Some of you are going to squirm and twitch at the haphazard way I’m approaching this blog series (hmmm… what do I want to talk about today?… how about… this?). But it’s all in the name of unschooling, so structure? Meh.
Today I want to talk about something professional-sounding: a data set. A data set is just what it sounds like. A collection of data. For our purposes, I’m specifically referring to: the collection of data children should have learned by the time they reach the end of their K-12 schooling.
(Notice I said “should have learned” and not “will know,” because, let’s be honest, how much of what we learned in grades K-12 do we still know/remember at the end of our time in high school?)
I have so (so, so) many people ask me this (or a similar) question: “What do you mean, your kids aren’t learning all the subjects?? How can they not learn the subjects??”
And I smile, because WHO INVENTED THE SUBJECTS?? What are these magic subjects of which we all speak?? Who decided the data set? Who made the list of what humans from the ages of 5-18 need to fill their brains with in order to function in the adult world when they become 19-year-olds and beyond?
(I don’t know the answer to this.)
What if I don’t really like the data set? What if it’s not really that it’s not my preference, but that I truly believe it’s outdated and misguided and that we just sit back and ACCEPT AND BELIEVE IN IT without even asking why it is what it is?
Why does the K-12 data set include things like: writing algebraic formulas and graphing functions; knowing certain dates in U.S. History; understanding photosynthesis; diagramming sentences?
And not: shopping for vegetables/chopping them/cooking them; moving to a place where you’re a minority and learning your neighbors’ language; making things and selling them online; keeping a journal of your thoughts and experiences?
Or: changing a tire; navigating a globe; learning firsthand about other religions/cultures; designing logos?
One sweet reader asked yesterday (and I’m not picking on you!): “Does this mean they skip entire subjects? Will they only have an elementary understanding of certain subjects? Aren’t there certain requirements for what kids learn? How is this different from truancy?”
She wasn’t being critical. She genuinely wanted to know. I answered her with my own questions:
“When you say “skip entire subjects” or “only an elementary understanding of certain subjects,” what do you mean? Which subjects do you have in mind? And how much is an “elementary understanding” of them? How old are you now, what field of study are you in, and what do you still remember from the other fields you studied (but didn’t interest you)? A lot? A little?”
Speaking of photosynthesis, the girls and I were discussing it in the post office parking lot this morning (I know. Amazing.). I told them what I could remember but said if they wanted more detailed info, they could google it. “I learned all about it in 5th grade,” Livi said, “and probably 4th and 3rd grade, but I don’t really remember much.”
Right. Most people don’t. Even though we learned it every year for years upon years. Why don’t we remember? Well, because it was just one more thing in our massive data set. It wasn’t connected to something we cared about. It was just another chapter in our science book. Memorize the definition, take the test, forget it, move on.
A lot of people are afraid my girls aren’t learning anything because they don’t “study” certain “subjects.” But, in reality, they’re learning all the time. They ask questions all the time. (Our 8-year-old asks questions ALLALLALL the time.) And, when it’s something they really want to know, they remember the answer. And if I don’t know the answer, they check the wild worldwide web.
Can we be honest for just a minute? How much of the K-12 data set (the subjects) do kids reeeeeeally need to know? And what’s going to happen if they don’t learn it by the time they’re 18? Is it possible we’ve been duped into believing that this super-special list is the be-all, end-all for life?
What if it’s not?
This blog series thing is hard for me, because I want to say ALL THE THINGS in one post. Which I can’t do. So we’ll end with this:
1. What are some non-negotiables for you when it comes to the K-12 data set? (what things do you absolutely want your kiddos to have learned by the time they graduate?)
2. What things do kids learn in school that you could take or leave?