Unschooling: Living Without School; Living Free Range-Freedom to Learn What One Wants When One Wants

Friday, February 13, 2015

Academics Come Last

Growing up, I went to public school. The place where 30% of the kids wanted to be there and struggled to do their best-me included. And the other 70% didn't. They didn't want to be there. And they didn't want to try. I could've easily been one of the 70% who actually took more effort to scrape by barely than it took to just do the work. (By this I mean the ones who actually tried to sleep in class instead of doing work. Or the ones who made a big scene about how stupid the work was. Or the ones who spent their days in the office rolling their eyes at the administration as they scolded them for whatever it was they did that day. Of course this is the extreme end of the 70%. But nevertheless, if could have easily been me.) Because my Mom didn't care. Not in the neglectful, passed out on the couch with a beer in her hand instead of helping me with my homework kind of way. Not in the "I had to walk to school again because she spent the night at some random guy's house after a trip to the bar last night." But in the, "I understand. I was a kid once. And although I really enjoyed school and I loved learning, I realize that school isn't always learning and learning doesn't always mean school. And oh yea...ACADEMICS AREN'T EVERYTHING." She got it. She didn't just say this. She lived it. She understood that people are their own person. And school wasn't everything in life. She just wanted us to do the best we could and that is all she asked. Of course she was less critical than I who had this burning desire to please. To be on time to school every day, never miss a day, even when she offered "mental health" days. And of course I cried when I got my first B+ the semester after my parents got divorced. I saw school as something that added value to my life. And it did at the time. I will never deny that I enjoyed school as a child. But I do wonder how much richness would have been added to my life had I not been in school. Maybe a lot. Maybe nothing because I am not sure my Mom would know where to start. Either way, that isn't the point here. The point here is that academics are not life.

In the past I have felt so alone in this mindset. The only other ones I have heard with this opinion are other self-proclaimed unschoolers. I figured we were the only ones who knew this golden truth. But as I talk to more and more people, mostly homeschoolers, but also some parents whose children are in school too, they state they know academics are not everything like schools want to portray.

Is it more important for my child to know her addition facts or to serve others? Or in my friend's case, is it more important for adopted daughter who is struggling to socialize with others and control her anger that stems from her past to spend her time learning about Abraham Lincoln or is it important for her to learn to sort out her emotions and deal with them so that she can start to character build and become a productive member in society, even if she is only vaguely familiar with Abe Lincoln? (I mean, living in America, I think even those who never formally learned about Lincoln are at least familiar with his face on the penny.) Is it more important for my friend's teenager to spend her time starting her own business and practicing her art to get a portfolio ready for art college, or should she be spending her time in depth learning Physics?

We all, at varying levels, recognize that we need to learn to read and write and maybe have some knowledge about how things work now and how the world has worked in the past, but we also recognize that children are individual. And what they want to learn and do-even if it is playing-is just as important if not more than those academics. So maybe those were two more missing puzzle pieces: 1. Support of others who GET IT-even if they are not unschoolers. and 2. I needed to hear those words. Academics are not as important. Instead of thinking, "What if she doesn't learn all her academics through her interests?" I need to say, "She won't. And that's okay. Because academics just are not as important as the real life experiences and knowledge she is gaining IN PLACE OF these things.

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