One of the most annoyingly common questions I get asked when I mention I’m home educated is “What about university?” The majority of people I’ve met seem to assume that university is the only option. The truth is that not everybody is obliged to conform to the traditional path of higher education. Living in the modern world means that there are increasing and diverse options.
In university you spend about three years pursuing a certain subject. At the end of those three years, you have a qualification, the idea being that you will include it in your CV as proof that you have a certain level of knowledge. Your educational path is regimented.
Three years is a relatively long time to study something – a time in which you may change your mind about what you want to do. The idea of university is based on a very set view that your life must be completed in steps.
When people have finished studying, many end up with a conventional 9-5 job, which is another example of unnecessary discipline. Actually, that’s what they hope all this studying will lead do, and many end up without a job having spent all their time preparing for it. It is all fine if a conventional job is what they really love doing, but 1) do they really?; and 2) and if they don’t love it, or end up with no job, is it still better to have given 3 years of their lives following a path that someone else has designed?
That just doesn’t sound particularly fun to me. I am confident that if I did want to attend university I would be able to; I have both the intelligence (thank you) and the logistical capability (I’d sign up to take the entrance exam at a local school or exam centre) yet I can think of more worthwhile enjoyable things to do with my life. You do NOT need qualifications to have a job (you need skills and motivation), and working freelance in areas you choose gives you more flexibility.
Another university-related question I frequently get asked is, “What about GCSEs?” (In the UK, GCSEs are exams for 14-16 year olds, and doing 5 of them would be equivalent to getting the American High School Diploma). Because I am fifteen, this is a particularly relentless question; almost everybody asks it. It really frustrates me and it’s become such a boring and irrelevant question. Why should I have to explain the answer on command? Everything people ask relating to home education is boring and annoying for me to have to answer, actually. The reason being that people all have the same set of questions and I’m suddenly obliged, not only to explain my choices, but to justify them as well. The concept of home education is alien to most people.
The GCSE question in particular annoys me, because people that ask assume that exams are compulsory. When I wasn’t planning on doing GCSEs, I had to explain that I didn’t need them because I wasn’t planning on going to university, and then I had to explain that you don’t need to go to university, and then I had to explain why you don’t need to go to university, and then I had to explain what I was planning on doing with my life. I also felt incredibly alone in my choices because ALL of my friends were doing GCSEs, and ALL of them were planning to go to university. I did not meet anyone my age with the same plans as me until about two months ago. When they told me they were not doing GCSEs, I could not believe it. Suddenly I felt a lot less alone.
Most people who go to school take about 11 GCSEs, while a lot of my home educated friends take 5, as that’s the minimum you need to get into most colleges. I have taken 2. I do not plan to take any more. There were two reasons why I did these exams: a) I was interested in the subjects and felt that doing an exam would help to motivate me, and b) I wanted to see what GCSEs were like because all my friends were doing them.
The two subjects I chose were English language and Psychology. English language was the more difficult (and less enjoyable) subject, but it gave me more techniques and motivated me. Psychology was very interesting. It did get boring towards the end because I had to keep re-reading the textbook, and it got stressful because I had to memorise details, but I enjoyed it more than English. These GCSEs are part of the reason why I have not blogged in a long time. But the interesting thing is that it took only a few weeks to prepare for them. Yes, I put in the hours, but it was so do-able, so what is the big deal? We all can learn anything when we want to (and we also learn what we don’t want to learn because we learn all the time, even when we are not conscious of it).
Now that I have done these two exams, I feel like a huge weight has been taken off my shoulders. I no longer have to spend every minute of my day trying to study. I do not have to plan my life around exams. I can communicate with my friends. Hell, I can see my friends. I can actually have a life.
I have found that this experience of doing GCSEs has made conversations easier because I can avoid telling people that I am not going to go to university. When I say I am doing exams people just assume that I will go to university, so I don’t have to explain to them why I am not: the question doesn’t even come up!
Perhaps doing GCSEs has also made conversations easier for me psychologically. I have tried out exams so I can be more confident when telling people they are not for me. More than that, I understand what my friends were up to and no longer feel left out from this idea of doing something “necessary.”
You do not necessarily need to go to university if you do not want to. The whole point of it is to accumulate qualifications, and you may not need those if you’re working freelance, or you don’t want a traditional office job. People look for knowledge and experience, not just a certificate. You know, I’d have a profession that I actually enjoyed. Like being a musician. I’m quite keen on writing as well. I might publish a couple of books. This might sound flakey to people, but I was not thinking of selling a couple of poems at a bar in exchange for a drink (I will accept that too though!). I meant that my aspiration is to do what I love doing and earn money from it. That will be my “job.”
What do I plan to do next?
I plan to follow my interests. I will keep playing guitar and keep writing. (Remember, I’m gonna be in a band and I also have to write a book). I can take my mixed-media art journals so much further; I am going to write more blog posts about how I did each page and what they mean to me. I have two camping trips planned for the next two weeks (I’ve actually just got back from Berlin and before then I was at an unschooling camp, so that’s a lot of trips I’ll have gone on in a short amount of time!) Yesterday we had two sets of family friends over, and the day after tomorrow we are having some home-ed friends over, so lots of socializing! I’ll be trying to get my Spanish and French up as well. Learning is a process that happens naturally from life. You cannot stop yourself from learning because the brain wants to pick up new information and utilize it. Whatever is inspiring and enriching in university, I am able to have at a greater rate, and I have already started. There is also something exciting on the cards: I am going to start a business selling dreadlock-style hair extensions!
I now have more time to blog as well. I have to say something to you: Thank you for reading my posts. I hope the people who follow my blog understand how much it means to me that they read what I write. Thank you for being here and showing an interest, and for sticking with me. Some of you comment a lot (you know who you are) and I really appreciate that. I enjoy reading your blogs as well and I intend to read them more now that I have more time!