Parents' Concerns about Their Children's Futures

Recently I had the pleasure to hear Blake Boles give a talk at the MacComber Center in Framingham, MA about his new book, The Art of Self-Directed Learning. Listening to Blake and hearing the many questions from the audience of parents and teens made me realize, again, how far homeschooling has come in public acceptance. Blake, who was not homeschooled, makes his living providing international travel and personalized learning experiences to young adults who are homeschooled and unschooled. Blake smiled broadly when he made a comment that he can’t believe he gets paid to do what he loves.

I understand why teachers fear change and think they will lose their jobs as homeschooling becomes more popular, but I think they are exaggerating the threat to their livelihoods. Over the years I’ve seen many teachers find fulfilling work helping people learn outside of schools, as Blake does. Our local homeschooling lists are constantly seeking and promoting new offerings from museums, graduate students and teachers seeking extra income for tutoring, new businesses (such as learning centers), old businesses seeking new revenue streams (for instance, gyms, dojos, and crafts places now offer homeschool classes during their previously quiet pre-school and business hours), and so on. Of course, there are educators who make money by offering standard school curricula and techniques for at-home use, and that’s okay. As I see it, educational change is not about making everyone do homeschool or unschool, or use just public school, Montessori, or Waldorf, and so on, but rather to provide a wide an array of opportunities for families to access as they grow and change. Diversity in education is not the problem; the problem is when one educational program gets enough power to monopolize the educational endeavors of a country. U.S. courts have long recognized this; in Growing Without Schooling 12 Shawn and David Kendrick cite many state and federal court decisions that support this general principle, described in this quote from an Illinois Supreme Court decision in 1950:

The object is that all children shall be educated, not that they shall be educated in any particular manner or place.

Nonetheless, teachers who prefer the standard school classroom will still have plenty of clients: the vast majority of people will continue to send their children to conventional school for the foreseeable future. It’s just that, gradually, I think education is changing into a resource to be individually chosen rather than universally compelled. There is more and more evidence proving that we are learning important things from birth to death, not just during, or in spite of, our time in school. This trend was in place before the personal computer was a consumer item, and before the Internet (for instance, the open classroom, free schools, and homeschooling), but those tools helped accelerate the change. As schooling has become commoditized many classes, credentials, and data that were previously hoarded by traditional public and private educational institutions are now available to the public, with more becoming available as education seeps out of the schools and into the marketplace.

The questions from parents that Blake responded to are the same ones myself and others in homeschooling for the past 30+ years also asked when we started—child-rearing issues don’t differ from previous generations as much as our external circumstances do—and I feel obligated to pass those answers forward. Though I sometimes get tired of answering the same question, I feel I must try to respond to parents’ concerns about homeschooling fully because they are correct for being concerned: “This is MY child, so I need to know what’s going to happen to them if I let them do what they want for school studies, play videogames as much as the want, and so on. Will they grow up but never leave our basement? Will they get into college and find work?” Of course, these are the same questions parents of children in school have about their children’s future, though without the self-blame and guilt homeschoolers often throw upon themselves. (School can be a convenient scapegoat for insufficient parenting.) Also, some parents are very tightly wound about their children’s issues than others, and no amount of research, kindness, or bluntness seem to help them overcome their fears, but that’s another topic.

Blake reassured the audience that he wasn’t aware of any adult unschoolers who were without work, aimlessly living in their parent’s basements, and playing videogames nonstop. He noted how homeschoolers not only get into college, but are sometimes even courted by colleges to attend. He also noted how many of the young people he works with are focused on finding interesting work they want to do, but they do so by trying on different roles and jobs until they find the ones that fit. In school, they’d have to earn a degree in the area they want to work in before they decide if the job suits them.

As to parents’ concerns about the amount of videogame time their children have, Blake mentioned how he was a huge fan of Dungeons and Dragon and played it endlessly as a young person, and how his parents were deeply concerned about the amount of time he spent playing it. When he turned 16, Blake decided he was no longer interested in D&D and moved on to other interests. Blake’s experience is one I’ve heard hundreds of times during the course of my work and life, and experienced in my own life and in my children’s; yet, I can’t dismiss parents’ concerns about their children’s futures with a breezy, “Don’t worry, be happy!” It is good to be concerned about your children and you should worry about them—but not too much or you’ll go crazy (and probably drive your children crazy, too). You need to have perspective about what your child is getting from their interests (for instance, view this extract from Eric Martin’s video How World of Warcraft Saved My Life) and good information about how others did something similar and came out fine, so you can relax and enjoy your children now, not in the future.