Peter Kowalke, over at Unschooler.com (why is it that we all have the same blog name?! I really have to get around to changing mine), is asking the world if homeschoolers are idealists. He writes:
Are we a bunch of idealists? This really is a tweet and not an essay; I’m throwing the question out there more than feeling like I have an answer to it. But my gut says unschoolers are idealists.
We’re idealists in that we don’t accept human frailty and the ills of the world as unavoidable fact. We try to change things, to better ourselves, to live up to ideals. We want to actually BE our ideal, not just worship it, and we go out and make it happen.
Is this good, or are we spinning our wheels and fighting battles we can’t win? Do we ultimately come back to the status quo after a long struggle trying to be better than the norm, or do we somehow avoid being THAT kind of idealist?
I don’t know. Maybe we’re practical. We see another way to do things that makes a lot of sense, so we try it.
Often, people assume that the presence of homeschooling is, at its heart, a critique of a broken education system. You could make a pretty sturdy argument there. But on an individual level, and speaking as an unschooler myself, staying out of school seems more like having the space to make your own choices than a cry for revolution.
Not everyone can homeschool. Not everyone would be better off homeschooling. Not everyone secretly wants to be homeschooled, as I sometimes believed as a child (“But don’t they want to play outside all day, too, Mommy?”).
It’s true– homeschooling requires bravery. You have to be willing to be different. You will have to answer a lot of questions that start with the words, “But socialization–” You will have to repeat yourself to the next person. Homeschooling implies confidence. You are willing to be different because you believe that there’s value there. And yes, idealism can fit into that mix.
But for the kids– for those of us whose parents didn’t sign us up for preschool or kindergarten when the other kids were all being signed up– we aren’t idealists. We’re just kids.
(three unschooled kids, with a camera and a mic. watch out!)
And when we grow up, maybe we feel idealistic because we have learned that being ourselves is a fine way to be, and that our interests are educationally meaningful, and that our lives are our own. Maybe we will rush out to save the world and start support groups and foundations and little revolutions. Or maybe we will quietly bring our unique perspectives to our jobs and relationships, just like other people bring their differences into every situation they encounter. I don’t know that we must do one or the other, or that we are even inclined to.
As unschoolers and homeschoolers, we don’t have to fight a battle, we can just be ourselves. We influence the status quo just by existing. We don’t have to change the world, we can simply enjoy our own lives.
So I don’t know. I can’t tell to what extent I’m an idealist. Sometimes I think I’m much more anxious than I could be. Sometimes I think I’m normal in practically every significant way. Or wish I wasn’t as normal as I appear to be. Sometimes I’m thrilled by my own differences. I don’t think I’m living my ideal yet. I’m certainly trying, but success is a long way off. And if I never reach it, I hope I learn to be more accepting along the way.
Note: A version of this piece appears on HuffPo here.