Monday, July 7, 2008

Go Ride a Bike

We get around on bikes. It's just what we do. Since relieving ourselves of individual car ownership, there's no such thing as "going out for a bike ride" anymore. Once your bicycle becomes your primary mode of transportation, there's rarely (never) a need for simply riding around.

Every once in a while, we'll run into someone who doesn't know us well while out on our bikes. If the weather's good and we look happy, the person may make a comment about how nice it is for the whole family to be out on a bike ride. Um, yeah it is. It's how we get places. The bikes are more than just toys or a way to fill a Sunday afternoon. They have a higher purpose.

We look at bikes from a very utilitarian perspective. A good bike has fenders for when the roads are wet. A great bike has lights for nighttime riding and a bell to signal before passing other riders. An awesome bike has a rack on the back and a bungee cord for hauling a load. A groovy paint job is fun, but it doesn't stand a chance next to smooth shifting gears or a fat, cushy seat. My kids get that. It makes me proud.

People are often perplexed by our decision to live life without school, and I'm constantly looking for new metaphors to explain our lifestyle. Tonight as we were riding home (on order to get home) from Ballet in the Park, it occurred to me that unschooling can be best described as simply a different frame of reference. There are those who view school as a cultural norm, a basic necessity in the growth and development of young people (but what do you do all day if you don't go to school?). The frame of reference for these folks is grade levels, school years, book reports, final exams, graduations and report cards.

Unschoolers simply live with a very different frame of reference. This afternoon, Charley and I spent a few hours swimming at the reservoir. Macy was at Theater Camp (her first day, she loved it, more on that another time) and Janey didn't feel like coming with us. Janey called to check in with me as we were packing up to leave and said she was bored. I made a few suggestions and she eventually decided to head to the library.

When we all met back up at home an hour or two later, Janey unpacked her bag. She placed her new library books and her Summer Reading Program Folder on the table. A few weeks ago she picked up the folder at the library when one of the children's librarians asked her if she wanted to earn prizes for reading books. Duh. Of course she wanted to earn prizes for doing what she already does everyday. She explained how she had completed her forms and listed the numerous books she had read over the past 3 weeks, and was excited to cash in on her prizes. Unfortunately, the volunteer librarian informed her that she was missing one very important thing. Her parent's signature.

Janey was stunned. Why in the world would she need the signature of an adult to verify her reading? How stupid is that? She ranted for several minutes about how Perii (her favorite librarian who "gets" unschooling, sort of) would NEVER have asked for her parent's signature. An interesting discussion followed. It was one of those times when I found myself explaining things that are obvious to those of us who've spent years in the schoolie frame of mind, and completely unimaginable to kids like mine.

Things like:
  • Being forced to read makes it not all that much fun.
  • Prizes and grades and rewards are how adults convince kids that learning is fun.
  • Adults are worried that if kids don't practice learning in the summertime when school's out, they'll forget how all together.
And that's when my kids just sit there and stare at me like I'm speaking Hindi or something. It's just a whole different way of viewing the world. You're either out for a ride, or riding your bike.

1 comment:

Bob said...

Great post. I love the last line, tying together the way bicycling is part of your life, not apart from your life, to the meat of the post, that learning itself is a part of life, not just something you do from 8 to 5, or during the school year. You're a fine writer--congrats on number 100!