I just listened to a speech by Astra Taylor, who was homeschooled as a child. It’s significant that we are finally hearing from kids who were homeschooled about what it was like. I like that Taylor is honest enough to admit that each of the kids in her family asked to go to school for a year or two in order to see what they were missing. I like that she sees this as a part of homeschooling—the idea that curiosity is most important, even when it is school that kids are curious about.
The biggest thing I took away from her speech is that school undermines the natural preparedness each kid has for the workforce, so by the end of eighteen years of schooling, a kid’s natural, salable talents are demolished. Here are three points she makes:
Schools crush divergent thinking.
This is different than creativity. Divergent thinking is seeing lots of possible solutions for a problem. It’s the kind of problem solving that companies pay a lot of money for so they can be sure they’ve explored enough options to choose the best option. But school discourages divergent thinking because it’s so difficult to test. And even if you can test it, it’s very time consuming to grade. (This is especially important when schools are trying to figure out how to decrease the cost of grading tests.)
I write this word mostly as a joke. Because we know that it’s meaningless and only enters the conversation when someone wants to know why you aren’t sending your kid to school to be psychologically crushed by the least common denominator.
The real test for whether you get along with others is if you can work well with others. And Taylor points out that school doesn’t encourage you to work well with others. It only encourages kids to follow a proscribed set of rules to keep kids in line so teachers can cope with being outnumbered and provide test scores to prove teacher effectiveness.
My favorite example is copying: Copying outside school is called collaboration. Copying inside school is called cheating.
The real point here, though, is that school is about ranking, and so you are always competing with the people next to you. At work, though, the competition is to keep your learning curve high. If your learning curve is high it doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing. Which makes learning outside of school much more collaborative and social than learning inside of school.
Schools teach you to be bored.
Being bored at school is accepted. Our culture makes joke after joke about how boring school is. However we do not accept that work is boring. When we are bored at work we feel crushed and hopeless and like a failure. When I do career coaching, the number-one problem I see is that people are bored in their work and don’t know how to solve the problem.
But how can we expect adults to solve their boredom problem when they were taught as kids to accept boredom? Taylor says that her homeschooling mom used to tell her kids, “When you are bored you are boring.” And I’ve got news for you: This is true for adults, too. If you’re bored at work it’s because you are boring yourself. You haven’t learned enough about yourself to know where you fit. You don’t know enough about yourself to know what would be fulfilling. You are not doing things that interest you outside of work and you want work to pick up all the slack.
None of those options are open to a homeschooler because homeschoolers spend all day figuring out what it interesting to them.