Sunday, January 08, 2006

Life Curriculum

I have a saying, which came to me while doing a form of free writing, that goes, "Life is all you need to learn all you need to live." It jumped out at me, so I wrote it down somewhere safe (the other writing that day got thrown out, per the technique) and it now graces my email signature. I'd like to say a few things about what those words mean to me. Unschoolers would most likely understand it to mean that as you live your life, opportunities are presented to you to learn all the stuff you need to keep on living your life as you choose to live it. But I bet even unschoolers would think I was referring to all the "academic" stuff that schoolers are so concerned with. For example, your child is passionate about animals, so they seek out things that offer them information about animals, like books and shows and games. If some of that requires reading, the desire to be able to read the words in those books or games or whatever, drives the desire to learn to read, which in turn gives the child the information they are so passionate about, allowing them to deepen their passion for animals. And so on, and so on. It is a catchy phrase to describe the heart of unschooling: that people learn what they need when they need it, naturally.

Lately, I have been thinking of life learning in a different sort of way. I have been toying with the concept of a curriculum, which is a set of information that is taught/expected to be learned in a defined period of time, as it applies to an unschooling life. Departments of education decide what information and skills should be learned by all children in their system before their educations are considered complete. Unschoolers know that one size does not fit all and that educations are not complete until you are dead. However, we all have an idea of the basic knowledge and skills that our children will need to be successful in life. It is easy to not worry if our children never learn the major imports and exports of tiny third world countries, or the dates of battles in all the wars, but not learn to read before we send them out into the world on their own? Unthinkable! Of course, unschooled children are as unlikely to never learn to read as they are to never learn to speak their native language, but that is beside the point. The point is, we all have a set of knowledge and skills we expect our children to need, should they wish to succeed in life.

Ok, so what does an unschooling "curriculum" look like? Well, as always, it depends on the kid. It depends on the parents. It just depends. But as for what I am thinking about for my family, that I can speak of in some detail. At least to the extent that I have formulated a solid translatable thought on the subject. I suspect that this idea, like all ideas, will grow and change as I grow and change, but I will attempt to put it down in words you can all grasp.

I have noticed that when the word "educational" is used, people automatically have a set of subjects pop into their heads. Like reading, writing, math, science, geography, etc. But is that all we need to know to be successful human beings? What about how to be happy? What about how to interact with others, and I don't mean schoolyard socialization? How to forge and sustain meaningful relationships. How to find and pursue meaningful livelihoods, according to our passions. How to be good parents. How to say you're sorry and truly mean it. How to express gratitude sincerely and accept compliments graciously. How to be a friend.

And what about all the basics of life, like cooking and cleaning and buying a house and burying a deceased relative? What about how to bake your own bread? How to wash/iron/mend/even sew your own clothes? How to survive a disaster, start a fire, put out a kitchen fire? How to can your own food, after you have grown it in your own garden? How to change the oil in the car and replace a flat tire? How to file your taxes, balance your checkbook, save for a rainy day, let alone retirement?

I seem to have learned most of that as an adult, or near adult, on the fly as I needed it. It sure would have been nice to have been able to devote more time to learning this stuff as a child, when the full responsibility was not squarely and frighteningly on my shoulders. And what of all that stuff I learned in school? All those imports and exports, molecular structures, literary classics, mathematical intricacies? I have no idea. I do not use or remember any of it. The stuff I do use is so redundant in my life, I would have to have been an idiot not to pick it up: reading, consumer math, etc.

The hardest things I have had to learn on my own as an adult have been how to be in relationship, with myself and others, and how to be happy. Still working on both to be honest. The last thing I want for my children is for them to enter adulthood as woefully unprepared in these areas as I was. So, we focus on this now, as the interest and situations arise, alongside and most times in lieu of the "important stuff" like reading and math and history. We can cover that stuff anytime, as their interests arise and life provides. The best part about this learning plan is that there is no "graduation". There is plenty of time for my life curriculum to be learned. Their whole lives, in fact.

1 comment:

Justine said...

You should send this one off for print. Even we unschooling moms need to be reminded of the *important* stuff from time to time. Life really does give us opportunity to learn all we need to live...we're just often too busy looking for the educational value in *other* stuff that we fail to see and appreciate the value in life itself. In the end, it's that part that matters.