I have three unschooled kids now in their 20's. Today is my middle
daughter's college graduation ceremony. She graduates with highest honors
and as a member of Phi Beta Kappa (the most prestigious honor society). She
has a double major—history and drama. She's going on to graduate school
in the fall and plans to get a PhD. My oldest daughter just got her masters
degree in counseling and works as a family therapist. My youngest daughter
has an AA degree and a certificate in Interpreting for the Deaf and is a
junior in college working on her BA degree.
Unschooling seemed to have given them HUGE advantages in college. They
were, frankly, shocked at the poor preparation and attitudes of most other
students. Other students seemed to them to be "going through the motions,"
but were not really interested in learning. It is hard to explain, but all
three of my kids and all of their unschooled friends who have gone to
college have repeatedly tried to articulate that there seemed to be
"something wrong" with so many of the other students and that they seemed
actually resistant to learning. The unschooled kids were there because they
wanted to be there, first of all. They knew they had a choice and that
makes a big difference. A sense of coercion leads to either outright
rebellion, passive resistance, or apathy and my kids saw all of those
playing out among the majority of their fellow students.
I have been a college professor for 36 years and have taught at community
colleges and prestigious universities. VERY few students are there to learn
- they are there to jump through the required hoops to get the degree. The
unschooled kids (I've had a few in my classes) far outshine most of the
other students. Even unschooled kids I didn't think of as academic-leaning
kids have done extremely well in college if they decided to go for their
I don't think everybody should go to college. I don't think it should be
held up as the only legitimate goal or as THE way to measure success. I
think that there are other fantastic alternatives and unschooled kids are
well prepared to do all KINDS of things, college being just one of them. My
kids love college—they've really really enjoyed it. They've taken
advantage of the huge pool of human and physical resources it offers.
They've used the labs and studios—ceramics, photography, astronomy,
computers, automotive technology, music studios, technical theater shop,
and on and on. They've gone to events, festivals, speakers, trips, shows.
Roxana recently saw Rainn Wilson (Dwight on The Office) speak about the
persecution of the Baha'is in Iran). Roya just got back from a week-long
camping trip with 20 college students on an island in the Pacific Ocean -
it is part of a college course that she took as a student and now she is
hired as a staff person. Yesterday was Rosie's advising appointment at the
university she'll be attending in the fall. She's a Deaf Studies major and
it was awesome for her to be in a place (Deaf Studies Department) where
everyone was using ASL—her entire advising appointment where they went
over all the course offerings and her interests and background was all held
in ASL. (She's hearing, by the way, but is an interpreter and loves ASL.)
The National Center of Deafness is on her campus - a building filled to
overflowing with DVD's - all in ASL. Most of Rosie's professors will be
Deaf. Rosie is going to be living in a special on-campus community that is
focused on exploring Los Angeles together—going to museums and
interesting sites. She's planning on joining a sorority and an a capella
IF college is what they want, unschooled kids can do way more than just
"get in" or just "go"—they can revel in it and take advantage of the
amazing pool of resources and opportunities that colleges can offer.
AND, if they are interested in going a different direction, they can do
that with the same gusto! Blake Boles' new book, "Better than College," is
full of all kinds of ideas for alternatives. Even though all three of my
kids ended up choosing college for very specific reasons, and have totally
loved it, I think the alternatives are also really amazing and I would have
been happy to have supported my kids in other endeavors!
If you push your daughter to read or do other schoolish things, she will
learn things - among those, she will learn to resist, rebel, or become as
apathetic as most college students. IF she does go to college, she probably
won't get the most out of it. She'll very likely be one of the vast
majority of students who does the bare minimum, doesn't make connections on
her own, focuses on grades instead of learning, and just puts in her time
to get the degree. It is a sad waste.
There are only a handful of college degrees that guarantee jobs and income.
Engineering usually does. Nursing. I teach mostly business majors—the
majority of those are not going to find any better job after graduation
than they would have had if they'd spent those four years working. Many
college students should be rethinking what they're doing there.
My kids chose college because: 1) Roya wants to be a licensed family
therapist and a masters degree is required for that; 2) Roxana LOVES
academic research and wants to do it as a career; and 3) Rosie wants to be
a RID certified ASL interpreter and, as of July 1, 2012, that will require
a bachelor's degree.
Pushing school on kids is not going to make them better prepared for
college. Quite the opposite.