By Leo Babauta
Whenever I have a question about unschooling -- motivation, how kids learn, how to learn math, etc. ... I ask myself one simple question:
How would I learn this or deal with this, as an adult?
Because the simple truth about unschooling is that it's no different from how adults live and learn, in the real world.
Let's take some examples, of school vs. adults vs. unschooling:
- Learning subjects separately, like science and math and reading. This is how most schools operate, with separate periods for each subject. They're like learning silos. But as adults, we don't separate our days into separate subjects. We simply work on things we are passionate about (well, if we're doing it right), or get interested in a topic for some random reason and get lost in it for awhile. This is how unschoolers learn too.
- Start learning at a certain time, end learning at a certain time. This is how schools also operate. You do school from 8am to 3pm (for example). Then maybe some homework later, but otherwise you just have the rest of your life going on. But adults don't do that. If we're excited about something, we might learn all day long as we create something. Or maybe we learn in little bits, as we go about our lives. Or maybe we talk with someone and learn something. We stimulate ourselves. We explore. There are no boundaries. Unschoolers do this too.
- Force yourself to learn something you don't care about. This is what most people do in school. They go because they have to, and do the work because they have to. Wonderful lesson for them to learn, right? But as adults, we rarely do this ourselves. We learn something because we want to, or because it's necessary to do something we really want to do (to start a business, you might learn about taxes). We don't learn because someone makes us or tells us we have to. Unschoolers do the same thing.
- Get motivated to learn. Kids in school are usually forced to learn, so they don't have to learn motivation. A good teacher might find ways to get them interested, but it's pretty hard. No matter, because they have to learn it anyway. Adults learn because they want to. If they're not excited about something, don't care about it, they move on to something else. Unschoolers do too.
- Learn to socialize. Kids in school learn to socialize by interacting with a bunch of other kids their age, in an artificial setting that they're forced to be in. They have to make friends, even if they don't really like the people there, or they risk feeling like an outcast. They have to endure teasing and bullying and pressures to conform. Adults don't have to do this for the most part (at least, not in my experience). If you don't like someone, you don't have to be friends with him. If you don't want to conform, you go do your own thing, and will probably find others like you somewhere (online, for example). If you aren't good at socializing, you can learn. Unschoolers do the same thing.
Of course, not all adults do things the way I'm describing -- many have jobs where they have to follow orders, don't have a choice, and have to be motivated. This is what school prepares you for. Unschooling prepares you for the kind of life where you are excited by what you're doing, and care about what you're learning and want to learn it all the time, and motivate yourself this way.
So anytime you ask, "But how do unschoolers .... ?", just ask yourself, "How do adults do that?"