There is a widely held assumption that the only way to learn anything about a topic is to ‘study’ the topic directly. Preferably in an institution set up specifically for the study of defined topics. Because of this, people also assume that if you choose not to attend such an institution, you will not learn anything.
Homeschoolers avoid some of these assumptions by virtue of the fact that what they do has ‘school’ in the description. They have school at home. They follow a curriculum which provides them opportunities to learn about specific chosen topics. Probably not as thoroughly as in an accredited institution, but better than nothing.
Then there is unschooling, which really throws people off, since they equate the word ‘school’ with learning. Which means they think unschoolers are somehow anti-learning. I’ve heard unschooling spoken about in the same terms someone might use to talk about anarchists. Lawless, uneducated and possibly dangerous.
And then there is life learning – our chosen term for what we do – which tends to cause people to smirk and roll their eyes. “Oh yeah, life learning….” As though the thought of learning through living is by far the most ridiculous thing they’ve ever heard. We’re the hippie fringe, free love version of unschoolers.
The problem is that people want their learning tied up in neat little packages that they can label. Social Studies? Check. History? Check. Algebra? Check. Science? Check. And on and on. Schooled children can point to their report cards. Homeschoolers to their chosen curricula. The rest of us? Well as Shakespeare said, “there’s the rub”. Our learning is not tied up in neat little packages. The assumption from many people then is that no learning is taking place.
This is an assumption made even by homeschoolers toward unschoolers and life learners. Even people who have known me and my kids for years sometimes make the assumption that since we follow no set curricula and do not sit down for lessons that Maya and Ben must lag behind in all things – reading, writing, critical thinking, etc.
Allow me, if you please, a rebuttal.
Reading? Maya has read over 50 books since last September. Fifty. Books. And not Dick and Jane, either. The “Gone” series, which she completed a couple of weeks ago, is slated as young adult and the books average over 400 pages each. She’s learned more from her reading on a multitude of subjects than I can even begin to guess. Ben has not read as many books (I’m guessing maybe 20-25) but is also learning a crazy amount of stuff. For instance, one day I was reading aloud an email from a friend in which she mentioned she and her daughter had seen a pod of dolphins just off the Jersey shore. I clarified that a group of dolphins is called a pod. Ben said, “I knew that,” and when I asked him how, he went into great detail about it from one of the books he’d been reading.
That’s just one example. And it’s not just my kids. Life learning kids are so fun to talk to because they speak with passion about the things they know. Not to brag but just because they are so into it!
My kids tend to shake it off when someone makes an assumption about what they do and do not know. They are very secure in themselves and since they know what they know, they don’t worry much about the opinions of others in that regard. They don’t care about neat little labeled packages of learning. They know the world does not exist in neat little labeled packages, but in a jumble of sights and sounds and knowledge. Life learners are sort of like knowledge prospectors, if you think about it. They have the world at their disposal and they sift through it, searching for the knowledge that is their own personal vein of gold. Once they have it, it is forever theirs because they chose it. It won’t be tossed aside or easily forgotten.
Assumptions about the ‘right’ way to learn are always false. There is no right way. Here is Wendy Priesnitz’ quote of the day, from Life Learning Magazine:
“Life learning is not a method of education, nor are there any step-by-step guidelines or rules for doing it the right way. It is a way of life, a way of looking at the world and at children. It is about self-direction, about respect, about learning from life and throughout life. It is about kids, families and communities regaining control over their days, their learning, their money, their resources, and their ability to direct and manage themselves.” ~ Wendy Priesnitz
Couldn’t have said it better myself.