In Defense of Unschooling

Despite the vociferously unspoken (and mealy-mouthed spoken) complaints of certain family members, our family home schooled for three years. It was hard enough to admit we were home schooling, so we didn’t mention the fact that we were unschooling.

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What the hell is that? Unschooling? I’ve never heard of it so it must be bad for my niece. Or granddaughter.

In the old days, when we were normal, our oldest attended kindergarten, second, and third grades at a public school in the city. The middle one went to kindergarten and first grade. The little one was too little for school. When we moved to the country, and thus became abnormal, we decided to home school just for the fun of it. Uschooling wasn’t something we consciously intended, it just kind of happened.

We’d heard of unschooling from various sources, read a couple of books on the subject, and figured it wouldn’t hurt to try. Both our older children had been in gifted programs at the city school and both were way ahead of their respective grade levels. Surely a year or two of unschooling wouldn’t reverse what the public schools had accomplished and cause our children to become vegetables, devoid of any intelligence whatsoever.

No curriculum? Seriously? Hmmm….

How can they learn? How can two people arrogantly believe they have enough knowledge or skill to educate their own children? It takes a village! Lots of influences, that’s the ticket! They need to be exposed to a wide variety. And what about their socialization, hmmmm? How about the arts? Culture? Physical education? You can’t provide them those things. That’s what school is for!

elephantrocksBut we enjoyed it. We enjoyed the freedom. We enjoyed being able to do what we wanted, when we wanted. It was a beautiful dream, fraught with all the challenges freedom requires, but well worth the effort.

And then we got bored. At some point, home schooling, unschooling, wasn’t as much fun as it had been. We haven’t had the money to travel to museums and engage in various schemes we might otherwise have undertaken, which left us at home doing the same tired, old things we’d been doing for three years. It was time to revisit public schools as an option. It was also time to give Mom a break. And me.

The littlest one was the first to go. At the beginning of the school year, she started first grade. Soon enough, it was apparent the other two would follow. After the school year was well underway, at the beginning of the second quarter, our oldest joined her peers in seventh grade and the middle one joined his peers in fifth.

It’s been a difficult transition. The bus rolls up at 6:43 am and our kids are among the first on, settling in for the nearly hour-long ride. Same thing on the way home. Around 4:00 pm, they finally make it home. The amount of tedium required to complete assignments is appalling. The oldest two get very little free time and instead must focus their attention on schoolwork, sometimes well beyond bedtime.

But their first semester grades came after Christmas. Any guesses? No fair reading ahead!

If you guessed anything other than straight A’s you’d be wrong. All three, straight A’s. They hadn’t so much as cracked a textbook for three years, and yet they settled right in, right back into the old grind as if they’d never left. They’re awesome. And incidentally, so are their parents, who are, also incidentally, vindicated.

Our children do not need school. They choose school. As we’ve chosen our eclectic, non-conformist lifestyle, so too our children choose to continue to unschool; they just happen to be doing it while attending public school. They’re suddenly on somebody else’s schedule, following somebody else’s agenda, and at the moment, that’s ok.

At the moment, all’s right with the world. In the eyes of those family members who thought we were neglectful, if not downright abusive for choosing to home school our children, all’s right with the world now that our kids are back inside the safe, snug, secure box that encompasses the narrow-minded world-view some people hang onto with a tight-fisted, fear-filled grip. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

Dr. Clemens and the Stirred Pot

Here’s a rambling, meandering post on our family’s home schooling experiences. Our choice to home school has at times been a contentious issue, so I’ve been reluctant to write about it. Actually, for the last few years many of our decisions have been contentious. So, what the hell! Let’s stir the pot.

On a typical school day at our house: the Little One whines, the Middle One mopes, and the Big One pulls out her hair.

Some days are easier than others. Some days it’s like pulling teeth. Some days I envy parents who put their kids on the school bus five days a week.

Other days, most actually, I’m grateful to be here sharing their childhood with them.

Most days, although the Little One whines, the Middle One mopes, and the Big One pulls out her hair, we make it through just fine.

And sometimes a minor miracle happens. It’s the moment of recognition, when they finally get it; whatever something they couldn’t quite grasp is suddenly grasped and for that phenomenal moment the whining stops, the face lights up in a smile, high fives are served up all around, and all five of us do a happy dance in the middle of the living room and end up in a big hug. That’s why we home school.

Others, though, predict doom for our children. It seems as if in some circles, home schooling is akin to child neglect. In fact, two years into it, we’re still downright shunned by some family members. Without a “proper” education, I presume, our children will lack the tools necessary to compete in the workplace.

So, with a “proper” education, their life would be better, right? They’ll never face unemployment, bankruptcy, or foreclosure? They’ll never have health issues? They’ll never have to work a job that sucks? Etc., etc., etc.

I say “bah.” Human experience isn’t limited to your world-view Naysayer, it’s as deep and wide as the universe itself and changing by the second.

The school bus rolls by at 6:50 am while my kids sleep soundly. It rolls by again at 4:00 pm while my kids jump on the trampoline or tromp new trails through the woods in our back yard. While doing their schoolwork, if they want a drink of water, they get one. If they need to pee, they pee. We don’t make them stand in line for either of these activities. When they need help, we help them. When they’re doing just fine on their own, we leave them alone.

It’s the first week of December and our kindergartener just completed our state’s requirements for kindergarteners. The Middle One and the Big One are half finished with their respective grade levels, which is about right, I guess, compared to their school-attending peers.

Ask parents of school-age children and they’ll tell you the public school their child attends is great. Or they’ll say it’s horrible. Or they’ll say something like, “eh, it’s ok.” Public opinion runs the gamut – are the schools meeting expectations or aren’t they? The answer depends on whom you ask.

Samuel Clemens left school at 11 years old. With his fifth grade education he became arguably the greatest American author of his (or any) era and was later awarded honorary doctorate degrees from Oxford, Yale, and the University of Missouri. Dr. Clemens turned out ok. I could find a thousand more stories if I wanted to, of people dead and alive – uneducated (meaning self-educated) people who achieved extraordinary things and contributed immeasurably to the betterment of society. But I don’t want to. I’d rather spend the time teaching my kids how to learn.

Which, incidentally I didn’t learn in school. I taught myself.

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