Ben is a fitness expert at BenGreenfieldFitness
As the author of “Unschooling To University,” I read “Educated” with interest and know that the author, Tara Westover, is very much like many other unschoolers who ditch the school system and learn outside of it. Hundreds of thousands of children get educated this way in a self-directed methodology without using curriculum, teachers, classes or textbooks. Many are self-taught using the resources they seek out or stumble over. Unschooled, educated children go on to successful careers after graduating post-secondary programs or become entrepreneurs. Learners do not need school.
Tara, however, was different than many unschoolers in that she was a victim of at least 5 ACES, (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and was the daughter of a man suffering from mental illness that severely impacted the health of the family system. She was physically abused by her brother, witnessed untreated mental illness, and was neglected by a mother that allowed emotional and physical abuse to continue. She was criticized and rejected by her family and community for leaving the church. Her unusual lack of access to information would also be considered neglect as well as her lack of family protection for her physical safety. Most young children do not get pieces of steel thrown at them by their father.
Her dysfunctional family environment intentionally impacted her access to knowledge. She grew up without books, radio, TV, internet, visitors, travel or the myriad of experiences that typical parents offer their children today whether homeschooling, unschooling or institutional schooling. She was deliberately kept isolated.
Research of brain science shows that children growing up with at least 3 ACES hinders a healthy upbringing and can cause toxic stress chemicals such as Cortisol and long term production of adrenelyn that can impair the brain’s healthy development and may produce lifelong health implications. The 10 ACES are: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, witnessing abuse, witnessing untreated mental illness, witnessing addiction, parental absence, acrimonious parental separation or divorce, constant criticism or rejection, and neglect of food, shelter and basic needs. Adults who grew up with at least 3 ACES may have brain impairment that can cause adult onset of addictions, depression and lifelong health implications such as heart problems, diabetes, anxiety and many auto-immune diseases. Tara managed to steer through the residual effects of living with ACES, with the help of her personality and spirited temperament. Some of Tara’s siblings, with different personalities, and temperament, didn’t fare as well.
This book is a shining example of resilience in spite of one’s horrific upbringing but is not an example of typical home education. Most unschoolers and homeschoolers (whether faith-based or not) have healthy functional families and do a remarkable job providing their children with access to information, love, safety and education. This fact is why alternative education methods such as unschooling and homeschooling have not ever, nor will be considered an ACE by the medical or psychology community.
I hope Tara is happy and has now found peace.
To understand more about brain development and the stages of learning, visit part 4 of Unschooling To University, available at many bookstores near you. Chapter 16, Brain Basics, has information of the effect of ACES on learning and development.
One of the hardest aspects of Unschooling is offering something that you think is wonderful/useful/educational to your child and they are not interested and refuse it. We recently had an opportunity to visit Washington DC and sight see for 4 days. We planned to see the beautiful monuments and all the museums of the Smithsonian. We stayed in a lovely Airbnb in the middle of an urban neighborhood so we could live like the locals, eat local food and participate in the community. Residents sat on their stoops in the hot summer evenings and people-watched as we did. We saw many families with teens and younger children explore the sights. We were excited to travel as a family…except, well, the kids did not want to go.
Our kids are between the ages of 17 and 20 and although we travel frequently, they had no desire to take this trip. Whether it was because of the timing, or the location, I don’t know. But I do know that as an unschooling parent, I believe that one can’t force them to go. We tried that once and the whole trip was miserable. One can’t have a good time traveling if a child is homesick, defiant and unhappy. We had two big family discussions on why we thought this trip might be fun and interesting for them, but still they put their feet down and stayed home. So just my partner and myself went. Although the kids were keen to see our daily photos and observations we posted on our family discord channel, the kids didn’t express any regrets on not coming.
It was tough seeing all the families vacationing together. I thought of the kids as I read through all the museum exhibits and excitedly showed my partner tidbits that I found interesting and wished that my children were there to see and experience what I did. I came to realize that if some day in the future the kids want to see those things, they will make it happen. For whatever reason, now is not the right timing for them. I remembered that we had never taken our children to Disney and although I always felt like a bad parent for not giving our children “the classic trip”, I consoled my guilt with the fact that they can go anytime they want as an adult and be willing to wait in those line-ups and deal with the crowds as a willing, consenting adult. Sure enough, one child actually did go to Disney as an adult.
Just because children don’t want a particular experience at this point in time, doesn’t mean that it won’t happen and be more meaningful for them later. Forcing them to go would have made the trip bad for everyone. But leaving the decision with them will keep them open-minded to future possibilities.
Of course, it is more difficult to accept that children don’t want to come along travelling when children are young. One just can’t leave them at home without supervision. When the kids were young, I found that if I added some things to make the trip more enjoyable for them, and built in time and days that they didn’t have to join us sightseeing, they would willingly come. However, the teens just put their foot down and said, NO! I had to respect that.
