But it's a lie.
Schools are factories. They take in raw materials (children), apply a standard process (curriculum) and turn out a product (children prepared for college). And while many children do become grade A products (by school standards), there are grade B, grade C, grade D, grade F, kids sent to special education, kids sent to trade schools, and drop outs.
Are schools turning out great products?
For some reason schools are judged by the grade A products they turn out, not by all the products. For some reason when a product is grade A, schools get the credit. But when a product is of lower grade, the product is blamed. "Lazy." "Not applying yourself." "Learning disabled." "Stupid."
While it might make sense for a factory to toss aside unusable raw materials, is that what we want for our kids?
Do we want the "great education" process that's being applied?
Schools are judged by the colleges the products are accepted by. Which feeds into the myth that what we want is a great education so we can get a job that makes good money so we can have a nice house in a nice neighborhood and be a "success".
Would it be better to have a husband who is kind, happy at what he does but who doesn't have a "great education" or a husband with a "great education" who is miserable at what he does and is unkind?
Is "The American Dream" the best goal?
How many people have done what they're supposed to and have what they're supposed to get ... and they aren't happy? How many people have done what they're supposed to who didn't get the great education or the great job or the nice house in the nice neighborhood?
*Supposedly* success will lead to happiness. But does it?
If we measure success by how close we are to the American Dream, we need a lot of money and stuff to be happy. If we measure success by how happy we are, we need a lot less money and stuff! We just need to do what we love and love what we do. :-) And to do that we don't need a "great education". We need access to what we love and the freedom to pursue it.
Do we want our kids to be products?
When schools were first designed the idea was to raise up the education level of the general masses. At the time, the "masses"—which included immigrants and children trapped in poverty because life was spent doing what was necessary to stay alive—had a pretty low level of education so the goal wasn't a lofty one. The goal wasn't to get kids into college. The goal was reading and arithmetic and basic knowledge. In the East the goal was better factory workers. In the West, where parents started schools, the goal was basic learning, but the goals were still not lofty.
It's no coincidence that public schools use the factory model since schools were begun at the time when factories were doing amazing things: turning out uniform products *cheaply.* And that seemed like a great idea: spend a little bit of money and move the level of the masses up from illiterate to literate.
In the past 100 years the basic factory model schools are built on hasn't changed, but the demands on schools have changed tremendously. What worked to raise the masses up from illiteracy is being asked to 1) raise the masses to college preparedness and 2) assume that knowledge poured in is enough.
Since schools are based on factories, scrap—products that aren't up to standards—is an acceptable part of the process.
Educators (at least the good ones who aren't jaded and burned out) don't want to treat kids like products. They don't want there to be kids who are considered scrap. But educators are trapped by the model they have to work with.
If kids are to be helped to be the best they can be, they need to be treated as individuals with unique needs. But no matter how great the desire a teacher may have to treat her students as individuals, schools are designed to treat them as products on an assembly line. A 3rd grade teacher *has* to apply the 3rd grade process to all the students. Her job is to create a uniform product that is in the state the next assembly line worker (the 4th grade teacher) needs it to be in. There is just little leeway for kids who need to move or talk to learn, who will naturally read later, who are passionate about dinosaurs and not how plants grow and so on and so on.
(The same applies to doing school at home with a curriculum. All that does is move the factory home.)
If schooled kids and unschooled kids both can go to college then there are factors other than the application of that factory-school process that's getting them into college.
Those factors are: the kids themselves, access to knowledge and the time to explore it.
100 years ago schools were a handy free place for the general masses to get access to books and a learned person. 100 years ago we didn't have the internet, TV, libraries, cheap books and leisure time to use all those. Life has changed, but schools have not.
The basic idea of unschooling is that we learn what we need by using it. And that's exactly how kids learn to speak English. Toddlers aren't trying to learn English. They're using a tool (English) to get what they want: which might be juice or a hug or picked up to see better. The English tool is more efficient than other tools they've been using: pointing or crying or wishing. And because English is more efficient, they use it more. And because they use it more, the get better at it. Kids learn English (and everything else) as a *side effect* of living and pursuing what they enjoy.
The theory of school is that someone can't be an engineer until they know everything an engineer needs to know.
But that's not now people learn best. Someone who loves to build things learns how to build things by doing what they love: building things! And since they love to build, they'll be fascinated by things that connect to building. They may be fascinated by history of building or artistic design in building or how structures built with different materials behave or the physics of balance and load distribution and so on and so on.
If we want to build a birdhouse, we don't need to know everything there is to know about hammers beforehand. We just need to want to build and we'll learn what we need to know about hammers by asking and trying out and someone helping us pointing out things we don't know to try. (We can also read books and watch TV shows and watch other people and pound nails just for the fun of it.) That's unschooling.
The goal of unschooling is helping kids be who they are. They will explore the parts of life that fascinate them and, while they're exploring, they'll be learning what they need to in order to explore further.
It's how joyful people would live their lives if they could live them backwards: just doing the things that would lead them to where they ended up and skipping all the boring stuff that they never used and have forgotten.
The first tricky part about unschooling is that kids explorations often don't look like learning. It looks like play and entertainment. But play is how kids are designed to learn! That's why it's fun for them :-)
The second tricky part is figuring out what our role as parents is. Our role is to walk by their sides as they explore, not let them explore on their own. At times we need to hang back and be quiet so they can have the time and freedom to explore something that fascinates them. At times we need to share their enjoyment and be with them (even if it's the umpty gajillionth rerun of Spongebob Squarepants ;-) At times we need to point things out. At times we need to share the things we love. At times we need to take them to places they wouldn't know to explore.
The best thing you can do for your child is be fascinated by life :-) Get rid of that cloak of dullness that school draped over everything. Relearn how to explore just for the sake of exploring not because it's good for you or because it will be on the test or because it could be good for you one day. Do what's fascinating right now.