Based on the feedback we have been getting from our appearance in the media, a few of the big concerns voiced by parents who follow a more traditional education process include:
- Following rules
- Learning how to do things you don't want to do
One interpretation of these concerns:
- 'Socialization' - if you homeschool or unschool your kid, they will spend all of their time at home, and will not meet anyone else who doesn't live with them.
- 'Following rules' - especially if you are a radical unschooling family, then kids will never see any rules, and therefore will never be able to understand and follow rules.
- 'Learning how to do things you don't want to do' - if you unschool, and kids are able to make educational choices, they will never be presented with a situation where they have to do something they don't want to do.
I found that the answers that I gave to these questions didn't seem to satisfy those asking them, so I tried to think about it a little more - from the perspective of the person asking the question. While I don't feel the need to defend the choices we've made for our kids, I do think it would be helpful for others to understand some of what we're living.
1. The socialization aspect of schools that are touted as advantages are "spending time with other kids your own age, learning how to deal with people you don't like, and interacting with a variety of adults." My concern that this definition of socialization is not really applicable to the real world. Specifically:
a) In school, you are forced to spend most of your time with kids who are exactly your age (plus or minus 6 months, except for a small number of kids). In the real world, you don't have to spend your time with people your own age. You can, but you don't have to.
b) In school, you are spending time with a pretty homogeneous set of kids - you're all from the same town or area, which means you already have a lot in common. In the real world, you are rarely with a group of people who have that much in common. Our kids spend a lot of time with other kids (of a variety of ages) in many different settings - classes, activities, gatherings, family get-togethers, etc. They relate well with kids of all ages. For us, that is much better socialization than what they would get in a classroom.
c) In school, all adults are authority figures, and kids have to treat them as such. Note that this is not the same as treating them with respect. In the real world, adults can be peer-like to kids; in other words, they can talk to them about varied topics, and interact with them in many ways, without the fear of punishment. They interact with adults all the time, and have learned to respect them as people; in addition, they have many opportunities to interact with authority figures, and they have easily learned to respect them. In fact, respect is one of the core values that we've imparted on our children.
2. Many of the specific rules (raising your hand to speak; asking for permission to use the bathroom; having no choice about what you'll do each day) are not true in the real world. Now, for some jobs - I'm thinking factory work, as one example - you may find these same conditions; but who amongst us as parents want our kids to strive to work in that kind of job? Most parents imagine their kids as doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, business professionals - all jobs where the you set your own hours (based on criteria that is important to you personally); where you are expected to creatively solve problems or provide goods and services; and where you are expected to 'think outside the box' by, to a large extent, going against the common thinking in order to innovate your way to success. This is not what you learn in a school setting - in fact, it is truly the exact opposite.
3. I think 'learning how to follow rules' has two aspects to it. First, you have to learn how to do things you don't want to do. In the real world, this seems to translate into the fact that in your job you will have to perform tasks or assignments that you don't like. What seems to follow in this line of thinking is that if there is something that a person likes that there will be no aspect of it that s/he doesn't like. As a simple example, my daughter likes specific foods that are not always available in the grocery stores where we shop. In order to make sure she gets what she wants, she has to come shopping with us. Grocery shopping is not fun - she doesn't enjoy it at all. However, in order to get what she wants (food), she does something she doesn't like (shop). Did she have to learn it? Well, the real world presented her with a situation, and she addressed it. This happens all the time for kids and adults. These kinds of examples are way too numerous to list.
The second aspect of learning how to follow rules is that if you don't have a structured environment that you won't learn how to follow rules. There is an implication that without putting a kid in a structured environment that they will never see any rules. In the real world, there are rules all over the place. We have mentioned several times that we have no arbitrary rules, and that we use some basic principles to guide our behavior. For example, we respect each other. That means, by definition, that one kid can't do something that will upset the other. It should be straightforward to translate that into behavioral guidelines that are the equivalent of rules, without having to list the rules. So, if playing the drums is going to interfere with the person already reading in a room, then drum playing is out right now. What is most interesting about that is that it causes negotiations between the kids so that they are both able to do what they want; this is much more valuable (and useful in the real world) than a simple rule that says no drum playing. With respect to an issue that is of great concern to others: if the kids don't have a set bedtime, and aren't forced to get up at a certain time, how will they ever be able to get up and hold a job? Well, I'm confused as to why someone would have to 'learn' to get up early. However, as a couple of real world situations - first, on a regular basis, our kids or family have activities that require the kids to get up. We don't have a bedtime or a regular wake up time, but if we need to get up early, then we do. Both kids get up at whatever time they need to when it's important for some reason; either something they want to do, or something they need to do. Our favorite example is that the kids both go to a fantastic summer camp called Wizards and Warriors (learn more about it at www.guardup.com). During the 2 weeks, they have to be in bed by 10pm and get up every morning at 7am. For the week leading up to the camp, the kids get up progressively earlier each day in anticipation of the camp; and for the entire 2 weeks, they get up at 7am with no problem. How do we explain this? It's pretty simple - there is a reason for the early wake up, so they wake up.
The belief that without school, kids cannot possibly be socialized, be able to do tasks that they don't want to do, or follow rules, seems quite unfounded when you look at the way the real world must exist. Now, I will agree, that if we lived in such a way as to keep our kids completely away from society, and have a homestead large enough so that they would never have to interact (and therefore interrupt) each other, and we spent no time whatsoever with the kids to provide them with guidance and values, they could miss out on all of that; why anyone would assume that we did that, or that we could even do that living in the suburbs, is beyond me (especially in light of the fact that we put our kids on TV).