I don’t so much get unschooling questions as I get unschooling comments of concern tossed at me. People often don’t ask, “Hey what about socialization?” But instead proclaim to me, as if it’s a fact, something akin to, “OMG kids who don’t go to school miss out on socializing!”
The other day, I did get a great comment/question on the post alternatives to conventional schooling on that post, Alexis asks the following (in part):
“I am open to the idea of homeschooling and unschooling, but wonder what are the effects on the child as they become an adult and go into the world? Do you know anybody who was purely brought up on a unschooling basis and what do they do now? What about colleges, do they see that as a valid “diploma” if a child wants to go to college? Can the ability to makes choices, be respected and learn responsibility only be taught in school or should these be things that children learn at home and implement in a school environment? I am not trying to debate what is right versus what is wrong, but rather wonder if those that choose to homeschool or unschool can honor and respect those who choose conventional schooling and vice versa?“
This may be the most open-minded comment I’ve ever received about unschooling (from a non-unschooler). Below, I’ll try to answer some of Alexis’ questions along with the major concerns I’ve heard from other people over the last ten years.
The #1 question – what about socialization?
I get sooooooo tired of the socialization question. It’s been better for the last two years, because now Cedar also attends Free School. Friends and family LOVE that he started the Free School, which allows them to quit worrying about my poor child’s lack of socialization (sigh).
Before Free School everyone was extremely concerned about Cedar. I was accused of crushing his ability to ever learn how to socialize due to keeping him out of school. It didn’t help that Cedar is shy (or as we like to say, slow-to-warm), so he’s naturally less apt to be social. Cedar’s natural shy qualities mixed with zero school had everyone scared to death that he’d grow up 100% uncivilized.
Here’s the thing; if you assume school is the only place to meet and socialize, then you’re sort of screwed once school is over right? What about on weekends? Holidays? Summer vacation? At a concert?
In his life, Cedar has met and developed relationships with people via – play groups, trips to other states, the park, unschooling meetings and play dates, gymnastic classes, neighborhood families and he’s also met people through established friends and family. He meets people all the time. He gains socialization skills at home and everywhere else he goes.
Kids in schools, in my opinion, have a smaller range of social opportunities because they have less time to socialize and because in school you mainly hang out with kids exactly your age who are doing exactly what you’re doing vs. meeting a wide array of people doing unique things. Adult life isn’t like that. you don’t go to a party and see everyone grouped off into ages. I’ve never worked anywhere that splits up employees based on age. School is a made-up social experience without real life application.
In school you basically adapt to kids your exact age and then you adapt to whichever group you’d like to be in (if you can) – nerds, popular, punks, preps, jocks, etc. Out of school you never know who you’ll meet. Once you meet someone new, you simply learn how to adapt to each new person and situation. Unschooling kids do exactly this same thing.
Unschooling leads to anarchy
A few years back People magazine printed a story about unschoolers – which may have been the only time in my life I bought this magazine. But I digress. I was very disappointed with the article. It discussed two unschooling families, which was nice because unschooling is rarely featured in mainstream media, then when it is, it’s horrible.
The piece was slanted in favor of unschooling being a bad choice; starting with the title “Is This Any Way to Learn?” Great, if that doesn’t settle people’s nerves about unschooling right from the get-go then nothing will. The magazine gave a general description of unschooling theory that was generic and incorrect.
Worse they played up stuff that didn’t matter. The article discusses one unschooled 21 year old female who was attending Harvard. They paint her in a great light – but not because she’s a successful person who has developed her own way to learn, but because she was attending Harvard. It highlighted the fact that she got into Harvard and read like anything less would be an unsuccessful stab at unschooling. The article states that educators are worried about unschoolers who may be less talented or motivated than this particular girl. Of course, not taking into account that all humans are variables with different skill levels no matter whether schooled or unschooled.
A quote was given by some director of education at the American Enterprise Institute which said:
“It’s true that schools are immensely boring for some kids. But for disadvantaged kids or those who don’t have a stable family or community support to help them master basic skills, [unschooling] can be a recipe for anarchy.”
ANARCHY! Strong wording don’t you think? In my dictionary anarchy relates to wildness and refers to people who rebel. I don’t think wildness or rebelling is bad – by all means be wild; rebel if you like. However, the term anarchy also refers to people who resort to violence to get what they need or to overthrow the order, violence to make a point or get other humans out of the way, a state of lawlessness, and disorder or absence of authority.
