Monday, January 15, 2018
Can Unschooling Create Geniuses?
This seems like a ridiculous thing to talk about, but it's about time. I have been told by so many people that unschooling is good for kids like my son, because he's a genius, or that they could never unschool because their kids aren't smart enough, or they themselves are not smart enough to unschool their kids. People tell me that unschooling is for geniuses. And I find this very discouraging because, first of all, neither I nor my husband nor my children are geniuses, and secondly, because it's shortchanging the rest of the world's children, who are also capable of great things.
Unschooling doesn't serve geniuses, nor does it create geniuses. Unschooling, practiced with care and compassion, gives room for the innate genius of every human to shine. That's all. And that's really everything.
In our society we teach children that conformity means success... but what our society considers 'real' success comes from being wildly different. Our dentist had something to say about this. He looked at our son's out-turned lateral incisors, and mused, "if you wanted him to become a movie star, you could get orthodontics to turn those back in. It wouldn't be necessary, other than to give him a perfect smile." He then paused a moment, and smiled, himself. "Of course, if you want him to be really famous, he'll need something to make him stand out, so you might want to keep them that way." We decided to let his teeth be the way they are, not because we want him to be a superstar, but because conformity is not a goal we have for our children.
Unschooling does for our minds and our personal development what my dentist's suggestions did for my son's teeth. It allows us to become our best selves. And by 'best' I don't mean 'able to conform and be better than others', I mean 'to nurture and follow our own interests; to fully become who we ourselves want to be, as individuals'.
So I have two kids. They're very different. One is frequently called a genius, because he is interested in physics and enjoys attending university lectures. And also, he's a boy. The other is a writer, actor and singer, and is currently in the process of writing and directing her first public musical, with support from professionals in the industry. She is never called a genius; just a "really great kid", and an "amazingly independent girl". Both of my kids have, in various ways, followed their passions more than most kids have opportunity to do. But the reason one is considered a genius has more to do with how he conforms to the mold of 'genius' (boy + physics) than with his actual personal journey. The word actually restricts him more than it celebrates him. He is also an artist, but somehow that fact seems to slip away under the banner of 'genius'.
Every kid has passions. We might not know what they are, especially if, through school or parenting or the media, they've been funneled into narrow beliefs of what opportunities exist for them. But they do have them. When my daughter was younger we knew she loved stories and friends. She eventually loved theatre, and we figured it was just another way for her to explore her vast social interests. Slowly those interests have solidified into reading, writing, theatre, music, and (still) friends. She's actually doing some pretty impressive things in the world, if I do say so myself. Does that mean she's a genius? No - she just has an opportunity for self-discovery and innate motivation that most kids in school don't have. Unschooling has allowed that to happen, simply because school and other expectations haven't gotten in the way.
The freedom that unschooling allows (especially in terms of scheduling) means that our kids have time to really explore their interests in the ways that suit them best. My son has tried out various robotics groups and programs, but generally isn't happy with kids his own age, so has now settled into a great robotics club with a bunch of middle-aged men. He goes once a month and hangs out with these guys, sharing robotic developments and materials and advice, and he's happy in a way that he never was in the more directed, kid-centred groups. He found his people! Similarly, he's happier sitting around at the University than in a classroom full of grade ten science students. So that's his place. Unschooling is allowing him to develop his interests in the way that suits him best.
Unschooling means having no expectations. For some kids, that is just the ticket they need on the speed train to success; for others that means quite a struggle to develop expectations for themselves, hopping on many trains and checking out many platforms before plunging into many different experimental journeys. But all of us need to, at some point, discover our own innate drive and passion, and I would rather my kids made this journey earlier rather than than later in life. Will my daughter become a professional singer or writer? Who knows? Will my son follow his immense passion for making art, or his immense interest in sciences? I surely can't predict this. I am endeavouring to give my kids the freedom to conduct their own journeys and to support them wherever they find themselves. That freedom, and the gift of self-knowledge that it provides, is the gift of unschooling.
So no - I don't think my kids were born geniuses, nor do I think that unschooling has made them geniuses. But the freedom of unschooling has definitely provided the space in their lives for them to become the best individuals that they want to become - in their own, unique ways. That, I believe, is a gift that every person deserves.
at 1:15 PM