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November 19, 2018
When we mention that we’re homeschooling our kids, peoples’ main reaction seems to be along the lines of “But how will they learn the things they need to learn?”
And almost no one actually says that, because it would imply that we have absolutely no idea what we’re doing (which we totally do…), but the follow up questions they ask imply that they are fairly skeptical that homeschooling can provide a quality education.
The more I’ve thought about this, the more it seems like this reaction comes from the belief that school and education are synonyms. This is an understandable belief. For most people, the vast majority of learning happens in a very particular environment. From the ages of 5 to 18, people spend most every day in school. When they’re done with school, they either do extracurriculars (which are often school-sponsored), or they do homework. By the time they get home, they’re too exhausted to do much besides passively consume whatever media happens to be in front of them. This is totally understandable, it’s what most working adults do in the evening too!
When kids aren’t in school, it’s summer break, which is notorious (universally beloved?) for the lack of learning. Only the kids who aren’t learning enough have to spend their summers learning. It feels like a punishment to have to learn during the summer.
After we enter the workforce, we learn how to do our jobs, but except for the first few months at a new job, we’re generally learning at nothing like the rate we learned new things in school. For those jobs that have some kind of continuing education, once again learning is done in a very particular environment, in a kind of seminar setting. This further reinforces the idea that learning only happens in a special kind of building when you have a special kind of book picked by a special kind of person who stands in front of you and tells you the things that you have permission to learn. That last sentence was me being sarcastic, but I think it holds a grain of truth.
Until we’re 5 years old, we learn because we don’t have a choice. It’s just engrained in the human brain to learn things. It’s possible that this state of mind could continue throughout our whole lives, but at the age of 5 we head off to school, and we learn that learning happens in a very particular place and not outside of it. And we learn from the working adults in our lives that we spend our days toiling and our evenings trying not to think about our days, so we separate our lives into “school” and “not school.”
Over time, this turns into “learning” and “not learning,” and then we leave school and go out into the world and our time for learning is done.
I am always learning something. Right now I’m trying desperately to learn computer science (and it’s very hard). Maybe I’ll use it to make money one day, maybe I won’t, but it seems important to know. I’m always reading one or more non-fiction books, based on whatever seems interesting to me, also because it seems important to know. I’m also always reading fiction, although that’s more for personal enjoyment than because I think it’s important, though I try to read “important” fiction occasionally.
When I was in school, I really didn’t enjoy math or science, but I’ve since tried to learn the basics of all the math and all the science because it seems important to know. I try to study historical periods that I never found interesting. Whenever I hear about a country in the news, I make sure I know where it is and a bit about it’s history so that I can build by model of the world. In law school, I spent afternoons in the stacks at the library in sections utterly unrelated to my current classes because it seemed a shame to waste a resource like the law library.
I’ve learned that this is not normal. I get weird looks when I carry around a math book. I get weird looks when I carry around a history book. When people see what I’m reading, the first thing they ask is “Why?” like we need a reason to learn.
But that’s another thing that’s drilled into us, isn’t it? Throughout school, we are being groomed for our future jobs. We may go to college to get “better jobs”(TM), and graduate school to get even better jobs! Our whole education has a purpose. We don’t learn because it’s better to know things than to not know things, we learn because we need jobs. Once we have jobs, what’s the point of learning?
Never mind the fact that most of what we learn in schools isn’t that useful for the jobs we ultimately have, but it’s easy to see why people completely and utterly equate school with learning.
And I’m not saying all of this to suggest that people should spend more of their precious time learning random stuff like I do, but it is my observation that people definitely don’t spend their free time learning much of anything. That’s their prerogative, for sure, but if that’s true, then I’m not going to put much stock in their opinions of how possible it is to learn things outside of school.
Needless to say, we don’t believe that this is true at all. Learning can happen anytime, anywhere. It should happen more than it does.
Learning can happen anytime you pay attention to something that you’re not familiar with. It happens anytime you try to understand something. It happens anytime you open a book, or a new website that has something beside gifs of cats on it.
My experience learning things outside of school has been that you can learn more, faster. Even within school, I never learned more than during seminars in college where we just had to read a ridiculous number of pages every week and then had a few hours worth of discussion with the professor to keep us on track. Certain subjects, like computer programming, require more drilling, but we’re entering a golden age where thousands of drills exist for free online. You can do the drills, get feedback in real time, discuss with other learners on the discussion board, all in your own time.
In any case, I didn’t write this post to argue that learning outside of school is better than learning in school (though I also believe that, for most definitions of school). I wrote this post to dispel the notion that school and education are synonyms, or that learning can only take place inside certain tightly controlled environments.
Our oldest is only five and we have done almost nothing that would resemble school, except reading with him (not often enough), and taking every organic opportunity to help him learn to spell or do phonics or math (he seems to enjoy answering math questions). He’s well ahead of his grade level (like 2 or 3 years ahead), and most of what he knows has come from Youtube and video games. I know that where he’s at developmentally isn’t exceptional, but I think what is exceptional is that he has spent no time in a structured learning environment. We would prefer if he spent more time not playing games or watching videos, but he can’t read very well yet so there’s just a limit to the knowledge he can get out of books. And he’s only 5, so we’re not in a giant hurry (yet, anyway).
We’ll definitely add more structure as he gets better at reading and can spend time with resources by himself, but we also aren’t going to be super formal about it. He enjoys learning right now, and as long as he stays ahead of his grade level, I see no reason to reform our strategy.
Raising Abundance is mainly a daily personal journal to look back on while we live our unconventional lives with the additional hope of helping others do better and get more out of life.