Education is more than academics

One of the most difficult things for me as an unschooling parent is letting go of the idea that learning and education must be centered around “academics”.   It’s what we’ve all been taught.  The important knowledge is academic knowledge.  You aren’t smart unless you’re good at Math or well-versed in History or Science.   If you haven’t read (& understood & enjoyed) the classics, your education is lacking.  If you admit to being baffled by, or worse, uninterested in the Periodic Table of the Elements or Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” what you are really doing is exposing yourself as ignorant; your education as tragically flawed.

The true “Academics” – those we hold in highest esteem (although we pay them next to nothing for it – an odd irony) are not supposed to know much about pop culture.  They are too busy thinking deep philosophical thoughts & pondering the mysteries of the universe;  And if you’re like me you were taught, in school,  that those kinds of thoughts are more important than….well, other thoughts.

As a result, it’s very easy to get caught up in the academic “competition”.   Sit in any playground and pretty soon someone is going to tell you how much their kid loves Chemistry or Geology, and all the amazing academic things they are doing.  And you know what?  That’s fantastic!  There SHOULD be people who love Chemistry and Geology or who dream of being brain surgeons or philosophers.  We need those people.

The problem is, we need lots of other people too.  We need comedians and science fiction.  We need the Stephen Kings and Nora Roberts’ of the world.  We need the guy who can build an engine with his eyes closed and the kid who lives to play electric guitar.  We need gardeners and seamstresses and potters.  We even need check out clerks at department stores and tellers at banks.  And bartenders.  And garbage men.

In fact, I would say that percentage-wise, we need a lot more people whose focus is NOT on academics.

So why do we act like every kid must be a neurosurgeon or biophysicist in training?

I already know what “school brain” would say.  General knowledge.  Every person needs to have the same base of general knowledge in order to function in the world.    Ok, I’ll buy that there is a certain amount of basic knowledge that makes interacting with people easier.  It’s good to know how many states are in the U.S. and some basic historical facts.  Nice to know something about the country in which you live.   It’s also good to know that fire is hot, ice is cold and rain is wet.   Basic math comes in handy when you need to pay bills and make sure you don’t overdraw your account.  Also for cooking or calculating a tip in your head.

I could go on with this for a while, but you get the picture.

How long do you suppose it takes to get a base of such general knowledge?  Well if you live in the world and are the least bit interested and attentive, you’re going to pick it up along the way in a lot less than 12 years of dedicated ‘study’.   Why then, do we (and by we I mean me) still feel somewhat hesitant to share that the thing our kid is really passionate about is not the search for new sources of alternative energy, but YouTube videos – making them, watching them, using them as a money-maker….

As unschoolers, our goal is to never separate learning from living, our education from our life in the world.  This is easy for my kids, who’ve never known anything else, and tougher for me with my latent ‘school brain’ which rears its’ ugly head whenever talk on the playground turns to academics.

Despite that inconvenient fact, it is my opinion that all the talk on education reform will be for nothing until we acknowledge that academic knowledge is only one small part of an education, and not the part that most people are going to utilize in their everyday lives.  Until we allow that a passion for stand up comedy has its’ place in our world, and an important one at that since without laughter life is pretty drab, nothing will change.  Our dogged pursuit of academic dominance to the exclusion of everything else is doing us more harm than good.



Leave a Comment