Sunday, April 16, 2006

Back to Unschooling

The first part of this is here.

As I mentioned, some major life events propelled us into a coping mode and I see now that it spilled over into our homeschooling. Checklists and schedules and planning helped me deal with our daily lives. But when things got calmer I realized that this was a bit reductionist.

I am certainly not saying that schedules or planning are bad things. But I think education can become boxed in this way. We were doing fine, in one way. My oldest son had applied and been accepted to the college of his choice. The younger kids were cooperative if not exactly on fire with enthusiasm.

My second son was showing some signs of becoming demoralized. He was feeling the effects of being pushed into a sort of mold. College prep or non-college prep. Scylla or Charybdis. The first meant a kind of academic structure and expectation that went against who he was, and the second was like accepting being second-rate, which he is not and doesn't want to be.

That was one clue that something could be better. Some other things:

  • I wanted my children to love learning, and yet I was having to require them to do schoolwork. This set-up implied that schoolwork WAS learning and that it was not something they would choose to do on their own. These were not really principles I actually believed in.
  • I wanted my children, above all, to learn life skills, how to manage themselves, and yet I was managing them and often the life lessons were on the back burner because of the school lessons.
  • I wanted to spend time with them companionably, but the time I spent with them tended to be largely in front of a schoolbook.
  • I wanted a relationship that was richer than teacher/student. I am a bit of an either/or type person. I have trouble wearing two hats. But why should I? Why can't I go for both/and? Why can't I just be my primary identity as a mom, and work from there?
  • I wanted my homeschool to bring out the uniqueness of my children, yet I was working through an outcome-oriented lens. Oh, how trite that sounds but it was a real process -- to SEE myself and my kids and my family, and see that we didn't have to measure up to a generalized ideal. Principles start from the beginning and work outwards in different ways, whereas "outcome-based" starts with the end of the story and tries to make the beginning fit. One is a bit like Prometheus and the other more like Procrustes.
  • Last but not least, my husband is basically an unschooler at heart. He let me manage the details, but whenever he did get involved it was in order to loosen things up. He'd come and talk about current events when I was trying to get a kid through an algebra lesson, for heaven's sake! He'd tell me to take the day off and he'd plan outings and tell me they were field trips. Why was I trying to pull him and the kids along on my trip? I don't know. Probably fear. Fear is big.
Some of the other things that I knew but felt I was often pushing to last place, I have written about here and here.

Last year I decided to do what I called an unschooling sabbatical. My kids were all on grade level or above. Even if we wasted the whole year, it wouldn't ruin their lives. (this was my thinking process). The sabbatical turned into a kind of deschooling, I see.

I was so unmotivated all that year. I often woke up uncomfortable and went to sleep anxious. I'm not sure what kept me going. I read many, MANY books about organization-- putting all my scheduling energy into house management. Also, many books about personality types and productivity. Interesting how many life productivity books parallel unschooling principles. That was an education in itself. Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness was a particular example of a pivotal read. Here's another and here's another.

I prayed. Every time I prayed I got an answer to just keep going. It was not easy and I don't think I can ever give myself a guilt trip about unschooling equalling laziness or lack of discipline! It was such a stretch beyond my comfort zone.

I think it would have been easier if our former methods had been drastically NOT working, but such was not the case. Our methods had not been disastrous and they were "working". But working towards what? I had to consider that I was focusing on one part of the whole picture and it wasn't necessarily the most important part.

So now, after a brief flurry of indecision, and searching, I'm commiting for another year... I think. Some of the ideas here are useful. Especially the one about taking "school" out of the picture and seeing what's left. Ooh, I can do that. In fact, that sounds really good, since I've never seen learning as being more than incidentally compatible with schooling. And the one about replacing the verb "teaching" with "learning" and looking back at how I learned and my kids learned. This gives me an outlet for my thinking that's NOT logistical and directive.


Rebecca said...

I am asking myself similar questions. Thanks for this post. It helps me to sort out some of the questions I have about unschooling.

Dominion Family said...

I have been so busy I haven't had time to read all your posts on this subject, but I plan to in the next couple of days because I am intrigued and tired :)