I recently had a conversation with someone who was shocked - dare I even say, appalled - to learn that I can’t recite the order of the planets, or name the capital of each province. No part of my daily life depends on immediate recall of these factoids, so I am 100% comfortable not having them at the top of my brainspace. I can read. I have access to books, the public library, and the internet. I know how to search for high quality information as needed and do so often. If I need to know about planets or capital cities, I’ll go online or to the library and seek out current relevant information instead of relying on the recollection of dusty facts that I learned 3 decades ago :) Lol.
They were adamant however that children and adults alike should be able to recall these kind of facts. I asked them WHY it was so important for me to know things like this off the top of my head, when they have no relevance to my daily life and zero impact on my quality of life. Well obviously - it would make me intelligent and well-rounded, and those were VERY IMPORTANT things to be. (Implication being that NOT knowing those things means I am unintelligent, also known as stupid, and everybody knows that is not a compliment).
I realized this person was prioritizing the accumulation and holding of knowledge in general, while I was prioritizing the ability to learn things as needed and USING that knowledge for the good of my own and others’ quality of life. There was no further discussion to be had as we were operating from different frames of reference. I bowed out.
If someone wants to collect knowledge like baseball cards because it makes them feel happy or helps them fulfill their soul’s purpose in this world, then by all means collect away. If they want to be a general collector of knowledge and compete on Jeopardy! - that's great. If they want to know everything there is to know about a single topic and be an expert in their field - that's also great. If they love to share knowledge freely and humbly with others that's - you guessed it - great in my books. I mean all that seriously. Just don’t disparage those who choose to work with knowledge differently, or who have less intellectual knowledge than you do. And remember that knowledge and worth are two separate things, because our culture all too often ties them together (You don't tell someone directly or otherwise that they're unintelligent or stupid as a compliment or even a neutral statement. It's seen as an insult; a negative value judgement).
You Are Worthy Just As You Are
When we make value judgments about a person based on what they appear to know (or not), we strip them of a piece of their humanity. That's not ok. Human worth is not based on what you know or what you are able to produce. Intellectual intelligence is not the singularly most important thing. We are all worthy of love and kindness and respect simply because we exist. My kids are not stupid or less than, just because they know different things than their same-aged peers in school might. All children are fully human and fully deserving of love and kindness and respect, including in terms of what, where, when, and how they learn. No one should ever be made to feel stupid.
So what does that have to do with unschooling? Well....
It’s back to school season, and many families have wound down their final days of summer in the mad dash towards “the first day of school”. Get up early. Pack lunch. Make it to the bus on time. Full day of school. Homework when you get home. The whole nine yards.
Homeschoolers aren’t bound to the same schedule strictly speaking, but many are also getting back into rhythms, routines, and schedules of ‘school’ by prepping curriculum, planning lessons, and signing up for extracurriculars. At least with homeschool, parents have the freedom to teach to their children’s needs and some homeschooled kids thrive on rhythms, routines, schedules, and curriculums. If that’s your kid - awesome. :) It’s definitely not my kids. Lol We’re unschoolers. Freeschoolers. Life learners. Child led learners.
In our home, we don't put the school system or the ability to instantly recall facts on a pedestal. Competition with others is irrelevant. Comparison with others makes us miserable. Learning is for fun and practical purpose. Some people don't understand, or think I'm stupid, or think I'm doing my kids a disservice. Some "disagree" with our approach. So be it. In our home, we believe children are fully human NOW and deserve to be treated as such NOW so that's how our priorities are set. Think less of me if you will, my kids are worth it.
Because in our family we believe:
in respecting who a child is;
in helping them listen to and trust their intuition;
in helping them listen to and trust their body wisdom;
in creating space for their voice to be heard;
in helping them find their place in the world;
in building on their strengths instead of always correcting perceived deficiencies;
in prioritizing whole person wellness, including mental health, over academic, athletic and other such types of 'achievement';
in meeting kids where they’re at, not forcing them along at a collective pace;
in working with them to problem-solve progressively bigger and more complex issues;
in positively not punitively building skills and confidence and a willingness to take smart risks;
in allowing them to set their own pace, direction, and method(s) for learning.
