Today, I looked for books to download on to my Kindle, hoping I’ll have more time to read whilst on holiday than at home. I used the great Amazon feature that allows you to have a ‘sneak peak’ - for ‘Unschooling Rules – 55 ways to unlearn what we know about schools and rediscover education’ by Clark Aldrich (apparently a global education thought leader labeled a guru by ‘Fortune’ Magazine). Somebody has written a preface to the book (I can’t see who, since it’s only an excerpt). This guy recounts how he and his wife met a top private school teacher to ask his advice about when to move their children from a Montessori preschool to a more traditional educational environment. The teacher says “as soon as possible” otherwise they will never learn to sit still and “be lectured to all day”. The father said, thinking of his beautiful active kids, that he didn’t blame them and the teacher apparently spent a long time looking at the floor before looking up, tears in his eyes, and said softly, “I don’t either”. Heartbreaking. Not surprisingly, the father said that that was the day they decided their family was finished with traditional education and joined Clark’s revolution.
In his Introduction, Aldrich makes the following analogy, “To many (but not all, my friend’s son seems to thrive at school), learning in a classroom is like eating food from the frozen section of the supermarket. What initially appears to be sustaining, convenient, and diverse is really overprocessed, expensive and homogeneous.” More and more people are questioning the food they eat; they are starting to grow their own, eat organic and ideally also locally grown (the nearest thing to growing your own without actually doing so), joining the ‘slow food’ revolution. They think this is more nutritious and beneficial in the long term. They will go to a lot of effort, and sometimes expense, to feed their families this better way. This way of thinking about food is becoming more and more mainstream; you can buy at least some organic food in many supermarkets, even in a developing country like Bahrain. Or at least most people don’t think eating this way is only for ‘cranks’. Why don’t even these same people apply these principles to their children’s education? Why are homeschoolers still really quite extremely odd with rather ‘different’ children?
This chimes exactly with a post I read a couple of days ago and had been thinking about in the light of recent repeated quizzical queries about why we weren’t sending our daughter to school. They seem to ‘get’ why we took Edward out, since he’d ‘tried’ school for 4 years and hated it, but Petra isn’t ‘different’ like Edward, they say, wouldn’t she thrive at school – given, and this is possibly true, that she might be more compliant and therefore ‘fit in’ better? This is a hard one to answer because the answer implicitly criticizes their choice to send their children to school – to ‘good’ private schools. Because the skeptics think Edward is ‘different’, they can accept that his homeschooling is not a criticism of their educational choice, but since Petra has not yet proved ‘different’ too, what is wrong with school, since, they imply, there’s nothing wrong/odd/overly individualistic/too different about her!
Well, I want to answer, if school is like Cheesies and rock music which is what Patti Tinholt, an unschooling coach, postulates in her great post, please read it, why would I send my daughter? If school is enjoyable (for some children) but in the way that Cheesies are fun but not optimally nutritious and rock music is fun but distracting and not edifying, why would I? Even IF Petra would more likely enjoy school, why would I give her a diet of Cheesies and rock music? But since I can’t couch school in these terms without mortally offending them, I just tactfully answer that since I think homeschooling is the best educational choice why would I not offer this to Petra as well as to Edward? If I think homeschooling will allow her the best education possible, and to flourish as an individual, why wouldn’t I keep her home too? Why would I keep her home when, as I’ve mentioned before, she’s possibly more of a ‘people pleaser’, as girls tend to be; I am even more afraid of school for her. I would be really afraid that she would bend herself to fit the school system. I would be afraid she would question and ‘kick against it’ less when it didn’t suit her than Edward did – because she’d want to keep both her teachers and (entirely erroneously) us happy – after all, if we’re sending her to school, she would understandably reason that we must want her to be happy and ‘successful’ there i.e. do well on the tests and would work hard to fit the mould, however uncomfortable it might be for her.
I am not preparing my daughter for life in the Industrial Revolution, thank goodness. None of us are, despite the fact that most schools still seem to be following this factory model. I believe she (and all kids) will have more choices that I ever thought possible. I want her to feel she can choose anything she wants to do and has learnt through her childhood years that she has the energy, enthusiasm and ability to do whatever hard work she needs to do to achieve that (and even better, I hope all that hard work might feel like play!).
Patti compares, in the same post, her daughter’s beautiful ‘unschooled day’ with “… getting perfect on a spelling test. A spelling test that your child didn’t choose to participate in and that has absolutely no context or relevance outside of school. A spelling test that had words that I guarantee your child would have learned to spell with or without the test.” “Is it possible that we as a culture have decided that our children should simply have really low expectations for their enjoyment of life? Have we decided that it is OK for some kids to have a passion or a joy-filled life…” whilst others don’t? “Have we decided that childhood should be void of Freedom and Self-Expression and Creativity and Authenticity?”
I want BOTH my children, Edward AND Petra, to have the opportunity to feel empowered to follow their dreams. I homeschool them not because they are ‘different’ but because they are like all children – all children should have the absolute best opportunity to have a rich and fulfilling life. If your kids like school, consider Patti’s post. Consider whether liking school is enough to keep them there, given so many schools are like Cheesies and rock music. I don’t think the private school my kids would be attending is necessarily as bad as Cheesies and rock music, but it’s certainly not nearly as good as what I’m offering, and another thing – there are lots of wonderful teachers out there but there are lots and lots of lousy ones too, even in the most expensive private schools and my son had his fair share of them – much more interested in their career development than a child’s happiness or just plain grumpy and uninspiring. As Einstein said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. Sending Petra to a traditional school would for us, be insane!
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IF YOU’RE NEW TO HOMESCHOOLINGMIDDLEEAST, welcome! I highly recommend that you start reading from ‘Day 1’. The fastest way to access this is to look for ‘Archives’ on the right hand side of the home page, click on ‘February 2012’ and scroll down to the bottom of the page that opens. If you want a quick first visit, you could type a term e.g. ‘socialization’ or ‘university’, into the ‘Search’ box or of course you could just read my latest posts without doing anything!
Why I recommend starting at Day 1 is because this is an adventure into homeschooling that is not yet 3 months old and the journey has been a rollercoaster – philosophically and emotionally, catalogued daily for the first couple of months. For you to get the full intellectual and dramatic impact, it’s best to start at the beginning. You might be contemplating home educating and wonder what those early nail-biting days feel like or you might enjoy reading somebody else’s take on an experience you share with me, or you might be more generally interested in my thoughts and feelings on education and parenting. Whatever the reason you’re reading, I’m really humbled that you’re taking your valuable time to do so and I really hope I can be some kind of hope or inspiration for you. Thank you!