Saturday, March 09, 2002

Parental deschooling

This is a post I discovered in my e-mail "sent" file on September 1, 2007. It was written over five years previously. I've copied it in below and adjusted the blog entry date to match the original writing:

Katherine wrote
"My concerns are mainly centred around the potential for personality conflict between my children and me. I am trained as an engineer and am naturally quite competitive and goal-oriented. I am concerned that I would push my kids too hard. Part of what I don't like about the school they are in now is the acceptance of mediocrity."

I replied:

My kids have never gone to school in the first place, so I had a gradual "apprenticeship" to homeschooling... we just slipped quietly in the door the year my daughter didn't start Kindergarten, while we didn't change anything in our family routine. But I trained as a physician, and I tend to be very goal-oriented and strong-willed, so the things you are worried about would be exactly those I'd worry about in your situation: expectations too high, power struggles, and so on.

What I've discovered through my gradual apprenticeship in home-based learning is that it's at least as much an education for the parent as it is for the child, and I mean that in a very, very good way. My understanding of education is so much richer and more thoughtful (still learning, though!) than it ever would have been otherwise. I have changed... I have gradually embraced a totally new set of beliefs about the process of learning.

It's been mostly a liberating, empowering experience, though I'll confess I've resisted some of it and still do. I discovered that the set of assumptions that govern school are meaningless outside that context. Things like "high levels of structure and organization are required to assure you're doing a proper serious job", and "things need to be learned in a specific order and mastered before moving on", and "children won't learn anything hard unless they're forced to" and "the child is the recipient of learning dispensed by a teacher". The entire foundation of my understanding of the nature of education has been gradually knocked out from underneath me. In place I've built up something new, something that's more trusting of human nature and respectful of the individual experiences of unique human beings, something that's making me a happier, stronger, less neurotic person.

So if you're willing to call into question all your assumptions about education (and, by extension, parenting), I think you'll find that home-based learning will grow on you in a very good way. Your children will show you where you need to grow and change and learn.

At the outset I read lots of good books about homeschooling and natural learning. This might appeal to the engineer in you. Here are a few you might ferret out...

Better Than School by Nancy Wallace. Life and trials within an unschooling family of preciously artsy, yet in many senses, perfectly normal kids. Very honest writing without pretence. Out of print but probably the best book, overall, about homeschooling and natural learning, that I've ever read. Track it down through inter-library loan if you can.

How Children Learn by John Holt ... observations concerning that natural learning of children, and the way in which we well-meaning adults often derail and destroy kids' natural aptitudes and motivation for learning

Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense by David Guterson. Excellent persuasive writing about *why* you should homeschool.

Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto ... more on "why", with a more philosophical spin about the flawed nature of public education

No Contest: the Case Against Competition by Alfie Kohn... since you mentioned your competitive nature, you might find this one really interesting. It's not about homeschooling in any direct way, but it's all one big ball of wax. Very persuasive. Kohn's book about rewards and incentives ("Punished by Rewards") is also an excellent antidote to any carrot-and-stick tendencies one might have.

My eldest child is very strong-willed and so am I. My general approach is that if she develops resistence, there's something wrong with the whole equation, not something wrong with her. So if she's not wanting to do something that I honestly believe is exceedingly important, I need to adapt her environment to inspire her, not force her. Any more controlling strategy is doomed. Absolutely doomed. She is training me to give her the autonomy she craves, and when I trust her enough to give it, she amazes me. Trust is the crux of it. I am getting better at trusting that, in the absence of coercive parenting, she really will want to grow to be an intelligent, responsible, productive and capable human being. She rewards my trust.

I have a feeling that if my elder daughter were in school, we would never have had to learn how to really get along. This is the gift (and the curse!) of homeschooling: you will develop deep, rich and complex relationships with your children, relationships which will be able to weather all sorts of potential conflict and stress. There's simply no choice. You will learn. They will show you when you're moving the wrong direction. They will show you what they need.

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