What did you learn today?

Earlier this week, Ben & I walked into a local bookstore in the little town where we are vacationing with my parents.  The woman running the place smiled at Ben and said, “So you’re not in school, which either means school hasn’t started for you or, you’re homeschooled?”

You have no idea how rare it is for someone to actually consider the fact that my kids might not go to school at all.  One of the things Maya says she’s not looking forward to when we get home is the return of the almost daily, “So, no school today?” comments we get from people in our building or in local stores when my kids are out and about during the day.

So the woman in this local bookstore scored some major points by not simply assuming that school hadn’t started yet.

But then…

We walked to the counter with our purchases (I can’t pass a local bookstore without buying – gotta support local businesses!) and she said to Ben, “So what is your favorite thing you’re learning in school?”   Obviously she thought that since we homeschool we do school at home.   He looked at me, completely at a loss, and so I said, “That’s a tough question for my kids to answer, because we don’t follow any set curriculum or lesson plans.  We’re what is called unschoolers which means all our learning comes from life.”

To her immense credit, she didn’t balk or look horrified, but nodded and said “I think that’s the best way to learn anything.  By doing it and living in the world.”    She didn’t say,  “But how do you teach them Math?” or “What about learning Science?” or even, “How do you know they are learning the things they need to know?”

I could have hugged her.

My kids are always learning, but almost never do they define their learning in school terms.  Why should they?  Think, however, about the way people talk to kids.   How far can a conversation between an adult and a child go before the adult says something like, “What grade are you in?”  “What school do you go to?”  “What is your favorite subject?”  “What are you learning in school?”   We’ve timed it, and it’s usually not more than a minute or two at most.  It’s as if adults don’t know what to say to kids unless they are talking about school.    Can you imagine two adults who’ve just met talking and after a minute or two one of them inevitably saying, “So what did you learn today?”

Of course, as my Mom says, people aren’t trying to be rude or insensitive with these comments.  It’s just something you say to “be polite”.   That fact alone shows how thought-less = lacking in thought, questions about school and learning have become.  It’s the same as saying, “Great weather we’re having,”  or “How’s it going?”  when we don’t really care or want to know.    If you truly want to understand just how ingrained we are in the cycles and modes of schooling, think about how many things in our society revolve around the school calendar.  We’re in Michigan and after Labor Day Weekend all the tourist sites begin to run on more limited schedules.  Some shut down completely.  Everyone has gone home because of one reason;  school is starting.

Everything is divided into subjects and compartmentalized into “manageable” units of time.   Not just in school, but in work and life as well.   It’s all sanitized and standardized, age appropriate and checked for content.

Boring.  Controlled.  Uninspiring.

My daughter Maya relishes saying, “Nothing,” when someone asks her what she’s learning.   She knows what they are expecting to hear but isn’t willing to give a sanitized answer, and the real answer is too complicated for small talk.  Nobody wants to hear the real answer.

Actually, now that I think about it, there is an easy way to answer that question.   The next time someone asks, “So what are you learning?” my kids could shrug, smile and say, “Life”.

What did you learn today?


Leave a Comment