I can’t sleep so I might as well pontificate. I wanted to unschool before I had a word for it. I knew in the pit of my stomach that the best way to learn is to be given access to materials that can help you learn and minimal instruction. I believed it was true and I felt overwhelming disdain and anger for the curriculum I was forced to follow in schools. I don’t think I can adequately describe the years of anger, frustration, and rage I felt about school.
Public school was an interesting journey for me. On one hand clearly I was exposed to concepts and I learned. On the other hand I was beaten, shamed, taunted, and bullied constantly by students and teachers alike. Ok, the California teachers couldn’t hit me. Just the teachers in Oklahoma and Texas.
I understand that my children would have different experiences. I also understand that public education has gone down hill in the intervening years between when I was in school and now. That’s not a good thing. It wasn’t great then.
Learning happens in so many ways I can’t begin to address them all in this blog entry. Suffice it to say that learning can be horizontal or vertical. You can go deep or you can go broad. You can find out everything about one species of dog or you can become obsessed with the organization of biological organisms and their relationships. Personally I’m a generalist. I don’t go deep on many subjects: the primary ones being education, incest, and suicide. Otherwise I tend to stick to having a better than average grasp of a subject then I move on. I don’t need to be an expert on everything. In schools they require you to do everything on a level before you move up. Rarely they will allow someone to bump up in math or reading if they are “very advanced” but mostly you have to “cover everything in the 3rd grade textbook before you can go on to 4th grade” and that just seems silly to me.
Shanna (my six year old) told me recently that she thinks maybe it would be easier to learn to read in school. I asked why she thought that would be easier. Her response was, “Well in school I would have to do it or get punished so I wouldn’t keep putting it off.”
You know what? I’d rather she learn to read for a reason other than avoiding punishment. I’d rather she learn to read because reading is wonderful and engrossing and a fabulous way to spend time. Could she learn to read at a faster pace than she is currently using? Yes. I could force her to learn reading faster. I don’t see a point. I think that as long as she is learning and progressing in many areas at a good speed it doesn’t matter when she learns that skill. She sits down with books every single day. We read to her. She has memorized a large percentage of our library and she “reads” to herself. She’ll get there. It’s ok that she isn’t an early reader. It doesn’t make her stupid and it doesn’t mean unschooling is failing.
I am deeply bitter that coloring is emotionally stressful and painful for me. I had too many teachers who told me “No no no. You are doing it all wrong.” So I’m afraid to try. I don’t want my children having such an experience.
I don’t think that home schooling is necessary for all children. I do not believe that unschooling is the One Twue Way. I think it is what will work best for my family. This is part of why I don’t want to be part of public policy decisions. What is best for me may not be best for you and I’d be a serious jerk to try and change the tone of education in a country based on my personal preferences. But I believe it is very important that people be allowed to participate in whatever educational path is most fitting for them.
I believe that other people have mothers who managed the public education system without trauma and those mothers are capable of dealing with the conflicts inherent within the system. I am not those mothers. I would be printing out whole trees worth of research and I would wall-paper the school with data about why homework is deeply harmful to children. I would not be popular. My kids would suffer for my behavior.
You have to make life choices based on a deep understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses. I am not suitable for meekly going along with the public system. That doesn’t mean the public system should be burned down. The simple truth is that it is a necessary part of life for most of our society. I do not believe that every parent is constitutionally, nor financially able to home school. It’s a super hard job.
If I think back over my life by far the easiest job I’ve ever had was being a library “tech”. I don’t understand why I was called that. I fixed the copy machines and organized the magazines. I had lots of time to sit around and read and do my homework. Other than that I wouldn’t say I’ve had an “easy” job. Some of my jobs have been physically hard, some mentally hard, some emotionally hard, some have been a combination of different kinds of hard.
I don’t think I will ever pick an “easy” path. If I’m going to pick a hard path I might as well pick the one that has the most to offer me personally. I really should pick the path that opens up the most doors to the future. I should pick the path that will present the fewest obstacles for me.
It doesn’t really matter what someone else would prefer. No one else has to spend every day in my life. Just me. I have hard days, but I like what I’m doing. I feel very happy about unschooling my kids. I have self-doubt. I have periods where I am afraid I am not making the best choice. I genuinely do not see a better for my family option. There are other arrangements that could be made to work. But I don’t think they would be better and they would involve an enormous amount of stressful change and emotional separation.
I’m a selfish person. I don’t really want to allow anyone else to get most of Shanna and Calli’s time. I want it. I want to be the person who sees them all day every day. I want to be the one who knows exactly where every bump and scratch came from. I want to be the one who is available for hugs and kisses whenever they are needed.
Being present for that heals something in me. I can’t get this pit of need met any other way. I’ve tried.
Sometimes I feel a little weird about the idea that I am making the parenting choices I’m making partially because this feels like the road to my Zen. What I want from life is the ability to feel connection to people. Shanna and Calli are my best chances hands down. It is hard sometimes in the way that any spiritual path involves hardship and strife. It wouldn’t be worth very much if it was always easy.
Unschooling gives me time I can’t get any other way. I feel deeply grateful that Noah (my husband) is able to make this lifestyle easy and comfortable. It would not be possible for me to have this life without him.
Even on days when I’m not very good at interacting with my kids I feel good about the fact that they have freedom to explore and make mistakes without being told constantly how bad they are.
When Shanna breaks things, mostly I laugh it off and say, “Yup. You are my kid.” I’m a huge klutz. I break things frequently. I have no soap box to stand on for preaching about “be careful”. I break things so often. It is hard to handle sometimes but it feels like a journey we have to go on together.
I tell them sometimes, “I don’t know what to do in response to this situation. This is outside my entire realm of experience and I don’t know what the right answer is. Do you have any ideas?”
Whatever self-doubt I feel about whether or not I am making the right choice would be magnified if I gave up on home schooling. I would consider moving to an online charter with more interactive teachers long before I just up and put my kids in public school.
Can we try problem solving that doesn’t involve “Get a new life”?
Today these little unschoolers are going to spend the day at a pumpkin patch. There’s a maze and a huge corn kernel pit that the kids can play in. We’ve been before. We will be there with dozens of friends. It will be a long, hot, fun day.