By Vickie Bergman, who blogs about education and parenting at Demand Euphoria.
Two recent posts on The Innovative Educator blog, Some Good Reasons Not to Go to School and Some good reasons to go to school, gave reasons why a parent might choose or not choose to send their children to school and also attempted to dispel some myths about school and home education. One question inspired by some of the comments was, “Should we let our children decide whether or not to attend school?”
For me and my family, the short answer is:
The long answer:
I have a lot of problems with the way schools are right now, but that is not why my husband and I are choosing not to send our kids. We just don't think school is necessary for us right now, and that is the only reason we need. We have been happy and learning together without school for more than four years, and it has been wonderful. I don't see any reason to stop living that way. And the kids don't either for now.
However, if one of them wanted to try school tomorrow, I would let them. I do not want them to grow up thinking school is some great thing they missed out on because I wouldn't let them go. I want them to be able to form their own opinions about school. And if it requires them to attend for a while to figure it out, then so be it. If they did choose to try school, they would not be forced to commit to it or reach a certain point. They could opt out again anytime .
There are plenty of people who actually liked school, including my husband for one. One of our children might be someone who enjoys school for some amount of time. And that would be all right. It would not mean that we failed as parents. There are more reasons why an unschooling child might want to go to school than just "home isn't fun enough." He might just be curious about it. He might want to see for himself, so he can make his own decision about it.
It also would not mean that we didn't do a good enough job issuing warnings about the dangers of school. In fact, I don't plan on badmouthing school to my kids. Because especially if a child has heard from his parents how horrible and dangerous school is, and then knows lots of kids who are in school who don't seem like they are all that miserable or damaged, that child will know his parents are exaggerating the dangers of school. And he might feel like his parents don't think he can handle school, even though 98% of the population apparently can. Or he might think his parents are trying to hide something really great from him.
An example of this idea is the way we talk about drugs to kids. I grew up hearing about how terrible marijuana was. Education about drugs lumped marijuana in with all the other illegal drugs, so I thought it was just as bad as cocaine or heroin. Then as I got older I found out that lots of people I knew were smoking pot, and they seemed fine. They were not junkies or addicts or criminals. That made me wonder why everyone had made such a big deal about it.
Inflating the risks of something to scare a child out of doing it only works until he can see for himself that it is not as bad as you say. This might only make your child trust you less, and wonder what else you have been exaggerating about.
For now, we are happily unschooling as a family. But unschooling is not a family policy or a doctrine, something I live by or preach. It just describes something we are not doing right now: sending our kids to school. This does not mean school is forbidden. I recently realized I don't need to be anti-school because I plan to continue living without it. What I am is anti-force. I am against forcing my will on my kids. I wouldn't want to force my kids to stay out of school as much as I wouldn't want to force them to attend.
Now, I am aware that homeschooling and unschooling are not for everyone. I know schools are here to stay for a while. But imagine if all children had choices on how to spend their days... even if it were only the choices of which school to attend and which classes to take.
Schools would have to change a lot of things to keep the kids coming in. They would have to compete with each other to offer the most interesting classes and activities with the best teachers and the friendliest policies, in order to stand out.
A school would have to try to appeal to kids, to attract kids, or it would be empty. And why shouldn't that be the case?