I recently heard from a mom whose husband is on the fence about unschooling because of math. He’s a math whiz whose introduction to the subject came from school, not home. He worries that unschooling won’t offer his kids what they need to develop strong interest and proficiency in mathematics, and they’ll lose the opportunity to pursue careers that involve a high level of math.
It’s not an uncommon concern. My kids never went past pre-calculus but their chosen paths don’t involve needing to know more. If they had picked careers that necessitated higher math, I have no doubt they would have learned it. Heck, they might yet change course and do just that.
That’s what a friend’s son did when he decided to become a programmer. As a kid he didn’t care much about math, but in his twenties he got interested enough to learn complex math on his own. It’s his perception that as a teen, his brain wasn’t ready to take on the math concepts he’s embracing now. Whether it was a matter of being unable or unwilling, once he started delving into math and programming on his own terms he did it with great success, and more importantly, great excitement and personal satisfaction.
One of the main tenets of unschooling is that people are natural learners, which means that learning doesn’t stop at 18. Curious, receptive minds continue to find new fascinations. A recent conversation with my 20-year-old daughter comes to mind. She’s in college and enjoying it very much, but she’s independently acquired an interest in honing her geography skills. Her goal is to learn the names and locations of every country in the world. My 30-year-old son, meanwhile, is busy learning French, and my 18-year-old daughter is teaching herself guitar.
One of the great gifts of unschooling is that it helps kids retain enthusiasm for and facility with learning. We’ve all experienced the incomparable excitement that results from learning something we care about, when the tasks required to master a skill feel more like fun than hard work. Remembering that such experiences are available to all of us, for all of our lives, exposes the folly of arbitrary timetables for learning and helps us relax about our kids’ educations.
When we fret that our kids aren’t learning or won’t learn a particular subject, we’d do well to remind ourselves that when it comes to learning, it’s never too late, as John Holt wrote in his book about picking up the cello as an adult.
Letting go of worry can be a challenge, but as unschoolers we honor human potential and acknowledge that its unfolding is organic and particular to each individual. We know that whether it’s math, music, mountain climbing, or mythology, it can be learned anytime.