Sunday, May 21, 2006


I was reading an old Growing without Schooling magazine and found a letter by Alison McKee. She was talking about how she sometimes compared her son Christopher’s life with all the challenging creative things she read about other kids doing in GWS. Then she went on to describe how she saw her son take up a particular interest (Egyptology in this case) and pursue it not intensively, all at once, but in bits and pieces over a period of time, consolidating knowledge and returning to it at different levels. That observation affirmed for her that he WAS learning and doing.

This was interesting to me for three reasons. One, because now Alison McKee has a book out “Homeschooling our Children, Unschooling OUrselves” which is a retrospective look at her childrens’ growing years now that they are grown into (successful) adulthood. Christopher, the boy whose learning patterns concerned her at times, is now getting a Master’s degree in German Language, I think — something like that. It shows that his seemingly sporadic, off-academic interests — like flyfishing, for instance — were not destructive to his eventual academic success. His natural learning process “worked” by any standard, and her slightly anxious trust was affirmed over time.

Another interesting thing is that it shows how a homeschool mom can sometimes see grass that looks greener on the “other side” and not immediately recognize the flowers in front of her. If we hear stories of intense, focused learning, we may think our child is just being scattered and superficial in his approach to activity. If someone’s child is engaged in meaningful community projects or, say, college classes, we may regret our own kids’ lack of those things and not pay attention to the service the child is doing around his own house or his own self-directed research and reading. OR vice versa. I am writing this out to remind myself to look right at my kids first and foremost, look at MY family and MY husband, not at someone else’s. Other peoples’ stories are wonderful in showing all the variety of ways learning can happen — endless possibilities and variety. But not as a comparison. Our road is different.
The last thing that occured to me when I read the letter was that when we write things out, the details we put in are the ones that the reader sees. So if I talk about the kids’ movie-making it could sound like we are in a constant super-charged hum of creative activity. Or not. Maybe it sounds thin and non-academic. Either way, it’s not the whole picture. It’s a sort of telescoped focus on one aspect of our lives. In the GWS issue, Alison McKee was reading distillations of others’ learning over a time period — not seeing the lulls, the occasional feet propped up in front of the TV or fire. But realistically, those lulls were there, just not written out in explicit terms.
That’s what ALL record-keeping is like. It’s partial, selected, distilled. Sometimes I don’t see the significance of some actions till later. Sometimes learning is traced backwards, like working a maze from the solution to the starting point (a lot easier than doing it the proper way, have you tried it?). So I want to keep my eye on the big picture AND on the little moments as they occur, but it’s only going to be a cross-section, at best a “type representing the whole”, not the whole thing itself. THAT is like the underwater bulk of the iceberg, mostly unapprehended and silent.

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