Thursday, December 6, 2007
I had a conversation with another unschooling mom not long ago. We were talking about the way that concerned family members express their doubts about unschooling. She shared that her mom rarely asks about their unschooling way of life because it's just easier not to know all the details. My friend figures that by not asking for details, her mom can create her own, more easily digestible version of what their homeschooling life looks like. This makes sense to me. I can only imagine how confusing it must be for people not familiar with the ideas behind unschooling.
My friend did go on to report, however, that her mom recently asked a few questions. They were chatting on the phone and her mom asked how the kids were and what they were up to. After my friend's response that they were fine and that they were really enjoying their circus class, her mom paused. "Honey? I'm just wondering," she stammered. "How are they going to get, you know....general knowledge, without ever having been to school?" My friend and I laughed as she continued telling me about the conversation.
General knowledge. Hmmmmm. Let's see. Did she mean those mundane and completely irrelevant details that we all spent hours and hours memorizing in school so that we can to this day amaze our friends when we play Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy? I don't know about you, but I didn't learn "general knowledge" in a classroom. I learned it everywhere else.
Today at our Unschoolers' Park Day, we were discussing the various forms of this supposed general knowledge. Is it the information one needs in order to navigate the world around them? Is it a set of skills that allow someone to perform a particular task? Could it be that general knowledge is simply the term people use to describe the kind of "smarts" that a person should have so that they don't appear to be stupid or ignorant? We went around the table and shared about times in our lives when we felt like we "should" have known something that we in fact did not. Mostly our experiences conveyed feelings of inadequacy, that horrible sense of feeling foolish.
The thing about our unschooled kids, though, is that they have yet to experience that feeling of: "I should know this, and I don't...what will they think of me?" If you don't believe that memorizing irrelevant bits of information to please and amaze your teachers and friends is important, than it doesn't matter anyway. I shared in a post recently that my daughter Macy didn't even flinch when a well meaning friend asked her to name a particular state on the map. When I say she didn't flinch, I don't mean that she answered the question immediately. She didn't. Rather, she asked a question in return: Why? I was stunned, and proud. I took her question to mean: What relevance does that bit of information have for you and why are you putting me on the spot?
My unschooling friends and I agreed that in this day and age, it takes about 12 seconds to Google something and find out that little factoid you never knew. I recall at some point in Junior High or High School memorizing the three branches of our US government and their particular functions. I probably passed that test and maybe even wrote a paper about it. I don't remember that information today. It is not relevant for me in my day to day life. Anyway, if I really need to know more about US Government, I can call up my good friend Maud, who knows a ton. She grew up in DC and has always been a political activist. It's an important skill to know who to ask.
My kids are learning that I don't know everything and that learning who to ask is half the fun. At a family gathering recently a distant relative asked about homeschooling, "So, you are the children's only teacher?" I smiled and tried not to laugh. I politely explained that I was only one of many, and that I learn as much from my children as they are learning from me.