So here's the thing. We have been homeschooling our kids for seven years. Unschooling, actually, with no curriculum or academic expectations of our children. We expect them to follow their hearts and dreams and to make choices thoughtfully. That's it. We chose the unschooling path mostly because we believe that grading, testing, and directed learning in general lead to coercion and competition. These in turn often lead to self-criticism, dispassionate obedience, a lack of ingenuity and a lack of love for learning in general. We wanted our kids to stay the hell away from those things. And for the most part, they have. They still walk out in the world and see endless opportunity. They still feel they can grow up to be anything they want to be, and they still feel the joy of discovery, constantly. They have retained a deep sense of self, without fear or limitations.
But this year our son started school - a small local IB World School, which is the closest we can get to perfect, as far as school goes in our community. But it's still school, with pretty much all that entails, and I am obviously worried about our son losing that treasured sense of opportunity and wonder we've been nurturing all these years. After only a month, he already comes home uninspired, most days. But he has committed to the year, puts in an effort to make the best of it, and we're all doing our best to keep him positive about it. We make sure he still finds a bit of time for the things he has always held to be important: reading, playing with his sister, and scientific exploration. And it seems, so far, that his essential nature is intact. This is how he recently answered some of the questions on his school's "Personal Educational Goals" form:
By the end of this year, I hope to have answered the following question:
"Should I really go to school, or be unschooled?"
Most interesting thing I've ever learned:
The fact that I exist.
At this point my plan for after IPS includes:
To learn cool stuff, and have fun.
As his mother, I was overjoyed when I read that. Those words are confirmation to me that we have chosen the right path.
That confirmation is so meaningful to me because for unschoolers there really isn't much feedback about our kids' welfare, and we have to trust our guts for pretty much every decision we make. Reassurance, in this world of people apt to criticize unschoolers, is rather hard to come by. I would love to get some feedback on how others perceive my children, but of course reports have been non-existent for us, other than those I am obliged to send in to our school district, ostensibly evaluating my own kids' activities and accomplishments. Those reports feel more like jumping through hoops than anything else, and have little or no meaning to us. We send them off. We don't receive them. There isn't really any non-familial professional who even knows our children well enough to make that kind of evaluation.
The last time we received a report for our son was when he was in preschool. It was wonderful. The report discussed his social/emotional development and the challenges he was overcoming as he branched out in his world. The report (and the parent-teacher meeting) helped us find ways to support him on his self-directed journey. It had nothing to do with literacy, numeracy, or test scores. Since then we've been blissfully rolling along without ever testing, but also without feedback about our kids.
Today that changed. My son received his first ever school report. I have been anticipating this for weeks, ever since I noticed "mid-term report" noted on the school calendar! I've been anticipating it so much, in fact, that I started writing this last week, in anticipation. I wanted to know what the world thinks of my child!!! And here is what they think:
It's only a "quick check", as they call it, to briefly rate the child on a scale of "exemplary" through "good" to "very limited" in his achievement and classroom engagement for each of his nine classes. Apparently he ranks lowest in French, which he has neglected entirely until now, moderate in math, english, physical education and practical reasoning, and high in science, humanities, art, and design tech.
*Further information will come at parent meetings and at the first term report, next month.
And now that I'm nicely reassured that I do know my son after all, I realize that I just don't care. This isn't nearly as important as I expected it to be! I thought I would be excited to see him get high ranking in some subjects - or any at all, since he's never studied before. But this report is to some degree comparative to others of his age and social environment; to culturally-held expectations of 12-year-old achievement in Canada, and I realize that it doesn't matter a bit to me how he measures up. It matters that the people he spends time with notice his welfare and interests (in other ways I know they have, they're just not discussed in this particular report). It matters that they engage him in the thinking that goes into this report. But that's about it. Most of all, I'm thrilled to pieces that my son is still true to his comically existential self, and is just happy to watch his journey unfold. I couldn't have asked for anything more wonderful.
I asked him how he feels about having only a "developing" achievement in French. He looked at me as if he hadn't really thought about it. And he pointed out that the teacher had given him an "almost always" engagement rating for that class. Then he proceeded to rattle off some French phrases at me. It was the perfect answer.
The school is a school. The report is a great bit of feedback for me to engage with his experience there, but is nowhere near the frightening and exciting document I remember my own school report cards to have been. The report only has to be comparative if you let it be. I'm glad he's having this experience, and I'm glad that we've come through our first report card completely unscathed.
I understand, now, why my parents were never angry about low grades. They understood what I have only now discovered: Grades and academic achievement are not a measure of greatness; only of a little bit of activity a child has participated in during a very short time in his life. They are a means for the child to gauge his work and make decisions about what he'd like to do next - if he wants to. And eventually they will be a tool for him to reach certain goals. But none of that is my business. It's only my business to support him on the journey he chooses.