The question smacked of derision when it was posed, because it wasn’t really a sincere question. The person who asked me, “What job hires without a diploma?…you really think this is best for your children?” wasn’t interested or concerned. She was angry, judgmental, and ignorant. Sometimes, though, this question is asked by someone who is genuinely interested in the answer, so here it is…
Homeschooling parents across the spectrum can issue their children diplomas when the children have satisfactorily completed the course of study outlined by their parents. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’ll let the Homeschool Legal Defense Association’s explanation of the ins and outs of issuing a homeschool diploma suffice for detailing the nuts and bolts of issuing high school diplomas.
My kids will all earn diplomas. Their courses of study will look different than their peers who graduate from a brick-and-mortar school or from a school-at-home homeschool. If I really cared whether my children learned exactly what their peers in school were learning when they were learning it, I would save myself a lot of hassle and just put them in school.
And yes, I really think what I am doing is best for my children. I wouldn’t be doing things this way if I didn’t believe it down to my core. It is what resonates with me. Self-directed learning makes sense to me in a way that no other approach to education ever has. I am increasingly finding the principles of self-directed learning being preached from the “pulpits” of gurus in entrepreneurship and success, which has only served to further validate my actions. I am not raising run-of-the-mill employees. I want more for my children. I’m stoking the flames of an entrepreneurial spirit in my children. I want them to see possibilities for their lives that are bigger than just finding a job.
Worrying about what job will hire them without a diploma (even if it was true that they will not have diplomas) isn’t something that I want our mental energy going toward. When we break free from the scripted curricula, the world opens up. I believe that things that cannot be taught inside a normal K-12 classroom or with that approach duplicated at home are invaluable.
Learning doesn’t exist only inside of a classroom or because of textbooks. Learning doesn’t stop, or shouldn’t stop, when a child is handed his or her diploma. We, in this family, are lifelong learners, open to learning new skills and information from the best available avenues whenever we want or need to. We will never stop learning. New interests will pop up. New skills will be required for something we want to accomplish. We know how to learn. I am teaching my children how to locate the resources they need to learn whatever they’ve determined is important to learn. We have the freedom to use whatever resources and techniques we wish to use. Our lives tell us when we’ve learned enough of something and it’s time to move on.
I lounge around on the couch all day long – everyday – with nary a fleeting thought about the education my kids are (not) getting. Eh, if they end up dumb as rocks, living out of the back of some old beater, taking a “shower” in the sink of whichever gas station or McDonald’s is handy, with no prospects for a career that will ever support a family – no biggie. I’m shrugging that off. It’ll be their problem by the time it happens, anyway.
In the meantime, my children have joined me on the couch, digging into my carton of bonbons while the Kardashians show us all how to live. Never will an intelligent thought run through their brains or spill out their mouths. They don’t know that being dumb as rocks, living out of the back of some old beater, taking a “shower” in the sink of whichever gas station or McDonald’s is handy, with no prospects for a career that will ever support a family is looming in their future. They’ve never even stopped to consider the possibility. Right now, all they want to do is shirk any form of responsibility at the same time as they chase the next bright-colored, blinged-out squirrel.
Now that I’ve had my snarky fun… Really? Oh come on. This “objection” is actually three objections that are based entirely on uninformed, biased, easily-debunked myths about self-directed learning. The first objection is that I – and others like me – am a lazy parent because I don’t force, manipulate, coerce, or bribe my children into learning something that they don’t want to learn just because I, or someone else in a position of authority, said they need to learn it. The second objection is that by not doing so, I am setting my kids up to fail. The third objection is that allowing my children to chart the courses of their own educations is giving them an easy out.
Those objections all go so nicely together, and they all stem from the same two flawed assumptions about life learning, that I decided to address them all together in a sub-series of this Objections series. We’ll start with the flawed assumptions.
FLAWED ASSUMPTION #1
A good education must look like it does in a K-12 classroom.
Education looks like it does inside of a brick-and-mortar classroom for the purposes of crowd control as students get herded from one subject to the next and one grade to the following grade. It’s important in a classroom setting that everyone is going through the same material, at the same time, with the same resources, to the same degree as everyone else.
