Take the Non-Linear Path to
By Amy Milstein
When did we start believing that learning must be
linear to be valid? That certain things must be learned at a certain age
before the next thing can be learned?
Hand in hand with that is the idea that “important”
subjects must be revisited on a daily basis, year after year, in order to
be learned with any depth. It is deemed irrelevant whether we have an interest
in these subjects or not – they are required.
I wonder why more people don’t notice that life doesn’t
work this way? Learning is rarely linear in nature when it is genuine, and
if someone has a passion for a particular subject or activity, they won’t
need to be told to practice; on the contrary you’ll have a difficult time
keeping them from it.
For myself, my interests occupy me in waves. Lately,
I’ve been on a reading spree. I’ve also been taking massive amounts of photos
over the last couple of months. Before the holidays, I was sewing every
day. Earlier in the fall, I made more hats than any one person should ever
own. Over the summer, I went on another reading jag. It seems to go in cycles.
And while I’m focused on one thing, I’ll do a little of the others. I always
have a book with me, but there are times that I’ll get on a roll where I’m
reading three or four books a week. During that time, other hobbies or interests
get pushed out of the forefront. But they never disappear completely.
This is why I don’t worry when one of my kids becomes
totally focused on an activity, almost to the exclusion of all others...even
if it involves video games (like Minecraft). I know that this absorption
is not counter to education, but is instead the very heart of it. At some
point another interest will take hold and pull into the lead as far as time
spent. The learning that goes on is not linear, but it is consistent.
And for those who argue that kids need to be able
to focus on one thing (usually something they don’t like) for more than
a few months in order to hold a job and succeed in the “real world”? I believe
those people are looking backward, and not forward to what lies ahead.
Life in a straight line is drudgery. Excitement and
fulfillment lie off the beaten path, in swirls and circles and crazy shapes
– in following your gut, sometimes moving slowly and sometimes racing along.
False starts and dead ends are part of the journey – sometimes a very important
Don’t force a linear education on your kids. Encourage
them to learn in the method and shape of their choosing. Their lives will
be richer for it.
Amy Milstein is an active member of the
NYC Home Educators Alliance (NYCHEA). She and her husband Joshua unschool
their two children, Maya and Ben, who were ages twelve and eight when this
article was published in 2014, and who have never been to school. She is
a native of Columbus Indiana, attended Earlham College and then dropped
out of Grad School at NYU. The Milsteins are pioneers of unschooling in
the big city. Their goal is to create an awareness of unschooling as a viable
option for families looking for alternatives to traditional curriculum based
schooling. You can read more of Amy’s writing on her blog
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