A pet peeve of mine is when people complain about unschooling (and homeschooling) because school is the only place to “prepare kids for life”. I hear this all. the. time.
And by ‘prepare for life’, the general idea I suppose is that school is regimented, on a timeline, holding kids accountable to someone superior, rigid, impersonal, with certain goals to be met and work to be graded.
So in reality, when people say ‘prepared for life’ what they mean is ‘prepared for a job’…but not just any job, more like a secretarial kind of life. I recently attended a fantastic speech by Linda Silverman who made the remark that our schools are pumping out students who are better served being a 1950’s secretary than a 21st century thinker.
To my way of thinking, the best way to ‘prepare for life’ is to go out and live it. As unschoolers, that’s what we do every day. And since I’ve been both a homeschooler (using curriculum and standardized lessons) and unschooler, here’s the biggest difference between the two: When I homeschooled, I talked a whole lot. I gave lessons, I taught material, I gave my opinions whether they were asked for or not. As an unschooler, I talk a lot less and encourage my kids to speak a lot more. Questions, ideas, things they know, things they want to know, instructions, directions, flights of fancy….I spend less time ‘teaching’ with words and let the learning happen through their own socratic dialogue with me and the people around us.
When people tell me they couldn’t ever homeschool because they don’t know enough to do it, I get kind of sad. The end result of 12+ years of public school has left how many of us living in fear of failing or not knowing enough? It starts with a fear of failing to answer a question from a teacher, then a fear of failing to answer a question on a test, and eventually a fear of failing to answer a question from a kid or a question in life.
That’s why standardized curriculum is so appealing…it has the questions and the answers all right there on the page, so no one has to not know anything. Especially the parents.
I think that does a disservice to being “prepared for real life.” Last I checked, real life isn’t standardized. There are no tests to take out here. No essay questions to write out or multiple choice bubbles to fill in.
In fact, it’s been my experience that life is full of twists and turns, and of not knowing. And certainly, lots of wrong choices, as hard as I try to do otherwise!
A successful life isn’t one that is full of right answers and right choices. A successful life is one that is lived with a particular amount of resilience when everything goes wrong, or nutty, or veers left instead of right. This kind of resilience isn’t tested in school, but it’s essential in life.
One of my favorite books is Raising Resilient Children : Fostering Strength, Hope, and Optimism in Your Child. and the book points out:
…parents’ core goal should be to instill in their children a sense of inner recourse. “A resilient child is an emotionally healthy child, equipped to successfully confront challenges and bounce back from setbacks,” they contend, and to this end they provide 10 parenting “guideposts” for nurturing the kind of resilience that helps children thrive. From being empathic, to teaching problem-solving, to identifying “islands of competence” in order to help a child experience success, to editing and eliminating what the authors call “negative scripts” — what parents hear themselves saying and doing repeatedly, “with negligible beneficial results”…
I think the best thing I’ve done for my kids is NOT have all the answers. Instead of making wrong answers punishable by a bad grade and shame, I make it a stepping off point to learning more and finding out what is right. I must say it a hundred times a day, “I don’t know that, how can we find out?” and in turn, my kids have no problem saying the same thing.
This freedom from the fear of not knowing or of being wrong has opened them up to a resilience that I’m still trying to get. A product of public school, I still cling to the idea that if I don’t know what I’m doing, or if my life is off course, then I must be doing something wrong. And I’m so afraid to be wrong!
This move, and living in the RV, and basically having my entire life thrown up in the air leaving me feeling pretty groundless has been mentally and emotionally difficult for me (as I’ve blogged about all of January and February, actually!). I am trying to learn to be resilient, and am a little late to the game. But the Universe spoke to me while I was at the pool with the kids. She said, “Hey, what’s so bad?! You’re at the freaking pool when it’s 70 degrees outside!” Oh wait, no, she didn’t say that. My friends in Colorado did.
What the Universe said to me was summed up in an empty Lost and Found bucket. Something about it, that day, totally clicked with me. It’s not “Lost OR Found”. It’s not “Lost, never to be Found Again”. Sometimes it’s not an either or. Sometimes it can be both. And so I put myself in the bucket and took a picture to remind myself that not knowing, not having all the answers, not seeing the ‘big picture’ yet, being lost….that’s real life. And being able to deal with that without freaking out or feeling ashamed or letting fear of that run my life, that’s the ticket. That’s the lesson from life. And that’s what I hope my kids are learning.
Resilience. Confidence. Strength. Real life!
“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” –Henry David Thoreau
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