Thursday, June 18, 2015

Stuff we've been up to:

  • Q finished up preschool last week, so both boys are home full time now and will be for the time being (we've decided not to send him back to preschool in the fall, but that deserves its own post). Wheeee! =) 
  • Q has had soccer camp in the mornings this week, with school BFF is in the same class so they're having a blast with that.
  • After soccer camp we've been playing at the playground of the same park, which the boys have enjoyed. Twice now we have seen a woman with her adorable corgi puppy, and D has made friends with them. Today he was helping train the puppy with commands and give him treats. The whole thing was just so darling (including the woman who was so sweet with D, and remembered his name after their first meeting).
  • Both boys are very into Iron Man right now, and Q also obsessed with DareDevil. 
  • Inspired partially by Stark Industries, D is talking nonstop about the company he wants to start in a few years that will do everything from make Iron Man suits at affordable prices to take animals on adventures and a whole bunch of other things he's told me that I've forgotten. His offices will start as one tower, but expand to underground buildings worldwide, and will include on-site daycare and schools for the employee's children. (no seriously, he came up with all that himself)
  • We got D a 3DS recently, and he also was introduced to Total Annihilation by his dad and uncle, so he's been in like gaming heaven the past week or so. 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

So..... How DO Unschoolers Turn Out?

We're about a year into our unschooling journey here. I am feeling more comfortable, more confident, in our approach. But still, I wonder... how will this turn out long-term? There are no guarantees and every child is different, but is there evidence for making any sort of educated guess about how unschoolers turn out? Something based on more than our gut feelings and assumptions?

When you search online for information about unschooling, you come across a lot of people who have very strong opinions about the subject. Most people online who hear about unschooling are immediately convinced that there is NO WAY this method could work. That it will surely result in kids who are spoiled, lazy, who never learn anything, who will never get into college or get a real job. I see these comments over and over again, said by other parents, other homeschoolers, teachers, educators, etc.

So... is that true? Is that what happens? What DOES happen to kids who grow up unschooling?

As it turns out, there are a lot of kids who unschool and somehow manage to actually do ok. It's hard to draw firm conclusions about it, as most of the evidence is anecdotal. There are a couple of larger surveys that suggest quite positive results, but those can easily be picked apart as being biased, or having too small a sample size, etc.

I have been trying to search online for evidence of unschooling gone wrong... of kids who unschooled and regretted it, or hated it, or who really did grow up to never learn to read or write or do anything (clearly, there are many people who remain illiterate through adulthood, but that is usually from neglect or lack of opportunity, which is very different from parents who are actively unschooling).

In 2011 Peter Gray and Gina Riley sent out a survey to unschooling families. He received responses from 231 families about their unschooling experiences, what they saw as the advantages and disadvantages of it, etc (see full results here) These responses were overwhelmingly positive, although again that could be sample bias. These surveys were filled out by the parents, who in theory could have blinders on and love everything about unschooling even as their kids were bored and unruly, right?

So then in 2013 Gray and Riley decided to try to find grown unschoolers and ask them about their experiences directly. They sent out a new survey, getting 75 responses. A summary of the results is talked about here, and Gray did a four-part blog series with more in-depth discussion of what he found (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4). Some of the responders had always been unschooled (never attended a more traditional school), others were only unschooled for a period of time for various reasons. The vast majority had a very positive view of their unschooling experience. Most of them had gone on to college for a bachelor's or further advanced degree (they CAN get into college!!), and/or had jobs that sustained their living (eg- not mooching off their parents or whatever).

In addition, you can also find many grown unschoolers who become public advocates of unschooling. Again, not only did these kids grow up into functional adults, but ones that feel strongly enough about their experiences to speak openly and publicly about their benefits.

So, basically, it seems the fears of unschooling resulting in a bunch of spoiled, illiterate adults who can't function in society are, well, somewhat unfounded.

