"Is it really possible for kids to grow up to be doctors or lawyers or brain surgeons if they do not learn in scheduled/controlled ways?"
This is a question lifted from a Facebook conversation. I decided that the answer needed to be a blog post, because it was getting too long. Besides, Facebook conversations are fleeting things, and this question is not unusual.
The short answer is yes. If that is what they want to do.
I have four kids, 14-23. When my kids were younger, I used to worry about things like this. I used to worry that they wouldn't get up to an alarm. That they wouldn't be able to function in class. (I'm not going to rehash our unschooling style in this post. There are some glimpses in the past four posts. Or here on my homeschooling blog.)
My first reassurances came in the forms of my friend Susan's kids. A few years older than my oldest, they had been unschooled and were doing well in the world of work and college. That helped. As my own kids got older, I saw them each developing interests, devouring books, getting out of bed early on cold mornings for choirs, classes, and other commitments.
When Bethany could see the SAT looming, she buckled down and did two years of math in a few months. She got awesome SAT scores and a full academic scholarship. She went to classes, worked hard, had a part-time job, sang in a couple of choirs, taught piano, and graduated with a 3.98 GPA with a major in history and a minor in English. This is a girl who was unschooled from fourth grade on. She devoured books, played with her brothers, watched movies, and played piano. That was pretty much her life for nine years. After graduation she was debating grad school options, but really wanted a break. Because of her writing skills, the history department let her know about a paralegal job that was available, which she applied for, and got.
She could easily choose to become a lawyer. Her grades, skills, and work ethic would get her there, no problem. She's not likely to choose that path, however, because what she really wants is a nice Lutheran husband and family. :)
Oldest son, about whom you can read in my old blog posts was our second graduate. He was our reason for homeschooling. He was a delayed reader and has sensory integration issues. He is now a college freshman majoring in history, pre-law, with a 4.0 thus far.
Both of them are FAR more disciplined in their studies than I was my first time in college. I left high school having graduated 10th out of something in the vicinity of 400, with all of the requisite activities and honors. I had spent my entire school life succeeding in the system, and yet I crashed and burned fairly spectacularly in my first shot at college.
Our 16 yo--who has never known anything but unschooling--gets himself up every Sunday at 6:30 so that he can go acolyte at our early service. This has never been required of him. He chooses it. He sings with the Bach Collegium, just finished 10 weeks rehearsing for 3-4 hours a night and performing Joseph with the Fort Wayne Civic Theater, and this week winds up 12 weeks rehearsing for The Sound of Music with a local high school. He will graduate from high school knowing as much or more Biblical Greek as students at the seminary, and because we haven't been hung up on a school schedule he has attended many theological conferences with our pastor or at our church. Next year as a senior he plans to take a college class or two, just to get used to it and because they can also count on his high school transcript. He plans to become a pastor.
Our 14 yo may just become a doctor. Or he may be an entrepreneur. Or a professor. He really isn't sure yet. He had no interest in anything even resembling academics until he was 12. He didn't even like to read. The rest of my kids have been readers, so that worried me. I needn't have worried. He reads like crazy now and doesn't like to leave the house without a book, his Latin or his Greek, and his algebra. He probably spent more hours watching musicals and playing with legos than any child in history. He will probably start college classes his junior or senior year of high school, but that will be up to him.
I have normal kids. They are all definitely smart, but they aren't prodigies. They are just as stubborn and lazy as any kids on the planet. They did spend most of their childhoods doing pretty much what they wanted, except when I would make them help clean. But unschooling hasn't kept any of them from achieving anything, and I believe that it has helped them by allowing them to develop their strengths and interests and learn self-motivation.
More from the questioner: "I want my children to be driven, motivated, curious, and smart. I want them to be able to argue, debate, and win!"
You just described my kids. :) Seriously, much of that is parenting, no matter how you choose to school them. I believe that unschooling is more likely to produce curious, motivated kids if that is what the kids see in their parent's lives. Our kids have been surrounded by books and ideas. Our life is often one protracted discussion. I always made an effort to make connections between things--history, literature, current events, movies--so that the kids would grow up looking for connections. The kids used to watch me talk back to the TV, arguing with the news people or questioning the commercials. Now they do it, too.