The problem with calling unschoolers anarchists is that any kid without stable family members or community supports can be a possible recipe for problems (and at times anarchy). However, the article makes it sound as if only unschooling kids are in danger of getting into trouble. All the unschoolers I’ve met have been great. The people on unschooling forum are helpful and kind and talk about their children with respect. Thus far I have not been to an anarchy crazed unschooler’s park day.
I’d bet money that there are unsupportive or dysfunctional unschooling families out there but I’d bet a lot more money that it has more to do with family dynamics than it does an educational decision.
In fact, to prove my point, here’s some stuff I’ve seen individuals with a high school diploma or college degree do:
- Take drugs
- Cheat, steal, or lie
- Go to jail
- Start a war to prove a point
- Not get into the college of their choice
- Have a messy and mean divorce
- Be mean to their dog
- Hurt another human
- Kill another person
- Get fired from a job
- Be unemployed
- Wreak cars, including setting cars on fire
- Act racist or homophobic
- Hit their kids
- Be unhappy
If someone thinks that conventional school or a degree is a recipe for zero trouble they’re very much misleading themselves. Have I ever seen an unschooler get into trouble – sure – but this isn’t an issue that ONLY affects unschoolers. It’s an issue that affects humans in general. Anyone has the potential to create or not create anarchy. School vs. no school won’t change that. Caring, respectful parenting and other adults in a child’s life is what can change this.
Can unschoolers go to college?
This one is easy – yes. Unschoolers, homeschoolers and free schoolers have been accepted by tons of major universities and rarely have trouble getting into college, if in fact they decide to go to college. Unschoolers and free schoolers have lots of options for college, such as…
- Starting at a community college then transferring to a university. Actually, I’ve met many unschoolers who decide to start community college when they’re very young – 14, 15, 16, instead of waiting around like kids in school.
- Taking tests for placement in a university.
- Creating a portfolio of experiences for the college admission boards.
- Getting their GED first.
Not that you have to go to college. I think it’s far too expected that people will simply go to college nowadays. Really, it’s not for everyone, and not until you’re ready. When I went to college I was 25 or so and 100% ready. By the way, I started community college without a GED, without SATs and without a high school diploma.
Because I was ready and willing, I did very well in college. My son was a baby, and I’d take him to classes with me, but I still maintained 18 credits typically, a 4.0 and was in all honors classes, for what it’s worth. Later I was approached by multiple universities who wanted me to attend their school, won all kinds of scholarships to the university of my choice and then got into a highly competitive RN program. The people I knew in college who were just there to be there, because it was expected, had little focus, got bad grades, and were, in my opinion, wasting a ton of time and money.
No matter if you’re an unschooler or conventional schooler, you should want to go to college, if you go. It’ll be a better experience. It’s way too time consuming and costly to attend a college just because you think it’s the expected thing to do.
To learn more about the college process for unschoolers read chapter 25 of The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education or check out Will Unschooling Get Them Into College.
BUT school prepares you for life!…
I’ve heard the arguments – “But all that sitting at your desk, little movement, harsh schedules, etc., preps you for a job as an adult. We can’t always do what we want in life!”
That’s a sucky life to get used to. Many of my adult friends don’t choose sitting jobs for just this reason. Many of my friends hate to sit and have busy jobs that get them up and out. Other friends choose jobs specifically where they won’t be micromanaged, because they got enough of that in school. If you do want a sitting job, fine. If you want an adult life void of autonomy, fine. However, that’s your choice as an adult.
You’ll never make me believe that all those kids in traditional schools would choose sitting all day, harsh schedules and being told what to do and learn day in and day out if asked. Plus, school doesn’t prep you for life – school preps you for, not surprisingly, knowing how to do what you’re told, as a recent creativity study points out.
School, in my experience was nothing like my real life has turned out to be. In fact, I’d wager that all those years in school made me less prepared, because being in school made me doubt myself in some major ways. I had to overcome those doubts in order to be more productive in my actual life. Which leads me to the last major concern I hear about unschooling – “If you don’t go to school you just won’t learn…” However, I’ll cover this in the next post, since right now, we’re running a bit long.
Do you unschool? What are some concerns and questions you hear?