In fact, I’ve observed that when I truly let go of my agenda, the universe seems to speak to my children and they pick it up (a book, a museum, a trip, a learning experience) in their own time, taking in all the good educational things that I would have wished for them. They learn when they are ready to learn, and then the absorption is so much greater than if it was coerced. But sometimes the universe doesn’t put things in their path, and that is okay too. They obviously didn’t need it at that time and might not ever need it.
Acceptance is the hardest element of unschooling. Whether a child refuses to watch a documentary, or attend lessons, or refuses to travel, means that they truly own their education. They know what is best for their cognitive, social and emotional growth. When they say “No” to one experience, they are saying “Yes” to something else more meaningful for them at that time. Who am I to judge that one experience is better than another? We can’t control what our learners take in; we can only offer and accept their response. Once I let it go, I had a great time in the Capital! And I’m looking forward to our family trip to Europe this Fall where everyone has agreed to go!
Handwriting, Cursive and Keyboarding Skills – When should kids learn them?
The short answer to when kids should learn the tools of expression, is when they need them to express themselves. As homeschoolers, we bought Mario Teaches Typing and cursive writing books and left them available for the kids to use. However, my kids never used them. They saw no use in practicing cursive or following a keyboarding program. As unschoolers, we let it go.
As toddlers, our five kids started out on keyboards handpicking letters but as they used a computer more and more often, they became very proficient and naturally started using the home keys to do a more coordinated and efficient way of typing. Nothing was taught. They picked it up on their own.
Cursive was another story. Much of their childhood writing was block letters. It was slow and painful for them to write and I have to say, a lot of their sentences were unreadable. When a child can’t write cursive, they can’t read it either. I had to recite the letters from Grandma to them. However, they still didn’t see a need to use cursive and rejected all my nudges and encouragement to practice. When they picked up the odd online course, they wrote all their letters, answers, essays, and email on a computer. They were truly digital kids that only used a pen to sign their name. Here is a sample from first year university:
And then they went to university.
Now they were in trouble! Some university professors are very old school. Unless a student has a documented disability, they can’t bring a laptop to an exam. All essays must be handwritten, even in the humanities. And all exams have time limits. My 4 kids were at a distinct disadvantage by being forced to write timed, handwritten exams (even in the sciences) by using block letters.
In typical unschooling fashion, they decided that cursive might be useful after all! They asked me for resources. I dug out the old cursive writing book from grade 1 and they practiced. They practiced by copying sentences from favourite story books like Cat In The Hat for about 10 minutes a day, and used their cobbled cursive for taking notes in class. At least they could read it. In about 3 months they had a readable cursive style that was acceptable for handing in lab reports and essays and they scored much better on exams. Here is a sample after 3 months of practice in first year university:
The moral here is that when kids realize they need a skill, there is no stopping them from learning it. Trust that they will know when that day comes!
Like UBER, Amazon and AirBnB, home education is a billion dollar industry disruptor. The advancement of the internet enables students to be borderless and no longer constrained to their particular government’s provision of education. Classes can be taken from other countries and knowledge is everywhere. Many children self teach. Education looks much different today than it did when public schools began 150 years ago. The days of the teacher being the smartest person in the village and the sole source of knowledge is over. Today, anyone can learn anything, anywhere and anytime. Every child has a right to an education, and with the internet, every child is automatically guaranteed one.
Governments are panicking with their lack of control, by increasing regulation, because they listen to powerful and well-funded unions that will re-elect them. When parents home educate, jobs are lost in an industry that is funded with billions of taxpayer dollars.
Yet, worldwide, home education is growing fast, and most of it is not funded. It doesn’t create jobs for anyone. Parents are acting in their child’s best interests and although many don’t wish to home educate, they attempt it in the desperate attempt to protect their child from bullying, sub-par curriculum, and mediocre instruction in a one-size-fits-all system. Who can blame them wanting the best for their child’s needs?
Increased government regulation comes in the form of wanting control over a segment of reality that the government should have no business controlling. The government doesn’t regulate the education of a baby, toddler or preschooler when brain architecture is developing the most in the first six years of life. Governments trust parents to do a good job and leave them alone. This is how education should be for the remaining 12 years of childhood.
Forcing families to register their home educated child is unnecessary as each child is already registered with a birth certificate. Forcing families to follow a government or school prescribed curriculum insinuates that the parent can’t do better at home, when research shows that home educated children perform much higher academically and socially than even private school children. Forcing teachers to do mandatory visits insinuates that children are being abused or neglected when 99.9999..% of parents are doing an excellent job. Most child abuse occurs in the early years of ages 0-4 in the form of Shaken Baby Syndrome. School aged abuse is extremely rare and can be investigated under child welfare laws already in place.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 26, states that parents have a prior right to choose the education of their children. This includes content and methodology. Governments must honor it. Children belong to their parents who know best, not the state.
How can one push back against government regulation?
In Canada, there is the Fraser Institute’s two research reports and much more research here:
In the US, there is the National Home Education Research Institute
Enjoy your children and enjoy home education. It is your family’s right!