Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lifelong Unschooler's Reflections on her Journey

Chelsea is a 2011 graduate from Plymouth, MA USA. She unschooled her whole life and shares her perspective. I think you'll find her essay helpful in understanding the value of unschooling to the student.

"At first glance one might not even see home schooling (un-schooling) as learning at all; that is, if you are viewing it through the traditional education vantage point. People are fascinated when I tell them I home school. I've gotten a lot of practice finding ways to explain "what do you do?". My answer is a variation of the following: I explore, draw, laugh, play, create, search, talk, listen, swim, work out, participate, ask, help, daydream, connect, work, take classes, hike, camp, travel and help family.

"Through unschooling I have learned to follow my passion without restraint. The freedom of this type of education has given me time to explore interests and form concrete ideas about what I want to achieve. I've learned to create opportunities for myself and pursued knowledge just for the sake of it. I haven't been "practicing" for the real world, I've been living it. In my mind, if I'm living I'm learning. I understand for most people education is a separate part of life and that's really ingrained in how they see it, but for me learning is really nothing more or less than living my life as fully as I can. The rest falls into place. Life and learning don't have to be separate things. Unschooling is not unlearning as there's lots of learning happening everyday. I like that I have the freedom to question what society says is right and normal. I ask questions and seek my own answers. I have the freedom to discuss anything and that's just part of the beauty of "life" teaching you. The answers often change and that's ok. Change is totally cool with my family and actually being able to change is half the lesson. I love that life as an unschooler isn't rigid. There is time to sit and have slow deep thoughts. That's something our culture avoids; everyone is in such a rush. Sitting and thinking is never a waste of time. I think many people have forgotten that learning from life is how humans learned for most of our existence. Every person in my life is a learning opportunity just waiting to happen. I think one of my strengths is my ability to listen and ask questions,  thus creating opportunities for myself. How does one fit this sort of learning into a neat little box so it can be labeled?

"I have always found it amazing that home schooling has been falsely connected to lack of socialization. I'm highly social, as are many of my home school friends. Of course that's how I want it and I'm equally aware that some people prefer small groups of very close friends. Through the years, my family and I have taken part in both group and solitary activities. I've done hundreds of sleep-overs and my mom puts on parties, pot luck dinners, art activities, and lots of other events. The adults all join in and it makes the events interesting. I think this has helped me develop good communication as well as planning/organizational skills. I feel really comfortable with people of all ages. One thing I've learned is that unschooling makes really motivated and independent people. I think that's because If we don't do it no one else will do it for us. I've been empowered by directing my own learning and this motivates me to be creative in my problem solving. This has proven to be a life skill that helps me time and time again.

"I've never felt forced into activities and I like that I was part of the decision-making along the way. This isn't to say my Mom didn't make suggestions, but at the end of the day I was part of the process and that felt right. My family and I have done a lot of life exploring together. That said, when you spend 24/7 with your family things can sometimes get heated. In my mind arguing and learning to battle is a lesson as valuable as any other. One needs to understand how to resolve conflict and with all my practice, I'm a pro at it! I'm planning to pursue a career in nursing and I believe my conflict resolution skills will make me a good nursing student as well as an asset to my employer one day.

"I've had more fascinating conversations through the years than I can recall. In our family, conversations start one place and flow endlessly into other places. I love when this happens, as we laugh so hard at ourselves! My Nana is a big talker and we all follow her lead. Speaking of my Nana, I should tell you some about our relationship as she has been a huge influence in my life. I feel fortunate to have been able to spend a huge amount of time with her.  When my Mom and Dad were divorcing, we spent several winters living with her. This was a difficult time for my family and having my Nana there made us all feel better. She is full of stories and loves sharing them with us. She is an amazing woman. I've learned a lot about her life and I respect her devotion to other people. She is so independent yet giving of her time and loving. Having emotionally invested role models is a great gift of security. I never worry about "what if?". I watched the adults in my life resolve important issues and in some cases I took part in the solution.

"One of the best things about unschooling is no two journeys are the same. It's individual and based around your own interests. My interests have changed through the years. I've outgrown many of my interests and adopted new ones. I've enjoyed sewing, knitting, painting, learning guitar, pottery, drawing, acting, hiking, kayaking, camping, languages, building things and breaking things! As a home schooled child, I could take advantage of the vastness of the world around me. When you realize that learning is a choice, so many things become interesting and you realize you really can pursue anything you want. I have had control over what I do with my time and I have control over my life, too. This type of journey is really empowering and empowered people do well in life because they have a strong self-esteem. I hear they are beginning to teach self esteem classes in schools; I can't help but wonder how they do this.

"Our family spent a lot of time camping. Each year we would pack up and head to Vermont for two weeks and Maine for two weeks. We escaped modern day electronics (cell phones didn't work) and this forced us to find other ways to entertain ourselves. We would go hiking, swimming, play cards, ride bikes, catch crayfish and have great camp fires in the evening. Some times another family joined us and that was always really fun. We were always sad to leave when the two weeks passed. I still have a passion for camping and my friends and I went alone for a few days last summer. We planned the entire trip. The trip was a success other than the rain every day!

"I feel confident about the person I've become. I've learned that not knowing something isn't the end of the world. Learning doesn't stop at age 18; it's forever. I'm happy I've learned there isn't a magical body of knowledge that all people must know in order to gain success. The government doesn't know what I need; I know what I need. I haven't spent my life learning to benefit the system; I've spent my life learning about myself and what I can do to benefit myself and others in my community. That process built my self-esteem. If I don't have a certain skill (and if I need it), I know how to find people who posses the knowledge I lack. There is a huge amount of information out there and it is unrealistic to think we should know everything. I'd rather know how to tap into others as a resource for help and knowledge. It's great knowing I'm surrounded by people who willingly share their lives with me.

