The 12-16 years children spend in compulsory schooling is an anomaly. Sadly it is an anomaly with negative affects that can last a lifetime.
At no other time in our life, except for those years spent in the compulsory classroom, are we told that in order to learn something we must be taught and that only those who conform will succeed.
When a baby is born we don’t sign him up for walking classes. We don’t enroll her in early talking education. We don’t seek out the best feed and dress yourself school, or the private potty training tutor.
For the first 3 years of life, at least, we are encouraged to learn at our own pace. Parents know that not every child walks or talks at the same age. On their own time, babies and toddlers explore every inch of their world, and they are often fearless. Falling does not keep them from trying to walk, to climb; it just makes them more determined to do so.
And then, just at the point where children might be able to move on to more complex explorations, we send them to school.
We tell them that they cannot learn anything they want, but must learn what they are told they need. They cannot learn on their own. Experts must measure their progress. Failure is devastating and irreversible.
This goes on for at least 12 years.
All that curiosity, that wonder, that fearlessness is replaced by stress and fear and the knowledge that only compliance is rewarded. The only thing that counts is test scores and grades.
And then, eventually, we graduate. From high school, or college, or graduate school and suddenly we are expected to be unschoolers again; self-directed in our motivation and learning.
Many of us, by that point, have forgotten how, and we falter. We’re told to think outside the box and follow our bliss and we don’t even really know what that means anymore. We can’t understand why simply following the rules to a “T” in our job doesn’t get us ahead. Why is it always the guy who innovates, who doesn’t follow the old path but finds a new one; why is that the guy who advances in the company while we are stuck in the same cubicle day after day?
Of course when we have an interest in something we don’t think twice about figuring it out. Cooking a new dish, learning a new computer program, whatever. But often in our work – the place we spend most of our time – we are unsatisfied. Kids are sometimes told that school is their “work”, and at school kids are always told what to do and when to do it and are often unsatisfied. Does anyone else see a connection here?
We’ve forgotten that unschooling is our nature and that only when we are passionate about something do we learn it and learn it well. Only then can we be fulfilled and successful in our lives. It should not be only our hobbies that give us joy, but the core of our daily life, which for many of us is our work.
Unschooling is our nature. Life learning is what we were all born to do.
It’s not a matter of following a new path, but simply remembering the old one.