Life Is Not Standardized.

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.”

“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” –Henry David Thoreau


44 Responses

  1. Big cheers, very well-said, Tiff!!

  2. I respect you for being able to embrace these feelings of fear, stare them down and keep doing your thing. I’m just starting on this homeschooling journey and while an unschooling style seems so appealing, I’m just too scared that I won’t be successful by being that flexible. So I’ve bought curricula. And I’m putting a loose schedule together. And I hope that I can be a bit more unschooly with each season. But jumping in to unschooling after a life of public schools and corporate jobs is just too scary. Please keep posting as you evolve. Your courage gives me courage. And has anyone mentioned what a hottie you are? 😉

    • LOL Sarah. Should I rename my blog ‘The Hottie Monologue’ 😛

      It’s all about steps, I used a bunch of curricula and even an online virtual school, and like you said, I used them mostly to help me on my way until I found what was right for us. It’s such a personal journey, good for you for starting out on yours! 🙂

  3. Love what you said!

  4. I love this. Thank you!

  5. you are such an inspiration!

    and i seriously love your hair cut.

  6. Just when I think you’ve written the best blog post ever, you write another one! What you’ve written is everything I feel in my soul. I just need to remember to come back here to read this when I’m doubting myself or our journey.

  7. So well said and I am so glad you are writing about Unschooling again.

    As for the questions you get from people, you should make up a business card (vistaprint will do 250 or 500 of them for free) that just has you blog site on it. When they ask those questions you can hand them one and they can read the answers for themselves. You always make me think, wonder and learn every time I read your blog.

    Thanks for the daily education teach! 🙂

  8. And while on it we realise that we know much more , more than we even think ourselves. And of course there is Google ! 😀

    I saw some of Naturalists works. And man! She is awesome. How can she draw all those expressions for animals! But I noticed one thing. I saw some of her captions that the drawing didn come out well. But actually all the drawings are very very nice. Siva was very excited to see all those . And I told him that is why her name is naturalist 😀

    I asked u this bcoz Siva has the same problem. No matter how good his work is , he always think it is not up it. How should we deal with this? I know u will surely have some strategy .

  9. I’m so glad your unschooly posts are back. You always give me something to think about and courage to keep forging our path.:)

    • yes, it’s nice to be out of the packing and moving tunnel I was in for the last two months!!!

  10. Preach it to me, sista! Amen.

  11. Dude, I so needed this tonight. I got all down and freaked out after reading some of the reviews on Amazon for The Unschooling Handbook, of all places. I totally get that unschooling works, and that it’s a joyful and life-affirming path. What I STILL struggle with are the worries about the dyslexia-caused skill-based difficulties. Writing. Spelling. Math. Everything else is going great. How do you know when to work on it and when to let it go?

    • oh, this is a great post idea. I’ll blog about our journey with unschooling and dyslexia when I get it written just right!

  12. once again, well said. my husband and i have this conversation often — right after someone gives us the ‘real life’ speech. 😉

  13. I’m not sure if I’ll be homeschooling or unschooling but I’ve just started thinking about it because I started feeline pretty much like you say – that life is not standardized and schools are maybe measuring the wrong thing. So, I enjoyed reading this and thinking about it all.

  14. Lisa mentioned free business cards from Vistaprint. When I got them they’re weren’t free, but the price was still real low. However, I paid a very big price in inconvenience.

    While I was getting them, there were dozens of ‘free’ offers, and just one sounded interesting to me – a business card holder. I said yes to that, and had even more ‘free’ nonsense to get through. One was called ‘passport to fun’. I said no to that. The next month my credit card had a $14.99 charge for passport to fun. I called them up and ‘canceled’. Then I called Visa to get the charge removed. I was told I should cancel my card and get a new one, or else passport to fun would keep charging me. What a hassle!

    I like my business cards, but they cost me too much. Next time, I go to a local business.

  15. Awesome.

    Have you read any Dan Pink? I’m reading A Whole New Mind — I think you would like it…

  16. Great, great post and I absolutely LOVE that pic!!

  17. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “You Rock!”

    “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.”

    So beautifully said. And well, the pic is just icing! 🙂

  18. Ack. When I read “multiplication bubble” I almost ran out of the room screaming. Still getting over standardized testing from my schooling 30 years ago.I feel so happy for my unschooled kids, and grateful I can be there with them for the ride, because there is so much I don’t know, and I’m often learning for the first time along side them.

    • LOL, traumatic test syndrome 😉

      I think it’s so exciting to be learning with my kids. I hope my enthusiasm and interest sets a great example of how cool learning is. I’m happy for your kids, too, to have you as a mom!

  19. Beautifully written! Thanks for the kind of great post I can show to people when they don’t “get it”
    Love and Laughter,

  20. YOU are an inspiration! I really LOVE reading your blog posts i devour every word and often print of parts to remind myself that I am doing the right thing….! We’ve come to Unschooling after trying the “Home School” approach and I LOVE it…! I still find myself worrying that they “won’t know everything” and then I realise, wait…. who DOES?!?! 😀 My kids are not afraid of not knowing, they are comfortable making wild guesses and are not afraid of change, failure or that left turn in the road. I’m proud of the people they are becoming and it’s thanks to people like you who keep me doing the right thing. Thank you.

  21. nothing but love for you!

  22. you rock.
    you rock the way I think,
    you rock the way I want to raise my kids
    you rock the way I want to raise mysefl
    you rock the way I want to live my life

    yep. that sums it up. now I need to get to the library and check out some of the books you keep listing here…

  23. Yessss!!!!! I concur (obviously).

  24. Excellent post. Thank you!

    I’m reminded of one of my favorite answers to “Why don’t you send your kids to school?” . . . “I don’t believe in institutionalizing children.”

    And I had never thought about the tragedy it is that we emerge from the schooling system not only unprepared for our world, but (in most cases) completely and wholly unprepared to share our knowledge with anyone else!

    If you haven’t seen Sir Ken Robinsons’ talk on creativity over at YouTube, you really should. It’s profound. Here’s the link:

    Have a wonderful weekend!

  25. People have been passing on what they know to their kids since the beginning of time. Only recently do we think we need credentialed training to do so. I always appreciate the teachers who speak up and say they don’t have any all-knowing magic. They learn as they go just like a parent would.

  26. I SO wish I was in SoCal right now to meet you. Ah, well. Two more weeks in UK. Great post!

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