Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Unschooling at School

My son attends school now, but when people ask if we're still unschooling, I say yes.

I was struggling with this question for a few months - struggling especially with seeing my formerly inspired kid come home with homework he didn't want to do, and complain bitterly about the constraints put on his learning and direction by his school. That was a hard pill to swallow for both of us after six years of him choosing his own direction(s). But because of the social engagement he was getting (and loving!), we encouraged him to keep going, and take the less desireable aspects as part of the package.

At one point I was very upset at seeing him lose interest in science. He used to spend every day exploring sciences, but once in school, the directed parameters are so narrow, and yet the workload big enough that he felt he had no time to explore the things he cared about, and wasn't even happy with his teacher's admiration. He was very angry about science, and at some point told me that he just spent most of the work time in class helping other people to understand the subject matter, so he never got to do the things he wanted. I complained about this to my mother who, in her wisdom, reminded me that he's not there to learn science, but to learn to work in community, and to value the group. I knew she was right, but still struggled to accept his anger and believe he'd come through it.

Despite my fears, small rays of light started to emerge during the last couple of months. One day he came home, dropped his bag, headed for the computer and said "I have to start my novel". Huh? He claims to hate writing! What was this about? He explained that he'd been thinking of this novel for four months, and now he needed to get going on it so he wouldn't forget some parts. He also turned 13, and decided to throw his own parent-free birthday party, in the woods. I can't tell you anymore about that, because I wasn't there, but he came home glowing. I began to feel more attached to these experiences than to how he was feeling about his classes at school, and I personally began to care less about the metrics of his supposed academic progress.

His second term report arrived on the last day before Spring Break, but we didn't remember to check for it until he was in bed. "Do you want to come see?" I called to him in his bed. "No. I'll just see it tomorrow." He was absolutely uninterested! I was baffled, but read through it and realized that I, too, had become uninterested in the grades. I enjoyed reading what his teachers had to say about him, but the grades meant nothing to me. It was like a big slow wave of freedom washing over me.

Then Spring Break was upon us. And with no homework!! Most weekends since school began, he has been uninspired to say the least, but spring break was different. Within twenty-four hours he had committed to do "science class" with his sister (wherein she picks a topic she wants to learn about, and they go learn about it, together), had gone back to some of his favourite activities (reading, making marionettes, animation, and science research), and he was happy. For two weeks we never talked about homework. We just lived. It was like old times, but with a happier boy, who now has a social network to participate in regularly, and who also has the freedom of living without an attachment to academic evaluation. I feel like I have my son back again.

Taliesin and Rhiannon have been talking a lot about different types of periodic tables, data presentation, codes and languages, lately. Near the end of Spring Break they decided to draw their own periodic table, drawing from different sources to create something unique to their own vision. I took this photo because the moment I found them doing this was the moment I knew I had to write this article. This kind of self-directed, interest-led activity is the best. And by the way, the fact that this particular activity involved books and traditional school-y materials is just fine with me. There is certainly a place for those things, especially when they're wanted.
Unschooling isn't specifically 'lack-of-school', but rather a way of living. I did struggle for a few months with my son attending school. I felt like a bit of a fraud, I guess, and mostly I was just terrified of what the academic grading system would do to him. It turns out it's hard to drop into a rigid evaluative system and completely ignore the evaluation. But it is possible, and I know now that this process had as much to do with him detaching from the evaluation as it had to do with me detaching from it. We're still unschooling - just one of us goes to school right now. And he's chosen to go back next year, as well.

Unschooling is about letting go of rigid developmental and societal expectations, learning to follow our hearts, and blossom in our own unique ways. Yes, it's about recognizing that adhesion to strict learning guidelines can be harmful to individuals, and yes, it's about acknowledging that comparative evaluation can be harmful to individual progress and engagement. But it also provides us with an inherent freedom of mind, so that we can navigate those rigid systems with our innate sense of curiosity and confidence still intact. It's about valuing ourselves.

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