My homeschooling friend posted this article today by Ann Karako who has taught public school as well as homeschooled her own kids. I loved it so much I wanted to write a response as an unschooler and talk about why unschooling takes all her great points and brings them even farther!
The article compares public school to homeschooling side by side and reflects on her experience as a teacher in both circumstances. I’ll put her words in bold italics and then offer my own experience as an unschooling mom.
“Have you lost sight of why all this effort to homeschool is better than the alternative? After all, your friends have over six hours to themselves every day, while you are nagging kids to do their schoolwork, refereeing sibling conflicts, preparing food and cleaning up messes ALL DAY LONG, and generally feeling like you are daily sacrificing your wants for everyone else’s needs.”
Yes, I often lose sight of why my efforts are worth it! I am the kind of person who craves solitude fairly often and has a hard time being surrounded by noise all the time. So the picture she paints of a homeschooling life does sound familiar to me, except the part where I nag the kids to do their school work.
“As a homeschool mom, you feel like the bad guy, because you have to nag your kids to work without becoming distracted, to finish within a reasonable amount of time, to actually learn rather than just checking the box, and to move on to the next thing without wandering off. Sometimes it seems like you’ve spent the entire day just pushing your kid along. The public school teacher would do all of that for you, right?
Nope. At the school your child is one of many. …. Teachers HAVE to wipe the slate between classes or they will go crazy. And they have no desire to take that emotional baggage home with them — they do have lives and families of their own, after all — so they ignore it until class the next day.”
As an unschool mom I don’t have to feel like the bad guy this way because my kids’ learning happens naturally without any coercion from me. I know that they can focus on things they’re interested in, and so I don’t worry about problems with distraction. I know they have their whole lives to develop their intellect, skills, and knowledge, so I don’t worry about arbitrary timelines.
I love that my kids have the freedom to spend as much or as little time as they want to on their pursuits without being pushed along to something they don’t care about or don’t need.
“You worry because it’s taking forever to complete the curriculum you’re using. You feel guilty for not getting through it all. Will your kid learn everything they are supposed to? Are they experiencing gaps in their education? At the public school they are more on top of things like this, right?
Nope. I remember taking SIX WEEKS off of the regular curriculum (every year) to prepare for the standardized test the kids would be taking. …
Public schools have so many things that steal their productive classroom time. School assemblies, pep rallies, holiday celebrations, field trips, fire drills, that rowdy kid who pushes the teacher’s buttons every day, movie days, substitute teacher days — and the list goes on. I certainly never finished the curriculum in a given year — and I don’t know of a single teacher who did. Gaps in their education? You bet.“
First, I don’t worry about my curriculum because I don’t use one. I don’t believe there’s a specific list of things that everyone needs to know.
As for gaps in their education, I expect that! The volume of human knowledge is almost infinitely vast so the concept of gaps in a child’s education is actually laughable.
Instead, let’s speak of the enormous diversity of unknown information as a glorious ocean, ready to be explored. The knowledge that our kids have acquired is a few drops in the bucket.
And it’s not just kids that know nothing. Even the most intelligent, world renowned expert knows only the tiniest fraction of how the universe works and the history of it all.
I’m so glad my kids don’t have these artificial limits (curricula) placed on their exploration of the world.
“You feel like you are stuck home every day doing school rather than being able to go out and do things. If you just had some time to yourself, you could be so productive! Putting the kids in school will give you freedom!! You can have some peace and relaxation!
Not so. Unless you put your kids on the bus (which can be a sketchy proposition these days), you will have to get them up before dawn every morning, rush around to get ready — very likely nagging them to keep moving the whole time — and drive them to school. Then you get to do it all in reverse later in the day. This definitely cuts into your “me time,” hello.
But wait! Today is a half-day, so you have just barely dropped them off before you need to turn around and go back. Oh, and Johnny has sports practice after school, so you pick up his siblings at the regular time and then have to return to get him a couple of hours later. Tonight is the choir concert, and tomorrow is your day to volunteer in class, and yikes, you forgot about that parent-teacher meeting; Suzy is supposed to be bringing cookies to celebrate some miscellaneous holiday, and Betsey left her essay on the printer, so you have to take it to her before third period…
Freedom? No, instead you are tied to a schedule that is not of your own making. You are the servant of everyone else’s plans for your child and family.”
This is a solid point and the unschooling philosophy takes it even farther. Being tied to a schedule that’s not of your own making sucks. That’s as true for children as it is for adults.
Of course, the freedom of children to make their own schedules is limited by the needs of other family members to go places and do things or the fact that they may be too young to stay home alone or to make some decisions for themselves. But besides these natural and unavoidable limits, why create additional ones?
Nobody really likes feeling as if they’re stuck in a rat race, so why do we acclimatize our kids to it from early childhood if we don’t have to?
Outside of the necessary rushing around, I think it’s best to allow kids to live at their own pace. What a gift to give our children: the ability to use their time as they choose. I hope that because of this gift my kids will become adults who are able to work when they need to, relax when they need to, understand the value of their own time and use it in ways that make them happy and productive.
“You feel like you are always uptight and overwhelmed. You don’t like that your kids are exposed to that all day; certainly a professional teacher will provide a calmer, more emotionally-safe atmosphere. Calgon, take me away!
Here’s a truth bomb: teachers in general are a stressed-out lot. They are usually not given the resources and help they need to teach effectively and happily; instead, they are often under the gun of administrative bureaucracy. Criticism from parents can be a frequent thing, not to mention the handful of highly disrespectful students who seem to take the most time and energy and leave little for the rest.
Many teachers are not knights in shining armor but ordinary, flawed people who don’t necessarily even enjoy being there. Conversations around the teacher’s lunch table can be rife with complaints about so. many. things. Though a teacher may have started out with high ideals and the desire to help little minds grow, their mindset often degenerates to the goal of just getting through the day and leaving it all behind when they go home.”
This bit reminded me not to feel so down on myself. I have developed my patience and parenting skills a lot over 12 years and 4 kids, but I still feel like I lose my temper too often and sometimes treat my kids with less kindness than they deserve.
But even though I am not perfect, nobody else is either. At least my kids know I love them and most of the time I’m a pretty good adult.
I have no harsh words for teachers who are in general doing their best in a very difficult job. But the way schools are set up, it’s just not the ideal circumstance for kids to feel emotionally safe.
So that’s my bit for today. Cheers to all the other parents out there, figuring out life without schooling one day at a time! I’m with you.