Default Schooling

Or, Why Choose Public Schooling?

“So, why do you homeschool?” That is the quintessential question that every homeschooler has been asked numerous times. The answers vary widely, from family to family, which is unsurprising given the diversity of ideas and experiences within the homeschooling community. But what rarely happens in return is for the question to be turned around, and for families who choose public schooling to be asked to justify and explain that decision.

Despite its relatively recent establishment, at least in the broader perspective of human history, public education is viewed as the default by the vast majority of the population. Public education is normal, public education is the way it’s supposed to be. It’s a foundation face of childhood, and those who choose not to follow that path are often viewed as deviating from the normal way of things.

Yet the simple fact is that learning in the natural environment of a family and everyday life is how every child begins their journey to understand the world around them. Children start out their life learning about everything about them. How to eat, how to move, how to communicate. They learn to walk and talk, they ask questions as soon as they know how. They observe and explore and experiment and through all of that they grow immensely. Indeed, the acquisition of a child’s first language, with no prior knowledge whatsoever and little instruction beyond immersion, is an incredible feat of learning that few, if any, will match later in their lives.

Children are designed to be startlingly efficient learning machines from the beginning of their lives. That’s what they do, and yet the assumption in modern society is that a formal, structured public education system is the normal way to learn. I hope the disconnect is clear.

We need to value the natural drive to learn that children are born with, and stop assuming that public school should be the default. Learning happens everywhere.

I don’t this to suggest that no one should send their kids to public school. There are plenty of solid reasons for many families to do just that. But I am asserting that our society needs to rethink how we see learning, and schooling, and the way we make choices about those aspects of life. We need to value the natural drive to learn that children are born with, and stop assuming that public school should be the default. Learning happens everywhere. If anything, unschooling should be the default and other paths, such as public or private school, should be seen as something to do only if there are very strong and compelling reasons. The reverse of how most people these days seem to see educational choices.

Perhaps that change is already happening in some part, though it’s hard to tell for sure. Certainly the ranks of homeschoolers have been growing significantly in recent years, though it’s hard to tell precisely why and it could well be coming from places very different than a shifting philosophy of how and why children learn.

For my part at least, I’m done explaining why we chose to homeschool, because at the end of the day we didn’t. Natural learning, unschooling, homeschooling, whatever you want to call it, that is the default. And as I watch my kids explore and conquer new realms of knowledge and pursue things they’re truly fascinated in, I don’t see any reason to abandon it.

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