Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Definition of Me

Even though we are unschoolers, "Back to School" week has been hard to miss. Yellow school buses roll by awfully early each morning. Kids pedal past, backpacks heavy with new notebooks, sharpened pencils, and brand new lunch boxes. We are lucky, as homeschoolers in our town, to have access to a long list of classes each semester sponsored by our local school district. My kids have taken Dance, Tap, Pottery, Woodworking, Knights & Dragons, and Knitting & Sewing in the past. More academic classes are offered as well, but so far, we haven't tried them. We are grateful for the variety and for the free choice. We can take classes or not.

Several classes began yesterday. A friend stopped me on the bike path and asked how the kids were liking "school". I reminded her that we don't go to school, but that the kids were liking their classes so far. Janey and Macy came back from "The History of Clothing" class with sketches of Robin Hood-esque costumes. We checked our bookshelves for an old copy of Robin Hood and talked about the characters in the Disney cartoon version. I love that they can be exposed to something that hasn't necessarily come up for us at home yet, and that we can take it as far as we like in our daily lives.

I've been thinking a lot about what the difference is between unschooled kids and schooled kids. Sure, our schedules are different. Schooled kids tend to spend more hours each day engaged in structured learning. The daily schedule of an unschooler tends to be more spontaneous. But something else occurred to me this week as I listened to the conversation of many schooled kids. It seems to me that school defines these kids. Maybe in the same way that adults are often defined by their career. "I'm an engineer." "I drive a taxi cab." "I'm a fifth grader."

When people ask me what I do, I have different answers depending upon who I'm talking to. I do lots of different things. Some of them earn money and some of them don't. I run marathons. I'm starting a car sharing program in my town. I like to sit on the couch and read. I hike. I'm a member of a 12 step program for friends and families of alcoholics called Al-Anon. I'm a Mom. I spend my days hanging out with three kids. When I think people are wondering how I pay the bills every month, I explain that I do shipping and fulfillment for small internet based businesses. And to other homeschoolers, I answer that I have a homeschooling consulting business, providing support and guidance to other homeschooling families. The fact is, I don't have one thing that defines me. My kids certainly don't. I suppose many people don't.

It is curious to me, though how many adults feel confined to asking kids the one big question: "What grade are you in?" My kids get this question a lot. Not long ago, they would just look to me and I would answer, with a smile, "We don't do grades. We homeschool." Now my kids are older and don't usually turn to me when an adult asks them a question. They have found that it is easier to calculate their current age and the grade that usually goes with that age as an answer. Although, if I'm within earshot, I often can't help myself and insist upon reminding the questioner that we don't go to school. I feel proud of our choice. It's important to me to let others know that school isn't the only choice out there, and to encourage others to ask more interesting questions. After all, aren't there multiple definitions for all of us?


kim said...

Maybe adults ask this because it is the main thing we recall from our childhoods. It does get old though!

Becky Brown said...

Good point. I also wonder if, as adults, we have been taught to pay more attention to and show more interest in other adults. In my house, kids' needs were often given less importance than the interests, opinions and needs of the adults around them.

Rebecca said...

I found myself last night talking with a teenager at church whom I hadn't seen in awhile and don't know very well...I realized after the fact that all my questions to her had to do with school: are you in varsity volleyball this year? How are your classes? etc. etc. As I thought about it afterwards, I realized it was because school was a safe bet as a conversational topic. When you are trying to make conversation with someone you don't know well, you can be grabbing at straws to find something to talk about. But all kids go to school right? ;) And its something that I know enough about to have a conversation about.

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