In Natural Born Learners: Unschooling and Autonomy in Education, Kate talks about her experience growing up unschooled. Here is an excerpt from her chapter:
The idea of balance, maybe in its ideal form is awesome, but when it’s applied broadly it prevents people from learning what they love to do. When you learn to love learning, and do things that interest you, whatever it is that interests you ends up connecting you to a whole huge network of other stuff, other subjects, in really surprising ways. Maybe you end up being more balanced than people expect, in exciting ways, but it’s never through pursuing well-roundedness.
The truth is that you learn something new in absolutely every environment. It’s not like there is an environment that you can go to where you get access to all the important information. You learn everywhere! The idea that I love, and always find true about unschooling, is that you are always learning, because you are living. Of course, when I went to college, I learned from interesting people who I wouldn’t have otherwise met, but to be perfectly honest I would have learned somewhere else, too.
As an unschooler, I felt like an adult. By being around adults, and being in the community rather than in school, I had a lot of contact with grownups who didn’t expect to end up being my friend because here I am, a kid. It is kind of expected that kids are going to be with other kids, and adults with other adults. Everyone is going to be slotted into their particular age bracket, and that is where they are going to stay—which is kind of a strange idea really, because it is so useful for children to learn from people who are older.
My experience as an unschooler consisted of being around adults who told me, “You seem so grown up!” It wasn’t that I was grown up, it was just that I was interacting with them as I would with a friend. Through these relationships, I was able to talk about things that were relevant to adults. I was able to have a lot of educational and relational experiences that other children didn’t have access to. There is a lack of fear of adults, in unschooled kids; they are not afraid of speaking with adults, and are not wary of adults. The schooled peers I met in college, who were still afraid of interacting with adults when they were twenty, surprised me.
Another thing about unschoolers being grown up is that they just have a lot of responsibility, which is something people don’t expect from kids in school. I have to qualify that, and add that kids in school have tons of responsibility. Not the same kind of responsibility, not the kind where you get to decide what you do with your time, and what you learn, and what you pursue. For them, it’s the kind that I shrink from, like having to do hours of homework, or getting straight-A’s in every subject. That sounds so stressful to me, I can’t imagine how anybody does it.