Saturday, January 2, 2010

Am I Unsure About Unschooling? I'm Not Sure. Yet.

Over Christmas break I read Allison Mckee's book Homeschooling Our Children, Unschooling Ourselves and pondered over my feelings about unschooling. Here's her book:

I am neither pro nor anti-unschooling at this point, but am rather peaked about some of my gut reactions to this unique and uncommon approach. Meaning, I, just like millions of other parents, have a deep-rooted belief that children must learn certain things in order to succeed. It is this core belief of mine that was thoroughly challenged during the reading of Ms. Mckee's book. She, too, suffered from the same malady going into her homeschooling experience and it took her years (YEARS) of concerted effort to shatter that belief and learn to trust in her children, that THEY would choose their own paths of enlightenment.

Here I am, a relatively new homeschooling mom wrestling with preconceived ideas, notions, rights and wrongs, dreams and ideals - faced with a ten-year old with his own preconceived ideas, notions, rights and wrongs, dreams and ideals. I humbly realize that I should try hard to stay out of his way much of the time. I humbly acknowledge that I am going to do many things right by him and that I am going to also royally screw up now and then. In the past few months I already have screwed up - many times. We've had countless successes - by that I mean that I have seen Max happy and engaged, loving his learning. Likewise we've had some miserable moments involving workbooks or worksheets wherein he has felt pressured to do school my way.

Alison McKee lived through similar experiences and learned to let go of her indoctrinated methods of education - and her children soared naturally to their own heights of accomplishment. Her children became integrally involved in their community through the very subjects which fascinated them. At the age of 13 her son had learned enough about the workings of a radio studio that he worked in a small radio station and handled the engineering aspects quite capably. He taught himself all he wanted to know because he was interested in the subject matter and developed a passion in that area. He became an expert fly fisherman and worked summers in Montana teaching others to love fly fishing as well. He also developed a love of German and worked to become fluent, eventually teaching others as a camp counselor at the Concordia language camps. Her daughter took her own road into learning about small businesses, animal husbandry and other subjects - and along the way learned math, science and the other subjects we deem so very important. I think what was most important was that these two children knew what they needed when they needed it. They were allowed the freedom to learn unencumbered - and this type of freedom fostered the flames of enthusiasm. What generally happens in a traditional school setting is quite different, not to mention alarming. Many children die a slow death of boredom through forced learning, so much so that many throw in the towel and turn their switches off. Learning for them becomes an agonizing chore. The delight is gone, passion dies, perhaps for good. How SAD.

What I walked away with from this book is a feeling that I should try to surrender to Max's delights and interests. To work to balance them and allow him to take them where he needs them to go. For me to GET OUT OF THE WAY. For me to realize that I, too, have been indoctrinated with the belief that there is only one true way to educate children - the very same way I was educated.

I must not tell him. I must show him. I must involve him. He will show me how to do this. He will in turn show me what is best for him.

I appreciate Alison McKee's insights and the sharing of her tale. I have much to learn about all of this and imagine that it will take years, too, for me to ferret out my feelings. But how fortunate to have run into her story and to have the opportunity to think about it.

The thought of letting go completely and not have any structured curriculum materials makes me go pale. See?? It's not easy to trust that your child can do this on his own. Right now I embrace an eclectic approach to homeschooling and it will likely remain that way, taking twists and turns as we need to. Perhaps I can go to the courage store and get a shot of courage and take steps in an unschooling direction. Perhaps.

I'm still not sure.

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