Me Don’t Need No Education
July 27, 2012 § 12 Comments
For various reasons, I have been thinking about what constitutes an education and the ways in which our twenty-first century American expectations surrounding the learning process are failing us. (Big disclaimer: As posted here, my personal educational path has been decidedly atypical). I think I will have more to say about this soon, but for the meantime, I thought I would post an excerpt from an essay I wrote for the current issue of Taproot.
What is an education? Should it be one thing, and not another? It’s a silly question, really, a bit like asking what is a person? Should she be one thing and not another? I recall the time my father told his mother – my Grandmother – that I was working toward becoming a full time writer. She looked incredulous: “But he’s not qualified!”
Our boys’ names are Finlay and Rye, and they are ten and seven, respectively. It will probably not surprise you to hear that they do not practice formal schooling. “Unschooling” seems to be the contemporary term of choice for education based on life experience, although I’m not sure how I feel about it. I mean, is not doing something the same as undoing it? Or maybe we are schooling them; what is schooling, anyway?
Not so long ago, a few months at the most, I mentioned to someone that Rye does not yet read. She was shocked. “Really?” she kept asking. “Really?” As if this were some unconquerable failing that would haunt him all his life. I was not offended, for I know what the expectations are, what they have become. I know that by age seven, my children are expected to be reading, to be multiplying endless rows of numbers across a page, to be sitting for hours on end, bent over pencil and paper, or, more likely, a laptop or iPad. I know what they’re expected to know.
But in full truth, it’s what they’re not expected to know that interests me: To identify every tree in our woodlot from 30 paces. To butcher the hindquarter of a hog. To wield a splitting maul and use a chop saw. To make a fire. To know when a windrow of hay is dry enough for baling. To disappear into the woods below our home and return an hour later with a bag full of chanterelle and hedgehog mushrooms. Of course, this knowledge is not mutually exclusive to a conventional schooling experience. But a child cannot know everything; there are only so many waking hours in a day, and if those hours are passed inside the four walls of a classroom, or gazing into a pixilated screen, they are by default not spent otherwise.
Every so often, I fall victim to the manufactured educational expectations of our culture, and I worry that my boys will remain forever out-of-step with twenty-first century America. I fret over the many things they don’t know, and think, my god, I am failing them. Or I consider my own unlikely education, and my still-bloated ignorance, all the times it feels as if I know nothing or, if not nothing, then not enough.
Yet, this I do know: Whether by serendipity, stubbornness, or blind luck, I have pieced together a good and satisfying life far off the well-trod corridor of the assumed educational path, and it is the aggregate of everything I have learned and experienced that has led me here, to this exact place. In my wildest dreams, I would wish for nothing else.
When I remember this, I am reminded that perhaps the most crucial knowledge I can impart upon my boys is that an education, like a life, can be whatever one chooses. And what I want to say to them is, Go. Do. Be. I will teach you what I can. The rest is up to you.