"Having been raised outside the educational norm does put some uneasy thoughts in one's head. Its not that I believe those thoughts, but they are in the background whispering to me sometimes. It's the doubt other people impose when they ask all the typical questions about home schooling. I started taking college classes a few years ago to prepare for my future and it's been a blend of experiences. At first I felt a bit insecure and anxious because of the doubts. My learning style was very different; thus, I had to make adjustments. It didn't take long for me to get into the swing and comfort soon followed. I discovered I really like psychology and I dislike mathematics. I love the arts and dislike writing, but haven't taken creative writing yet so that could be interesting. I'm look forward to that. Nutrition is an interest of mine and I'll begin checking out classes my college offers. I have learned I can be hard on myself and I need to keep that in check. Sometimes it works for me and other times it works against me. Finding the balance will be key to my success. When reflecting on my college experiences, I find a few things that stand out immediately. The first is the attitude difference between my peers and me. I see formal education as a privilege and something to be taken seriously and they are busy texting, showing up late or not showing up at all. Formal education is seen as a right or given for people who attend college directly out of high school. I had to earn my formal education and understand I can also lose it. Learning is life and life is learning; why would I not take my life seriously? It all seems like common sense to me. Through the years I've learned to respect and enjoy my teachers (people) and the school folks seem to see teachers as just doing a job, thus not requiring respect. Our points of view are very different.

" When I think back to home schooling when we were very young, my mind gets flooded with great memories! My siblings and I built forts, created our own games, buried treasures and spent much of our time outside. We started a nature net program with other families and that was just great. We spent time every month in Boston visiting museums and exploring. My mom and Nana drove with us from Maine to Florida. We stopped at cool places along our way. It was a great trip. I don't remember all the museums (I've seen pictures) but I do remember the sea turtles, eagles, alligators, swamps, and caverns. I also remember feeling very happy and satisfied. Traveling remains a passion and I love long road trips! I feel confident in my ability to get from one place to another no matter the distance and I don't need a Garmin.

"My family has helped many people through the years. My mom is a crisis networking type and we all learned how to organize help for others in need. We would focus on the pleasure of helping people we cared for through difficult times. If we cooked dinner for Silke, we would often run into others helping her. The conversations were fun and often led to other events. I believe I'm a compassionate person who makes a difference in the lives of others. These experiences taught me so much about life and my place in it as an adult. I watched adults organize, express sadness, deal with great stress and even loss. I was home to witness the adults in my life get through difficult times as better people. We are a strong, loving bunch and I'm lucky to be part of this!

"When I was 14 we began staying more local as my Dad's mom became ill and he needed help caring for her. My siblings and I took turns watching her days and some evenings as we got older. We did this for four years and it was a huge responsibility. We all had to give up a lot, but I wouldn't change a thing. My grandmother was finally placed into a nursing home last July. This turn of events was very sad, but her needs required professional help. Taking care of another person can be a challenge and I feel proud that we accomplished our goal of keeping her home as long as possible. We knew she appreciated it, too. I think this life experience helped me with my decision to go into nursing. Caring for my grandmother was rewarding and I think it would be a nice career.

"Being home gave me time to learn how to care for myself physically as well. As far back as I can recall, I cooked real meals and my mom taught us about good nutrition. We wrote grocery lists and did the shopping together. One of my jobs was to clean and organize the fridge when we got home with all the fresh foods. We all had our jobs and it was nice to know I was needed (not that I always like it!). Being aware of nutrition and good health naturally flowed into understanding the need for physical activity. I have been going to the gym for years now and I just love it. My friends and I plan all sorts of physical activities from tag football to ice skating.

"When I look toward my future, I don't see a path carved in stone but rather an opening into a vast forest. There are a lot of unknowns. I want to explore and learn more from people I meet along my way. I'm excited about beginning a career that I believe I'll enjoy. My strong communication and conflict resolution skills should be helpful in the high-stress environment of nursing. Nurses are often the calm in an emotional as well as physical storm. When my Dad was recently hospitalized, I enjoyed helping him relax and the nurses helped us feel comfortable. We were so scared and It was nice to see the workers calm and focused on my dad's health. I look forward to being part of the health care system.

"I'm looking forward to living on my own and spending extended periods away from my family. I'm looking forward to having my own place and making new friends. It's going to be great and I'm ready for the change. As I said earlier, when one home schools, life is all about learning with family. Having my own space will be a refreshing change. I'm not worried about moving forward as I feel I have good knowledge and skills to make the transition smooth. Moving into a different place in life is so exciting!  

"At the end of the day I'm happy I was unschooled. I'm a well-rounded, interesting, happy person who has good values. I have a family who really knows me and accepts me for who I am. I feel loved and encouraged. My support system is immense and my good friends many. I've been respected and valued; thus I respect and value others. I'm a good person who works hard to contribute to society and my family. I define this as true success. I understand I'm a good learner and now I understand I'm a good student in the more traditional sense of the word. I feel I will do well in life."

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful and inspiring! I love reading the writing of homeschooled/unschooled young adults. Their perspective is so refreshing and uplifting. Thank you and blessings to this young woman as she steps into her new life and adventures!