Listening to: The Garden — Mirah
When I stepped into my first class at UT, it had been six years since I’d been in a classroom. For that matter, it had been six years since I’d had any kind of formal education whatsoever.
I quit school at 13. No, I wasn’t a drop-out — I just decided that I wanted to homeschool myself, or more appropriately, unschool myself. What this meant was that my high school curriculum didn’t include very many text books. I didn’t do assignments or write papers. I didn’t participate in science labs. Instead, I read what fascinated me, I learned what I wanted, and I focused on the areas that I thought would be relevant to my personal future. For me, this worked.
But I have to say, coming into college after four years of unschooling (and two years of work) has certainly altered my experience. When I talk to other students who came out of traditional schooling, I can tell that there is a marked difference in my approach to school. What I can’t tell is whether this difference is an advantage or a disadvantage.
For example: Unschooling taught me to be a self-directed learner. To successfully LEARN in an unschooled environment, you have to WANT to learn. You have to be highly motivated, curious, and driven. All of these, I am. I can take a subject and go to town — I’ll be able to tell you all about it within a few weeks, because I’ll happily devote all of my time to it. This can be a major advantage in some classes. I love to learn — I want to know things. However, being so curious and driven is also a bad thing — I will devote ALL of my time to the subject that interests me. In a college setting, this simply isn’t possible. I find myself fascinated with my comparative literature class, but I am required to study biology. Which poses another problem — I never had to learn things I didn’t care about. I have a hard time reconciling myself to the idea that I should spend my time doing something that I do not think will benefit me.
Another issue I run into is that I am not used to being taught. I do not immediately consider myself to be subordinate to my professors, especially in classes where I feel that I know the material very well. I have become accustomed to learning on my own, then sharing my knowledge with others. When I am expected to sit, listen, and simply absorb — without sharing any of my own thoughts or expertise — I do not learn as well. For that matter, I have a hard time respecting any professor who does not wish to engage in mutual sharing of knowledge. For obvious reasons, this doesn’t always go over well.
All of that said, there are things about being taught that I love. I have had the opportunity to be taught by amazing professors, whom I have come to respect and admire. And, in these cases, most of them have seemed to appreciate my desire to learn and my willingness to do work on my own.
I am thriving at UT. I think this is partially because of my unschooling and partially in spite of it. Overall, however, I believe that having had the unschooling experience will be a life long advantage. Here, I have the opportunity to learn the things I missed. There, I had the opportunity to learn the things I loved. The balance works for me — and I am so glad the University of Texas is unschooler friendly.