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Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Kimi & Shaun - On Top of the World!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Talking about unschooling in the workplace

While I don't talk to everyone I know about unschooling, I've never hidden the fact that I unschool my children from people I work with. One of the really positive aspects about the work I've been doing for the past 15 years is that I get to spend time visiting customers around the country (and even around the world - Australia and England, mostly). There's often the opportunity to go out to lunch with the customer, where we try not to just talk about work, and where the questions come up about family. When asked, I usually say that I homeschool my kids, and many people are satisfied with that; some ask questions about things like grades and tests, and that's where I start getting into unschooling. (On a personal note, I find myself wanting to walk that fine line about not being afraid to defend my choices without coming across as someone who tries to convert everyone to my point of view - made all the more important by the fact that these are paying customers who could easily decide that they'd rather pay someone else.) Generally speaking, I'm talking to college educated professionals successfully employed in a corporate environment - perhaps the most difficult environment in which to defend unschooling. Sometimes the discussion at this point gets pretty deep, but often there is some level of skepticism, considering how most of us in the corporate world got where we are (e.g., going through the typical education systems from public school through college).

When the discussion turns to the background of the individual I'm talking with, it's interesting how often their degree (current or original) is in a field much different than what they are working in today, and how the part of their job that they find the most interesting and/or satisfying ties back to something they did outside of school. For example, I was recently talking with a customer during such a lunch. He has a degree in Psychology, but had always tinkered with computers (even building his own computers). He had been unhappy with his work in the field since he graduated, and a friend of his commented about his hobby "if you could find a job doing that all day, you'd be all set." Well, he went back to school and got a degree in computer science, and has been happily engaged in the high tech industry for 15 years. So, as we discussed unschooling a bit more, he came to appreciate that if he had not gone through the standard process, he would have ended up in his current field sooner, and would have saved a lot of money in student loans over the years.

Over the years, I've had many situations where I've remained in touch with customers like this over extended periods of time, and they will often revisit this topic with me. I've found it interesting to know that even though most of them are not prepared to make the change, they've discussed this issue with their spouses, and they've come up with other questions about unschooling. Part of my method for dealing with their questions is to ask them some questions in response. Two of my favorite questions back to them are "what did you learn in school before college that helps you in your job" and "what is it that you learned in school that you couldn't have learned outside of school." I don't often wait for a response, but it sure gets them thinking. Again, I'm not trying to convert them - just make them understand that there might be a different, if not better way, for kids to spend their time preparing for their adult lives.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

If I'm right, are you wrong?

We've been thinking about why so many people respond so negatively to the portrayal of our unschooling lifestyle. Of course, many people just don't take the time to think about it - they react emotionally, and outright reject it without understanding what we're doing (frustrating - there's just no discussion to be had there). But others clearly put some thought into it, and ask some decent questions (very school oriented, but they are loooking for some information and can't ask from our point of view very easily), and still come away very negative. There are probably many reasons for this, but one of them is likely this: if you accept our choice for educating our children, then it invalidates what you are doing for your kids, and would make you wrong. (People don't like to be told, or to find out, that they are wrong.)

I can hear some people saying "yup, it's true - we're right, and they're wrong!" but that's not my perspective. I believe that many of us are really trying to say "we strongly believe that this choice is best for our children; just as we are free to decide what is best for our family, you are free to decide what is best for your family." I also believe that unschooling (especially radical unschooling) is *not* for everyone. I think, for example, that a family could be a good candidate to move to unschooling if they meet the following criteria:

1. The school system is failing your kid(s) in some important way (where 'important' is up to the kids and parents, not from the institution's perspective, e.g. just test scores).
2. At least one parent is willing to devote the time and energy required to unschool.
3. You are prepared to change the way you look at education and how kids think, learn, and behave.

Now, this is just one way to look at it, and I'm not trying to put all unschoolers in the same category. However, many people cannot provide a reasonable environment (and mindset) at home for unschooling; likewise, there are many kids who can handle (and are handling) the school lifestyle and are thriving. It's not my intention to tell someone that if school is working for them, or if they are not ready to devote the time and consider our viewpoint, that they should unschool anyway. I have heard the story from mmany unschooling parents of how they came to embrace unschooling, and in many cases they didn't know all along that they would unschool (it's true for some, but not most); rather, it was a journey that had many challenges for one or both parents. We have no idea how a particular family got to where they are (schooling or otherwise), so we can't say what they should do now in their lives.

So I need to make sure my message comes across as: "I've found a way of educating my kids that works best for us; it's not one that will work for everyone. Looks like you've found a way that works for you - that's great! After all, it's all about making sure our kids are ready for their future, right?" Or something like that. Of course, for those who really want to understand what we do, and to see if it's for them, I'm happy to engage in a deeper, more meaningful conversation.

If people are willing to listen to our core messages, and they are willing to accept that we have the right to make this choice, and they are willing to accept that our decision does not invalidate their decision, then I think we've accomplished a lot.