Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Unschooling and social pressure

I've read several books by John Holt and was truly inspired by his ideas. You know what it's like, when you read or hear something and it sounds great not in the way of being a completely new idea, but rather, in the way of being familiar - as in, you've vaguely thought about it yourself some time, but didn't quite know how to word it:

"... the human animal is a learning animal; we like to learn; we are good at it; we don't need to be shown how or made to do it. What kills the processes are the people interfering with it or trying to regulate it or control it."

Deep down, what I'd really like to do is step back and take my hands completely off my children's learning process. However, I will confess I'm a little afraid to do that, and there's also the matter of social pressure. When your educational choices are unusual, you may feel under a lot of pressure to provide results that are as good as - no, better than - everyone else's. "Yes, I home educate my children and this is why my 4-year-old is reading fluently and recites poetry in three languages". You need to prove that you are doing alright, that you aren't headed for disaster with your weird ways. 

If you've got a late reader, or a child with special needs, or a child whose social skills need polishing - in short, if you are facing any problem at all with your child's education and training, there will be people who chalk it all up to your educational choices, especially if such choices are considered radical in your community. 

I know someone, now an adult, who had been homeschooled. He is by all standards a successful person, the father of four children, runs his own business, etc. However, his personality isn't exactly outgoing. So, whenever his name comes up in conversation in connection to homeschooling, people go, "Aha! Of course K. is so anti-social - he was homeschooled!" - everyone is just ready to pounce on his example as proof that homeschoolers produce kids with no social skills. 

Naturally, the world is full of grumpy people who went to school, and of friendly, sunshiny people who had been homeschooled. But apparently, the easiest thing is to take any quirk, challenge or weakness and blame it on what's unusual, "abnormal" with this person's lifestyle choices. 

One of my daughters, in particular, serves as the perfect illustration to John Holt's unschooling philosophy. She loves learning but hates being taught. She'll do wonderful, creative things, she'll ask hundreds of questions and walk inspecting her surroundings through a magnifying glass by the hour, but she'll instantly rebel as soon as I initiate something because I think it's "educational". 

So what is the answer? I have none. Just some thoughts along the way. 


Anonymous said...

I am a homeschool "veteran" of 25 years, and having been schooled myself in public schools, I teach in a similar, though not rigid, fashion. The several unschooling families I have met and interacted with have not impressed me with their knowledge or with how disciplined they are at completing difficult tasks. Perhaps this is because they have all spent so much time perusing social media websites, spending an inordinate amount of time on computers, and spent a lot of time watching movies (not all educational, but many dubbed such!). The families I know all took lots of "field" trips to town, but neither were many of those "educational" either.

If parents truly are unschooling and doing it well, perhaps it can work, but I always found that children need to be directed, need to have routine and order. I think unschooling is more a product of our current society -one which does not wish to be told how to do things, in what order to do them, or when things need to be completed. I'm sorry if I am offending anyone.

Grown persons know the ropes, know what things must be comprehended even if they are not always pleasant and convenient. Allowing children full rein over what and when they will learn things is an abdication of adult/parent responsibility. And the parents I knew who unschooled were basically selfish people who valued their own pursuits over those of their kids, and so they allowed them to spend their time in some pretty useless pursuits of their own.

Unschooling to me is more like unparenting, and the world is already in a terrible place due to little children being treated like miniature adults before they are ready to handle the rigors (and privileges) of adult life. I would never allow my 6 year old to drive a car, never allow him to choose an adult book to read, never allow him to see inappropriate movies. These are things which require not only restriction when they are young but teaching them discernment as they grow into adulthood. At the same time I will happily direct my child in how to drive a car when he attains the proper age and skills. After years of properly directing and shepherding his character, he may chose to read more adult books and watch more adult movies.

I don't un-cook and un-clean my home; my husband doesn't un-work. There are rules to follow and there is discipline of mind and body that help us to live happy, successful, fulfilling lives. Tossing the dice -or un-dice - has never been an option in our home.

As I say, I do not wish to offend; I am expressing an opinion about what I personally have seen in the unschooling of parents and children I have known.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Anon, thank for your comment. It really means a lot to me to hear from an experienced homeschooler. I do see the difference between true unschooling (which is not un-learning), and simply letting the children do whatever they want because the parents can't be bothered.

Right now, our children are young, and my system can roughly be summarized in: do some structured learning in reading and basic maths, encourage and direct my children's writing exercises (they practice all the time on their own), do some enriching activities, and provide plenty of time, space and materials for creative pursuits. This means restricting movies and video games and laying out craft materials, costumes, books, etc.

