People are always asking me what a ‘typical’ day in our life looks like. Not, because we are really cool people (that might be one reason), but because we are unschoolers and unschooling is really fascinating and ‘exotic’ to so many. My typical response to the question is, “imagine what you do on the weekends and during holiday/Summer breaks with your family/children…that’s what we do every day” and this seems to be enough of an answer for some, but not everyone.
Everyone, it seems, wants to know what unschoolers do (or don’t do, as the ‘un’ in unschooling might imply). I guess the main issue is that so many people can not imagine a life lived without school and without school being the major focal point for at the least the first 25 years of a person’s life. When I tell people that we live as though school doesn’t exist, they always ask, “but how do you live like that…how can you live like that?’. Most people can not imagine what their lives would be like or would have been like without school (of some kind or another). For a lot of people, the idea of living without school is actually a scary thought…as though they have/would have no other purpose than to amass facts, figures, dates, names and grades…as though there is nothing else to take the place of school..as though school is life; life is school — life lived as though school didn’t exist would be meaningless, careless…chaotic at best.
When did Life become so scary that we needed to hide from it by going to school — that’s what I really want to ask these people. When did Life become so devoid of learning, knowledge and success that we decided to ‘learn’ about Life by removing ourselves from it and placing ourselves into institutions that claim to have the secrets to living a Life of success, knowledge and learning? I’m still trying to figure out how Life has evaded so many seemingly intelligent people. Maybe I am confusing intelligence with an amassing of facts, figures, dates, names and grades…I might be, but I’ve had substantial and satiating conversations with several people. I went through the same system of ‘education’ that most American’s have gone through and I know that I am much more than a repository for useless factoids and ‘skills’ that have no real connection or purpose in my Life.
Maybe that’s it. Maybe it is the fact that I have freely chosen to own my Life, to question those that seek to hold authority over me, to denounce oppression and to pass on that Freedom and Choice to my child. Maybe that’s why I don’t see a reason for school and why the benefits I received from my schooling were few and far between. Maybe that’s why I have no issue or problem with living Life as though school doesn’t exist. If one does not want to own or is coerced into not owning her own life, then living the life of school makes perfect sense and is almost a necessity in order to survive.
I’m glad to see more people coming to unschooling, reclaiming their lives and making it possible for their children to actually have Freedom and Choice.
But…what does a ‘typical’ day look like? It looks like the ‘typical’ day of most families, but without the rushing around to and from school…without the rushing to and from after-school or extra-curricular activities…without the constant worry if our child is going to pass, be bullied or make the team…without very little family time because of extra-curricular activities and hours of homework. So, I guess our ‘typical’ day is nothing like the days of most families at all, because even on the weekends, most other people’s lives are invaded by school in some way or another.
We wake up when we choose.
We eat when and what we choose.
We wear what we choose.
We watch/play/read/explore what we choose.
We go or don’t go to places we choose.
We make/bake/construct/destroy what we choose.
We make as much or as little noise as we choose.
We make meaningful connections based on things we choose.
We give and receive Love in ways we choose.
We seek to understand the ‘why’ behind what we choose.
We explore concepts & ideas that we choose.
We think & speak thoughts that we choose.
We end the day and sleep when we choose.
Some days are stuffed full of things to do and activities. Some days are very quiet and slow with very little going on. But, even on slow and quiet days, we are learning something and enjoying our lives. We are living life as it comes. We are in the Real World and living Real Life right now, as opposed to only on the weekends or after years and years of schooling. We are figuring out what we need, want and what is important to us right now and not waiting for someone else to tell us what we should want or what we should find important. Sometimes it all looks like ‘play’ and sometimes much of it looks like ‘work’, but it’s ALL learning, ALL of the time and it is ALL important.
That might sound fine and all ‘rainbows and kittens’ to many, but they want to know specifics. What about math. Reading. History. First, math, reading or what have you is not some crazy foreign thing that we don’t need or that we won’t tackle without being told when and how from a curriculum served at a school. We all need to know basic math: add & subtract for finances; fractions for cooking & measurements for time and building. These basic math concepts and tools are those that we face head on in our daily lives and figure out on the fly when we need to…real math in context and with real meaning to our lives. If we need to know higher math and more complex concepts to achieve our goals then we will learn those concepts and with help if need be. We all need to know how to read on a basic level to understand cooking directions, reading what’s in our box of cereal, what the headlines are in the newspaper, to read road signs and other safety signs…reading things that are in context with and relevant to our lives. Reading on a more advanced level helps us gain more access to knowledge and as we seek out more knowledge, we will be faced with a more advanced vocabulary of words, which again, we will figure out and with help if need be.
One huge difference between an unschooled life and a schooled life is that a schooled life requires activities, explorations and concepts to be divided by ‘subjects’ and portioned out in amounts and at times that someone else dictates. In an unschooled life, nothing is pigeonholed into categories or portioned out by some kind of authority figure of knowledge. Every ‘subject’ is covered almost every day and they all bleed into one another and are not easily divided. While I can sit down and make a list of everything we did in a day (both ‘schooly’ and non ‘schooly’ looking things) and translate each moment into educationese and assign ‘subjects’ to each moment (bubble blowing is science at its best — viscosity, surface tension, saponins, air pressure — I mean, a popular 200 page book for crying out loud.), I don’t want to waste time doing such boring and soul-sucking tasks…it takes all the fun out of life and takes all the fun AND learning out of an afternoon spent blowing bubbles.
But…if a child is not forced to learn (forced learning is not learning but only forced memorization) and is always free to choose what, where and how, then she is surely to have gaps in her knowledge and education. Of course the child will have gaps if you compare her to another child or to your idea of what children should know (we ALL have gaps when this is done to us, regardless of our educational background), but there will not be any gaps when you compare her to herself and to her passions and goals. It is hard to grow up fully immersed in the Real World surrounded by supportive people and not have a varied base of knowledge with a handful of areas you are particularly strong or quite knowledgeable in. It is very easy to attend school where you are surrounded by people who are around the same level of clueless as yourself, expected to read the same books, study the same time periods/concepts, to reach for the same goals and to come out the other end not knowing much about anything or nothing at all, really. However, that is exactly how the system is intended to work and it is indeed working.
A fellow Anarchist and unschooling teen recently had these words to say:
“There’s only what LIFE looked like today. Learning IS living, and living IS learning, so why differentiate between the two? If I’m living, I’m learning, and obviously if I’m learning, I’m living!”
I could not agree more.