By far, the most important element of preparing our children for their future is to teach them how to learn. No matter what specific facts or skills we teach them, so long as they have the ability and confidence to learn, they are prepared for any path they choose.
And, if we teach our children how to learn, they will naturally gravitate towards the things that they “get” and enjoy, which I think is also an important skill – knowing what our purpose is by understanding who we are, what we like, and what we’re good at.
I studied Spanish in school for seven years, growing up. When I graduated high school, I still couldn't keep a conversation going in the language. But I understood HOW the language worked. Not because I studied it for 7 years. I understood how it worked because it made sense to me. I 'got" language from the very first week I was in Spanish class. That is why I kept studying it for so many years. It was easy for me. It was something that felt good to pursue. My brain and language have always been good companions. When I went to college, I switched to French in my junior year. I never said one word of French in my life before that time. But I picked it up immediately, went on to get my MA in French, and taught at the university for 3 years. Language made sense to me.
All of this I did without any early childhood knowledge of language other than my mother tongue. Nobody “prepared” me to learn foreign language. But I knew how to learn. I learned how to learn through my studies of language because it was something that clicked with me, and I studied it because I wanted to.
Now, at the age of 35, I have taught myself many things, such as how to make a website, how to write for magazines, how to raise kids, and how to be happy. Many of my friends, as adults, have either changed their careers, or learned new things very well to get a job, or just for their own interest. My own dad changed careers two times. This last time he turned to architecture, and he's really good at it - despite being a car repairman until he was in his 40's. He is not an exception. He just didn't let anyone tell him that he had to be young, prepared or even smart to do it. He did it anyway.
If we let people pursue the things that make sense for them, they will naturally pick the things that they "get”. And if that's the case, they will pick it up fast. And it won't matter whether they had been "prepared" as children for that topic.
You can also see this in our schools - kids are taught a lot of different subjects. But which specialties do kids usually choose when they go to college? The subjects that they already like. The subjects that they are good at. The subjects that make sense. Subjects that , given the choice, they would have probably already been studying even if nobody had told them to.
We can't prepare our kids for everything. And reaching adulthood is not a ticket to stagnation. Anyone can learn something new, at any age. Even become specialists. It happens all the time.
For me, this is why I'm so drawn to Zen Buddhism. It emphasizes trust in the universe that things happen the way they do because that's how things are meant to be. And that our wanting things to be a certain way, or expecting things a certain way, or even trying to predict what we need for the future, creates samsara – it creates suffering. Zen Buddhism emphasizes being open to the millions of possibilities. It is based on acceptance and understanding. Adapting to our circumstance is also an important element. I have found that these practices make things so much easier. I worry less, and trust that my kids will learn what they need to in order to attain their goals. That's why I don't stress about them learning or their future. That’s also part of the process of how I ended up in this life without school.
My kids will do what they need to do to succeed. They do everyday. Even things that are hard. Things that stretch their brain. Things that have meaning for them, and make sense for what works for their brains and spirits. I don't have expectations of what those things will be. But they will be *something*. I trust them.
There are no guarantees in life. And we really can't prepare for tomorrow. Who knows which skills will be the most important? Who knows what new areas of technology or study or science or religion or what will be available? So, I don't focus on the "what" that my children study and learn. So long as they are studying something, I know they will succeed. They know how to learn. And how to be in this world.
I don't think that learning, or religion, can prepare us for life. There is no "preparation" for life. We ARE living life. We're already here. It's on-the-job training. We are all on a path to discovering life as we go. So, no matter what we do, we're living life. As Zen Buddhist, one of my goals is to reduce samsara, and if I can’t do that, to at least avoid creating samsara in others. Hopefully, when I do that, the world is a better place - no matter what name I give it.
Anyway, this is all my perspective. Nothing I say here do I consider "the truth". It's just my interpretation. This is just a story of how I put Zen Buddhism and education together in our family's life.
Tammy Takahashi lives and learns with her three children (10, 7 and 4) and supportive husband in California. She is the author of Deschooling Gently: A Step by Step Guide to Fearless Homeschooling. She also serves as the editor of the California HomeSchooler magazine, a bi-monthly publication for the Homeschool Association of California. You can read more from her about education and homeschooling on her website. And you can email her at tammy.takahashi @ gmail(dot)com.