When an adult meets a kid for the first time, one of the first few questions is always “What grade are you in?” It is a preparation for adulthood when it becomes “What do you do?”. It is a variation of the same question, in that it somehow provides information for the interviewer to define our life at that particular time. “What grade are you in” provides context to judge level of maturity, or level of knowledge. As unschoolers, this is a particularly annoying question, and when we reply “oh, we homeschool” (because to reply unschool causes such confusion) the question invariably becomes “But, why?”
There are a million and one reasons for why a family decides to homeschool, and unless we’re friends, close and chummy, it’s quite an intrusion. And to be honest, I still have not been able to develop a standard answer that does not involve discussing issues such as race, class, violence, propaganda, child autonomy, rote learning.
You see, the reason to unschool was not made in a minute, and the answer to it can also not be done in a minute, in passing, in polite conversation, without addressing major ills of society, ills to which not everyone is comfortable discussing.
The primary reason for our unschooling is racism. Students of color are suspended or expelled at triple the rate of their white peers, according to the U.S. Education Department’s 2011-2012 Civil Rights Data Collection. And it starts quite early on, as early as preschool: http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/28/health/racial-bias-preschool/
Images of 7 years olds in handcuffs because they were crying in class are enough to want to keep my child away from a racist system: http://www.scarymommy.com/7-year-old-handcuffed-school-crying-aclu-lawsuit/
Our second reason for unschooling has to do with propaganda and misinformation taught. We do not want to be brainwashed into thinking for example that Christopher Colombus discovered America, he invaded it. We want precise language to phrase the events of history. Or have slaves being referred to as workers. http://www.businessinsider.com/texas-mom-posts-facebook-video-about-slavery-being-removed-from-textbooks-in-texas-2015-10 Erasing the unjust systems of slavery that built this country. Or colonization of the Americas, or white-washing rose colored view of the civil rights era.
Our third reason for unschooling has to do with child autonomy. No one should have to ask permission to use the bathroom for example, or be told when they can or cannot eat or drink if they are thirsty. Or follow a random person’s authority blindly. Or not have a say in what they learn. Children should be active in their education. They should follow their passions and be guided in their search. They shouldn’t have to sit all day and beg to urinate. And they certainly should follow what excites them, because that is what they will learn and retain and shape them for the rest of their lives.
Other reasons that also figured into our decision to unschool were exposure to the normalization of violence to animals, through usual school-field trips to the zoo, non-vegan meals served, wild animals captured for school pets, animals to dissect and experiment on, the list goes on. Schools are not the kindest places for animals, and as an ethical vegan family, we cannot bear the thought of this shaping our children.
And rote learning- superficially requiring students to memorize and regurgitate without context. How can you excel at a subject if you are only asked to memorize data without exercising critical thinking? And where is play? “In the short and long term, play benefits cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development…When play is fun and child-directed, children are motivated to engage in opportunities to learn,” http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/10/the-joyful-illiterate-kindergartners-of-finland/408325/
So, unless you want to get into a deep discussion of these topics, please spare any homeschoolers your polite and small talk questions, because we don’t have polite small talk answers. We are passionate about seeking a non-traditional education, and we cannot contain our passion to sterile soundbites.
Similarly, stop asking kids what grade they are in. We are not defined by what we are mandated to study, or what we do for money. Don’t ask them what grade they’re in, ask them what their passions are, what they do for the world, what they love to learn about, what they think about when they are quiet… You will be able to define them a lot better that way.
If you would like to follow our educational journey, you may do so here:
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Chilis on Wheels, the nonprofit that we founded and run is the beneficiary of a food drive organized by A Well Fed World, VegFund and Amp Your Good. To donate food that will be turned into vegan meals for the homeless and the food insecure, please visit here: www.veganfooddrive.org/chilis.