How Did We Get Here?
There's a new unschooling blog carnival in town, coming out July 1. Details for submissions are here and this month's topic: How did you and your family come to unschooling?
Strangely, that's a hard question to answer, though a quick and easy answer exists: we've always unschooled. But when, where, and how did the seeds of unschooling get sown, germinate, and sprout? That's where it gets complicated.
At some point in our own schooling, DH and I both came to the conclusion that it was Wrong, with a capital "W". For myself, I made the rounds of the gifted programs and was spat out the other side in utter boredom. I had a couple of truly great and inspiring teachers, but the bulk of my childhood was spent in a boredom so deep and enveloping, I think it resembled a depression of sorts. Rules made no sense, but had to be followed. While some teachers shone, others showed no respect for the children in their care, and it was potluck which type you might get. As an example, my 1st grade teacher encouraged me greatly (thank you Ms. Birch!) and ended up advocating for me to go into a 4th grade reading class where I was challenged and interested. We ended up moving and changing schools. When I got to 4th grade and told my teacher I had already done the entire curriculum in 1st grade, she didn't believe me. I spent an entire year re-doing a curriculum I had learned at age 6. Fifth grade wasn't much better, my teacher had an eye for public humiliation. When he found that my school desk wasn't the neatest, he dumped all of the contents in a big box and put a sign on it that said "Town Dump". Now there's a way to motivate positive change and build self-esteem.
In junior high I was castigated for not wanting to dissect a frog, my own sensibilities and morals considered worthless. My band teacher threatened to flunk me if I didn't play clarinet in the parade when my arm was broken and in a full-length cast. Terrified of that "F" on a report card, I did. My arm never healed right. What a trade-off. By high school I was beyond angry, rebellious, and was spending time in classes cutting myself with a small pocketknife for amusement. I had an excellent school counselor and left after my junior year to go to the University, where he had worked out a deal for them to admit me based on my SAT scores, though I hadn't graduated high school. An unschooler was born.
My brilliant, wonderful, hard-working, talented DH was labeled "slow" because reading and handwriting were incredibly difficult for him in his younger years (when we've watched the same thing happen with our now-9 y.o. son, and watched him grow and blossom into these abilities over time, we've been so thankful that he never had to endure the labeling and teasing that DH did). DH dropped out of school, but went back to college to get his diploma later. Strangely, for a guy who was a "slow" learner, he went on to get his pilot's license at age 17, passing the FAA written exam which is one of the tougher tests I've ever taken.
Even when we were just in the talking stage about having kids, DH and I agreed on one thing: they would never have to go to school unless they wanted to. Throw in some pregnancy reading of John Holt and Grace Llewellyn for me, and it became pretty obvious that unschooling was the way to go. After all, everything DH and I have learned that has been important in our lives, we've basically taught ourselves or found a good teacher or mentor to help us with. Such people are everywhere in society, if you look for them. We knew that with us for guidance and help, our children would learn everything they would need to know, when it was important to them to do so.
I went into school already knowing reading, writing, and math, so school didn't teach me these things. School didn't help DH to learn them either, he had to come to them in his own way. So we knew that our kids could learn and thrive in an atmosphere where their own learning styles were honored. Best of all, there would be no labels, no "above", "ahead", "behind" or "slow". Life is not a competition, but a journey to be enjoyed.
Every day we've lived this unschooling life has validated our initial choices.
Every day with our children, learning, living, and loving life is a gift.