My eldest, as I mentioned, is an active and curious child but doesn't really appreciate being taught. She hates it, for example, when we're reading and I ask her to try and sound out some words on her own. She WILL do it on other occasions, when SHE feels like it. In a way, I confess, it worries me a bit because sometimes I really want my children to be learning something on a particular occasion and she outright says that she doesn't want to be learning that. I have to "sneak-teach" math, for example by playing a card game that she likes which requires doing addition and subtraction. Reading is usually a trade-off: I'll read to you if you try to at least make out the headline. She does that but grudgingly, and I always feel guilty for pushing.

K said...

I personally think there is a happy medium. We've talked a lot about homeschooling, and, if we were to do it, I'd like to do a mixture of formal schooling + unschooling. To me, the ideal set-up is a structured morning (where children learn important qualities about responsibility, goal setting, being on time, persevering through things they may not like, etc) and then more of a free afternoon where they pursue what is interesting to them at the time--with guidance. This is when they read, do creative things, have field trips, explore, research, etc. One of my issues with formal schooling now is that it is ALL so structured and formal that we often kill(or at least stifle) the innate curiosity and desire to learn in a child. That said, they do need to have some structure and routine. I believe it is very important for them to learn discipline in age-appropriate doses in order to grow into a healthy, well-rounded adult. As a teacher, I often deal with children who were not made to do things, and they expect adult life to work with that. They don't want to do anything that is uncomfortable or difficult, and, as we all know, we often have to do those things. I've seen adults trapped in terrible lifestyles because they have absolutely no self-discipline.

Anonymous said...

(Homeschooling mom of 9, ages 3-23, none ever in traditional school:-) I have been reading your blog since before you met your husband, and soooo enjoy it:-)

Anna, is this how you want your daughter to respond to God's instruction?

How a child responds to a parent is how they will respond to God. A parent's job, ultimately, is to teach a child the proper attitude to the All Mighty.

We are fallible, and know it. This makes us feel like we don't really deserve to be obeyed, that we should allow our children freedom of attitude. But this violates God's commands for parent's to bring up their children in His Words (Deuteronomy 6).

God commands children to obey their parents. Period. Not "obey when they are right or when you feel like it" but just "Obey."

It sounds like you are dealing with an issue far more important that simple reading or math with your daughter. You are dealing with her attitude that she should be the authority, at least in when, how, and what she learns. That is the issue you need to address.

John Holt was a brilliant man with a lot of good ideas, but he did not believe in God, and so drew all his conclusions from the foundation that "man is the most divine being in the universe." As believers in God, we have a different foundation, thus, a different focus for our children.

(I am not, of course, justifying a parent being hard, overbearing, over-demanding, or abusive. A parent must be very careful to not "Frustrate your child to anger" (Ephesians 6 in the Christian Bible). A parent must always seek to have God's attitude of love, and the age and ability of the child must be kept in the fore-front of the mind. God is not over-bearing or hard on us. We should not be on our children either. But we do need to have His attitude of demanding righteousness and obedience.)

Alycia said...

I don't have many years of homeschooling under my belt, but I do have some. My children just turned 9, 7, and 5, and I have been homeschooling since the beginning.

Each child approaches learning quite differently, and I try to adjust my teaching style and materials to that. This is easier said than done, especially once I've already purchased books that I would prefer to use again with the younger children, but I do try.

I understand what you are saying about the draw of unschooling. I too have been attracted to it but felt too much need to prove myself to society. However, I can say that your attraction to unschooling may have a lot to do with your instinct that your children - who are still quite young - should be allowed to learn through play rather than having to sit still and have their heads crammed full all the time. I do start working on math, writing, and reading by the age of five, but initially I keep it to less than an hour a day. I find that it is important to lay down the expectation that there will be a set time when structure and focus on schoolwork are necessary. The amount of time they spend on school work grows each year. If my middle child (who just turned 7) buckled down and focused this past year, she was able to complete all of her first grade work (math, spelling, handwriting, English, and history) in less than two hours. My 9 year old could do most of his work in three hours or so (not including his literature reading, which he generally enjoys).

So we do have a good deal of structure, but there is also plenty of time for play, free reading, and helping about the house. So far, I've been pleased with the balance.

I can also tell you that my need to prove that homeschooling is "working" is waning with each child. I think mothers who have several children with many different personalities, gifts, and temperaments probably lose this need fairly quickly. While society might point to one child as being strange in some way (shy, slow to read, etc.), there will almost always be others in the same family who are exactly the opposite! Even with only three school-aged children, I'm feeling the pressure relax.

Anonymous said...

