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November 9, 2018
A major reason that parents choose homeschooling and especially unschooling for their children is that they don’t like the way formal schooling puts kids into boxes and turns learning into something that is rote and disconnected from the real world. We all want our kids to know what a full life is and we want them to feel connected to the world and like they have the agency to change things and follow their own path.
Our kids will only know the world that we create for them, at least for the early part of their lives. We need to be careful, then, that we don’t accidentally prescribe a certain path for them based on what we have found that we like best. I know that I personally completely take for granted everything that I have experienced.
We’ve lived in suburbia. We’ve lived in the city. We’ve lived in the country. We’ve lived in apartment buildings, condos, and houses. I’ve had an hour commute, a half hour commute, a 15 minute commute, and I’ve worked from home. We’ve tried every kind of cuisine available wherever we happen to be.
Over the years, though, we’ve settled into a life that is filled with the things that we think are the best. What is best for us isn’t best for everyone, though. Our kids will grow up steeped in the things we think are best. They’re pretty good things, for sure, but they’re far from the only things.
Before I go any further, I’ll say that I started thinking about this while reading Ben Hewitt’s Home Grown. He and his wife have tried incredibly hard to allow their kids the freedom to do mostly whatever they want (in addition to chores and certain family responsibilities) and it seems like their kids are flourishing. Throughout the book he talks about wanting to let the kids determine their own path and their own interests and they are doing quite admirably.
They happen to live on a 40 acre farm in very rural Vermont, though. Their children have grown into excellent little woodsmen. Their children have a ton of agency to choose what they will learn, but it’s all in the context of a farm in the woods.
I have absolutely nothing against a farm in the woods. After all, my kids have grown up in a certain kind of suburban environment, mostly indoors, with ample access to electronics. My kids will probably never be woodsmen.
But if our goal is to provide our children with the greatest range of possibilities for their lives, the best way to accomplish that is probably to allow them to grow up with exposure to a lot of different circumstances.
When I say the greatest range of possibilities, I mean it. I want my kids to feel like they can go to community college and become welders, or go to an Ivy League and work on Wall Street (if *gulp* they find that interesting), or become a doctor, or work for the government in whatever capacity, or go homestead in rural Vermont. Right now our lifestyle is definitely leaning toward them not becoming homesteaders, although a lot can change in the next decade. Nevertheless, it worries me to think that we are foreclosing possibilities for our children without intending to.
I don’t know anything about Ben’s situation other than what he wrote in his book, but it seems incredibly unlikely to me that his kids will end up living in a city. They won’t care at all, they’ll probably love wherever they live, and that means it probably doesn’t matter. But they also may not even consider the city to be an option. This may be a pointless thing to worry about. After all, in the book, Ben also mentions that he was the son of two highly educated people and it sounds like he had a fairly normal suburban life and he ended up dropping out of high school and years later homesteading. So things can change and perhaps it’s just important for our kids to know they have options, regardless of their upbringing.
But if our major objection to formal schooling is that it forecloses all of the possibilities that don’t lead off from formal schooling, then we need to be supremely careful that we aren’t foreclosing on possibilities that don’t lead off from our chosen lives.
Ideally, I would like my children to have all of the possibilities afforded to them by formal schooling, plus a whole bunch of other possibilities. I want them to know that they can go to college, but also that they can start a business at 16. If their interests try to carry them to San Francisco or Austin or Raleigh or rural South Dakota, I want them to feel comfortable enough in the world to pack up and go.
I realize that I haven’t offered any solutions to this conundrum. I don’t think I have a solution yet. Maybe there isn’t one! We do have to live somewhere after all, and we do have to do something to make a living. Choosing a place to live and a thing to do means that we can’t live all of the other places and do all of the other things.
The only actions we’re taking right now are to let the kids know about as many professions as possible. We’re not just telling them that the professions exist, either, but trying to talk about a day in the life. We’re working on starting businesses with the kids that they can slowly learn what it means to do something that is useful enough to someone else that you can get paid for it. As they get older, we will teach them to harness the powers of the internet to learn as much as they can about whatever their interests happen to be, and we’ll hopefully instill in them the idea that they can just start building things without anyone’s permission.
Beyond that, we try to have an utter lack of cynicism or pessimism in our household. We don’t want the kids to become jaded just by listening to us talk. We don’t want the kids to think they’re “too cool for school,” regardless of what school is. We want them to approach the world, as much as possible, with open minds. We also try to be unfailingly honest with them about unpleasant things, like death (in the context of where their food comes from, or what happens as relatives get older), or cheating (in the context of the games they play), because trust and optimism and open-mindedness don’t have to mean naivete.
We’ve only been parents for 5 years and we’re trying some weird stuff, so we’ll see how it works!
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.