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Unschooling - Livin' the Good Life

Feb. 19th, 2009

10:35 am - Unschooling

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In the beginning, I didn't have a good name for what I did with my kids educationally. At first I just called it "schooling", as that is what Nathen did. He "went to school". With Ely it was "homeschooling", because he did most of his learning at home instead of in a school. Then, John Holt invented the term "unschooling" which completely transformed my idea of education. He maintained that children were all unique with unique interests, abilities, and styles of learning. Therefore, instead to using a "one size fits all" curriculum, (imposing on kids what they "should" learn and how and when they should learn it) it's better to look at the child, see what they are interested in, and help them follow and explore their own interests. For those of us who were traditionally schooled, this takes a leap of faith. But, he said that children are natural learners, and that if we would just allow them to, they will learn everything they need to know to live the unique life they were meant to live. He said that traditional schools were set on sending cookie-cutter people out into the world after 13 years, having all read the same books and learned the same things, to become the worker bees of the world. People who could tolerate factory work, be a cog in the wheel of a machine. People who wouldn't question whether there was a different or more fulfilling life out there for them. This idea resonated with me. I wanted to raise leaders, not followers. I wanted to raise kids who knew themselves very well and who wouldn't arrive at adulthood with no clue as to what they wanted to do in life. This is a very common scenerio with kids who go lock-step-and barrel through public school, and at the end of it all, have no idea what they are interested in or what they want to do in life. They have been too busy taking tests, reading required books, and writing reports on those books. There was no time to think about what THEY wanted to do. I wanted to raise kids who could think and decide for themselves. Unschooling meant relaxing and enjoying my kids as they were. It meant me actually FINDING OUT what they were like and accepting who they were. It meant that they didn't need to be "fixed". It meant believing that kids were basically good. That I could trust them to unfold as they were meant to and that whatever it was, it would be not just good, but magnificent! I like the story of the little ghetto boy who said that he must be good because "God didn't make no junk!" Amen to that, brother!
I remember graduating with honors from high school and feeling slightly nervous about what would come next. Was I a "grown-up" now? What was I going to do with the rest of my life? All I knew how to do was study and take tests. I had been doing that all my life, and I didn't feel confident that I could do anything else. So, I did what every other kid fresh out of high school and who hasn't got a clue does. I went to college. College can buy you time... sometimes for an astronomical price tag. It didn't take me long to realize I was done with letting someone else direct my time and my thoughts. I started thinking about what I was actually interested in. That kind of thinking caused me to expand myself and my world and my life. It was the beginning of "becoming me". And later, even before I had children, I started questioning: "What is the best way to raise and educate children?" I volunteered at several private schools in order to observe whether they "worked" or not. (And I concluded: mostly not.) I am grateful to John Holt for offering me a better way of education, both for myself and for my future children. He "held my hand" for 25 years through his bi-monthly newsletter "Growing Without Schooling". His love and faith and trust in children and their natural process of growing and learning served me very well through my childraising years. It is mainly through putting his lofty ideas to the test of time that I had the stories to tell in my previous posts. Thanks so much, John! It was nice sharing the journey with you.