Unschooling: Our Results
My friend Mary's article on LewRockwell.com spurred this post. We met Mary via my original blog when we first moved to Costa Rica back in 2006. Mary and her three boys came to our house and hung out for a spell. They live an hour from our town, so we didn't see each other often. But they did get out to our yard sale and we got to say hasta luego, amigos!
When our boys, Mo and Ryan, became school age, we decided to homeschool. Our friends were aghast. "What about their socialization?" they'd ask, all worried. And, truth be told, threatened, because we were going to work our lives around doing what we thought best for our kids. Most parents won't even investigate home/unschooling because it's truly hard to do, especially in today's economy. One of you has to stay home to teach, and, gasp, raise your own children. It might even require moving to a cheaper place to live and finding a new job. Fortunately, we started right as the real estate bubble got lit up and I was making plenty of money.
I apologize if I'm offending anyone. My anger is not toward parents who choose public education. I understand completely. My anger is with an ineffectual government that has so burdened us with taxes -- to pay not just for Pensions for Bureaucrats, but for unending wars, murdering millions of peasants around the world -- that one parent has to work, or make drastic changes (like moving) in order to be successful at raising your own children, without being so poor you live in your car. Although, that is preferable. (Having never lived in my car, I can pretend I know that.) Yeah, I'm an extremist sometimes.
Re. "socialization": that is the very thing we were trying to avoid. Boy, that answer leaves folks speechless! They figure we are hopeless and our kids will be social misfits. Well, they aren't, as anyone who has met them knows. They are smart, witty, personable and nice (Mary will attest to this!)
Our reasoning was simple: we didn't want them raised in an institutional setting, raised by 25+ of their same-aged peers and one or two bureaucrats for more hours in a day than they would be with us. Plus, we wanted them to learn something. Ok, that was a dig. But every study and a half-hearted glance at today's statistics proves beyond a shadow of a doubt -- with some notable exceptions -- that public education is an unprecedented failure. A failure which no amount of money can fix.
Many of my friends have succeeded with public schooling. These are friends who Pay Attention to their kids, to their schooling and participate every step of the way. Too many parents figure the kids are being raised like all the other kids and that should be good enough. After all, you are paying good money -- really, really good money for which you work long hours -- for that education. Why do you have to pay $ and attention? I mean, isn't that what you are paying for? Besides, there just aren't enough hours in the day to work and parent. It's truly a catch 22. But, if you haven't been paying attention, take a look at your kid's and your kid's friends' health and values to see whether or not you might make the time.
OK, [/rant] meaning end of rant. I think.
Somewhere along the way, we ended up unschooling. Even though we'd read Holt* and Gatto, agreed with every word, it was hard to let go of our decades-long indoctrination that structure was essential for schooling. Turns out, we didn't have to "let go": it just evaporated. We have also completely let go of college as a necessity -- that was difficult. But having no money helped that along. We couldn't afford it and had to start talking about it, lol!
The boys are 17 and 18 now, soon to be 18 and 19. They are getting their GEDs so they can get jobs and go on to some higher education (one is going to mechanic's school, the other will take some classes at UK, figuring out what he wants to do).
For the GED, they did a short pre-placement test, then a 4-hour placement test and did so well on them -- even though they have not been "schooled" for almost 3 years -- that they can go right to the practice test without any classes. I admit to being worried, but they are both in the 98th percentile! Even if they have to take a class in something between the practice test and the GED test, I am so pleased they've done so well so far. A personal testament to the home/unschooling theory.
Mo, who will not read unless he has a gun to his head (he's going to mechanic's school -- loves taking things apart and putting them back together, also plays four instruments by ear) got a low score on spelling. He has never been a great speller. (Uh oh, is speller even a word?) He spells phonetically, which was great in Costa Rica: Spanish is spelled phonetically! But not so great for English. We saved some of his early writings. Hysterical. There is definitely a talent in spelling all words phonetically!
But on the GED placement test, there were words Mo had never seen before. Ryan, who is never without a book, got 100 on the spelling. So it's just a matter of Mo being exposed to more words. He is studying for the spelling part of the practice test now. Clearly, he doesn't need to be a great speller to be an excellent human being. Plus, he and his brother lived in another culture for five years and speak and spell darn near perfect Spanish. You don't get that in public school.
The other thing to note is that my boys' heads are not crammed full of useless facts like publicly schooled kids. Completely useless facts that can be found in a minute with an internet search. Why spend your critical formative years in an institution learning how to memorize stupid stuff to pass a test?
I did not teach them, by the way, because not all of us would have lived through that experience. Seriously. My husband taught them while I was the breadwinner.
"Breadwinner." What a concept. Getting back to those roots right now.
*Both of these authors write about homeschooling, but the principles apply to unschooling for the most part. We started with Holt's How Children Learn and his Homeschooling Guide, and Gatto's Dumbing Us Down. Good choices for us!