By Leo Babauta
I talk to other entrepreneurs a lot -- often founders of startups here in San Francisco, or online publishers like me. And when I do, if they're having a kid soon or have a young child, I invariably give them my pitch: you should unschool.
I like to give this pitch to expecting parents, or parents of young children, because the truth is, they're the best candidates for considering this radical form of education. Why? Because parents with their kids already in school tend to not want change, and tend to be invested in the school system. No parent wants to believe they've been making a huge mistake, and so if you've been sending your kid to school for years, to believe in unschooling is to admit you've been wrong (in their eyes).
There are exceptions, of course -- my wife and I pulled our kids out of school (one was in middle school, another in late elementary), because we felt the school system wasn't doing a good job with our kids. We started to see the problems with trying to mass educate kids in a way that makes them not want to learn, bored, just following instructions.
But parents who aren't in the school system yet are the most receptive to the idea of breaking from the norms.
And entrepreneurs tend to be very receptive to breaking the norms. Very receptive. They love challenging traditional ideas, love taking a new route if it offers the possibility of huge returns compared to the safe route that everyone else does.
So. If you're an entrepreneur, you should unschool. You'll love it.
- You dislike following orders. You are an entrepreneur because you wanted to be your own boss, wanted independence and don't like to just implement someone else's orders like a robot. You have a mind of your own. You want that for your kid. Teaching that can be very hard. Actually, let me take that back: kids are born with a mind of their own, but they get that suppressed by the school system, which is predicated on everyone following orders and doing what they're supposed to do in order to absorb the facts that the school system has decided they need to know. People who come out of the school system are going to be good at following orders (either that, or they'll have trouble in the system, or they're so strong they survive the school system with a healthy sense of self despite being told what to do for 12-16 years).
- You want your kids to love learning. You know, as an adult who is figuring new stuff out all the time, that learning is amazing. Kids in school tend to think learning is boring, and they show up because they have to. They start kindergarten loving to ask questions and explore new things, and they come out of the school system wanting to be anywhere but school, bored with whatever they're forced to learn, wanting to escape.
- You are comfortable with risk. Sending your kids to school is a risk everyone takes (what if the system does a bad job?), but because everyone else takes it, it seems non-risky. It seems like the right thing to do. Like getting a job and a paycheck. But unschooling, while it's also risky, comes with huge upsides. It's not for the faint of heart, because you have to do something that's really outside the norm, but you aren't afraid of risks. You want a kid who grows up to be awesome, and unschooling is a great path to achieve that.
- You want your kid to learn to innovate. Kids who grow up to be innovators are the ones who will conquer the world. Kids who shy from innovating will likely take boring jobs. Schools teach kids to follow orders, do what everyone else is doing, and they punish kids who do things differently. How will that lead to innovation?
- You don't trust the government to know what your kid should know in 18-20 years from now. The school system teaches kids a set list of information they think the kids will need as adults. Which is 18-20 years in the future. How can we know what knowledge -- what data set -- will be relevant in 18-20 years from now? No one, not you or me and certainly not the department of education, knows what jobs will be like. We didn't know what today's jobs would be like 15 years ago, and the pace of change is only accelerating. Some government committee decides what kids should learn, and I don't trust them to decide correctly. Instead, why not teach the kid skills for learning on his own, instead of a dataset? Teach the kid algorithms for figuring out life, rather than memorizing facts that might be useless in 20 years? Then the kid can adapt and learn anything necessary to do what he wants to do as an adult.
- You want your kid to be passionate about what they do. Finding something you're passionate about, and learning to make a living off of it, is one of the keys to happiness in my experience. Schools absolutely don't teach that -- they surely didn't when I was going to school, and they didn't when my kids were in school. They teach you to go to college, so you can get a job. So much fun! But what if kids start doing what they're passionate about at a young age, instead of being told that's not what they were assigned? What if kids start their own businesses at a young age, and figure out how to make some income from what they love, well before they become an adult? That's awesome, and you know it.
- You want to learn and explore with your kid. Let's face it, when you send your kid off to school, you are outsourcing the care and education of your kid to the government (or a private school). That's awesome, a load off your back, because you have a business to run. But this means you aren't really involved in their education, even if you ask about their day later. You don't really decide what they learn, what values they learn while they're at school, etc. And you aren't a big part of it. You want to be, I can tell. You love spending time with your kid, and you want to be a big part of all the cool things they'll be learning. You'll learn with them. You might not think you have the time (more on this below), but if you could figure out how to make the time, you'd love to do it.
What if you don't have the time? I'll admit, unschooling takes more time and effort than traditional schooling. But you are not afraid of putting in time and effort for something that's really important to you. Think of a kid as a new startup you've created -- are you going to get the startup going and then let someone else run it? Hell no, this is your baby, you're going to be a part of it. You're going to make the time for it.
That said, there are things you can do. If you have a spouse, you can split time so one person can focus on business while the other works with the kids. If you have family members (let's say one of your parents) who have extra time, they can help out. It can be a team effort. You can even have a babysitter/nanny if that's necessary, but get the kids going for the day and leave them to work on their own for a few hours while someone else watches them. And best of all, you can teach the kids to be independent, learn on their own, explore on their own, while you get work done, and you can just join them when you have time. Kids should be independent anyway.
Yes, unschooling is a scary undertaking, full of risk and hard work and learning and uncertainty. Perfect for you.