I read his books when was young . I think I felt very drawn to his ideas because I was such a voracious reader , and I attended an especially worthless school in the 70's. I have a child with great difficulty in reading and comprehension , who has attended a fairly good school , they just did not know what to do about the problem. I think I agree , now , with the person who answered first , I think people who LOVE reading may learn a lot...I was on my own and have lots of info , BUT I have no discipline , which has been a real problem in all areas of my life. I think that maybe a combination of disciplined drills for learning certain facts and formulas which also teaches patience (something else I struggle with ) and the ability to harness ones own body , against ones desires ( also a great ability to have ) with a freedom read and explore to grow curiosity and interests may be a much better style of learning. I would look at the desire to resist authority as just a underlying sign of mans sinful nature , although nothing but rote and authority is bad too . I would have felt sad at the first persons advice when I first started parenting , but now on the tail end of the teen years I see wisdom in it. Whatever you do , at the end of it there will be success and failure and with different children , different outcomes . Karen from Michigan

Mrs. Anna T said...

Thank you all for your wonderful responses. I do have to say that, yes, we struggle with discipline in other areas too, not just maths and reading. Every character trait can be a double-edged sword (as in, independent thinking vs. rebelliousness).

And, of course, even if you do a very structured style of homeschooling, you still have more time for free exploration and creative pursuits than in a traditional school setting, because you abolish the time spent on commute, going from class to class, disciplining a large group of children, reading from the name list, homework, etc.

Anonymous said...

I am the first "Anon" who commented, and I just want to add that there is always room for creativity in homeschooling, even if you use the "traditional' school model. In fact, I would argue that maintaining order and routine, generates self-discipline which is the tool every person needs in order to become creative.

Think about great scientists, thinkers, statesmen, etc. who came before us. All these men (and women) were highly disciplined human beings. They might not all have gotten up at 5 a.m., or have gone to bed at 9 p.m., and many were eccentric as measured by the customs of their day, but dollars to donuts, they "learned their letters and how to cypher" and, in adulthood, kept to a fairly strict schedule during their day. Whether it was Michelangelo or Thomas Jefferson, or Thomas Edison, they maintained daily routines that gave them the time to increase their knowledge and to pursue their creativity, and the world is a better place because of them.

If we just look at the world in which we live TODAY, all discipline, all decorum have gone out the window. People don't know how to read, worse yet, how to decipher and analyze what they read. They may have knowledge, but they were not taught discernment. A lot of young -and not so young - people I know cannot seem to keep to a work schedule because it is too "demanding" and too "rigorous".

Two of my four children are adopted. Every social worker and psychologist and psychiatrist we interacted with impressed on us the deep need of these children to have order and routine and discipline in their lives. And I believe, as others have also mentioned, that God gave us an ordered world full of creative, imaginative, wonderful spectacles to behold and to enjoy; as believers, we're expected to "take" the discipline and instruction (the rod and the staff) and through it, learn to become self-disciplined. When we are self-disciplined, then there is little need to tether us to strict rules; we have learned to follow rules because we know they are good for us and allow us to soar.

I have homeschooled my children in different ways; when I was younger, I would branch off into suggested new modes of "learning". Oft times I found these new ways frustrating and so did my children; they didn't know what was expected of them. I was the mom and teacher and didn't seem to know what to do. Kids sense when adults aren't in control. Most times, I would circle back to the way I was taught in public schools in the 50's and 60's.

Although teaching in the "traditional" sense has been denigrated in recent times, I have found that the old methods are more stabilizing for my children. They each have their own times to play, be alone, be with friends who share their interests, etc. The day has 24 hours; surely they can spend 4 or 5 on learning to accept that there are difficult subjects and often unpleasant chores they must tackle so that later in life, these subjects and chores will not seem insurmountable to them.

To those who are just beginning to homeschool or to those who are fairly new to it, I feel for you, because I know the temptation to follow newer methods that sound so freeing educationally. But try not to be swayed to the left or the right, stick to what you know is true about raising children -not teaching them, but RAISING them. The Bible is your educational bible for that! :-)

Lady Anne said...

I can understand your daughter's problem. I don't know what to do about it, but I understand it. And my middle daughter is exactly the same way!

Some of us immediately "get our backs up" when told we MUST do something. Even at 73, when told I have to do something, my mind will immediately start racing like a hamster in a wheel, trying to figure way to get around this, or another way to do it. (And to think I once considered being a nun!)

Both my daughter and I went to regular schools; both of us were bored to death. When she was in the tenth grade we made a deal with her. She was doing so poorly that she would never graduate on time, so we told her if she would promise to go to the local Community College (a two year, "full service" education) we would allow her to drop out of school. Talk about a leap of faith! Being allowed to study the things that interested her, along with the usual English 101, etc., she made the Dean's List, and went on to become an executive for a large company. And now, she is also a stay-at-home mom.

Hang in there! There's hope!

