Unschooling & Re-Learning Subjects As An Adult

I’ve mentioned a few times my decidedly strong opinion of schooling, and how I’m choosing to rebuild my education as an adult.

I wanted to dive into a few details to demonstrate a few particulars on the subject. Notably, the subjects of Math and English in school. Or rather, how they were taught when I was in high school (early 2000s) in Massachusetts when that abomination called the “No Child Left Behind” Act rolled out and screwed everything up.

Prior to 9th grade, I didn’t struggle with Math nor English. That’s a fact. At the time, though, those subjects mostly compromised of Arithmetic and Pre-Algebra mathematics. Things like adding, subtracting, multiplication, decimals, and fractions. Nothing over the top, for the most part. English was mostly grammar and related aspects. That changed by the transition to high school and took a lot of my classmates (and myself) by surprise. So much so, that many of us actually failed 9th grade the first time in direct correlation to the curriculum changes in Math and English that made both subjects nearly impossible for many of us to grasp.

Especially, when it came to the introduction to Algebra, which became the bane of every 9th & 10th graders’ existence. The second time around wasn’t much better, but most of us passed at least with C- and handful were able to grasp a little better. Thinking back, I can’t quite pinpoint what exactly about the way they taught it which made it so difficult for us to grasp, but it was like our ability to learn and apply what we were trying to understand hit a wall at top speed.

It was a hot mess. Painful to watch and painful to participate in.

The teachers and school administrators clearly had no idea what was going on, were not familiar with the new curriculum, or what was expected of them or the students. No one knew what the hell they were doing.

In that regard… not much has changed since my sister went to school, who is almost a decade younger than myself. And she has combo type ADHD and had an IEP – still she struggled tremendously.

Ironically, I never had a problem with Geometry. That might have been because my teacher was actually from England and had a very different method/style of teaching that actually engaged the students. We were never shamed for not grasping something immediately. The classes and curriculum were never rushed. He never got frustrated with us, always displayed extraordinary levels of compassion, and offered to do one-to-one and small groups of tutoring after class to help anyone who was struggling. That year, for the first time in a long time, I passed Math with a B+. Proving that the problem wasn’t that I couldn’t do Math… the teachers just couldn’t teach me Math in a way I could grasp it. It was just that simple. The fault is never with the students. I don’t care what anyone else says. I’ve been through it personally, witnessed my classmates and my younger sister in this mess, and the next generation struggle with this incredibly flawed system. We aren’t learning because they are not teaching us to learn a subject to grasp it and use it – only to memorize and parrot enough to pass standardized tests.

The point: the traditional public education system in the United States is in a desperate need of an overhaul. From the inside out, top to bottom. It’s clear we can’t leave the education of future generations OR our own education as adults in the hands on whoever the hell is in charge.

Frankly, they suck it. And it’s a horrible method. It needs to stop. In both grade schools and colleges.

And so, here we are.

I’ve decided to look at where the school system failed and fix it myself. Starting with a refresh in the fundamentals of Math, moving on to Algebra and Pre-Calculus. When it comes to English, grammar was never an issue for me per se. But when I got the 10th grade English and had to start reading stuff like Shakespeare and dry, pointless reads like the “Count of Monte Cristo”, I wanted to chuck the book at my teacher’s face. Extreme, perhaps? Maybe, but honest. I would never force a child to read some of these literature pieces merely because the gerontocracy have claimed them to be “classics”.

Bullshit. Keep your classics, ask these students what THEY want to read in a genre. They might actually do the work, and become so interested they start producing great works of their own and come up with new insights.

Anyways, I digress.

English for me was boring. The literature selections stymied my love of reading and the writing assignments only served to restrict my growth and learning. I was never able to explore and find my own voice and style, it was always about regurgitating the point of view and structure the teacher demanded of me. That isn’t learning, that’s indoctrination.

Instead, I will now do interest-based learning here. Genres I naturally gravitate to, and read literature pieces that spark my curiosity or some excitement, then review and analyze the piece as I see fit. When it comes to writing, I will research things like types of essays and practice those styles in my own way. Possibly take a few writing courses that, again, spark curiosity, interest, or excitement. The point is explore different styles and genres of writing and experiment with them.

In addition to re-learning those subjects, I wish to further the foundations of the Sciences and Arts. Neither of those subjects were ones that I failed or struggled in – if anything I exceled. Which was bizarre, given the struggles with Math. Biology and Physics in high school were fun, in comparison. Even in community college, I took three Biology courses and loved the material and coursework. To that, I wish to add Geology, Oceanography, Ecology and whatever other topics in Environmental and Physical Sciences pique my interest.

To accomplish this I chose the Khan Academy, EdX, and MIT’s Open Courseware website as my learning platforms. The first two are mostly video-based online courses that are structured in a similar way to many of the online courses I did in community college, both prior to and during the pandemic. I’m familiar with this type of course style and did fairly well with it. These platforms have discussion areas in each course where I can ask questions and get feedback or break downs of anything I’m struggling to understand. MIT’s website is a bit more difficult as some have videos, others are just audio, and others are just a syllabus, so course material and a textbook recommendation – much of the learning is left up to the individual to structure and go through manually. This may not be suited to everyone, but if it’s purely just to some knowledge than merely consuming the video/audio lectures and skimming a digital version of the textbook whenever available may be a good option.

The method I’m using on myself is the one I’ve come to realize that I thrive in the most: interest-based and project-based learning. NOT curriculum-based, standardized learning. Rigidly structured styles bore me to tears and frustration. It stymies my ability to learn and my inherent love of learning. Others may benefit from the styles or methods opposite mine, and that’s fine. Do whatever works for you. If you’re like me (very strong possibility of a lifelong struggle with undiagnosed inattentive ADHD) or my sister (diagnosed as child with ADHD as she exhibited the obvious, observable hyperactive type) then our approaches to learning like the more interest-based and hands-on may the better option for your own growth.

I highly encourage others to find their own preferred methods and style, adding in whatever subjects pique interests, curiosities, and passions. Experiment, explore, delve deep and travel far. It’s never too late, and life is much to short to let school systems rob us of what is innate to every human being: the ability to learn and grow, be creative, be curious, and be the differentiated people we are with individual needs. Your education is your own.

Happy learning!

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