Thursday, October 18, 2007
This morning a friend stopped by to show someone our house. This happens often. My neighbors and I built our homes in 2006 as part of a sweat equity program. People who have an interest in community development and affordable housing often want to see them. As I was telling our story and showing off our super-cool house, my friend noticed the large US map we have on the wall in the living room, and decided to give Macy, age 9, a geography quiz. He covered up the name Nebraska, and said, "Hey Macy, which state is this?" Macy stared at him unamused. For a split second, I panicked. She doesn't know that one. He's going to think I'm a horrible parent for not teaching her which state is Nebraska. He doesn't get unschooling. Maybe I should.... But before I could say a word, he asked her again, "Which state is this?" Macy didn't flinch. She looked him straight in the eye, "Why?" she asked. I relaxed. That's my girl. My friend smiled, "Excellent question."
The whole experience made me realize that because my kids have never been to school, they are not accustomed to being asked to regurgitate random bits of information. I honestly can't remember the last time a well meaning relative asked them to recite their times tables or to name the capital of Iowa. And I love that to them there is nothing shameful about not knowing the answer. My school-ish brain and fragile ego were the ones reacting to the pop quiz, not Macy. After all, why should she know the shape and placement of Nebraska? We've never been there. She doesn't know anyone who lives there. We haven't read a book lately that takes place there. Nebraska may be hanging on our wall, but up until today it hasn't been on our radar.
The other school-going 9 year olds in our town may very well be able to point out Nebraska on a US map, but that doesn't concern me a bit. Macy knows plenty of other states. She's traveled the West Coast, no doubt she could pick out CA, OR, and WA. Her grandparents live in CO and we've driven there lots, so I bet she can pick out AZ, UT, and WY as well. Her aunt and cousins live in HI and the long flight there this summer made us all chuckle at the improper way it is placed on the US map. Unschooling allows my kids to soak up whatever it is that we are doing in the moment and remember it because they want to, and because it's interesting. Not because they are going to be quizzed on it later.
Had I been the 9 year old asked by a family friend to name the unnamed state on a map, I would have died of embarrassment if I didn't know the answer. My face would have turned red and I would have wanted to crawl into a hole. I suppose there are probably unschoolers out there who might be concerned about answering a question correctly in a situation such as this. Personality can certainly play a role in how a child handles this situation, but I have to believe that sparing my kids from the need to memorize random bits of information for no other reason than to spit them back out for the pleasure of other adults is a pretty good thing. I also believe that empowering kids to ask "why" on a regular basis is a very, very good thing.