Mrs. Anna T said...

Betty Tracy, the following words really resonated with me:

God commands children to obey their parents. Period. Not "obey when they are right or when you feel like it" but just "Obey."

I realized I have really been struggling with this one, in regard to my children. I see myself as so flawed, and dwell so much on parenting mistakes I've done when they were smaller, that I hardly saw myself as someone worthy of respect and obedience. I now understand that, imperfect as I am, I am still within my rights to demand respectful behavior. In the past couple of days this really helps me put my foot down with my eldest daughter, which will ultimately be for her own good.

Anonymous said...

How about a word from someone who was homeschooled? I was homeschooled in the USA in the 80's & 90's along with my two brothers. My parents largely followed an unschooling type of philosophy.

Basically they capitalized on our current interests. I remember learning Spanish from a lady in our church who had recently immigrated from Central America. I remember learning about the stars and constellations from our baker who was an amerature astronomer. I remember getting a book from the library and learning to recognize many species of birds when I was interested in birds. I even made myself flash cards to memorize them.

My parents didn't push anything, though my mom often took us on field trips to see how different things in the world worked. We saw dairy farms, banks, vet clinics, Maple Syrup farms, etc. We were brought to church to help with various volunteer projects and helped deliver Meals on Wherls (this was non-negotiable). We were asked to write one page in a journal of sorts each day. My mother read historical Christian fiction to us daily, which often prompted us to research the time period the book was written about. We often built with Legos while my mom read to us. She also taught all of us to see and craft, not because we had to, but because she had so much fun doing so we wanted to learn as well.

We were never formally taught reading, writing or math. When I was in fifth grade, I wanted to catch up to what my peers were doing in math. So I checked out the textbooks from 3-5 grade and went through them all by myself. I loved math. I self-taught math only going to my dad for occasional problems I needed extra help understanding. I continued on in this method through trigonometry, after which I took some courses from the local public school. This skill, in teaching myself math from a book, is much more valuable to me than is the math I so enjoyed learning. When I was learning Algerbra 1, I had an older friend who was taking algebra 2 at the high school. She was struggling so I read her textbook and taught her the concepts she didn't understand.

Later on in college, I taught myself most of the general education requirements and tested out of those topics, allowing me to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts with a major and two minors in only 3 years while also achieving the award of Suma Cum Lauda.

My parents always read to us and we just picked it up from them. I loved to read and was a voracious reader (though I struggled to read well until the age of seven). I hated writing, however. Until I discovered a need to write. I studied Martial Arts beginning at the age of 13. One of the requirements for various ranks was a research paper on a given topic pertaining to Martial Arts. With my desire and my parents' gentle guidance, I learned to write very well.

In college my professors loved me and would often refer my classmates to me for help. I was easily accepted into the graduate school I chose where I quickly earned my Masters of Arts degree in Exegetical Theology (this means I also learned to translate Biblical Greek and Hebrew). I am now primarily a stay at home mom, but I am also an adjunct University professor and teach 1-2 classes per quarter (where I now get to grade other people's papers).

Anonymous said...

This is a continuation of the comment about being unschooled in the 80's & 90's.

No, I'm not one who is big on authority. I still balk at various types of "authority." I am always questioning and thinking for myself. I rarely follow the mainstream choice. I research everything before I make a decision. However, I also believe that God's authority is total and complete. If He said something, then that is how it is. God knows best. Sometimes we learn the whys and sometimes we do not.

Human authority, on the other hand, should always be questioned. That doesn't me we disrespect it or necessarily go against a given human authority. It all depends. I would absolutely want my children to question and not go along with the human authority's promotion of mass genocide (such as abortion in the USA today). However, even if they question it, I want my children to be smart enough to realize speed limits are in place for the safety of all citizens. I want my children to understand that they are responsible for ALL their actions, even if the governing authorities tell them to do it or simply say it is ok. Essentially, I want them to be able to understand when it is good to obey authority and when it is not.

Long story short, I don't think mindless obedience to human authorities is desirable or Biblical. And, though I haven't looked it up in my Hebrew Bibile recently, I believe the commandment was to HONOR Father and Mother, not mindless obedience.

Well, this comment is longer than I intended, especially since I'm writing from my smartphone (having started when I was nursing my toddler to sleep for his nap). I'm obviously very opinionated on the topic. I'd be happy to share more of my experiences with you if you wish. Yours is a blog I have enjoyed when I come across it. You have a wonderfully refreshing (and Biblical!) view on women and feminism.

Mrs. Anna T said...

housewifing, thank you very much for your insight. Your comment was not in the least bit too long - there is no such thing as "too long" when sharing valuable experience! It was lovely to hear from you and I hope you visit again soon.