One argument that comes up over and over in defense of institutionalized education is the belief that children need to learn to buckle down and complete a task, even if it’s onorous to them. It’s even something that my very unschooling-supportive husband still struggles with. I’ve heard it from every one of my friends when I discuss my educational viewpoint. Many of us labor under the assumption that life is full of being forced to do things that you hate, and kids must go through this experience time and again in order to hammer that in. They call it “stick-to-itiveness” or “determination.”
Here’s the thing, though: in life outside of school, when you do something you dislike, you often see the REASON for it. Say, for example, that I hate camping. My friends all decide to do a big camping trip and I know that if I don’t go, I’ll miss out on great bonding time. I may dislike the actual camping part, but I see the value in going. Or, to bring in a largely used example, say you had a job that you hated or that included tasks that you disliked. If you aren’t taught to struggle through the hard stuff by an institution such as school, how will you ever be able to do it in your job? Well, first, you’re being paid to do it. That’s a motivation. Second, to a certain degree, you chose to be in that job. And, third, in the situation where you generally like the job but dislike certain portions, you see the benefit of getting through the hard stuff in order to keep a job you generally enjoy, and to further your career.
This isn’t something that needs to be taught to you by giving you a difficult task that has no meaning to you. Forcing a math-lover to read and analyze Romeo and Juliet accomplishes nothing, save to make that person dislike Shakespeare. They didn’t learn to stick it out and get something completed, even if they didn’t like it. Instead, they learned to game the system and do as little as possible to get the task over with.
Unschooled kids complete tasks that they find difficult all the time. But, they do them because they see the reason for it and have a larger goal. They might want to create their own video game, so they go through the laborious process of learning a programing language. They may want to write a novel, so they spend hours and hours at the computer. They may want to win a Lego competition, so they learn about geometry and physics. If forced to do any of these tasks out of context, they would find them pointless and frustrating. But, because they have set their own goals and have the freedom to pursue their own interests, they amaze us with their stick-to-itivenss and determination.