Sunday, February 17, 2008
Hoards of Illiterate Children Running Around
I went on retreat this weekend (yes, I'm still floating) and had the opportunity to meet a number of women I had never met before. During meals and various group activities, I found myself explaining my family's choice to live life without school multiple times. At times I found it appropriate and fulfilling to really get into the juicy stuff: the reasons why I don't send my kids to school, what our life looks like on a daily basis, who inspires me, why I implicitly trust my children to learn without anyone telling them they have to. Other times I found myself answering the inevitable "What do you do for a living?" question more simply: "I work from home so that I can homeschool my kids." I often cringe when I answer that way. It just doesn't do justice to this rich and amazing life I am living. But there are times when it is the answer I choose.
Maybe I get a sense that the audience isn't quite ready to hear the real answer. Maybe I just don't have the energy to explain myself one more time. Or, maybe, there just isn't time and a simple answer is best. My roommate on the weekend and I had many in depth discussions about our kids and our lives as parents. She shared with me that although her daughter has a learning disability, she loves school and she can't imagine life any other way. As we went deeper and deeper, she admitted that they had tried homeschooling years ago and it just didn't work. The arguments and power struggles over getting assignments done and accomplishing specific tasks each day created stress in their lives that was making them both miserable.
I shared that things began in very much the same way for us. The year Janey turned 5, I was bound and determined to be the best darn homeschool teacher ever. I bought the sweetest little, nature-based, cutesy, colorful curriculum I could find and planned out the lessons we would be doing for the week every Sunday night. I gathered materials and mapped out our schedule on the calendar and was so excited to bring my former profession into our home. Little did I know, Janey had other plans.
The power struggles ensued and I pushed and pleaded and bargained for quite a while before I finally gave in and let Janey unschool us both. She just couldn't figure out why in the world I was asking her to bake bread in the shape of the letter A all of a sudden. She was horrified that on our daily walks through the vineyard, I was strongly suggesting that we gather sticks to paste together into the shape of the letter L when we got home. She was insulted that I was no longer allowing her to be in charge of her learning, as I had been every single day prior, for the past 5 years of her life.
As I explained to my friend the principles behind unschooling, her eyes got big and she shook her head a bit. "I don't know," she remarked. "I'm just afraid if we all did that, we'd have hoards of illiterate children running around." I smiled at the visual, imagining our town overrun with crazed, wild children: barefoot, unwashed, mouths full of Laffy Taffy and french fries, looting the toy stores while we adults cowered in the corners. We laughed and she admitted that life without school just wasn't for her. "I really like my alone time," she mused. "I like knowing that when I have a day off of work, I have the house to myself until 3pm."
It's true. When my kids are not at their dad's house, it is a rare, rare thing to have the house to myself. Most days our house is full of busy, energetic, sometimes wild, often happy kids. It's pretty clear to me that our lifestyle is not for everyone, and I dropped the need to convince others that my way is the right way long ago. There's room for all of us, with all of our various ways of being in this world, and the more I share with others my experience of life without school, the more others may come to realize that school should be a choice, not a requirement.