In our home, we believe children are capable.
And we believe we need to consciously lean out of systems that cause harm in whatever ways we are able, so that eventually those systems crumble and new, just, & loving, systems can emerge in their place.
In essence, our beliefs about who children are and how they can thrive in the world are fundamentally at odds with how the current school system functions. So we opt out. Because we can. And I understand that NOT everyone can, even if they want to!
Our entire society is structured around kids going to school so parents can go to work to pay the bills and maintain their debts while the kids grow up, and then get school debt of their own and then get jobs to maintain their debt and pay their bills, and then have kids of their own… to continue that same cycle where we all bust our butts so the rich can keep getting richer.
Homeschooling, especially in the elementary years, takes a shockingly small amount of time each day, but if a parent has to be at work to make ends meet, or isn't able to home educate their kiddo for a multitude of other reasons, or their home environment is such that school is best for the kids (even if only for a season) then school is where their child needs to be. I hear that. I believe those loving dedicated parents are doing the best they can, and those families will find their own best way forward in the world despite the obstacles the system throws in their path. And I believe that as parents with kids in the school system, you can interact with your kids in ways at home which honour your family values and help counteract some of the negative messages they receive through the school system. What that looks like is different for every family but I believe that YOU are doing your best <3
We were fortunate to have started thinking about schooling before we even had kids, and were able to make choices from the get-go that were in sync with our goals. We did try school. Twice. Once public and once private. Both proved to be an ill fit for our oldest kiddo. It was not just that he didn't LIKE school, but that the demands of a school day were actually harmful to his mental wellbeing. In many ways I think kids like Levi (who is PDA Autistic) are the canaries in the coalmine, telling us something is wrong and pointing us towards the necessity of making a change for everyone's safety and wellbeing.
My kids don't ’t necessarily ‘know’ the things their peers know. On the flipside though, my kids know plenty of things that their peers don’t. *shrug* That’s okay. Because the reason kids are taught things at certain ages isn't so much because it is empirically good to learn them at those ages, but so they can then learn what’s taught in SK, in grade one, two ... five ... ten, twelve and by the end of their “educational career” they know how to be compliant workers who put in their 9-5 hours or more, day in and day out, until they retire or die. And I have to note, that just because something is taught in the classroom as part of the curriculum, doesn't mean all children equally and completely take in and retain that knowledge. Just because its being taught, doesn't mean your child is learning. ;) Just because your kid is IN a classroom with same age peers, doesn't mean they are actually developing healthy social or conflict-resolution skills.
My kids will learn what they need to when they need to, according to how each of their own lives unfold because they are capable humans with capable adults caring for them, who include them in their life, who give them freedom to blossom, and who teach them HOW to learn. We live and learn together every day. If they decide they want to learn the order of the planets we'll search a pneumonic for them. ;) If they’d rather watch the NASA channel on YouTube that’s fine too. If we simply observe moon cycles and the shifting of the stars - also fine. Nathan & I work to create a fluid and supportive environment in which our kids can flourish and thrive.
The school system, problematic as it is, has many individual teachers and other staff who are passionate, dedicated, and caring and want the best for the kids they interact with. But the system they work within isn't allowing anyone (themselves included) to truly flourish and thrive… So we opt out. Because in our case we must, but we also can.
We must. We can. And so we do.
Further Reading You May Find of Interest
A Brief History of Education - Dr.Peter Gray
Schools Are Not For Learning - Dr.Peter Gray
Unschooling Canada Association
The Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents on Unschooling
Children Teach Themselves To Read by Peter Gray
Math as an Unschooler by Happiness Is Here
What Is Unschooling by Earl Stevens
Happiness Is Here: Unschooling
We've Robbed Them of Childhood - Teacher Tom