Having a set curriculum is so last century

The idea of learning for the sake of learning comes from the Renaissance. It’s the first time in history that people celebrated the idea of sitting around reading secular material, purely for the joy of learning new ideas.

Later, the idea of being well-rounded was not so much for the sake of learning, but rather to establish oneself in a particular social class. To be well-rounded you had to be rich enough not only to skirt any work duties, but also to hire French tutors and piano tutors and all the other tutors that provide the parts of a well-rounded education.

The modern-day classroom was built as a result of the Industrial Revolution, not to create Renaissance men. Our classrooms were designed to create factory workers. Kids sit in rows, answer to bells, and learn to fit in. Today, we reject the idea of sending our kids to school to become factory workers, but school is still school so we justify it by saying it develops well-rounded kids. And, the argument goes, if we make poor kids well-rounded then we create opportunities for class mobility.

This is completely false thinking; school curricula does not create class mobility. Self-directed learning creates class mobility.

But the other problem is that there’s no set curricula for what well-rounded should be.

For example, are you well-rounded by learning Yiddish? Are you well-rounded if you don’t know the capitals of US states? Are you well-rounded if you can’t draw?

I am thinking about my own set curricula for my kids. I’m always on the lookout for what I think they should know. Theoretically I have a lot more leeway than most parents because I force few things on them. So when I say, “This is really important,” they listen.

Well, they listen to see if it’s interesting.

I am anxious about the damage porn does, especially to boys. It’s clear they will find porn. And it’s clear that it’s normal for a boy to look for it. But it’s also clear that boys are getting a totally unrealistic view of what sex is.

I always knew I’d spend a lot of time talking about sex in my house. I want the discussion to be open. I thought I’d be talking about how women’s bodies are not dirty and menstruation is not unclean. But I guess those are issues only for old-timer thinking.

What we really need to talk about is the difference between a real girl and a girl in a porn video. My sons have pretty much no idea. There is no warning on the video that says: Your girlfriend will be nothing like this!

And there are no YouTube channels devoted to how much emotional energy goes into a real relationship where you care about the person you are having sex with. So I am adapting.

I spent so much time organizing my bookshelves so the boys could only reach the books that were appropriate for their height. But I see that was wishful thinking. Before they are even tall enough to reach Portnoy’s Complaint I find myself explaining how one-night stands are a lot easier than long-term relationships, but are a lot less fulfilling as well. “It’s like playing an easy song on the cello,” I say. “You don’t have to work very hard but you don’t feel very good about it afterward either.”

The difference, I think, between self-directed learning and curriculum is that curriculum is what grows from a spark the parent catches from the child and wants to fan, by hand, to draw more attention to it.

Curriculum is probably what comes up at the dinner table. It’s dynamic and specific to the learner. Curriculum is discussing whether a brokered convention is democratic. It’s talking about whether we can grow organic sweet corn if none of us wants to weed by hand. And it’s talking about how most girls who give blow jobs do not want you to squirt cum all over her. It’s all curriculum: preparing kids to carefully consider the world they want to be a part of.





14 replies
  1. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    But the very word curriculum connotes something premeditated. You’re feeling it out as you go. How is that curriculum? It’s just parenting and life.

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      I want to say yes! to this but also…

      Somehow education and JUST parenting and life have been separated. As if education is this scientific pursuit and there’s a recipe for it. It’s validated because there are important people with big titles getting paid a lot of money to tell teachers what to do. And on and on.

      “JUST parenting and life” has been demoted to this haphazard drunk dance that sometimes looks good and sometimes makes you kiss the floor.

      But it is THERE were we get prepared, or screwed up, for life no??

      So basically, unschooling is turning the shirt inside out for me and saying “No. Look. This is the education. And the purpose. The goal is the same even when I have to change the approach a million times.”

      • MBL
        MBL says:

        “this haphazard drunk dance that sometimes looks good and sometimes makes you kiss the floor.”

        Oh how I have missed you!!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yes! I love her. And I’ve sent so many videos of hers to my sons. My sons just pretty much don’t care. But maybe they will care later. I think she’s great. I wish she had been around when I was younger.


  2. Caitlin Timothy
    Caitlin Timothy says:

    Love the real life bookshelf metaphor for curriculum. I’m still dealing with the meta of it. Also, that’s so interesting, about the history of being “well rounded”.

    Re sex, porn: http://time.com/4277510/porn-and-the-threat-to-virility/?iid=toc_033116

    I think there are even harder problems to solve than the problem of boys-who-grow-up-on-a-porn-diet-having-unrealistic-expectations. My husband and I have been talking about this (because he so hates the unrestricted access he grew up with and that his parents didn’t even try) and he set up a proxy server with a content filter. Right now we just have a toddler, and maybe one day soon our kids will be able to break through it, but we’re going to try to hold that off as long as possible while having an ongoing sex conversation.

  3. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Sounds like curriculum for the parent. Where you use your life experience and decide how you can use that to guide your children. When you have an idea of the characteristics you think would be helpful for your kids or any person to possess you change your own behaviors to instill those characteristics in your kids. It’s a very disciplined premeditated process…..

  4. Christopher Chantrill
    Christopher Chantrill says:

    It’s not just on sex that boys will have no idea what women are like. FS writer Sarah Hoyt wrote recently about how her son once wanted to be a girl because girls had more fun (and presumably this was before “Frozen” where the men are idiots and the girls are superheroes). Years later she asked him about that. It was all a lie, he said. Girls just want to hang out and talk. And when they play video games they just want to play space princesses and get rescued.

  5. Erin
    Erin says:

    I just fell down a rabbit hole reading your links in this post…and the links in the posts you linked to…and so on…

    (But really I just want to leave a comment so I get updates if a conversation develops around the topic of porn & kids & parental roles etc).

  6. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I think you’re well-rounded if you’re willing to admit there’s always something new to learn and you’re willing and able to learn it regardless of how much you think you know about something. I like the idea of determining my own curriculum to learn (self-directed learning). However, I also like to think I can learn (and enjoy it) from curriculum devised by someone else (especially by someone who is more expert). I think where curriculum may become a problem is when it becomes fixed and rigid and when it isn’t compatible with a person’s learning style. Optimally, the learner should have as much latitude as possible determining their curriculum.

  7. Susan
    Susan says:

    I’m confused. If you’re concerned about what porn does to your son’s brains, why do you have an unlimited porn policy at your house? You mention it in a comment in a thread on that post about the best way to deal with porn. I still remember it, because I found it very disturbing to willingly expose them to it.

  8. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Curricula for children that focuses on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) skills such as collaboration, communication and problem solving will be increasingly important for the workplace of the future. That’s what the research shows according to this article which references and draws from a report by the World Economic Forum – https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/05/5-charts-that-explain-the-future-of-education/ .
    This sentence in the article – “There is limited awareness of SEL and its benefits, insufficient prioritization of SEL skills, a lack of consensus about valid and reliable SEL measurements, low levels of funding and resources for SEL, and an inadequate supply of SEL programmes and products.” – is an opportunity that homeschoolers can easily seize upon relative to those children who are enrolled in school.

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