Everyone I know who is my age, give or take 15-20 years, went to school. Most of the people I know went to their local public school, as I did. 90% of them went to college, and a few have advanced degrees. As such, we are all programmed to think in terms of school. We all have ‘school brain’. School brain is pervasive and affects many parts of life, not just classes and curriculum. This is why the choice to life learn is often difficult for the parents, because it means going against everything we have been programmed to think about when & where learning happens and about ‘time off’ of learning. When you grow up thinking that classes are something you take in school, or while school is in session, it’s hard to adjust to a different mindset. This was perfectly illustrated in a Times article last week that told of a growing movement to limit homework among schoolchildren. Studies show that beyond a certain point, there are diminishing returns when it comes to homework. Too much is counterproductive. Kids, it seems, really do need time to hang out and play. (Go figure!) But at the very end of the article there was a quote from a man who epitomizes the reason that life learning is so hard for most people to accept. He said, “This is so stupid. Part of growing up is having a lot of homework every day. You’re supposed to say, ‘I can’t come out and play because I have to stay in and do homework.'”
Believe it or not this quote made me chuckle. This guy, himself a product of the public school system, can’t even handle the idea that kids would have less homework. Imagine what he would think about no lessons or curriculum at all! The other funny thing about his quote is that if the kid is telling someone they can’t come out and play, then someone is out there playing, and asking them to join in. So not everyone is inside doing homework…
Here at home we’ve gotten far enough along in our life learning journey that my school brain is usually dormant. Even so I am still sometimes surprised by the way Maya and Ben view learning, because it is so unhindered by adherence, directly or not, to a ‘school’ way of thinking.
Here’s an example. As you know if you follow this blog, we went to Costa Rica in February and afterward Maya asked to start a Spanish class. We had tried Spanish before, using Rosetta Stone, but it was half-hearted and she abandoned it pretty quickly. The Costa Rica trip triggered her interest, and so starting about the first week of March, she’s been taking a Spanish class taught by a great teacher, here in our home once a week with one of her other homeschooling friends. The friend in question used to belong to a homeschool coop upstate, which was a small group of kids who learned together and followed the public school calendar. Now she and her family continue a more traditional homeschooling schedule here in the city.
A couple of weeks ago, as you also may have seen, we celebrated the Spanish Fiesta with Ana (the teacher) and all the other kids she teaches. Now here’s the difference between Maya and her friend who was in class with her. For her friend, who follows a traditional school year type schedule, the Fiesta was supposed to be the end of learning Spanish for the summer. For Maya, that is a ridiculous and inconceivable notion. Why would you stop learning something you are committed to, just because it’s summer? She wants to learn Spanish. Not just during the school year, but all the time until she is proficient at it.
Doesn’t that sound like a more organic, natural way to approach learning? To learn something because you have the desire to know it, and not based on a calendar? When I realized that her brain is not being programmed to think it can only learn at a certain time and on certain days, I was thrilled. My own brain took years to recover from that type of thinking. (And it’s still not 100%).
This gives me great hope for the future. There are 150,000 documented unschoolers/life-learners out there who will not be laden down with school brain. They will grow up and have kids, and hopefully their kids will then be 2nd generation unschoolers. What will that be like? Amazing, I’m sure.
And finally, on a completely different note, I must post a link to Lenore Skenazy’s post from today. This should be required reading for the country at large:
See you tomorrow.