Do Unschoolers Have Gaps in Their Education?
By its very definition unschooling is something individual and flexible, something that will look different to each child and in each family. With the cultural idea that people need to Get An Education, as if it’s something that can be pre-packaged for mass consumption, comes the idea that there is one single education to get: a set collection of facts and formulae that will lead to a well-rounded, competent, and productive adult.
I think there are several things wrong with that idea.
Curriculum varies by geographic location, individual schools, available electives, and teachers.
Even the most ardent attempts at standardization can only affect so large a region. There might be Common Core standards in the USA right now, but what you’ll find being taught in Arizona will not be the same as what’s found in a school in Massachusetts. Similarly, my home province of Quebec has different curriculum than British Columbia. And that’s just talking about North America! While the model of industrialized schooling (along with the accompanying ideas about what education means) has been exported to most regions of the globe, the content taught varies widely.
Add to that the difference between what individual teachers focus on or choose to include, whether someone is in a “gifted” program or not, whether a teenager takes shop class or theater or music…
On the spectrum of home education, few families seek to create an exact replica of school in the home, as most want to create something more personalized or rigorous or otherwise different from what a child would be taught in school. No family and no child will receive the exact same body of knowledge and skills as every other child, no matter where they spend the majority of their days. People and standardization just don’t go that well together, no matter what many bureaucrats and politicians might hope.
This means that, since there isn’t one “education,” either everyone has gaps in their education or the idea of there being such a thing as “gaps in education” doesn’t really make sense. I’m going with the latter.
Embracing diversity in education.
One of the first things you realize when you start unschooling is that not everyone will learn the same things, and that that might actually be a good thing.
What’s important in the life of one person won’t be in the life of another. Someones’ family and place of residence, their cultural background, friends, interests and aptitudes are all going to have a strong influence on what they actually learn and remember, regardless of what anyone attempts to teach them. As unschoolers, you really just choose to embrace that diversity!
There is so much in the world that can be explored, studied, and experienced. Each of us will only ever learn a fraction of what there is to know. What a narrowing of possibilities to attempt to teach every child the exact same things.
Learning “important” things.
Despite the appeals of personalized learning, most people still feel that there are some universally important things that everyone should learn. I could say that my important isn’t your important, which is true, but I can’t really disagree that understanding history helps us understand current events, or that an understanding of mathematics is important for everything from budgeting to pursuing scientific careers.
But what history is important will depend on where you live, what you care about, and what’s currently going on in the world. How much and what type of math you need will vary depending on whether you plan to pursue a STEM career or just need to know the basics for your everyday life.
And, as unschoolers quickly learn, the important things crop up in life all by themselves: you learn what you need to learn by living, by encountering the challenges life presents, by pursuing your interests, and by striving to meet your goals. It’s the job of parents and mentors to help young people figure out what they need to learn to get where they want to be, and that works best when the young people themselves are driving things. After all, the best motivation is always internal motivation.
I don’t know what you know, but that’s okay.
In my teens I used to worry that I had “gaps” when compared to schooled peers, but the older I got the more apparent it became just how different everyone’s skills were. I realized that I was better at some things than some people, and other people were better at other things. I knew more about some subjects, and less about others, just like all of my friends, whether schooled, homeschooled, or unschooled.
Who I am and what I’m good at depended on a lot of factors. All unschooling did was give me the space to grow and learn in a more flexible, organic way.
We all have “gaps,” but I feel good about the knowledge and skills I have, and most importantly, I feel like I can continue learning and growing as I meet new challenges and explore exciting new topics!