You probably already know by now that we are unschooling our kid. Unschooling is the more extreme version of home schooling. Why did we take this bold step? A lot of people have been asking the same question. So I thought I should explain our thought process.
These days schools are putting more and more pressure on the kids, to the point that they completely take away the fun, desire and curiousness of the young minds. It seems like schools and parents today are just obsessed with grades and levels of education and degrees. No one is bothered about knowledge. We just stuff kids with meaningless facts and numbers. We shove the so called “knowledge” into their small brains. We are impressed when they can recollect and recite rote memory facts. When they say “inner ear fluid helps in balance”, are they saying that as a recollection from the book or do they really understand, experience and experiment with the fact?
The next thing I observe about these obsessive parents and schools alike is that they are in a hurry to get the kid to the highest level of education, the fastest. It is like a competition for the parents and not the kids. “Oh your kid is 6 years and still in 1st grade? That is so old. My kid is 5 and is in 2nd grade”. Really? Does that kind of empty boasting really help? The kid has to be in 2nd grade or what ever grade or college level when the child is ready for it. They need to want to be at the level and want to know (the curiosity factor) and learn to be at that level. Not because your school or parents said so. So what if the child completes 10th grade 5 years later than other kids as long as they understand all the concepts to the fullest and apply their knowledge properly.
But it does not end there. The next show-off point is the job, pay check size and social status. You will see parents pride around things like “my kid is a software engineer at Microsoft in US and earns $300K a year”. Well OK. So what? Is your child enjoying the job? Is that what they wanted to do or do they have a different view of life? Are they happy? Don’t get me wrong, good education usually begets good job which begets good pay which buys you happiness (or what ever money can buy these days). Remember not everyone will get a good job after education. But I don’t agree that no education means no job. No knowledge and skill means no job. Not education. So in my opinion if we can teach skills and impart good applicable knowledge, there is no need for school education.
A growing problem in some but not all schools these days is the amount of time allocated to education vs creative things. If the kids just use the left brain all the time, who will exercise the right brain? A good left and right brain development is extremely important. At least when I used to go to school we had physical training classes, scout & guides, drawing class, music class, optional dance and martial arts classes etc. These days there is almost nothing and the classes are from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm. Not sure what they are teaching so much. I used to go to school from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm and still had all the extra curricular activities.
Another problem I have with traditional school is that every kid gets to learn the same subjects and at the same rate. By and large, not all kids can learn math skills at the same age and at the same rate. Some are good at science but not at cursive writing. But enforcing a rule that everyone has to pass all these subjects to go the next level does not have meaning. While alternate schools do give the freedom to the kids, they still need the kids to pass exams and complete all the subjects to go to the next level. Finally, I believe that most of the kids will do most of their learning outside of school rather than at school. It is certainly the case for me. I learned everything that I liked all by myself.
In school, around 7th grade I picked up Windows 3.11 book and started learning Microsoft Windows all by myself when our school did not even have a single Windows machine (this was in 1993 remember). I just loved computers ever since I started using them around 4th grade. I picked up C programming book around 8th grade. Used to love reading “How things work” book series. Started learning FORTRAN programming after reading my mom’s text book. I understood DC motors and how they worked way before anyone in my class because I read my dad’s books. This theme continues all through my life where I learned what I liked and barely passed the subjects that I didn’t much care. What I found common across all these things is the curiosity to learn and love of reading books. So my theory is that if we can inculcate the habit of reading books and encourage curiosity in our kid, she will do fine.
Thankfully, my family has been very supportive of us even though this is a huge step away from the norm. Of course, one thing to remember is that you should be able to spend a lot of time with the kid. It is a herculean task to keep them engaged especially when they are young. It also means that you should be knowledgeable enough to be able to answer their questions or look them up on the internet or book, understand and then explain to them.
My though process really is that I will give my kid as much knowledge as I can. I will spend inordinate amount of time with her, both to get to know her and to help her. Next I want to inculcate a love for reading books in her. Finally I want to encourage her to be curious and enjoy the learning process and experiments. She can make the house dirty, break things and do what ever she wants to do, but she should have the curiosity. I want her to figure out what she really likes to be in life. It is too early to ask her that question. But I don’t want to ask close ended questions like “do you want to be a doctor or engineer”. I want a more open ended question like “what kind of work would you like to do that feels fun and you can enjoy doing forever”. If her answer is “sweeping the roads”, so be it. As long as she understands the consequences of doing it and difference between work and passion. All I can do is provide her with the right kind of conditions for her to flourish and learn.
Human communities depend upon a diversity of talent, not a singular conception of abilityKen Robinson
Finally I want to leave you with this wonderful talk (among the many other talks I have watched regarding education). I love this gentleman. He is both hilarious and to the point.
Remember that these are all my opinions and the intention is not to hurt anyone’s feelings or thoughts about schools or education or anything else. I am very opinionated and a risk taker. I am taking this risk. No one should blindly agree or follow what I am doing and wreck their child’s life. Do things only if you understand and completely buy into it. You have to put a lot of your time and effort if you want to unschool or even home school. It is not like that time when you had 8 hours to spare when they are off to school. They are always with you all the time and need your attention, especially when they are young. So unless you like it, it may be err, how shall I put it…