Saturday, February 11, 2017

I mentioned Henry's paper for a literature class: "What the Faulk?" The semester before that he wrote a paper about shark attacks that was passed around in the teacher's lounge because it made them all laugh. (As with the other, it was also an A paper.) I've noticed that the kids employ a sense of humor in college. I don't know if it's an active strategy for success? Regardless, they both seem unafraid to engage professors on an equally human level. It's not that they don't recognize authority -- they do. It's not that they don't respect their professors -- they do. But they don't seem to fear them so much that their own humanity is disabled or tamped down. They've arrived fully able to be themselves.

I don't now where Henry sits in class and I don't hear much about his days there. Academic success seems to come easy for him, but I know he commits to the work fully. I see him study at home. And I remember what he said after the last day of classes at the end of his first semester. "It's funny because everyone thinks I'm so smart. {He's been straight A all the way through.} But I just do exactly what the teachers say. And they grade me well for it. I was a little bit afraid I wouldn't be able to do this. But it doesn't seem all that hard. But everyone else complains. I don't get it?"

Probably because of gender, I hear a lot more about Riley's individual days in class. I know she attends with strict concentration. I know she spent her first semester in the front row of every class every day. I know she tries as hard as she can. Before she ever started I told her that, even though she wouldn't believe me at first, her greatest challenge in college was going to be learning how to relax. She has a very intense will for winning things, on the rare occasion she can rouse herself to compete. If she's in, she is in with no out and no off. Of course, she has also been straight A all the way through. But now in her second semester, she's starting to see what I meant about relaxing. It isn't necessary or even especially beneficial to aim so hard -- it's the difference between releasing your arrow to the bull's eye or marching your arrow to the mark and stabbing it in up to the fletching with your clenched fist. But it's also worth noting here, for other unschooling parents, this kind of overdrive is common with homeschooling students when they encounter academia for the first time. They seem to assume it's difficult and will require tremendous effort for success. Sadly, their expectations of the system tend to be much higher that the system's expectation of students.

But even as she clenched her way through her first semester, Ry managed to joke around some. She befriended an older (they are all older) student and made him laugh through French I. "You clown!" he would whisper to her while trying to keep a straight face in class. And I wonder if her sense of humor helped her see a softer way through college? I know Ry was deeply dreading her oral examination in French II last week. When she got home I asked her how it went and she said, "I think I did pretty well because I said a joke (in French) and the teacher laughed."

So here's the thing, and yes I am going to say this over and over. The kids were unschooled their whole lives. They walked onto campus without any advance training, as defined by the system. Yet they are exactly and specifically and intentionally successful -- very. Every homeschooling doubter should have an answer to this common unschooling phenomenon. But perhaps the reality is too upsetting to confront. Elementary school is unnecessary. It is hollow and often more damaging than beneficial and an enormous waste of time. The majority of students do not need formal prior study in order to be successful in college. I'm sorry they lied to you your whole life about this. And even if either of my kids are suddenly hit with ennui or existential dread or loss of faith in the system, or any of the other intellectual side roads that sometimes divert college students causing them to fail or just quit, even if that were to happen, it won't be because unschooling is inadequate. Unschoolers have been proving the emptiness of the system for years. Maybe that's why schooled students often show up to college so empty? Children do learn what they live.

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