Sunday, April 09, 2006

Unschooling Unconsidered

I have been revisiting my homeschool history with an unschooling perspective.... To see what unschooling has given me, to focus on the good things, and not worry about all the possible down sides. I can get where I shortcircuit myself with too much thinking, so I am trying to "recount" and reconsider.

I came to unschooling circuituously. My older kids went to school for a couple of years, even though (gasp!) my husband really wanted them to be homeschooled. I didn't want to inflict school on them at home. I had hated almost every minute of my own K-12 school years. I wanted to be their ally, not their prison-guard. I wanted to make them cookies and listen to them when they got home. But of course, it wasn't that easy. So often, I felt stretched between the imperatives of the school situation and the imperatives of their own development, which sometimes seemed to conflict, and rarely coincided directly.

In particular, my second son floundered. He wanted to check out everything the library had, say, on volcanoes and pour over them for hours, asking me to read the captions until he memorized them, asking me question after question. But the pre-K wanted to do one theme per week -- dinosaurs, neighborhood helpers, solar system.... cute, but completely irrelevant to what he was about. The only thing he got out of that school year was when the class hamster gave birth. He LOVED those hamsters. He pored over them with intensity whenever he could. He flipped out when the teacher tried to redirect him outside to recess. He got to bring them home for Thanksgiving vacation. He got to adopt one of the babies. He grieved when it grew up, got loose from its cage, and soon afterwards died: "Mom, I HATE my hamster." (tears in his eyes).

My more quiet-natured oldest son suffered a bit in school, too. He came home grouchy and withdrawn every afternoon, wanting to be left alone to recover. He got the highest reading comprehension scores in his second grade class, yet told me he "hated reading".

It was reading Growing Without Schooling in the public library, plus the writings of John Holt, and Nancy Wallace's Better Than School, that made me think that possibly, I could do this -- and it might actually be fun and liberating to try.

That was 12 years ago and now my oldest is in his first year of college. It has been fun and liberating -- AND challenging.

We have experimented a lot with different types of structure. Our first year, we found ourselves using a very structured correspondence curriculum. The disconnect that resulted between what had brought me into homeschooling and what was happening as a result was very hard to bear. I can see now that it pushed me into a compartmentalization mode similar to what I had gone into in my own school years. "Schooltime" was for enduring and getting through; the rest of the time was for "real stuff." But with this irony -- that I was the teacher, so I had to work hard and invest myself in these schooly things. Since I was a mom of 4 and pregnant with the 5th, that was enough to wear me out and I'd spend the rest of the time just recuperating and maintaining for the next day.

Our second year and for the following years, we moved to a classical/Charlotte Mason blend. This was a much better fit. When life events hit, we'd move into a sort of "default unschooling" -- basically, just let the bookwork slide in order to cope with the demands of whatever was going on. This worked to some extent. There was still that dichotomy and compartmentalization, but since the "school" stuff we were doing was closer to the "real" stuff, the disconnect wasn't so enormous.

The last few years of our homeschooling have been VERY chaotic in life terms. We've had two children born critically ill. This pushed me towards a resigned checklist mentality. I see now that since we were going through so much tumult, our academics became my "center of stability", my focal point. The kids responded similarly. Their schoolwork was their "job", their duty.

Last year things calmed down medically, and the babies of the family were getting less time-intensive. At that point I *should* have finally felt in control, like we could finally *really* move forward. Instead, I felt restless and uneasy.

I will have to stop and continue this at some future time. Until then...


Ron R said...

This did not show up in my RSS until tonight :-\ Nice series of posts.

Ivy Rutledge said...

Your experiences sound a lot like ours--we have meandered through structure, Charlotte Mason and unschooling, finally finding a blend that works. I have never found a philosophy of any kind that I buy, hook, line, and sinker, I think blends are always more realistic. There are always going to be bits of other things that creep in when you are trying to stick to something. I like your post!