Monday, November 25, 2013

Unschool

I have decided to start a new blog as a new chapter of my life unfolds itself. It’s an awakening, as my husband would say. I can’t pinpoint an exact time when it started because it’s something that’s been happening gradually. A little here, a little there. I’ve started making different decisions, informing myself about different things and putting little changes into action. I think the culmination of these changes is what happened today.

I watched this video about unschooling:

Then I visited this website: http://zenhabits.net/unschool/ which is a parent’s take on the matter. Something inside of me started to get very excited. The last thing that I looked at before a complete realization occurred, was this website: http://unschooling.com/ which I suppose is the organizational page for the unschooling concept and movement if ever there was one. Something I saw there hit an emotional nerve inside of me:


“I would love some help!” It was a link about consulting. Here it said, “Would a consultant be a valuable aid to you on your unschooling journey? As families on the road to the powerful, vibrant life of self direction, connection, passionate pursuits and life on our own terms, we can often grow quickly or take a much desired leap with a little help from those with enormous experience, wisdom and insight. We support you!”


It’s what I had been looking for all along. I almost cried. I could see it in my head very vividly: Me and my son… Learning together. It was so beautiful. I had been thinking about him going to school and it was troubling to me. I know so much of the experience and curriculum and the whole system of it is just… Wrong. I can’t bear the thought of putting my son through it. I know he is meant for more than that, just as all of us are.


Then I thought back. I thought back to my Junior year in high school. I thought about a moment in my Topics of Algebra class. I was looking down at the floor behind my chair. It was this horrible grey carpet. I drew a big star on it in permanent black marker, felt better and then thought nothing more of it. A few days later, I was confronted by my teacher with a school janitor if memory serves. She pointed down at the star and asked if I knew anything about this vandalism. My mark of beauty in this drab room, where a duller-than-dull class was taught by a less than capable but earnest woman, was just called vandalism. So of course, I said that I didn’t know anything about it. Mrs. Pyle said, “Of course you don’t dear. I knew you didn’t. You are just too bright for something like that.” What did that mean exactly? If you are smart enough, you don’t draw on the carpet? It hadn’t even occurred to me as vandalism. There was no ill will or destructive intention behind my action. Of course none of this was considered by her. She spoke volumes in that small interaction about everything that is wrong with our educational system. Apparently, that carpet was only intended to be grey and dull, just like the class, like school, like life.


Now a bit of background… The only reason I was even in this class was because my guidance counselor had recommended it as a brush up on algebra after having taken geometry, so I would have a better transition into the college level algebra class I’d take my senior year. When I think about this now, the whole thing was ludicrous. My guidance counselor had no idea what I really needed, only what most kids in the system did. She had never seen my math abilities and I ended up wasting an entire semester in that class. Well, I shouldn’t say it was wasted. I did catch up on my naps, in between correcting the teacher on the errors she was making when showing the class how to solve a problem. When all was said and done, I finished the class with a 105% and a new sense that bringing beauty into the world in my own way could be a bad thing. This actually was a real pattern in my education. While I learned the lessons taught as part of the curriculum at least long enough to be tested and graded on them, they were often meaningless monotony to me. I inevitably always came away really learning something else entirely.


In the larger realm of the standard school system, I learned just a few major lessons:


1. How to play the system like a child’s board game – School taught me that succeeding is only a matter of finding one formula that works for everything. An unchallenged brain will try to find a way to connect dots that seem impossible to connect. I came out of a lifetime of school knowing how to employ “the formula” to everything from writing English papers to performing science experiments or completing a project or math test. Ingest, memorize/reorganize, regurgitate, and when you are done, dump it to make room for the next task. Voila! I am a testing/writing/knowing wizard with hardly any effort or retention at all.

2. How to supplement lessons myself - I was rarely even remotely challenged as a student, so during class time, I would try to figure out how to do things different ways, backwards even, just to have a little fun. This got me to be quite talented at certain things, I will say.

3. Go along to get along because no one wants to hear it – Developing complex thoughts and arguments about any given subject and voicing them in a class, which might be challenging the material taught, is a big no-no. You are there to learn what they want to teach and then regurgitate it.

Even within our educational system, I obviously managed just fine. This however, was due to a few select people who went beyond the formula, who challenged me to learn outside of a set structure and to gather all I could from every resource I could find. These people essentially kept alive my natural, insatiable hunger to learn. Here, I give credit to:

My mom and dad who supported my natural talents and passions, and always encouraged me to seek out knowledge myself with the myriad of tools, books and people available to me.

My French teacher Dianne Tilford Halligan, who encouraged us as students to learn in so many different ways and from different sources, even beyond our “level” and created and stood firm on many rules to allow us to better ourselves as people. “Jettez le chewing gum dans la poubelle s’il vous plait!” She also knew when to break a rule.  Most important of all, she spoke to me on an adult level, as an equal about all kinds of different things. I still consider her a friend.

My art teacher, Chris Buhrmann, who pushed us to find art everywhere, to have adventures, and to learn skills, but to not always follow the rules.

My College Algebra teacher Janna Snyder, who taught me how to do the math without a graphing calculator, per my request. She also recognized my natural aptitude toward math and encouraged me to help the other students by explaining things in my own way. Learning by teaching is truly valuable, and I won’t soon forget she allowed me such a privilege.

My Biology and Science teacher Heather Stretch, who brought so much passion, fun and humor to the learning environment. She had such a wonderful grasp on the fact that to learn means to play.

My sophomore English teacher Claire Culbertson, who recognized something in me I didn’t even really know was there. She gave me extra readings beyond the “class level,” just because she knew I would like the challenge of them. I wasn’t graded on any of it, and it was in addition to regular class work, but I loved it. I would read a short story she gave me and I would just stay after class to talk to her about it. I learned more from those moments than any of my other English classes.

These were the people in my life who understood that learning was more than just textbooks, assignments and tests. They fed my curiosity and really encouraged me to challenge myself, which guess what… Helps you learn and grow. I consider myself really lucky for having interactions with these people. They were far more valuable than the entirety of the rest of my institutional schooling. Sure, there are other people, teachers and instructors that have taught me things, but it was really mostly instruction. These people I’ve named gave me a framework with which to truly learn. I don’t think most people are so lucky, and I don’t want to rely on this luck for my son’s education. These kinds of experiences will be the entirety of his education and his life. Outside of the system, it is not only possible, it is an inevitability.



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