Friday, May 13, 2005

Teaching vs. Parenting

This morning we held a family meeting under the apple tree, and among other items on the agenda was our regular touching-base with whatever structured learning work the kids are doing. I went from one child to the next. I asked Erin how she felt about how she was doing with this sort of work and she explained that right now she's working on Food and Music Theory. I asked what she meant by Food and she didn't want to explain exactly, but she said that so far she'd finished with Bedtime and Nails. As is the norm when discussing things she takes seriously with this kid, I had to guess at what she was saying, and presumed she meant resetting her bedtime for a more reasonable hour (something I wrote about recently in this blog), and stopping biting her fingernails. Food presumably meant working through some of her picky-eating tendencies, and Music Theory was fairly self-evident, as she recently promised her piano teacher that she would do 20 minutes a day of theory bookwork. Math and Housekeeping, she explained, would be next, once she was done with Food and Theory. I found it interesting that as an 11-year-old unschooler, she still makes no distinction between the structured (i.e. goal-directed, self-motivated) work of quitting her nail-biting habit and the structured (i.e. goal-directed, self-motivated) work of music theory bookwork.

A related issue came up on the Unschooling Message Board I oversee at iVillage. Another mom posted:

"I went to a mom's group and the topic was using books to teach your children to read. Most of the ideas presented were things I just did when playing with my kids. But I never considered it teaching them to read.

"... do you think your children just learned or did you teach them? Also do you think maybe the difference is in the definition of teach? "

I too have told people that I didn't do anything to 'teach' my kids to read, yet when asked for suggestions for reading-readiness activities, I discover that over the years I've done lots of things that other parents would consider part of a 'teaching reading' program.

What I think is going on in my head relates to what I think of as the crux of unschooling. It is absolutely parallel to what occurs in fully unschooled children. They see no distinction between living and learning, between work and play and education. They don't know that figuring out the origin of the word 'gargoyle' is language arts, history and mythology. They don't know that making a picture with a compass and ruler is geometry and art and fine motor skills. It's just life.

Similarly, an adult who is fully in the unschooling mindset and whose child is of the same mindset sees no distinction between living alongside a child and teaching, between work and play and education.

Just as children are hardwired to learn (naturally, unconsciously, simply in the course of life), adults are hardwired to teach (naturally, unconsciously, simply in the course of life). It is only when we make the choice to separate learning from living that the distinction between teaching and parenting becomes relevant. When we don't cleave reality into Learning vs. Living, there's no need to cleave our parental interaction with our kids into Teaching vs. Just Being a Parent. The line seems artificial, fuzzy, and beside the point.

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