There are several areas that seem to be of main concern for people who are critical of home/unschooling. I'll do my best to address each one as it relates to my experience. I'd like to start by giving a brief explanation of my educational background and a concise overview of my life at present, followed by my responses to the most common queries and trepidations I've observed from people about unschooling.
And if you're more of an audio learner (or just want to make sure I know how to form coherent sentences verbally as well as on my keyboard), I'd be just pleased as punch if you checked out my youtube channel, linked to in this diary. I made a series of videos two years ago trying to address many of the same questions I'll try to answer here (the playlist is linked to directly, but feel free to check out some of the other stuff I have on there, including two of the shows I've written/directed/produced here in Philadelphia).
My educational background
My mother and father decided to offer my brother and I the choice of whether or not we wished to attend school for various reasons. I don't want to go to much into their thought process because it was their own, not mine (and I'm sure my mom will be happy to explain in the comments if you're curious). Needless to say, we both opted to remain out of school.
My parents believed in the philosophy of 'unschooling'. Their practice of this meant that they trusted us with our own education. My mother and father were resources - librarians, chauffeurs, tutors if we needed them. They encouraged us to be well rounded by providing math textbooks, history books, foreign language audio cassettes, handwriting drill books, and the like. But the choice of how to use those resources was up to us ultimately.
I took quickly to reading, writing and the arts, while my brother would do an entire semesters worth of a math text book in a day (I know, how typical). I began to detest math when I moved into pre-algebra (though loved it until then). My parents informed me that if I wanted to go to college I would need to learn at least algebra, but still it was up to me. I frequently enlisted both of them to help me with problems and math homework, and eventually they found an algebra tutor for me (a friends mother). In the meantime, since I hardly ever did any math on my own, I got a checking account and kept my checking account balance. I helped my parents do their taxes, and learned how to cook and adapt cooking measurements. Kicking and screaming I learned enough algebra eventually to get through college, but those practical math lessons are the ones that stuck with me.
Reading and writing were different stories. I was writing stories and novels constantly, and read voraciously, both fiction and non-fiction. History greatly interested me and I read everything I could. I dreamed of becoming a writer when I grew up and had weekly "young authors club" with other unschooling friends where we shared things we'd written and offered critiques.
To round out my three r's, I was enrolled in a lot of other activities. I played violin (youth and college symphonies, ensemble, private lessons and All State orchestra), sang in a youth chorus, acted in our community theatre and was part of a youth improv troupe, volunteered at the public library and a daycare, taught dance, took ballet and modern, and rode horses in a local pony club. I especially loved the theatre and my dream of becoming an author soon was alternating with dreams of becoming an actress.
I took the ACT when I was 15 and scored a 26. I considered taking it again to raise my score, but decided to put that off until I had actually started applying to colleges. When I was 17 I took a biology class at the local community college and received straight A's. I was accepted at age 15 to Kentucky Governors School for the Arts in Theatre, and through their college fair found the school I wanted to attend, Stephens College. I auditioned for them and was informed they would offer me a scholarship based on my audition. But what about my academic record?
Like most schools, Stephens was very receptive to the idea of having an unschooler join their ranks. I worked with my mother on creating a "transcript" of my education (a book list, my community college credit, my ACT score, my "practical math" courses, etc.). They said they were not sure if that would be enough and I might need my GED. I went ahead and sent in the transcript and took my GED in the meantime...before I even got word that I'd gotten my GED, Stephens wrote me and said I'd been accepted. Not only that, but they'd accepted me into their first year honors program.
Stephens is a three year, two summer program - a BFA that is very theatre intensive. I graduated magna cum laude with a 3.84 GPA. In 2009 I decided to go back to school. I was accepted to a Masters program in Orientation and Mobility therapy (teaching the blind and visually impaired mobility skills) at Salus University, a 1 year program. I graduated with a 4.0. So, I have precisely 4 years of formal schooling and currently hold an M.S.
Though my career as a formal student is certainly over, my career as an unschooler is not. In the past few years I have taught myself Spanish and now speak it fluently. Last year I enrolled in circus aerials at a local circus school and am currently learning static trapeze, corde lisse and tissu (silk). I am currently very interested in urban gardening and learning a lot from http://www.windowfarms.org/ and planning on building my own system soon. Unschooling instilled in me a deep love of learning, and I find myself constantly challenging myself to grow and expand my knowledge of the world. Even my most dreaded subject, math is starting to grow on me. I'm very eager for the day when I have a little free time and can start taking Kahn Academy courses - mostly because I'm very interested in quantum mechanics and chemistry and need to understand math better in order to delve further into those areas.
How did your parents do it time management-wise?
My father worked full time, and my mother worked part time for the majority of my first 18 years. We lived in a rural area on a farm, so after the first few years of babysitters and daycare during the times my mother worked, my parents enlisted the help of our wonderful neighbor Virgie to check in on us several times a day to make sure we hadn't burned the house down. I don't remember what age I was then...maybe around 8 or 9. I was definitely enrolled in daycare when I was much too old to be there, but I moved quickly into the roll of an assistant in the program, and I loved it. Working in a daycare with special needs children was actually my first volunteer position around the time I was 12.
What do you do now?
My childhood dreams of becoming an actress and a writer have both come true. I'm a founding member of a small puppetry group called PuppeTyranny in Philadelphia. I act in with them and various other theatre groups in Philadelphia. I have also written, directed and produced two full length plays for the Philadelphia Fringe Festival ('Rails' and 'Water Bears in Space'). Rails was hailed as a "fiendishly satisfying noir comedy/thriller" and "a hit of the 2009 fringe". Water Bears was featured in the entertainment section of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and given rave reviews ("a blast" -Rosenfield, Philadelphia Inquirer, "rockets past creatively campy to utterly, transcendently bizarre" - CityPaper). I do contract work as an O&M specialist for a state agency, am a standardized patient, and I travel whenever I can (most recently Peru, Colombia, Spain, Morocco, France, Ireland and Greece).
