This blog is where we share our homeschooling journey. Our style is eclectic, employing strategies like notebooking, workboxing, and some relaxed unschooling I like to call organic or free-range learning.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Unschooling Path to "Success": What is it?

I frequently run across discussions on homeschool blogs, groups, and message boards on the topic of a child's success--more specifically, what direction they should be steered toward to ensure they will be successful adults. College or not? At age 18 or 21?

I have a number of problems with this.

My issue isn't that the debate can get rather lively on the subject, but rather the idea that there is supposed to be a single, unified answer to the question in the first place.
Problem 1: What is "Success"?

How is success defined? The trouble with the word success is that the answer varies based on who you ask. A cross-section of homeschoolers asked this question might offer answers like these:

*Having a status career, such as doctor, lawyer, celebrity, or professional athlete

*Having lots of money and status "toys"

*Getting paid to do something they love

*A life involved in helping others and the planet

*A good marriage and raising a happy family

*The ability to find inner peace and serenity whatever the circumstances

*Attaining popularity with many friends

*Following spiritual beliefs to the best of ability

So right there we have eight possible viewpoints on what constitutes success.  Which one most closely meets your personal definition?

Problem 2: Different Goals Need Different Approaches

If one person's definition varies from the next, it stands to reason that there is no one answer as to how to achieve the end goal. In the above list, it's easy to see one path won't necessarily work for all goals. College, for instance, may be the only route to becoming a doctor, but it isn't necessary or even relevant to other goals such as a wonderful home life, spiritual path, or launching certain careers.

Problem 3: We are Not Our Children

Our definition of success may not be the same as our child's, and we need to be okay with that. Of course we have certain hopes and dreams for our offspring, but pushing them onto a path to meet our expectations doesn't allow a child to grow into their own unique success. Respect a child as an individual and be willing to guide them onto whatever path best supports their current life goals...which brings me to one more problem.

Problem 4: Times--and People--Change

I've asked myself the "What is success?" question off and on over the years, and the answers have changed even as I have developed as an individual. Ask a 3-year-old what they want to be when they grow up and you'll likely get a very different answer when they are 8, 12, and 18.  So should you plan ahead for college when they're 4? Absolutely. But should you insist that they go when the time comes if they have other ideas? I say not.

It can be hard to let go and trust a child with things like the future. We'd rather they learned from our own experience and mistakes instead of their own. But honestly, how open is a child to learning when it is required rather than desired?

My own college education began after I was 35. I went back to school to pursue a career path I ultimately decided against, but nevertheless I spent two years in classes. It was hard, going to school full time when I already had the adult responsibilities of a job and family, and some might wonder whether I'd have been better off having had college right out of high school. But because it was my personal choice to attend, I appreciated the experience more. I thrived in the setting, excelled in my classes, and absorbed knowledge that enriched my world view and my understanding of who I am. Had I been pushed into college in my teens, it would have been a whole different story. I was in a wholly different place back then and much would have been lost on me. I wound up going at the right time for me rather than the right time as determined by common practice.
Does this mean I think kids should avoid college or wait until their thirties? No way. But we don't all dance to the same drummer, so why should all kids be forced to start college at the same time-or at all, for some? We homeschool our children because we recognize the benefit of a different approach from the mainstream. That philosophy doesn't need to stop when they come of age.

Times have changed as well. College is no longer the place where you stick a brand new adult in a learning mill and have them emerge with a guaranteed career. Many, many college grads cannot get jobs regardless of their education. In addition, many grown kids are falling back into the nest or are launching later in the first place. So what's the big hurry to shove a child out the door the minute they turn eighteen? If they want a year off to travel after high school or opt for a career that doesn't require university, why shouldn't they be supported to do so? They will continue to learn about the world because they'll still be in it.

My six grown children range in education from high school to vocational training and military education to Master's degree work, yet they all have one thing in common. I consider every single one of them a total and unmitigated success. All of them have learned how to think, how to learn, and how to adapt to the changing face of their futures. They set goals and find ways to achieve them based on what best fits their circumstances. And in the end, isn't that the best training we can give a child--the mental tools to pursue their unique definition of success?


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