Learning is not a competition

Here’s a hypothetical scenario I would like you to consider (truly, I am not basing this on anyone I know).

Two unschooled kids:

Kid 1 falls in love with American history at a very young age.  Why?  Who knows – maybe a movie or book piqued her interest.  The why doesn’t matter.   But this kid LOVES U.S. history!  She devours books on it, watches documentaries and begs her parents to visit Civil War battlefields.  They spend an entire summer camping all over the South, visiting famous Civil War sites, winding up in Washington D.C.

Kid 2 thinks history is about as interesting as sitting around watching dust collect.  He is far more interested in World of Warcraft and video game design.  He spends hours each day, planning new games and learning the appropriate coding to create them.

Among unschoolers this is generally not a problem, but which parent – that of Kid 1 or Kid 2 – do you think is going to get more questions along the lines of “but how do you know he’s learning anything?” or “won’t he fall behind?”, “shouldn’t he know the basics of U.S. History in order to be ‘well-rounded’?”  or “…in order to be a good & knowledgeable citizen?”

Fast forward 15 years.   Both kids are now grown, and Adult 1 still enjoys all things historical as well as a bunch of other things she’s picked up or learned along the way.    Maybe history factors into her work, or maybe not.

Adult 2 is also grown and working.  Maybe he has kids and one of them asks a question about history, so they go to look it up.  And adult 2 sees a way to create a video game (maybe he’s a game designer or makes them just for fun) around the battles of the Civil War.   So he goes out and learns everything – becomes obsessed with the details of the battles, the commanders, the strategies.  This leads to a series of games on U.S. History, focusing mainly on the famous wars and/or battles.

Who got the better “education” in history?

Or maybe….

Adult 2 never becomes interested in history.  It is a definite gap in his universal knowledge, but as he spends his days happily designing video games or some other non-history related career, it doesn’t bother him.  He knows how to look stuff up when he needs it and has picked up the basics over the years.

Is adult 2 a lesser person?   Is his learning irrevocably flawed?

While you think about it, let me just say that in my view one of the most important things to be aware of when it comes to our kids and their learning is that it’s not a competition.   The child who grows up with the most facts crammed into their brain does not automatically win.   Far more important than when you learn something or even what you learn is the how of it.  Are you learning it to satisfy your own passion, curiosity or question or is it being forced on you because someone else thinks you need to know it in order to be “well-rounded”.

The first is always and infinitely better than the second, no matter the age at which it occurs.



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