I ended my last post about my oldest son, Eric’s, first experience with formal education through a dual-enrollment community college program. He had taken two courses with very different instructors and expectations for what made up his end grade. Eric had brought his unschooling perspective into the classroom with him and did well with a professor whose grading recognized and reflected the real learning that occurred within the confines of my son’s mind. He didn’t score as well with the traditional professor and the traditional grading expectations that simply reflected the hoops he was meant to jump through versus the learning that was accomplished. Eric was at a crossroads for his learning path. Now was the time for him to conform to the rule-driven structure of a formalized education in order to meet his goals, right? Not Eric. His conclusion: Well, until I’m ready to play by their rules, I’m not going to take college classes. And, he hasn’t been back since (being 16 years old at the time), and he’s approaching 20 years old. So, what is this considered? An unschooling failure? And yet, Eric was simply remaining true to what real learning is and embracing the learning environment and perspective we created for him.
After thinking through this scenario and observing Eric’s subsequent learning path, I realized that there were a couple things that I was to learn for myself on my own learning journey with my adult-transitioning children. One is that I would continue to have to question and scrutinize the conditioned responses and expectations I hold from our societal and cultural surroundings regarding finding one’s own pathway to adulthood. Because we have never pushed our children through the typical schooling line-up: preschool, elementary, junior high, high school, college, each child has had to figure out on an individual basis what and how and why they want to learn. Most schooled children blindly enter college because it is what is expected of them. One of several things will result: a small percentage will discover they love it and find what they really want to do with their life; the greater majority will either continue to pursue what is expected of them and later discover they hate their life or they will flit through their college experience and land in something they may or may not like. I’m sure there are other outcomes, but it appears that statistically speaking, it is unlikely a person will find their love and passion in traditional schooling practices, but instead, simply continue the blind path they have always followed. That can be following a parent’s dreams or expectations, reaching for society’s golden ticket of money or fame or prestige, or taking the easiest path that presents itself.
Eric is showing me that he will need time to figure out what he wants to do and how he wants to do it. Initially, he has not been willing to compromise the learning principles, environment, and support from which he has become accustomed through the unschooling lifestyle. I remember Peter Kowalke, the “Homeschooler in College” columnist for Home Education Magazine going through a similar discovery process. He actually started attending a respected college, “proof” that unschooling works, right? And then, he had to start being honest with himself about how unhappy he was jumping through these random hoops created in college coursework. Peter decided to drop out and see if he could uncollege and encourage others to explore the option. After about a year in the learning curve, Peter decided he had to “bite the bullet” and complete university in order to effect real change from a different angle. Some could say at different points of Peter’s journey that “this was a failure” or “that was a success”. I don’t think Peter or Eric think about it in that manner. It was simply a journey they needed to take in order to make a mindful decision about what path to take to reach their goals. Eric’s future may or may not include university matriculation, but I do know whatever he chooses will have been done consciously and with his eyes wide open. My job is to trust the process while stretching the thoughts and reactions that society’s expectations for this age at this stage in this generation face. It is my belief that he will end up choosing his own path versus letting the path choose for him.
This does not mean that Eric has been doing “nothing” since 16, although sometimes it can appear that way from the outside looking in. At 17, Eric took his first part-time job. At 18, he added another part-time job with more meaning (and money) and dropped the first one. Eric sought these part-time jobs because he wanted the benefit of pursuing diverse interests during the other part of his available time that required the necessity of financial backing. With his earnings, at 18 he fulfilled an adolescent goal of living in Japan with a host family for two months. Afterward, Eric dabbled in costuming and other legitimate art pursuits. During this time, he began to investigate private fine arts colleges across the nation that might have majors in his area of current interest, what would be expected, and what the financial obligation would require. Eric began a more serious portfolio collection of his work. Although at close to 20 his interest in college has become more peaked toward a Japanese history major with a leaning toward UCLA because of a free martial arts program there, he feels he needs one more significant life experience before committing to a life path. Therefore, Eric set his sites on preparing himself for serving a two year mission for our church. He has had his starts and stops in this area, and learned an enormous amount about himself emotionally, and is now eager to leave in mid-January to begin the pursuit of meeting this goal and embracing all that it offers him in learning and growth.
Is creating your own path viable? Can one find happiness and independence using the more organic path to learning? Eric would certainly be the one to show me. And what about success and failure against which we often measure all of our actions? Isn’t life a journey made up of many processes that accumulate into life lessons and experiences? Won’t each of us on our individual journeys have what we might consider failures? Won’t each of us on our individual journeys have what we might consider successes? Who determines what category each falls? Do these not accumulate to create wisdom through living and learning? What I’m understanding is that I don’t get to define or own any of my children’s successes or failures. Neither does the homeschooling community. It is for each of us to own our individual journeys and everything in it that develops who we are through living and learning. I release my judgments and my ownership while I continue to support and counsel Eric on his journey through life to joy.