I have only seen two kinds of responses when someone learns that we are unschooling our daughter. Either they are worried about education or they are worried about social skills. The former manifests into questions such as “how will she manage life without knowing math and science”, or “how will she get a job or go for higher education without a certification” etc. I understand their anxiety in this matter and sometimes even I wonder how we can be so chill about it. The fact of the matter is that I know she can’t get a high paying job, But if she can understand that living happily on a small income is better than seeking peer praise and recognition for a lot of money and living in stress, then my job is done. Or at least that is what I have come to realize after all these years on the planet.
The other worry that people have about unschooling which is about social skills is something that I am still unable to understand. I don’t see any difference in her behavior or feelings when my daughter is interacting with school going kids. Of course she notices very clearly how the behavior of schooling going kids is different from the ones that don’t. While we have noticed those differences, we see more than what she is seeing.
Those differences are what I want to pen down in the post. Some of them may be important, and unschoolers, hence my daughter might me missing out those skills. Our daughter (as well as us) interacts with school going kids about 30% of the time and the rest with unschooled kids. So there might be some bias. Moreover, what I am about to say does not universally apply to all school going kids and unschoolers. There is a lot of grey in between, so take what I say with a pinch of salt.
First, lets start with the things that my kid could easily observe. For reference, our daughter is ten and half years old. One thing she routinely notices in school going kids is that most but not all, get easily bored. Their attention span is very less, she tells me. She would suggest some game, they will play for a few minutes before the standard sentence comes up – “I am bored”. My daughter can’t understand why they get bored so quickly. Of course there are exceptions. There is at least one kid we know, who will silently play with her for hours together without getting bored of playing the same thing.
I am not really sure why that is the case with some school going kids. May be because they are so used to learning different subjects every few minutes, they like change all the time? It does not apply to everything though. When they sit down to watch a movie or TV they get stuck and don’t want to move. So I am not really sure what is happening. May be I should read some children psychology books instead of learning only about adult psychology :).
Another thing my daughter noticed among school going kids is that they are very competitive and aggressive when it comes to winning. My daughter tells me how much they value winning over everything else. Even just climbing stairs for example, they have to be one step ahead is what my daughter complains. May be our daughter is not competitive enough and she would get crushed in real world setting when she grows up. Apparently the school goers also tend to bully and make fun of losers a lot. Some even derive pleasure in calling names. These are all good life skills to learn. How to cope with teasing, name calling, aggressive competition etc.
Her next observation is that the school goers tend to form groups. I think like minded people just get together and collate in separate groups. These kids are not in the same class or not even in the same school, but they form groups. Most of them are at a similar age, so may be they understand topics of discussion easily and join them. I noticed that unschoolers are more interactive with people of different age groups although they too like to hang out with their group, but not at the exclusion of others. My daughter usually gets left out if there a group of school going kids. Now you may wonder why she does not join a group.
Well, here’s why – their topics of discussion do not interest my daughter. First of all, the school going kids only come out for a couple of hours a day at most, to play outside. Rest of the time they are either in school or doing homework. So our daughter gets only 2 hours to play with them. She wants to play something that is fun like badminton or cycling or some board game. They, on the other hand, it seems, like to involve in small talk. My daughter complains that they like to talk about this person and that person instead of discussing which game to play.
When she tries to approach a group of slightly younger kids, she finds them to be easily bored or distracted. When she approaches a group of slightly older kids or even kids of her age, she complains they only like to talk about crushes and dress up but not about playing. Well, I guess she is a little too young to be thinking about looks so she does not understand. And she does not have a crush yet, especially since there aren’t as many kids here as in a school. Or may be she is too young for that too. I don’t know, because I can’t remember at what age I had my first crush.
Oh and coming to boys, they don’t allow girls to join their group. My daughter and another boy in our neighborhood were born within days difference. When they were young, they used to play a lot together. But as they grew up, the boy decided to find a boy group. That group does not want to take my daughter into the group, well, because, boys. In fact they start teasing any boy who interacts with girls asking if she is their girl friend. And these fellows are just between 10 to 12 years old. I get a good laugh out of it! Kids. Where are they getting these ideas from? Movies? The unschooled kids are not so much into teasing though and mix better. Perhaps may be because the parents (as opposed to other school kids) tend to spend more time with the unschoolers and don’t expose them too much to TV and movies?
Those were the obvious differences that our daughter picked up. We tend to hear similar thoughts from some other unschooling parents. When I hear these stories, I wonder if my kid is missing out on some of the benefits of getting pushed over. You see, the minor bullying and teasing are what toughens up the kids. Since my kid is not being exposed to that kind of treatment as much as the school going kids, I wonder if she going to be a softy.
Another thing I noticed with most school going kids is that they are smart. Not just book smart, which they are, but they are also very street smart. They know how to lie through trouble or make sly remarks, and cheat in games. Our daughter and most unschoolers I’ve seen, look so dumb and talk straight. Even worse, they can’t even seem to get the hint when a sly remark is passed. So naive. They can’t figure out how to do some basic cheating. Another classic problem with unschooled kids. How will they survive in the real world I am not sure. I am just hoping that unschoolers mature a bit later and eventually, hopefully, they will be able to lie, cheat, swear and understand sarcasm.
Mixing with different kinds of mentalities is one more thing that is sorely missing with the unschooled kids. When you go to school, there are so many kids, so you are bound to meet all kinds of people. That will give them an opportunity to understand the world in a more holistic manner. I want her to meet all kinds of people, but be smart enough to be able to discern good from bad and pick up the good habits.
I already had a talk and will continue to have talks about it, but not sure if hearing is as helpful as actually experiencing it. While I was in school and college, I met all kinds of people. Some who smoke, some who drink, some who do drugs and some who were involved in “other” kinds of activities. I smoked (a few times) to see how it feels. I tried drinking (again you can count in 2 hands) too. I stopped there because that is as far as I’d like to go. Yet, I did not pick up either smoking or drinking. I recount these stories and tell our daughter about it. She should know how far she can go, but what is too far? Most importantly, even under intense peer pressure she should try not to overstep. At the same time, she should definitely try out things to see what the whole excitement is all about.
I have to explain all that because now a days kids are exposed to all that at younger and younger ages. Another thing I feel our daughter might miss out is the feeling of being independent and bold. You see, in a school setting, they are away from home. There will be some bold kids who may decide to jump off the walls and skip school. They may risk crossing railway tracks to reach the other side as a shortcut. Because of peer pressure, other meek kids might follow. While on the one hand it sounds too risky, on the other hand it may be just what the kid needs to learn autonomy and boldness. Again, I am not sure if we are missing that out.
How about handling stress and organizing time? School teaches that without the kid knowing. They have deadlines and homework. It helps school goers to plan their day and be able to handle the stress of daily chores and tight deadlines. They can’t risk forgetting to do homework or going late to school for the fear of punishment. Our daughter on the other hand is very forgetful and rarely organized because there are no consequences. It that good or bad? Don’t know.
I know I haven’t given any answers in this post. If anything I might have confused many of you. But that is how it is. There are never any answers, there are just experiences and thoughts. After having seen the kid’s interactions, I am now wondering if I should start studying anthropology to make sense of what is going on. I am already fascinated studying the psychology of human behavior in relation to decision making. Anyway, that is all for today! Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
Update: Feb 21, 2024 One more thing I am not really sure is if she will miss out on finding a best friend. For both myself and my better half, all of our “best” friends are really from school or college. We spend a lot of time interacting with various kind of people of similar age group and found the one we like with in school or college or both. I don’t know if the unschooled kids can find such a friend among other kids because they don’t get to spend a lot of time with them in a school setting for example.