One of the problems in discussing unschooling with people is that they expect it to be a ‘method by which we educate our children’. And such an expectation is not unreasonable, because the idea that children can grow and learn without any specific methodology is foreign in our culture, and as difficult for most people to grasp as is the concept of infinity. You can almost see their minds being blown.
This problem of the perception of unschooling as a methodology is one reason I prefer Wendy Priesnitz’s term ‘life learning’. Yes, it’s semantics, but it’s one step further away from the image of a method of education. Because as life learners what we are talking about is a way of living in the world. Not our lives and the part that deals with education. Do you see the difference?
What we are saying is that you can’t actually distinguish between living and learning. (Unless maybe you are hooked up to life support, but then is that really living?) They are so integrated and interdependent that separating them is impossible. For that reason, as life-learners, discussing education is the same as discussing our lives. But when I write about the stuff my kids are doing or are interested in, I ‘translate’. I put it in the context of what people define as education so that it can be understood.
Recently I’ve been wondering if maybe this is a mistake. Maybe trying to ‘fit’ life learning into a somewhat recognizable education mold is counterproductive, in the end. If what I want is for people to understand that they don’t need to ‘educate’ their children in the traditional sense (whether that tradition is through public, private or homeschool), then maybe blowing their minds with a complete lack of methodology is the way to go. Today someone I don’t see very often asked me, “How’s the homeschooling going?” And of course I said “It’s going well.” But really, as life learners, that question is the same as saying, “How’s the living going?” It’s going well, thank you.
All the stuff that is ‘taught’ in schools (though much more rarely ‘learned’ there) are things that are often irrelevant to the lives of the children, or things that could be learned through living in the world – unconsciously, the same way we learn to walk and talk. People get so hung up on things like being able to name all the Presidents or all the State Capitols. Is this good to know? Sure, I guess. If you’re interested. Will it make you a more successful, ‘well-rounded’ (a favorite phrase among educators) person? No, though you might do better at Trivial Pursuit or drinking games, if that’s what you mean.
When you live in the world, you learn. If something you see sparks your interest, you find out more about it. Maybe you get a book or see a show or look it up online. But it’s just done as a part of your life, and not because it’s “science” or “math” or “literature”. I didn’t read Frankenstein to improve my knowledge of ‘literature’. I read it because I like books and it’s a good one. But in doing so, did my knowledge of literature increase? Of course it did.
Instead of feeling the need to make sure kids are learning (ludicrous, as they never do anything else) and shoving education down their throats, why not just let them live? If they want to read, get them books. Don’t worry about ‘reading levels’. If they want to cook, show them the kitchen. If they ask for help with something, give it – but resist the urge to TEACH. Think of children as you do yourself; you are no longer in school and so you learn whatever you want or need over the course of your day.
That’s life learning.