When I went to the library last week, I was on a mission. With Fall looming in the distant future and my daughter at the ripe age of preschool antics, I was ready to embark on her education, or at least sample the waters. I have thought about her education since my own adolescence, and as such have pinned a few hundred ideas on Pinterest over the years of creative ways to teach young children art, science, music, and history. Now that time is slowly encroaching to the educational start point, thoughts of curriculum and after-school activities are never far from my mind.
While researching options, I came across the term “unschooling” a year or two ago and was instantly turned off. Unschooling is essentially giving your child full rein of what they want to learn, when they want to learn it. There are no subjects, teachers, classrooms, or tests. While I’ve felt for a very long time that homeschooling could eliminate hours of unnecessary lecture, classwork, homework, and commuting time, the idea that there would be no curriculum at all or grades or projects was a turn-off. It didn’t sound like learning. It sounded like goofing off and wasting away precious years of youth that could greatly benefit the child in years to come.
However, I found it odd and interesting that many of the bloggers I most admire seem to be doing this form of education. Once more, they’re blogging about it in a way that is, well, educational to me! And thus, I set off to the library to learn more about this unconventional form of instruction.
The first book (and only book, I believe) on the subject was “Home Grown” by Ben Hewitt. The cover and summary immediately caught my eye, as he is unschooling his two children on a 40-acre self-sufficient farm in Vermont. I imagine their childhood days are filled with all the wonder and exploratory curiosity I longed for as a child myself. With all the prose and fluidity of a well-educated English major, Hewitt explains in the first few chapters that he himself is a high school dropout. Though my first inclination was how a dropout might be an inferior choice for educating the next generation, he quickly explains his primary reason for dropping out was on the subject of time.
Time is probably the most evaluated point in his book. Hewitt emphasizes how it is our most finite resource, and with dropping out of formal education he was able to pursue what he felt truly mattered…a life of purpose and connecting to nature. His life is idealistic to me: his children were born in the house he and his wife built, and it is his hope to die in the same cabin. I suppose the ideal of it all is that he is thoroughly enjoying his journey. Yes, there are bad days, hard days, and cold days, but he is doing something that connects him to nature, his family, and himself.
Years ago in a leadership seminar, my husband was taught a valuable lesson…don’t waste people’s time. It is a lesson I try to abide by myself. Time is limited. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
“The popular notion that these curriculums serve a so-called “greater good” is itself rooted in the flawed ideology of that greater good. What if that “greater good” isn’t so good, after all? It also assumes, perhaps not overtly, but certainly inadvertently, that children have no other meaningful way to contribute to the portion of their community that exists beyond the classroom walls beyond fulfilling the expectations of these standardized curriculums. The irony is that the more we distance children from their broader communities by forcing them to attend school for the majority of their waking hours, the fewer opportunities they have to contribute to society in ways that cannot be measured by classroom performance. Consequently, the fewer opportunities society has to witness the ways in which children can contribute beyond the classroom. It is a self-perpetuating cycle.”
Hewitt chooses a self-directed path of education for his children, virtually free of any expectations he or his wife hold on them. At 7 years old, neither of his sons could read, something that would be immensely frowned upon in most of our society today. However, their knowledge was vastly superior to most of their age when it came to their terrain and the daily activities that encompassed their interest. They knew how to trap, fish, and butcher a hog. They knew virtually every plant and tree in the area. They knew how to use a knife and run a tractor. And really who is to say that these things are inferior to knowing history? Or math or science or grammar? Rather, their education is more of a combination of all subjects in an experience-driven format. They learned to read and take a test when they needed a hunting license. They learned mathematical concepts from daily living of adding and subtracting animals and vegetation.
But how can children be successful without formal education? It is an interesting concept to me, and it brings with it a host of questions, including a glaring, what is success? In our society, success is very much routed in money and power, with the baseline of which being a solid education in most aspects. Or rather, if we are focused on our short journey here on earth, would success be more entwined with how we used our time?
The book reminded me of a video I saw recently explaining the need we have as a society for education reform:
In short, I’ve really enjoyed reading this book. It’s given me a lot to think about regarding how I manage my own precious time, and that of my girls. I’m not sure yet what we’re going to do for education….homeschool, public school, unschool, private school, charter school. There are a lot of options and I’m certain that one shoe doesn’t fit all. Regardless of what we end up doing, like all other aspects of motherhood, I have a feeling that I’m going to be the one who gets schooled more than anyone else.
For more information about self-directed learning: