|Unschoolers come away from a small school and
into the big wide world. Some say "Here is the wide world,
and we will be in it and learn from everything around us."
Then they proceed to scan specifically for math, history, science,
reading and writing. Because they went to school, math to them
looks like flat paper with numbers on it. History looks like books
with many words and a few maps and illustrations, all arranged in
chronological order. Science is wide open - it might be a
microscope, or a bug cage or some rocks and a magnifying glass,
until the kids are older, and then it will start looking like
numbers on flat paper, or maybe a book on anatomy, or the feared
and revered "Periodic Chart of the Elements." Reading
and writing should look like reading and writing have always
looked - books without illustrations (eventually, and the sooner
and thicker the better), and reports with straight margins and
They scan their children's lives every day
for schoolish things. They're looking for spiral notebooks and
they ignore sunsets. Looking for a 50-minute session of history to
prove attention span, they miss a pioneer dress-up game and an
attempt to build a catapult.
As a final stop before giving up, some come
and declare their failure to those who told them about
unschooling. They tell us it didn't work for their family, and
that after all, they are the experts in their children, and so
they know that their own family is not creative enough to
unschool, and their children crave structure. Sometimes it seems
they think those who say "Unschooling is So COOL!" are
deluded nuts who don't care much about their children. Other times
I think they see our children as brilliant and theirs as dullards.
Now I have come to believe that they just
ignored the million things looking for the five or six.
They thought if they left the kid alone for
a month he might spontaneously create a four-subject routine, with
some music, art and sports put in for extracurricular balance.
They envisioned that their child might say, at the age of fourteen
(give or take a few) years, "I'm ready to learn biology
now," which would be the beginning of nine months of study,
with three dissections and some tadpole measuring, maybe some
plant genetics. By May they should declare whether they were more
interested in botany or life sciences (step one in "Do you
want to go to medical school?").
When a science-minded kid loves to take the
dog down by the river and look for wild berries and snakes, some
parents say, "My kid just wants to play. He's not interested
in learning. He'll never learn science just playing."
Each little experience, every idea, is
helping your child build his internal model of the universe. He
will not have the government-recommended blueprint for the
internal model of the universe, which can look surprisingly like a
school, and a political science class, a small flat map of the
huge spherical world, a job with increasing vacations leading to
retirement, and not a lot more.
Unschooled children can organize their
knowledge in free and better ways. They never need to feel they
are through learning, or past the point that they can begin
something new. Each thing they discover can be useful eventually.
If we help provide them with ever-changing opportunities to see,
hear, smell, taste, feel, move and discuss, what they know will
exceed in breadth and depth what any school's curriculum would
have covered. It won't be the same set of materials - it will be
clearer and larger but different.
"How will they learn everything they
need to know?"
Do the best of the high school graduates
know everything they need to know? No, and at some point, ideally,
they start learning on their own. Some fail to get to that point,
though. Unschooled kids have a head start. They know how to find
what they need to know, and they have not been trained to ignore
things that won't be on the test.
When parents see how and what their children
are actually learning instead of just scanning for the half dozen
school-things, unschooling will make sense to the parents. If you
wait for school to congeal from a busy life, you'll keep being
disappointed. If you learn to see everything instead of just
school things, unschooling will start working for you. When you
see it you will believe it.