One of the most fantastic things about homeschooling is that you can bust out of that prison. Homeschoolers have tremendous flexibility. Self-directed learners take that flexibility alongside a chug of Monster Energy Drink. Additionally, if you take note of what success gurus like Zig Ziglar, Jeff Walker, Robert Kiyosaki, and Jim Rohn are saying about education (and by the way, I have – because in all of my laziness, I’ve somehow found the time and mustered up the motivation to study entrepreneurship), you will discover that my philosophy of education echoes their teachings about the subject.
FLAWED ASSUMPTION #2
Life learners (or “unschoolers”) never take structured, academic classes.
At different points in the last few years, we actually have a lot going on in our house that looks like school. Two years ago, my kids chose to join a co-op with three other families. Our co-op worked on college prep classes. The kids took writing, science, ASL, geography, and PE classes together. The difference is that, as life learners, my teenagers have chosen to do those classes with our co-op, rather than having me (or someone else) tell them that they need to learn X, Y, or Z because we said so. At the end of that year, my kids chose not to continue the co-op alongside their friends for the next school year. However, Erica is requesting more academic structure for her for the 2016-2017 school year, which I will happily help provide for her.
So, with those flawed assumptions corrected, we can move onto the first objection.
I am a lazy parent
Remember that image of me lounging on the couch with a carton of bonbons, watching the Kardashians, while I blissfully ignore my children’s educations because I am too darn lazy to get off my butt and teach them anything? Yeah? Never happens. Let me tell you some of what I do as an “unschooling” parent… and before you tell me that I must be an exception, I’ll go ahead and reassure you that I am not.
- I spent weeks in the summer of 2014 composing my own curriculum, based on Rick Riordan’s novel “The Lost Hero” to teach Erica and three of her friends in co-op writing and some basic literary analysis, and I’m working on something similar for Erica at her behest again right now. Why did I do that? Because she asked me to. She said it would be easier for her to learn writing and basic literary analysis if she was interested in the source material.
- I regularly spend time with Jarrod, walking him through the outlining and drafting process for blog posts that he finds particularly difficult to write.
- I’ve been reading some historical fiction at night to Jillian before she goes to bed, and she thinks it is so cool that our ancestors are mentioned by name in these books! She asked me to show her how we are related to the Hopkins family, so I waded through stacks of old family records and hunted for information on Ancestry.com so that I could trace our lineage back to the Mayflower with her.
- I have shown Erica how to scan a document and post it to her art class’s website several times (thank you, poor working memory, for the duplicated efforts necessary for her to remember it).
- Until he got his license, I interrupted my day, four days per week, at 12:45PM and again at 4:45PM to either drive Jarrod to his internship or fetch him from it.
- I created and manage a group of about 900 families in the greater-Phoenix area that schedules and coordinates field trips for homeschoolers.
- I stepped up to be the Personnel Officer for my teenagers’ Sea Cadets battalion, and have invested hours of my time into fixing long neglected records.
I could go on and on, but before I end up needing rotator cuff surgery for patting myself on the back so much, I’ll stop. The point isn’t to brag about what I do or how busy I am. The point is to say that no, I don’t spend any time teaching my kids things I think (or somebody else thinks) is important for them to know, against their wills – but that doesn’t make me lazy.
Instead, I pour my time and energy into being a mentor, a guide, and a facilitator for them. Nothing I use is scripted in advance for me. I can’t just pull what I need out of a box that Pearson, Alpha Omega, or My Father’s World sent me. I need to be able to think on my feet, with my kids, being responsive to their needs at the moment and thinking about what’s coming down the pipeline. Life learning isn’t for the faint-of-heart or the lazy.
Stay tuned for what I have to say about the objection that I am setting them up to fail.
I’m going to make a controversial statement, and I want you to pay attention to what happens in your gut immediately after you finish reading it. Ready?
Your children should be allowed to determine for themselves what they will learn about, when they will learn it, how much of it to learn, how long to spend studying or practicing it, and which resources to use to learn it.
Okay. What happened? If you’re part of my “tribe”, you found yourself nodding and still waiting for the controversial punchline. If you haven’t quite embraced the idea of self-directed homeschooling, what happened? Did you feel your gut clench? A jolt of panic? Instant rejection, followed immediately by a running list of all the reasons you think allowing your children so much freedom to make such huge decisions? You reacted the way you did because you are operating from a position of fear.
You’re afraid that your kids won’t learn what they “need” to learn in order to be successful.
You’re afraid that your kids will never choose to memorize their math facts, take biology, read a literary classic, or anything else that doesn’t sound as interesting as the latest shiny, new toy.
