Sunday, January 9, 2011

20 Characteristics I Wish School Had Helped Me Acquire

After reading the Profiles of Adults Who Were Passion Driven Students - Their Secret? They Didn’t Go To School I shared 20 Characteristics I’ve Discovered about Unschoolers and Why Innovative Educators Should Care. As I put these characteristics together, I was jealous, because these were characteristics I would have liked to have developed because of, rather than in spite of, school. I wish I could have spent my days exploring and discovering my passions, talents, and interests. As I often lament, this was not a part of my education experience. I raced through high school and college graduating at the top of my class at 19. I had a diploma in one hand, and my other hand was left scratching my head as I had not a clue as to what to do next. I had no idea what I was good at (other than school), or what I was interested in or passionate about and no one ever asked! My story is not unusual. I recently featured four, high-achieving students who appear to be going down the same path in my post When passion drives instruction no child is left behind. These are kids who love school.

On the other side are the drop out rates of up to 50% in some cities whose students never finish high school. Of those students who are motivated and get good grades they generally say they left school because it was irrelevant and boring. Then there are the kids (like me) who just didn’t like much of anything at all about school. For me I learned to dislike subjects, that I love in the real world. The socialization of the “clicks” just wasn’t for me. I usually couldn’t participate in those fun after school activities because both my parents worked. The misconception that school is great to expose students to sports didn’t work for me either. I was petite and younger than everyone else. Sports were for “certain” kids. Not me. Once I escaped school I played and organized many sports competitively playing beach and indoor volleyball, football, skiing, snowboarding, running. I thought of the people in school who told me I couldn’t play every time I won a tournament or organized a game. School helps the right people play sports. I had to wait to escape such constraints.

In school I never wrote for real audiences. No one even noticed I could write well. Yeah, I got “A’s” when writing about what other people wrote as we were required, but boring over-studied topics without passion or creativity rarely produces something worth noticing. Sometimes, I’d tried to push what was allowed, turning in creative work. I always got in trouble for that, so eventually I stopped. I loved reading outside of school where I could pick books I enjoyed. School sucked that out of me. Telling me what I had to read, then what I had to think about what I read. I stopped reading for pleasure. Schools are places that are supposed to teach you to read and write, but when you don't get to read about or write about what you are passionate about, well sadly, as a result, many learn in school that reading and writing are just not fun.

No one talked to me ever about my passions and interests. There was no room for that in the curriculum. I was VERY social and hungry to be pointed in the right direction. Nada. No accidental great teacher that changed everything...which by the way, shouldn’t be on accident. Nothing. In fact, I have no connections whatsoever to my those in my school life before graduating college. No friends, no teachers...I left that world behind and moved on to discover what I was passionate about and what I can do.

When I reflect on what characterized my school experience and I think about the characteristics of unschoolers, I see two very different experiences. Here is my comparison of what characterizes unschoolers verses my traditionally schooled self.

20 Characteristics Common Among Unschoolers
  1. They are driven by passion.
    1. No one asked or seemed to care.
  2. They have a love of learning.
    1. No one acknowledged or respected my learning as a person. I was more of a future score, number, or graduation rate tally.
  3. They want you to know that school isn’t the best place to learn lessons on socialization.
    1. I agree with this. I rarely socialized with others in my class at high school. I disliked the entire social structure.
  4. They are happy.
    1. I was bored out of my mind, stifled, and miserable in school.
  5. They have interesting careers that they enjoy.
    1. There was no time at school devoted to helping me figure out what career I would pursue, instead the focus was on what grade I might get.
  6. They are artistic in some way.
    1. There was not an opportunity to explore my artistic side at school. In fact, I think they preferred we believe we were not artistic as that would take away time from doing well on tests.
  7. They they are creative.
    1. Wasn’t time for this either. Teacher told us the assignment and we were assessed their way.
  8. They have a concern for the environment.
    1. Environment? What environment? Side note: There were cigarettes all over the smoking section (yep, we had a smoking section) at our school.
  9. They consider learning in the world far more authentic and valuable then learning in the school world.
    1. School is for learning. If you spend time living life, you’re being lazy. You should be studying.
  10. Those who are blogging and sharing their stories publicly are predominately white. At least all the ones I’ve read about. Looking to be proven wrong here.*
    Update: This refers to the blogs and stories I had discovered as of the writing of the original post. Since then I've collected several other online spaces in my post A More Diverse Sampling of Unschoolers where unschoolers from a variety of diverse ethnic backgrounds are sharing and connecting. I'm still searching for more links to grown unschoolers blogs and stories to share from all backgrounds so if you have any you'd like to share I invite you to share them in the comments.
    1. Many educators know what Kozol writes about so eloquently. Our schools are grotesquely segregated. I wish schools provided more opportunities for students of diverse backgrounds to learn, connect, and collaborate.
  11. They deeply consider whether college is the right choice for them rather than it being a given.
    1. College readiness was all I knew. Didn’t matter what I were interested in. Just that I were ready to go into debt to pay for more school.
  12. They have no problem getting in to college and many do so before they are 18.
    1. Yep. This was what I was groomed for. Started at 15 while in high school and finished at 19 with the golden diploma and no ideas what to do next.
  13. They appreciate some aspects of formalized schooling in college if they’ve decided to attend.
    1. I knew nothing else, so had no appreciation.
  14. They advocate for themselves and their right to a meaningful curriculum in college.
    1. I was trained to take the courses I was told and not question that.
  15. They don’t believe that they are an exception because they are especially self motivated, driven, or smart, though they like to be called that. Rather unschooling has empowered them to be this way.
    1. I was led to believe my motivation and drive were an exception because many just aren’t all that motivated to take classes they never even signed up for, but were handed down from the state. I was motivated because I was told I should do well so I did.
  16. They shrug off the criticism that they won’t be able to function in the real world. Unlike functioning in the school world, learning in the real world prepares you for the real world.
    1. I was told I was doing exactly what I needed to do to function in the real world by graduating from college. I never questioned that. It was just the way it was. They lied.
  17. They don’t expect learning to come just from a parent, adult, authority or teacher. They know how to independently tap into many resources for learning and discovery. Adults are just one resource.
    -->This nugget from a respected voice on the topic of unschooling, Sandra Dodd:
    Learning only happens inside the learner.
    I think your statement would be true if you said "They don't expect instruction..." or "They don't expect information..." But learning doesn't come from anyone outside the learner.
    1. Teachers distribute knowledge. Anything outside of school is a distraction.
  18. They are often defending the fact that they were unschooled, but know that if you knew what it was really like you might be jealous.
    1. If I had known it existed, at the time, I would be very jealous
  19. They are adventurous. For some that means local adventures, and others world adventures.
    1. Adventure takes time away from learning.
  20. They are grateful that they were unschooled for the most part.
    1. I think I would be too.
So, I’m jealous of those kids who were unschooled. As a society we’re led to believe not going to school is a terrible thing, but you know what? The unschooled are grown or growing up and they seem pretty happy, driven, and passionate.

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*As noted in this post, this is based on my initial investigation of the blogs found here and stories found here. I am hopeful that a more diverse sampling can be found and encourage you to share your findings in the comments for inclusion in a future post. The lack of diversity in my initial exploration is something I plan to expand upon.

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