Unschooling, a foreign concept. A word synonymous with “terminal disease” … at least that’s what you would think from the reactions I get when I tell people I’m an independent learner. “You’re what? You’re unschooled? Good god, are you mentally diseased? Socially awkward? A hermit? All of the above?” I’m paraphrasing of course. The idea that young people can learn and teach themselves simply by pursuing their own interests, fascinations and dreams…. is so daunting to most people that the thought of it is banished to the nether regions of their brains. WARNING! Unschooling may cause: creativity, individuality and the ability to think for oneself.
Here’s some food for thought, the institutions that are most alike in our society are schools and jail. The strictly adhered to timetables, uniforms and all manner of rules and regulations that are designed to turn human beings into numbers on a piece of paper. I used to be one of those numbers. Hi, my name is Scout, I’m a seventeen-year-old vegetarian with a music addiction and a soft spot for zombies.
I went to Durban Girls College, considered one of the best private schools in South Africa, not to mention one of the most competitive and I couldn’t have been more miserable. I could never keep up with the work load and the teachers didn’t make me feel safe enough to ask for help. If you asked too many questions you were either wasting their time or you hadn’t been paying attention. My marks were always terrible and I saw them as a reflection of my self-worth. I didn’t fit the system. After six grades, two visits to an occupational therapist and about a thousand anxiety attacks, my mom decided to teach me and my brother from home. We didn’t use a curriculum and we had no set “lessons” but I learned more in those first few weeks of being deschooled than I did in the entirety of my main stream school career. I developed an appetite for learning. Without the constant pressure of trying to keep up with everyone else I found my own rhythm, no longer was I forced to memorize information and give text book answers, I could have an opinion.
Naturally everyone we knew thought that my mom was crazy. She was depriving us of a “good” education. What is a good education? And is it worth sacrificing your happiness for? I guess they all figured that my brother and I would end up on the street or at least our IQ levels would drop dramatically. Well it’s been six years since I started my learning journey, the road so far? I’m an avid reader and read everything from Austen to King. Creating is my passion whether its spending hours in the kitchen baking up a storm or sitting at my piano composing the day way and I have finished my second year as a part time student of a fine art, animation and design school that I got a scholarship to without a matric certificate, IBE or any other piece of paper that we allow to define our abilities. I take pictures, I go out with my friends, I attend a drama class every Thursday and have developed a unicorn obsession. Some days I don’t get out of bed till ten and that’s okay, everyday can be whatever I want it to be. Every day I learn something new, no matter how small.
I’m no Einstein and I have no magic tricks up my sleeve but I have had the opportunity to just be without measuring myself by the standards institutions set. I have no doubt in my mind that I would not be the person I am today if I had stayed in school, being unschooled has taught me about who I am, who I want to be in the world and that when we don’t limit ourselves anything is possible.