You’re afraid that your kids are too young or too immature to even know what they need to know to be successful.
You’re afraid that your kids won’t learn self-discipline if they aren’t made to do their schoolwork.
You’re afraid that your kids will never choose to do hard things if they have the freedom to avoid them.
You’re afraid that your kids won’t finish things if they have the freedom to quit.
So much fear. The bottom line is that the most likely reason that you’re so afraid is that you grew up yourself inside an institution and a culture that stops trusting children to make decisions about what they learn and how they will focus their energy when they turn five. Mainstream culture funnels children into an institution that requires them to ask permission before they may do something as basic as use the bathroom for the next 12 years.
You likely grew up having an authority figure tell you what you need to learn, when you need to learn it, how much of it you need to learn, and which resources to use to learn it. You likely heard that homework helps develop self-discipline. Fights about homework at the kitchen table were probably commonplace in your house and the houses of your friends while you were growing up. The sad thing is that this is all so normal to you that you don’t even question it.
If that’s what you’re seeing in your children, pause for a moment and ask yourself why. Before they reach the age of compulsory schooling, children are insatiably curious, engaged with the world around themselves, asking questions, testing theories – busy categorizing, making generalizations, and integrating useful, newly acquired knowledge. They’re young and immature, but still they learn…exactly what they need to be learning in order to meet personally meaningful goals. They’re young and immature, but still they do the hard things they need to do…in order to meet personally meaningful goals. Life – what they are interested in or what they want to be able to do, but cannot because they lack certain skills or knowledge – does an excellent job of helping children provide themselves an education.
A flip doesn’t switch all of a sudden when children reach kindergarten age. Children don’t magically become incapable of learning in a real world, applied, personally meaningful setting when they turn five. The problem is that compulsory schooling has been the norm for so long that we as a society don’t really know what children are like outside of it anymore. Compulsory schooling has stripped so much of the joy from learning, that we have too many children who – just a few short years earlier enthusiastically and aggressively pursued knowledge – think they hate to learn. Children who think they hate to learn will resist every effort they see to make them learn. Children who think they hate to learn will refuse to do difficult things.
Who’s better, than the one doing the learning, to be responsible for what to learn, when to learn it, and how much of it to learn? An education is absolutely worthless unless the person doing the learning integrates what they’ve learned into their essence of self and actually uses what they’ve learned to accomplish ever greater things. When we let life guide instruction, at every step along the way, children are prepared for exactly what they need to know right then. It turns into a beautiful, self-fulfilling cycle.
When we don’t approach our children’s educations from a position of fear, we can remind ourselves that the door never closes on learning. If our children miss something along the way that they actually need to know, they will recognize the gap. They can fill that gap when they realize that the gap matters. When the gap matters, they’ll fill it faster and more efficiently than 12 years of forced schooling could possibly fill it.
So, no. It’s not crazy to allow children to make decisions about their own educations. Doing so works with, rather than against, human nature.
Guess what? The good news is that you don’t have to! If what you’re already doing insofar as your child’s education goes is working for you and your child, by all means, keep doing what’s working!
I won’t pretend to have all the answers for everybody. My way isn’t the only way. It isn’t necessarily the best way for everyone. It’s an option. An alternative. I’m not interested in trying to convert people who are happy with how things are going academically, socially, and emotionally for their children to my way of thinking.
If, however, you aren’t happy…if what you’re doing isn’t working, then I’m talking to you. Even if the way I do things widens your eyeballs and builds tension in your belly, I’m still talking to you. If what you’re doing isn’t working, then you need to do something differently. Maybe you’ll ultimately decide that the way I do things isn’t your particular brand of “differently”. That’s okay.
Just don’t dismiss it because you don’t understand it or it scares you. Don’t tell me, “I could never unschool.”
You could…if there was a compelling enough reason for you to do it.
You could…if you keep an open mind and do your research. Read about people like me and my kids. Talk to people who do things the way we do. Ask a lot of questions.
You could…if you can muster up the courage to feel fear and anxiety, and do it anyway.
You could…if you can challenge what you’ve always believed about what constitutes a “good” education.
You could…if you can learn to trust your children to learn exactly what they need to learn, exactly when they need to learn it.
You can unschool. You can say, “I don’t want to unschool.” But don’t say, “I could never unschool.”