What Homeschoolers and Startups Know About Learning…

Check out this post on the Praxis blog, where I make the case that homeschoolers and self-directed learners already embody the learning style that is the future of hiring and professional development.

From the post:

“Classrooms don’t prepare young people for success in life and career.  They’re slow, expensive, often boring, the incentives are all wrong, the setting is dull, customization is almost non-existent, and lack of real choice means peers and professors alike aren’t the most valuable people to add to your personal network.

Home educators and self-directed learners know this.  They eschew the conveyor belt approach to education.  They step out of the classroom and into the world.  They understand that real learning is a lot more fun, varied, and valuable than chasing the same paper as everyone else.”

I share the three things that homeschooling an apprenticeships have in common:

  • Interest vs. credentials
  • Doing vs. memorizing
  • Being around vs. reading about

Check out the post.  It’s good.

The Absurd Assumption Behind Schooling

A bright young woman sent a thoughtful email after reading my blog post about how my son learned to read when we stopped trying to teach him.  She largely agreed with the approach but voiced some concern of not pushing kids to learn things of value to them.  I responded:

“Once upon a time I would have been terrified at an approach like we ended up taking with my son (and all three of my kids now that we unschool them), but I’ve come to believe that fear was rooted entirely in a set of assumptions I was taught, and not in any way based on my experience of actual human behavior or logic.

The false assumption is that humans will always do what is bad for them, not what’s good for them.  It’s the idea that humans are irrational and don’t know how to seek their own self-interest.  Thomas Hobbes is probably the greatest perpetrator of this idea (at least in reference to entire societies) which gives way to the myth of authority – the belief that, absent some violent strong man to set the rules and enforce them, people will loot and murder each other and destroy their own community, etc.

This idea is so utterly false and contrary to every shred of logic and evidence it’s a wonder it ever took hold like it did.  Its greatest advantage is that it is a) handy for crude versions of “original sin” in some religions and b) handy for power-hungry despots and moral busybodies.  It of course never attempts to answer the question of how humans too dumb to make decisions in their own interest can somehow be trusted to make decisions in the interest of the community at large.

I’ve come to believe this idea is nonsense.  Humans have every incentive to do what is good for them (based on their own definition of good) and will do a lot of hard work to make it happen.  Learning is a key part of this.  There is no need to teach anyone some skill or fact they don’t want to learn.  They will learn what they need when they need to.  In a literate society where the social and economic rewards of literacy are very high, people will learn to read.  When and how they want, but they will.  The Sudbury Valley school is an unschooling type facility that makes kids do nothing but what they want.  They’ve had kids learn to read at 4 and 14.  They all go on to live normal lives. (The 14-year-old won a prize for writing and became a professional writer, if I recall).

Humans don’t need authority dictating what they should value.  They need the freedom to discover through trial and error what they value and what benefits them.

I highly recommend – if you are as serious as you seem to be about grappling with these ideas – a few books.

“Free to Learn” by Dr. Peter Gray

Anything by Daniel Greenberg at the Sudbury Valley School

The point is not that humans are “naturally good” or some such nonsense.  It’s that they are naturally self-interested, and self-interest is sufficient motivation for them to learn what they need to live full lives.  Certainly better than what some dogooder thinks they “ought” to learn!”

A Plea to Homeschool Parents: Get a Bit More Tech-Savvy

I like homeschoolers.  I was one of them, grew up around them, and spend a decent amount of time interacting with them now.  I have tremendous respect for homeschool parents.  They have work-ethic, courage, and deep and genuine care for their children’s well-being.  But they leave something to be desired when it comes to digital engagement.  They seem to assume learning Latin is more valuable than navigating today’s tech.

It is in the spirit of respect that I offer this plea to all the good homeschool parents out there: Learn to use technology!

It’s easier than most things you try to impart to your kids because you don’t even have to teach it to them.  They’ll pick it up in no time if they’re around it and allowed to explore it.  But if they never see you use try to or get the most out of it they may fail to realize its power and potential.  If they sense an abiding fear of newfangled things in their parents they might pick it up too.  Here are some ways to get started…

Homeschool dads: If you’re still rocking a pager, give it to your kids.  Let them dismantle it and play with the innards.  Call it science class.  Or history.  Time to upgrade to a smart phone.  Get a protective case so that when your kids drop it you won’t stress too much.  Use it a lot.  Test out some cool new apps to enhance your personal productivity and have fun with some games.  They’ve got chess and Scrabble and other wholesome stuff.  You might bond with your kids when you need them to help you figure out how to use it too. (Oh, while I’m talking to you, you might also reconsider the whole socks with sandals thing.  Your kids will thank me later.)

Homeschool moms: Get your own email address (Gmail please).  Same goes for Facebook.  You and your husband are a well-oiled team, I get it.  But if your online communiques always come from TheRickandDSniderFamily@AncientRegionalISP.com, chances are you’re not getting the most out of the digital world.  And no one knows how to comment on posts from two people combined into a single “Blessings from Deb and Harry Jones” profile on Facebook.  Set yourself up with a few basic accounts, keep your inbox clean, and meaningfully engage the wonderful world of the internet.

Homeschool family budget-setters: Splurge a little on tech.  Your frugality is one of your great qualities.  I’m not telling you to stop buying 50lb boxes of mail-order organic bread with Bible verses on it so the savings can be applied to classes or sports.  That’s good stuff.  But if there’s one area worth spending into the slight discomfort zone, it’s technology.  To connect it to an old school medium you already dig, put it this way: I don’t have a budget for books.  If my kids really want one, we buy it.  You’d probably agree it’s worth it.  I think the latest tech is a close second in this regard.  Upgrade your laptop every few years.  Hand the old ones down to the kids, but make sure somewhere in the house is a pretty new machine.  Get a tablet at least within a generation of the newest.  Upgrade the smartphone before it needs duck tape.

I know it’s hard.  You’re busy making meals and running errands and sewing dresses and milking goats all while trying to convince your neighbors you’re perfectly normal.  But if you can lead by example and show your kids you’ve got an unrelenting spirit of adventure and a curiosity and tenacity to grab the new world by the horns and learn from it, it just might rub off.