But surely there are horror stories as well, right? I've been searching for them and been surprised at how difficult they are to find. Sure, I could see the parents not wanting to boast about "failed unschooling" but you would think the kids would be speaking out if they felt strongly that their parents had done them a disservice. People LOVE complaining about how their parents wronged them, right?

I did find a transcript of a Facebook group discussion about kids teens and adults who had felt resentful of unschooling, or felt like they were left behind academically. Usually these were kids in a family the commentor was friends with, and they viewed the kids or teens as great, intelligent, talented people, but the kids themselves felt badly about themselves. Certainly this is important to pay attention to-- it's important to try to understand why kids may feel that way, and what can be done to ameliorate these complaints. At the same time, I don't see these as a strong argument for throwing unschooling out the window. And besides, how many adults today feel resentful, angry, bitter about their own more traditional schooling? Obviously we want to minimize how many people grow up feeling this way. It is a reminder to keep lines of communication open with our kids as they grow up, to ensure that we are helping them figure out and fulfill their goals.

Interestingly, my husband has had similar complaints about his own education-- he attended Montessori for elementary school, then went to public middle and high schools. He is incredibly smart and was able to get decent grades in all his honors and AP classes by barely doing any work at all. His parents were very hands-off, supportive and loving but didn't push him on his schoolwork. When he applied for college he was disappointed to not get into MIT, and often said he wished his parents had sat him down earlier in his schooling career to walk him through what it would take to get into that kind of a school. At the same time, he now admits it didn't make much of a long-term difference in his career- he currently works alongside many ivy league peers. He also admits that he's not sure he really would want to trade the extra free time he had, which he used to hang out with friends and pursue other interests, on studying harder and doing all the homework to get those extra GPA points.

There is a whole other discussion we could have here (but won't) about what it means to be a "success" and how everyone defines this somewhat differently. For myself, the findings about adult unschoolers are encouraging. It helps to see other people's stories and how they turned out, particularly that most of them seem to have enjoyed and feel grateful for the more relaxed upbringing they had, and even feel they are the better for it. I hope that as unschooling grows, more research will be done on it so we can know more about the outcomes. Till them, I will make do with what I've got-- the information and stories we have so far, and watching my children and getting their feedback.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Socialization: Yes, homeschoolers still call each other nasty names sometimes

We went to our usual friday afternoon park day today. This is with a homeschool group that is primarily made up of fellow unschoolers/life learners, and one of the few places these days where I feel like I am with like-minded people who won't judge me for being a weirdo homeschooler/too liberal/not hippie enough/etc. They're like my Goldilocks group, "just right." 
The kids in the group are a good mix, with ages above and below those of my own boys. Quinn usually immerses himself right in the action. D sometimes joins in, other times plays by himself or sits with me. All are fine, I'm glad for the chance to be out and about and with other kids, and mostly I get a lot out of getting to sit with the other moms and chat and hang out. The dynamics are pretty good-- the kids get along, and care for each other. One time a few weeks ago D got super upset about something and some of the older girls who don't usually play with him, came right up to ask if he was ok, genuinely concerned about his crying. Most park days are fairly smooth, with the kids playing and playfighting and just running around all over the park.

Today was a bit different. There was more clashing, more fighting and angry words, more "colorful" language being thrown around by a couple of kids. It was a reminder that homeschoolers are not, despite most people's claims./worries, isolated from fighting with their friends, from being picked on or called names or even bullied. These things still happen even inside our happy bubbles. 

Yet, one of the other things I love about these park days is that the kids do have space to handle things on their own if they want, but we as parents are also still close enough at hand to step in if needed. Sure, we sometimes get caught up in our conversations and don't see everything, but we're usually only one "MOOOOM!" cry away. We are there to help mediate tough conversations, or step in when someone is being dangerous towards others, and try to guide them to a safe outcome. We won't always be there and we won't catch everything, but we get these moments as "practice sessions" to model the tools for how to work things out when they get a little ugly.