Saturday, February 09, 2008

Why We Unschool (Part II)

Making the decision to homeschool our son at the end of first grade was not the hardest part of this change. The hardest part was telling our families and close friends that we were veering off the main road on our own journey.

It is hard to veer off the main path. My mom, the retired schoolteacher, wanted to grab the wheel. I knew that she didn't want to control us, but she was afraid we might get lost. We talked, and over time she became more reassured about our decision. We had a map that showed us how to get back to the main road anytime. Some friends were a little miffed. A couple of them took our decision to homeschool as a judgement of their journey. Some couldn't understand why I would want to get off of this seemingly flat, smooth well-marked road. Was I just deciding to be contrary and different? Was I being elitist? No. And no.

While it felt like most of the other parents were on the main road toward the holy grail - COLLEGE! CAREER! SUCCESS!! - we decided to take a scenic route and focus on the journey, wherever it lead. If we focus on having a joyful, fulfilling journey, how can we not end up in the right place eventually?

Most importantly, our son expressed some relief when we talked to him about staying home. I remember feeling honored by his trust in us. As long as he would still be able to see his friends, he was happy to leave school behind. School was not a bad experience for him, but he did not flourish there. His teachers often remarked about how quiet and compliant he was . This pleased them, but it worried me. It was almost as if he was holding his breath all day, because when he came home he would often unleash his aggression and anxiety at me and his younger brothers. Keeping him home was going to be good for all of us.

Serendipity had it that the summer after our decision to homeschool, the Live and Learn Conference was taking place about a half hour from my house. I knew nothing about unschooling, but I casually walked in with my kids on that Friday, asking if I could register at the door. I told two conference divas at the check-in that I found about about the event on the internet two days before and I was interested in checking it out. *Blink* *Blink* Was I aware that this was a national conference and that people had been planning for months, travelled from all across the US to attend? *Blink* *Blink* They let me register.

So, as luck would have it I got to listen to a keynote speech from Ann Oman, another session with Sandra Dodd, and yet another with Valerie Fitzenreiter. I was immediately immersed in a sea of happy unschoolers and I knew I was in the right place. Looking back, I don't know how long it would have taken me to come to unschooling without this conference at my back door, but I know we were spared the struggles of school-at-home and the cost of many unnecessary curriculum materials because of that weekend.

Four years later, I can honestly say that I only wish we had pulled him out sooner. Family and friends have evolved along with us, and I cannot remember the last time someone said something unsupportive to me. My mom still worries, but she also listens and she is respectful of us. She and my dad have enjoyed their opportunity to spend extra time with the boys, taking them places, visiting for the day, being with them. My in-laws do not share their thoughts about what we do. I sense their concern, but there is no dialogue. That's fine. I hope they are seeing that the boys are growing, learning, and enjoying their lives without school. I couldn't be more confident that they are.


singingfamily said...

I almost went to that conference too! I think someone was a new born though, I can't remember who. Inspires me to write something similar. Right now I am going to watch bad TV though;)

Anonymous said...

This post sounds similar to our own path to unschooling. We had similar reactions and *concerns* from frineds and family.
I guess in their positions I might have reacted the same, who knows. Unschooling changes so much more than just your attitude to education, it's truly life changing :)
LOVE this post :)

piscesgrrl said...

We didn't realize how concerned folks were until our oldest decided to try school this year - then, you wouldn't believe the gushing support we received! I understand, but it made me wonder where all that gushing support was when my kids were *initiating all their own cool learning*. Oh well.

I happened upon a L&L too, but I was already on the path - just didn't know there was such a huge, cool network of unschoolers doing those! Haven't been to one since, unfortunately.

Thx for sharing your journey with all of us!

Joanne said...

Great post! I love that your mother, even though she had been a teacher, was supportive of your choice. Your son sounds like a great kid!

JustFrank said...

"Scenic route" -- that's the phrase I've been looking for!