I love reading about other unschooling/life learning families, especially those whose children are grown and living successfully in the world. Such reading is a great balm on days when questions of “but how will they ever….?” come at me fast and furious – sometimes from the outside and sometime from inside my own head. (Remember those vampires?) Books like And the Children Played, or Possum Living or The Unprocessed Child are among those I’ve read or am reading, along with John Holt’s Letters, which is different but no less uplifting. In addition, I just read a blog entry by a woman who was one of the founding members of NYCHEA (New York City Home Educator’s Alliance) and who I met when Maya was four and her kids were 14 and 13. They unschooled, and it is fascinating to read her blog post all these years later, and see how things turned out. (If you don’t have time to read it, things turned out well.)
I think that all life learning families have a basic belief in common – that children learn best when that learning is self-directed, and that ‘schooling’ goes against nature in pretty much every way there is.
That said, in the reading I am doing at the moment I detect a distinct bias among the unschooling families in the books (and the blog post) against pop culture. Although the families profess to have had nothing ‘against’ TV, etc, they always state that it ‘bored’ their kids, and that they much preferred Beethoven, or classical piano, or Greek mythology, etc. And it’s great that their kids loved those things. I also love classical music and stories about the gods, though I never learned to play an instrument (and honestly I suffer no great regrets in that regard.) The problem, though, is that there is a subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) implication that the reason the kids were so good at being self-directed was due in large part to this lack of exposure to pop culture. They had ‘higher interests’ and their creativity was not stunted by ‘screen time’.
But here’s the thing. I enjoy pop culture, and so do my kids.
We have a TV, and a DVR and a Wii. On their own, the kids TV viewing is mostly confined to SpongeBob (Maya no longer watches it, but Ben enjoys it), iCarly, and reruns of Friends. Together we watch “Project Runway” because I insist, and Ben & I try to catch “Whale Wars” when it is on. Also on my watch list, and therefore on theirs, is “The Voice” and “Biggest Loser”. They are also subjected to soccer now and then, usually from the English Premiere League, and complain that Joshua and I are too loud when our team scores. Any other TV I watch by myself online.
My favorite magazine is Entertainment Weekly. The kids don’t read it, but lately we all check in every week for possible updates on “The Hunger Games” movie. Movies rank high on our list of fun things. As far as music goes, when we are home my iPod is almost always playing on shuffle, so the kids hear everything from Lady Gaga to Queen, the Beatles to Amy Winehouse, with some Andrea Bocelli and Chopin thrown in.
Maya spends time every day on line, as does Ben. They enjoy creating their own video games at sites like Gamestar Mechanic. They love Angry Birds and Poptropica. Maya is active on Facebook, and chats with friends.
Are they doomed?
I think not, and here’s why.
When I say I enjoy pop culture, I guess what I should really say is that I enjoy some parts of pop culture. I could live my whole life and be happy to never hear the name Kardashian or Hilton again. I think most TV shows are horrible and hate reality shows like American Idol where the main purpose seems to be to make fun of people.
So guess what? I don’t pay attention to those things. Similarly, I enjoy Chopin and Mozart a lot, but could live my whole life happily ignorant of most opera and will run the other way if Wagner is playing.
It doesn’t have to be all or nothing, and in our house, it isn’t. For instance, both Maya and Ben are now voracious readers. On their own. They will voluntarily turn off the TV or computer and read. Maya just finished A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (I’ll be reading it next) in 5 days. Have you taken a look at that book recently? It’s not Dick and Jane. Ben will happily spend hours building things with whatever is handy. Besides, if I didn’t allow pop culture-like activities, Maya might never have discovered video-editing. She could care less about Greek mythology, but so what? If she grows up to be a pro video editor and loves her work, is she less of a success for not loving the Greek Gods?
I could sit here and list all of the things – the creative things – the kids enjoy that have nothing to do with TV or video games. It would be a pretty long list. Then I could list all the aspects of pop culture they enjoy. Also a pretty long list.
It’s all good. They’re happy, they’re healthy and they learn from everything, even pop culture.