Monday, June 19, 2006

family path to unschooling

Thinking back for me is always a fun game. I know for a fact that I don't have the best memory. I'm sure there was more to my childhood than I remember, but sometimes, I think maybe it isn't a memory issue after all. Maybe my childhood was either A) so bland or B) so odd, that nothing really stands out.

I really am going to get to our home education decision, though I may choose to circle it a few times and make a long boring story out of a nearly pleasant anecdote. Having said that, we'll reapproach my childhood, that crazy fundamentalist Baptist home that I was raised in. I know that my parents love me, and I love them. I really do come from a great family, even if I do question so, so much of what I was once taught. I know that one of my six brothers must be aware of my own spiritual notness as he has read some things I wrote when I tried to keep up with my Myspace blog. I happened to bitch about the Pope's untimely demise. Go there and read it if you want. I still think it's a funny story.

It wasn't till I'd gotten some distance from my family and made friends with more normal backgrounds that I realized how different my own youth had been. Honestly, having no friends outside of church and school, especially when they are the same place, just isn't the best way to be. There were a couple of church friends that didn't attend out school as well as school friends who attended other churches, but they weren't the norm there.

Beyond a glaring lack of any lasting knowledge, I have few complaints about the school I went to. I certainly learned enough to get along, but I really feel that I've learned much more outside of school, and I've learned more about some of the things that I was supposed to learn there very recently as a home educating parent. That may be my own biggest problem with schools and the concept of teaching children as it seems to exist now. I also learned what part god plays in science and history. I'm sure she showed up in the math at some point. If I try hard enough, I can remember the pledge to the Bible and the christian flag, and yes they do exist. Did I mention the paddling room?

My wife had a very typical life of hell in public schools. Her stories are not nearly as bad as some I've heard, but just naming a few is bad enough. When she hit a boy that grabbed her breast, she was punished. There was middle school where she was constantly targeted for all sorts of taunts and insults because she dared to have been part of a family without the financial wherewithal to bow to all the latest trends.

So, in one corner we have Pop with his scary fundy schooling, and in the other corner we have Momma with a sadly typical story of the horror that is American public schooling. It's not hard to imagine why our boys won't likely soon see the inside of anyone else's idea of a school.

Apart from what I now recognize as the untruth in my own schooling, one thing that really stands out, one of those big time memories that I personally have of school, the thing that always says school to me, the buzzing sound of the lights. Yes, that's the thing I really remember.

When it's all said and done, Momma and I have one big hairy reason for why our kids won't be going to school. I mean no disrespect to public school kids, but they just don't seem to turn out very smart most of the time. It's not that they are ruined or stupid or unable to learn, but schools are very good at one thing. They can suck every bit of fun out of learning. The one thing that children do better than anything else, the one thing that lasts a lifetime, and they stomp it till it's dead, then they chop it up into pieces and burn it. And as soon as you think that learning is hard or unpleasant, then you're screwed.

Here is my baseball example. How many little boys have grown up with a love of baseball? How American is it to love baseball with it's own special code of math (yes math dad gummit) and stats? And how many little boys pore over this and soak in it yet fail the math test on Friday? It's not hard to make math relevant and interesting, but sadly, it's also not hard to make it cold and difficult. Teaching kids isn't nearly as productive as letting them learn, and it saves a lot of time and difficulty and resentment when kids are able to learn the things they need. Kids learn early in life that anything worth doing is worth figuring out. If this were not the case, bicycles would not still exist and soccer balls would never bounce from the foot to the head.

You can't pick when a child is going to care about The Revolutionary War. But you can easily explain the meaning behind the upcoming Independence Day celebrations, and that can turn into a fun way to learn about war and history and the beginnings of our America. And if Big Brother doesn't get it this year, well, there's next year, or maybe he'll come around in the fall. And it's not just for kids. And here comes the clincher, the why providing the education of our kids ourselves rocks. We can get to all those things we didn't get to learn when we were in school along with our kids. My new book, and I'm on a history kick right now, is 1976 by David McCullough.

We've looked at math and history, so I feel I should mention the next big school subject, and this is another one that used to make me cringe. Now it just makes me feel a little duh, but it's kind of not my thing. I'm just not a sciencey kind of guy. I would wager that more interest in science starts with mud and bugs than with a text book and memorizing the periodic table.

I never stopped hating school. I never liked school from any point that I can remember. I will admit that maybe I'm carrying some of that over into my parenting. I don't apologize for how I feel about school, as I'm sure is obvious to any/everyone. My own feelings about schools however only partly influenced my feelings about my own kids going to school. While I did hate school, I only recently realized just how ineffective the school system is. Having kids just does that to you.

And that's the long, painfully long version of the story. And if you're lucky, it's the whole story and not just chapter one. But for us, my family, it's not even chapter one but more of a preface. It's our book that we write over the span of our days, all these great things that we are going to learn together. Oh, the places we'll go!


h said...

I don't know how many times I've said to a friend, "I don't remember a thing from [biology, chemistry, geometry, history] class"-- only to have them go "Oh, me neither!" It seems like almost nothing learned in school is retained. You can ace an exam based on short-term memorization and not remember a thing two weeks later.

I think to retain something you have to connect it to your own mental stories about the world. If it doesn't all tie together in a kind of narrative then you can't remember it for long. But school doesn't try to teach using stories, they try to teach using encyclopedias.

I don't think my kids will study half the topics they cover in school, but I think what they do study they'll understand a lot more deeply, and they'll keep that knowledge. So I try not to compare what we learn to school curricula.

Anyway, cooking is more important than algebra, gardening is more important than binomial taxonomy, knowing how to replace the faucet is more important than keeping the 1st and 2nd laws of thermodynamics straight from each other. Who are they to make a list of "important topics"?

h said...


I am on page 50 of the same book you are reading, 1776. I love it that the American soldiers were incredibly hard-working and skilled, but had little concept of following orders. That seems truly American-- the way we used to be.

Kixque said...

The only thing I learned in school is how to memorize the answers to get through the tests. I retained nothing long term.