Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Unschooling Q&A - How Did We Get Here?

When we first started to homeschool, I knew there was no choice but to go all the way and become unschoolers. There I was, an exhausted, disillusioned, slightly-manic former teacher, and the thought of doing anything even remotely resembling school made me want to cower in a corner and wail, "NOOOoooooo! For the love of all things holy, don't make me do it! And great galloping goose nuts, don't make us do school at the kitchen table!" I'd had enough of teaching. There was a reason I left the system. Actually, there were several reasons. But the reason most relevant to today's post is how disgusted I was with having to make kids do things they didn't want to do. All the time. All the time.

That's what school is, you know. It's a systematized dumping of information upon unwilling students. It's a mass coercion that leads kids - and worse, parents - to believe kids will never know their multiplication tables unless they learn it right now. That they'll never learn how to be quiet unless they start to cooperate right now. That they'll never be able to form a coherent thought unless they practice right now. Which is, naturally, quite ludicrous. And I have the kids to prove it.

In the beginning, it was a paradigm shift of great magnitude to reject this nationally-treasured pedagogical dogma. And that bit of new and profound perspective alone was enough cud for this here grrrl to ruminate on for quite some time. But the decision had been made. I could dwell all I wanted on how and why, but then... something a little more sinister appeared on my radar - how to tell my parents, who'd shelled out tens of thousands of dollars for my out-of-state degree at the #1 School of Education in the nation. And how to tell my husband, who'd been blithely satisfied with a teacher wife, a kindergarten child, and a daycare babe. And how to tell my colleagues I rejected everything about what they spent their life's energy doing. And how to reconcile this new philosophy with everything we'd built our life upon so far.

Yikeys. This wasn't going to be pretty.

But I really had no choice. By the time I quit teaching it had gone far beyond any cerebral level. This was gut feeling, folks. Raw intuition. And it compelled me to change. It compelled me to slam hard on the brakes, step out of the car, slam my head several times on the nearest guardrail, and ask, "Now where in the h*ll did I think I was going?"

And even though I didn't know where, exactly, to go from there, I still knew I had to go. I had to go. Something had turned on inside of me. Some place deep inside had gotten a taste and I craved more. I had always lived in my head, often analyzing and weighing and considering things far beyond what was necessary, to the point of obsession on certain occasions, but for once I felt I'd gotten an answer to a longing. A longing I knew I had, but didn't understand. Up until then I couldn't put a name to it. Up until then I didn't know what would sate it. Until then I didn't know why I couldn't just be content to stay on the mainstream, well-worn path, head up, eyes forward, shoulders back, and keep on going like I was supposed to. >.

I was going with my heart for a change. I always knew there was something lurking just over my shoulder, just out of view. If only I could get a glimpse..

Unschooling has, all along, been as much - if not more - about me as about the children. Of course I dwelled for a long, long time on whether or not it was truly the right path for the children, and would've decided against it had any overwhelming evidence disproving its efficacy presented itself. (Efficacy? Egad, eduspeak!) But it quickly became, simply, 'how things were' for them. It became their normal. It became the only life they knew, their little exposure to school a quickly fading memory. It was for me that it was such a powerful, mind-blowing, planetary-alignment-altering shift.

I felt like I'd been freed. And oh, it was so, so nice.

The paradigm shifts didn't stop there, but it was a very long time before I truly found my footing with unschooling. In the early days it was mostly about learning without a curriculum. And that alone, when you consider how tightly the educational institution is woven within the fabric of our society, is quite radical.

Re-establishing myself within the context of community was enough of a challenge to last me a few solid years. I practiced my defense of unschooling. I wrote and refined my elevator speech. I fidgeted about misrepresenting ourselves as I fussed over what looked like learning and what didn't, and tried to soothe the naysayer that lived within my own head. I read as much as I could. I went on the prowl for other homeschoolers and unschoolers. I carefully micromanaged every interface with mainstream people and only let my guard down when in like-minded company.

And all the while, the kids played. And learned. And questioned. And stretched. And became fascinatingly complex people in their own right. Without school.

For then, it was enough. It was the beginning of a mass self-overhaul; a journey into the joyous unknown. Curiously, I was never scared. I didn't worry about the powers-that-be finding out and reporting us. I didn't worry that my kids would 'turn out' badly. I didn't worry that I'd perhaps chosen something too risky. I knew I was on the right path, even if it meant a few acrobatic feats were required along the way.

When you're truly home, you feel it in the deepest part of you.

Coming soon - When it became clear that unschooling was about far, FAR more than "no curriculum"

Next post - How Did We Get Here? Pt II --->


whimsigal said...

Wow! I'm really enjoying this post! Don't leave me hanging for the continuation too long! Please?



K. said...

I can't wait to hear the rest!

zamozo said...

You summed up everything I've gone through over the years! I'm linking!

gemma said...

Timely post...Oscar started his three-days-a-week, three-hours-in-the-morning preschool thang on Monday. It's three f*#@ing hours in the morning, at a community center. It should be as easy as a little social/play community away from the parents. But his teacher is all about daily homework. They are 4 and 5-year-olds. So yesterday, she sent home a lined sheet of paper, which Oscar is supposed to write his name over and over on. I tried to do this with him last night and he whined, then screamed,"I just can't do it." I don't know what she is trying to accomplish by playing teacher. She likes to qualify things by saying she was valedictorian of her high school class. Gag me with a wooden spoon. I am going to have a little sit-down chat with her tomorrow. said...

As someone who has just started the unschooling process, this post was quite refreshing..

And, I completely feel for Gemma above, because I was attempting to force learning on my child and became frustrated that she wanted to write every single letter like the letter "a", no matter how many times I showed her how to write "b" "c" and so on.

Then it hit me.. and hit me hard. She'll learn when she's ready to learn. For goodness sakes, she's only 4 and who the heck cares if a handful of her friends can say the alphabet forwards and backwards and write upper and lowercase. It's not a competition!

I'm adding your blog to my blogroll on my homeschool blog.

Allan said...

Great stuff.

I raised 5 kiddos through unschooling. Three went on to college (so far), one is about to finish his masters.

I would do it again.

Stephanie said...

I haven't read the other comments yet, wanted to stay with my thoughts and emotions...
This part made me cry -
"it quickly became, simply, 'how things were' for them. It became their normal. It became the only life they knew, their little exposure to school a quickly fading memory. It was for me that it was such a powerful, mind-blowing, planetary-alignment-altering shift."
I'm not sure why - other than because it's so powerful.

Thanks so much for sharing this, Laura.
Steph (S)

mrs.possibility said...

I am totally in love with you! I am a happily married mom of two boys and 4 yrs older than you but I swear we share a brain.
I am just looking at pulling my son from Montessori. And looking at a sudbury school. my inlaws are retired elementary principals. I am afraid to put them in their grave...ha. Would you write me please on the side and have a dialogue. I am enjoying reading all the rest as my kids now get to watch t.v. ha.

Jessie V said...

What a great, great journey. i am loving reading your blog. brava!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post!