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Unschooling or gap year: What to do this school year

May 21, 2020 - Thursday 4:05 AM by Grace Gaston Dousel

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Many parents now seem to be in a state of panic. What will I do with my child? Yes, there are alternative delivery mode options but what if my school requires a face-to-face session? Do I let him/her go to school? What exactly will happen if it is a learn-at-home set up? Does it mean I will have to teach my child? What if my child will not listen to me? What if I don’t want to teach my child? If my child’s school closes because they just can’t keep up, what will become of my child’s records? What if we homeschool? Will I be able to sustain it? And what is this thing called homeschooling anyway? What will become of my child’s documentation?

It is interesting that the children themselves have opinions about what is happening. Just as the pandemic stopped the world from turning and locked us all in our homes, my sixteen-year-old son declared that he wanted to be unschooled. I found it rather odd because we are already independent homeschoolers. We are not enrolled in a homeschool provider that adheres to the DepEd system, however, we still use the DepEd K-12 curriculum as our plumbline for our children’s education with the intention of taking the Philippine Educational Placement Test (PEPT) or the Alternative Learning System (ALS) when they turn Grade 10. We just decided to create a learning environment more conducive to our children’s needs and interests. My son’s declaration got me researching about unschooling so that I know what it means and how to facilitate his education. After a few readings, I came to the conclusion that unschooling is not as easy as it sounds. It is actually a rather more intentional way of engaging the learner because it really follows his inclinations and passions. I realized I needed to be more intentional in bringing to his attention resources and learning opportunities to facilitate his life pursuits.

Sometimes, when I listen to my son speak, I feel that he is on the road to becoming a technocrat. I have to remind him time and again that he is human and he still must have a heart of flesh. When I see him devour his books until three in the morning, I realize we made the right decision to homeschool him, and that perhaps his decision to be unschooled is best for him. If he were in a regular school context, he would most likely be in either one of two extremes of the spectrum. He could either be a nerd buried under his books, becoming purely academic and of no practical use outside of the classroom or a total rebellious ideologue that reasons against the system will be labeled lazy, indifferent, and irresponsible perhaps never to be given a chance to walk across the stage because he does not deserve a diploma. He would often tell me, “I want to study for the sake of learning, not to earn grades. I want to have an education that is not dictated by a system that constrains me or bounds me to a set of stringent rules that is not even relevant to my life. I want to learn about the world out there because there is so much, way so much more out there!” And he would proceed to orate about his treatise of life and existential matters. What does a mother do? I pray. I cry for my son, not because he may never step onto the halls of a university but because I realize that he is not an ordinary man. Every mother wants what’s best for her son and if she sees that her son is carving out a path for himself and setting out to live a life he has chosen, wouldn’t she cheer him on as his number one fan? My son’s take on academics is no longer bound by quarterly exams and school years. His take on academics is strongly connected with his worldview and convictions about life, learning, purpose, and passion. Must I lament that he does not want to go with the flow? No. We have always taught him not to follow the maddening crowd and to make a stand when need. Must I be anxious that he is not at par with teens his age? No. He is in fact, way ahead of his peers when it comes to matters of conviction as evidenced by his questions that even I or his father find very difficult to answer; questions that all of us end up researching so that we could understand how he thinks. Must I be fearful that he will not have what it takes to make it in the world? On the contrary, what I see in him now, the strong resolve he has to brave the world and find out about what he is meant to live for is exactly what will make him thrive out there. What will I do with him this school year? I will let him be where he desires to be with the assurance of prayers and guidance.

My friend Shey Velasquez, entrepreneur and homeschool mom, also recently shared on her FB wall her eldest son’s perspective on taking a gap year. Matthew is an incoming Grade 12 and the pandemic has altered his prospects for continuing his studies. Here is Matthew’s thoughts:

“With the looming possibility of S.Y. 2020-2021 being suspended due to the pandemic, students may start to worry about having a whole year doing nothing. Those impatient students who want to graduate ASAP will find themselves being halted by this sudden development.

However, is it necessarily a bad thing for students to lag behind a year? Not in my experience. Having to pause studying for two years due to personal reasons, a one-year pause is acceptable, maybe even essential to our young students.

It provides time and space for them to reevaluate their life choices, be it career, course, or university of choice. They can meditate on these choices without having to listen to different voices that they would hear in school. Prior to my break, I thought that I was aiming for the right career. However, after giving it much thought (2 years worth of thinking), I settled for a course and career that I was satisfied with. I took into evaluation my skills, passion, and my parents’ wisdom in choosing a course I wanted.

Students’ minds would be refreshed during this one year period. After consecutive years of being cooped up in classrooms, mindlessly absorbing what their teachers say, and frying their brains out in exams, this would be a good opportunity for a bit of rest. This greatly benefits graduating classes, as they would have to deal with a new level of education, unknown to them, in the next school year.

It is an opportunity for them to try out new skills and hobbies, perhaps even deciding to pursue these passions as a future career. There is so much to try out in the world, even if you’re staying at home. The internet is on our fingertips and there is a limitless supply of knowledge and skills that students are able to learn at their own pace. I was able to volunteer in the Philippine Eagle Center which sparked my passion for teaching wildlife and biology to people.

Let us not put a stigma on one or two year breaks. In this fast-paced world of ours, we should give people an opportunity to rest. Students, don’t be in a rush to graduate. Instead, relax muna kayo and learn at your own pace. Parents, don’t push your children to get back to their academics. Give them a chance to develop the skills they have while supporting and guiding them. Even God designed for us to have a rest day, so let us rest while we can.”