Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Brenna McBroom:More time is more freedom
Twenty year old potter (and many other things besides) Brenna McBroom shares her views on unschooling, success and--well read it and be amazed by the eloquence of this mind.
Going against the entrenched mainstream belief that to have a successful life you have to get higher ed, can you define your idea of what success means?
To me, the question of success is inextricably linked with the question of how I choose to spend my most valuable and non-renewable resource: my time. In my mind, a successful person is one who utilizes her time to its fullest potential, relentlessly pursuing those things which she is most passionate about and which bring her contentment and satisfaction (with the caveat that those things being pursued must not have a damaging or detrimental effect upon humanity).
I spent a year at a small liberal arts college when I turned eighteen, and my reasons for going were as uncomplicated and misguided as ‘because this is what I’m supposed to do’. (This, ironically, after six years of radical unschooling. Socio-cultural messages are pervasive.) When I chose to leave after a year, it was largely because of the realization that my time is finite, and that I couldn’t sacrifice four years of it in pursuit of a degree that I might not ever use.
Are you working at things that bring satisfaction as well as $$?
An unschooling mom that I greatly respect is in the habit of saying ‘do what you love and the money will follow’. I started throwing pots on the pottery wheel about two years ago, keeping that piece of advice in mind. I did it because I loved it and because it fed and satisfied me, but the money has started to slowly follow. Right now it’s not enough to pay a mortgage or buy a Mercedes (or probably even a Hyundai), but it’s enough to help fund travel and my ceramics addiction.
I’m very lucky: my parents see this as a time in my life for me to be pursuing an education whether I’m inside or outside the walls of a college. Because of this, they are happy to assist me in funding travel, internships, and other educational opportunities.
You've grown up with hardly any institutionalized schooling. What have been the pros and cons of this type of lifestyle?
I would say that the primary positive result of this type of education is that my time is my own, to spend or squander as I wish; it does not belong to a teacher or an institution. Because of this freedom, I’ve been able to pursue the things that I’m passionate about to their fullest potential, without any hindrance, and I’ve had the chance to learn what I’m passionate about, what I love, through direct, hands-on life experience. I’ve also been able to learn in the way that I choose.
For example, I’m an extremely visual creature; auditory processing is not my forte by any means. If I had gone to traditional school I would have struggled while listening to lectures, but as an unschooler I could simply make the choice to learn things by reading about them. I can’t think of more important lessons, to be honest: learning how to learn, and learning what you love.
It seems to me that many in the unschooling community are hesitant to criticize themselves, which is understandable. However, I think that, in order for our movement to remain a viable and vital one, we much undergo a nearly constant process of self-evaluation and self-criticism as a means for growth. Because of this, I’ll cite a real and omnipresent ‘con’ that I’m struggling with in regards to unschooling.
I feel that a lot of new unschooling parents are very hesitant to do anything that resembles ‘controlling’ their children, and so they fail to stop their children when they are behaving in ways that are disruptive or damaging to others or the property of others. Unschooling conferences frequently feature the worst displays of such behavior; a damaging trend when you consider that such events are one of the primary ways that we represent ourselves to the ‘Muggles’.
To me, this problem is only one symptom of a larger disease; namely, that many unschooling parents passively accept the principles of unschooling as gospel, rather than actively examining them.
Do you like the world you live in? How would you like to see it changed?
I love the world that I live in. Were I to change it, I think I would alter attitudes and beliefs rather than attempting to change governments or institutions, because, in the end, it is the things which we believe and the values which we hold highest that shape our world. I would change the belief that qualification and ability are inextricably linked.
For example, in the eyes of many, the twenty four year old MFA graduate possesses more ability to instruct ceramics students than the self taught ceramicist who has been operating a functional studio for thirty years, merely because of his qualifications. I’m not saying that qualification and ability never come hand in hand; merely that they don’t have to.
I would change the belief that learning is hard. I would change the belief that success = money. I would cure psoriasis and give everyone a Snuggie; I mean, while I’m at it, why not?
What words of advice can you offer a young person who is not sure if school/higher education is the right place for her at the time?
Trust yourself! If you have a niggling, nagging feeling that institutionalized schooling isn’t right for you at this point in your life, then listen to it. College can be a wonderful tool to get you where you want to go, but it’s just that: a tool. It’s important to keep it in its proper perspective; that is, a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.
If you’re struggling with the college question, a good litmus test is to ask yourself ‘I’m planning to go to college to what end? What am I trying to achieve?’ If your answer is something like ‘because I want to be a veterinarian’ or ‘because it’s an efficient way for me to learn everything that I want to know about classical philosophy’ then you’re probably on the right track.
If, on the other hand, your answers are something like ‘because otherwise I’ll end up working in a fast food joint’ or ‘because I don’t know what I want to do with my life’ then I would suggest you do a bit more soul searching.
I learned through personal experience that college isn’t a good place to find yourself, and that there are much better places for that. Write a book. Save the rainforest. Teach English as a second language. Revitalize your community. Build a house. Live somewhere that you don’t speak the language. Read this blog.
Furthermore, never believe those who tell you that not going to college resigns you to a lifetime of ‘flipping burgers’. The perpetuators of this myth are usually none other than the school faculty and administrators who are completely dependent upon your continued support of higher education for their continued employment. The vast majority of people I know who have chosen to forgo college for the time being are doing amazing things like writing grants, traveling the world, working on farms, or doing web design.
Finally, keep in mind that not going to college NOW is not the same thing as not going to college. I believe that many people would benefit a great deal from taking a few years to experience and experiment with various occupations and lifestyles before they make the decision to attend (or not attend) a university.