“No school today, kids?”
“Nope, we’re unschoolers! This is our school!”
After a bit more small talk, the person passing us on the track leaned over to me: “You will make sure they’re still learning, won’t you?”
Some version of this conversation plays out with someone we don’t know at least once every couple of weeks, usually through a look of real concern at the idea of our children missing out on the classroom experience.
I think the world has walked down a strange path. Somehow the four walls of a room within a school have become our gold standard learning space, our only path to a good education. Anything else is a second rate option.
Really think about that for a second. A small classroom, an often outnumbered, overwhelmed and overworked teacher delivering a prescribed set of topics at a prescribed pace. A group of children gathered by age as the primary criteria. A tight set of standards, measures, deadlines and accountability governing them all. A specific, narrow definition of success that is taught early and reinforced often. A place where the thought of failure chips away at our children’s mental strength almost daily, exacerbated for many by the potential of it happening openly in front of their peers. A place many, many children and teenagers slump their shoulders on the way to, and celebrate any break from.
That – that – has become accepted almost globally as the place where the best learning happens. Has to happen. If you’re out in the world during school hours eyebrows will be raised.
Back on the walking track, we’d been chatting with our new friend about how we approach learning in a way our children drive. I could tell she could see it rationally. She also commented on how happy and relaxed our kids seemed. But as she gave us a smile and a wave, heading off down the hill, I saw the same look on her face as I often do in this scenario – doubt, and a genuine feeling that our children were missing out.
We waved back and carried on up the hill, sun on our backs. The world was ours, and there was much to learn from it.