Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Get out of line! The fun is over here!

Homeschooling is scary sometimes for me.  It’s hard to educate your kids differently than everybody else.  There are so many people sending their kids off to one school or another without even questioning it.  It’s just what people do. When their kids turn 6, they buy them a little backpack and stick them on a school bus, just like everybody else.  Even though I know in my heart that my kids are going to learn more and be happier learning outside of the system, there’s always that little kernel of doubt…are they missing something?  Is everything going to turn out OK?  
James Bach, author of  "The Buccaneer Scholar", told me once that unschooling is hard because it’s not what everyone else is doing and no one has made any promises about what happens at the end.  He described unschooling as a rickety track with a coal cart on the top.  I have embellished Mr. Bach’s idea with my own imaginations.  James said that unschooling is like everyone in the education system is behind the ropes at Disneyland.  They are standing in lines, doing what they are told, preparing to get on the big shiny ride.  At the end of the ride they are promised a diploma, a great job and a successful life.  We unschoolers, on the other hand are not standing in line behind the ropes.  We are milling around and building a rickety, uncertified track of our own that has a crappy old coal car on it at the top.  Each board we hammer onto this track is something we felt would help our kid on their path of learning and growing.   The boards represent self-directed learning, investing in beloved hobbies, reading lots of books, interning with a mentor, playing video games, daydreaming and whatever else seemed important.  The problem is we can only build part of the track, because we have no control of the future.  We don’t know where the track goes.  No one has made any promises about the outcome.  We just know that in the process of building the track, we have also built a beautiful family and many wonderful memories.
So then we plunk our kids into the old coal cart on top of this hodgepodge track and give them a shove.   It’s scary!  We hope that at the end they will be launched off into the air and they will fly, but there are no promises.  Unfortunately, the kids on the shiny ride at Disneyland are getting to the end of their ride with a big bag of debt and no job to pay for it.  And when they get off the ride, they all look the same.  They have the same “skills” and the same piece of paper in their hands.
My son made the choice to go to college when he turned 18 and pursue a college diploma in film making.  It had been a passion of his all through his high school years learning at home.  We were happy that he had a passion and had decided to turn his passion into a career.  He just finished his first year of college with much success, and has decided to leave school and try working and living on his own.  He said he’s not sure he wants a degree in film making and needs some time to grow up and find a direction. He doesn’t want to go into debt to be trained for a job he may not want.  
It’s hard not to freak out when your kid quits school.   I don’t know about you, but I instantly started questioning the choices I had made in his education.  Were his earlier self-directed learning experiences causing him to be unable to stay in college?  Had I parented a kid who couldn’t handle structured environments?  Luckily, it only took a day or so for me to realize that he was fine.  In fact he was being very responsible!  He had already proven that he could be a traditional student because be had been successful in every way during his first year at college.  He knows himself enough to realize that he’s not ready to get a degree in film making.  He needs to try a few more things, learn a little more about the world and himself.  And what a good time to do it, while he is young and unburdened by responsibilities and debt.  For such a young man, that seems very wise to me.  I’m proud of him for being able to jump off the Disney ride.  It must have been scary to make that choice.  But for him, I think it was scarier to keep riding when he wasn’t sure that the ride would end where he wanted to go.

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