“How will they ever learn to listen to their boss if they don’t have to listen to teachers?”
“They’ll never make it in the workforce, you have to do things you don’t like to do and deal with jerks.”
“In the real world you don’t get to do what you want.”
There are a lot of ways that many people seem convinced unschoolers will fail, and most of those reasons lead back to the belief that unschoolers just have it too good. They get to be too happy, too playful, too independent, too creative. If they’re used to living such full and interesting lives, how will they ever manage to knuckle down, obey their superiors, and resign themselves to a job that’s unfulfilling at best, and nearly intolerable at worst?
I think this attitude is an indictment of the current education system (as well as the typical workplace environment and maybe even the current economic system). Unknowingly, people who express concern that unschoolers won’t be able to function in such unpleasant situations are saying just what they think schools are good at: namely, teaching people to function in unpleasant situations.
I should hope that school free learners aren’t holding up, as their greatest vision of success, that their children become good at resigning themselves to unhappiness. I’d hope, instead, that life learners are raising children who will seek to build lives that make them happy.
Is it important to be able to deal with unpleasant people and situations at times? Of course. Sometimes you’re going to have to take a job you don’t like so that you can put food on the table. Sometimes you’ll have to deal with a bully to get something you need.
However, I believe that people are best prepared for challenges such as these when they have a core of self confidence and self respect instead of just being accustomed to putting up with discouraging situations on a daily basis. I’ve always thought unschooling was a good way to help individuals develop a strong sense of what is and isn’t right for them, and to make choices that support the type of life they want to be leading.
There are certain qualities in myself that I try to cultivate and encourage.
- A lifelong fascination and excitement about whatever catches my interest at any given time. In other words, a passion for learning that never ends.
- A strong ethic of self care and firm boundaries, skills and practices that help me to stay healthy and grounded in a world that can often feel overwhelming.
- Caring and empathy for other people, and a focus on educating myself about important issues, seeking with my words and actions to make the world at least a little bit better.
- Trust in my own instincts.
- Confidence and a feeling of self worth, no matter how much I’m struggling at any given time.
- Striving always to keep my passions, dreams, and plans at the forefront, working to build my life based on what I truly want and think is right for me.
I share this because, when I think about my own future children and what I’d want for them, I don’t think about college acceptance or an ability to conform to the values and pressures of the dominant culture. Instead, I think about what I want for myself, and I hope that my someday children will have those qualities in even greater abundance than I’ve managed so far for myself.
Figuring out how to live a life in line with your ideals and values is hard no matter what your educational background. But I like to think that unschooling helps. It’s certainly helped me to trust myself because as I child I was never taught that I was untrustworthy. It’s taught me to value the perfection of flow in learning because having experienced it, I know I need to always seek that out in my adult life as well. It’s taught me to question the supposed “common sense” of the dominant culture, and to develop my own thoughts on various issues for myself. And it’s taught me to always follow my passions because doing so will almost always lead me in the direction of the greatest happiness in my life and the greatest contribution to the world.
Let’s cultivate in our life learning journey a version of success based on what makes you come alive.
IDZIE DESMARAIS is a grown unschooler, cook, writer, feminist, and life learning advocate. She’s the author of the popular unschooling blog I’m Unschooled. Yes, I Can Write., and her articles have appeared in Life Learning Magazine, Home Education Magazine, and Our Schools/Our Selves, among others. She’s also spoken at home education conferences across North America, including the Rethinking Everything Conference and the Toronto Unschooling Conference. When not busy writing (or procrastinating about writing), Idzie loves to make lots of tasty food, and has done so both professionally and in her own kitchen. She also loves genre TV shows, fantasy novels, going on road trips with friends, and cuddling with her dog and cats. Idzie lives with her family, furry and otherwise, in Montreal, Quebec.