear the term, “real world,” what I envision is the world that adults inhabit.  The one where the available information is growing at exponential rates, technology and skills become obsolete at alarmingly rapid paces, and people are free to pick and choose which career paths they will follow and what to learn.  

It is exactly that kind of real world that unschooled kids are prepared for because they experience it and live life in it alongside the people who matter to them their entire childhoods.  

What do you do, as an adult, to meet the challenges in your “real world” living that you’re lacking the necessary knowledge or skills to handle?

Okay, so in the pre-launch stages of this blog, there was a lot – and I mean a lot – that I didn’t know about building a website, adding e-commerce, building a subscriber list, and managing social media.  By the time you get to read this article, there will still be a lot that I don’t know about each of those things!  But, I have an end goal in mind that is meaningful to me.  And because it is meaningful to me, I am willing to sink hours of my time into learning what I need to know and answering the questions I have, and yes, even plodding through some things that I find excruciatingly boring.  

That’s what adults do in the real world to stay on top of things…and unschooled kids spend their entire childhoods doing the exact same thing.  I’m not worried about my unschooled kids being unprepared for the real world.



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