My experiences as an unschooler greatly influenced where I am today. I was given so much free reign to explore what I was passionate about that I never had any doubts about what I wanted to do. Would I have become a playwright and actress had I gone to school? Probably, knowing me. But attending school wasn't necessary to get me where I am today. Though I have always actively pursued my passions, I am still well rounded - I have been completely financially independent since my years in undergrad, keep to a budget, do my own taxes (which, as an artist and an independent contractor, are no joke let me tell you), and even manage on my humble salary to save money for world travel (and every trip I've been on has been 100% planned and paid by my boyfriend and myself...and each trip has lasted at least one month). I learned to cook for my family when I was probably around 10, and still love it - I have taught myself a wide array of cuisines (I made Thai food yesterday, and Indian food today). I work maybe 3 or 4 days a week and spend the rest of my time doing what I love. So all in all, I'm an extraordinarily happy, and consider myself successful, human being.
OMG you had no friends when you were growing up, you must be so socially awkward!!
This is the silliest thing lobbed at unschoolers that I hear. I hate even addressing it as a valid point, so pardon if my answers are terse. Yes, I had friends growing up. Yes, I have friends now.
In fact, my friends growing up were an amazing, diverse bunch. I had friends of all ages - our neighbor Virgie who was like my third grandma. The other teachers at the day care and the women who worked at the library. My fellow dance students, students at youth orchestra, the other kids in the pony club I was in, the people I met through the community theatre and improv troupe, community college, people I met hanging out at Steak & Shake at midnight drinking black coffee, people I met at the mall, the coffee shop, at parties. Just. How. I. Make. Friends. Now. Just how you make friends now. Like a normal person. Through your interests, work, and sometimes just when you're out and about. I am bewildered by people who think that kids can't socialize like adults do - that you have to be forced into a room with a bunch of people your age to find friends. No one does that except kids in school. It's a weird way to make friends - not that it doesn't work. But it's ludicrous to say that's the only way kids can learn how to socialize.
Was my social experience a 'normal' one when I was growing up? Certainly not - most people my age were in school. I definitely didn't have as many friends as my schooled friends. I didn't go out with a guy until I was 16. I didn't go to a lot of parties. But my social life was still a rich one, full of many different types of experiences.
But I think the true testament to how socialization affects the unschooler is seen in the adult unschooler. How's my social life now?
Well, I still have a wide array of friends. I have a lot of friends in the theatre scene in Philadelphia. I have a lot of friends in the music scene as well. I have a lot of older friends through my job as a standardized patient (one of my dear friends is a 60 year old guy who loves to go out and sing karaoke). I have also had a loving and wonderful boyfriend for almost 7 years now. All of my current friends went to public school - so do I think you can't learn to be socialized in public school? Absolutely not. I only wish to point out that unschooling provides a perfectly acceptable platform to learn social skills as well. Maybe a little too well...I'm often exhausted by keeping up with my social schedule on top of my other pursuits (as an example, after attending social events 4 nights in a row, I wanted to spend a night at home working on a new script...two of my friends asked me to go out with them and I politely declined. They then showed up at my house and said they wanted to drop something off.....but instead the picked me up, in my PJ's, and put me in their car telling me that I had to go dancing with them).
Your parents must have been religious freaks and didn't want you to learn about evolution!
Just as with our education, my parents gave us the option of going to church. I chose to attend for a few years and then found it wasn't for me. My parents are both agnostic, but did their best not to impose their views on me. It worked to some extent...I'm very strongly atheist. My parents were actually more worried that they would be teaching me ID in our very conservative public school. So no. Do I share my parents ideology? Yes, mostly....like most children do. But I firmly believe that I've come to my conclusions on religion and politics through my own studies and experiences rather than because my parents brainwashed me. Though neither of them are Christians, I did read the bible (and the Bhagavad Gita...and a lot of history of other religions).
You must have had a hard time in school!
I did freak out the first half of my first semester. I thought it was going to be crazy! Even though my community college class had been ridiculously easy, I thought for sure that an honors program at a real college would be difficult. I'd written probably two essays in my life at that point! I worked like a beast until fall break and actually had most of my work for the entire semester done at that point because I was so nervous. That's when I stepped back and realized that it wasn't really hard. School was actually very easy for me.
But did I learn much?
I can remember so much of what I learned from when I read "The People's History of the United States" when I was a teenager...but I don't remember anything I learned in my history class at college. My English class literature was all on utopian and dystopian futures - but none of my favorites (Brave New World, 1984, etc.) were on there. The literature was awful (something about horses mating with women in one of them). My philosophy teacher was very Christian and made us write an essay proving or disproving God's existence. He gave me a B because I used the law of thermodynamics in my argument (that energy can neither be created or destroyed) reasoning to me that "The law of thermodynamics isn't proven, you can't use that as an argument". Needless to say, I got in several heated debates with him as we disagreed on nearly everything and I was the only person in the class who had actually read something by nearly all the philosophers we were reading years before the class and was prepared to debate a lot of points he brought up.
I learned a good deal in my theatre classes as the subject interested and was of practical value to me. But the rest of my formal education consisted of me getting A's and passing all my tests while really not retaining much of anything. Much how I think my earlier education would have been had I attended public school.
There are many other points I'm sure need to be addressed, but I think this has gone on quite long enough. Again, check out my videos as they may address any other questions on unschooling that you might have. And I'm happy to answer questions in the comments, or write another diary if it's a topic of considerable merit. But for now I need to get back to work on my next script!
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