Yup, I Drink The Kool-Aid. Want Some?

Sorry, I have to laugh at my own title.

Most of you know me in person, or at least fairly well through my blog, and may not have realized that I am a radical, hippy loving parent who allows my children to do whatever they want all day. Had you not noticed Carters unruly, hippy hair, I am sure you didn’t know I was a radical, extremist, indulgent parent. Maybe when his hair finally gets to full dreadlock stage it will be more apparent. Clearly I must work harder to make people realize that, yes, I am one of those. Now, if you met Tara and heard about her RV travels to sustainable farms or hung around Miranda long enough to discuss politics or, for heavens sake, curled up on a blanket with some organic veggies and light yoga stretching with Elizabeth you probably would have known about them. But me, I can see how I could have thrown you off the scent.

I think that is the thing about stereotypes. And the thing about meeting someone who doesn’t really fit them. How does a former public school teacher with a Masters degree in Education, with Republican tendencies, and fairly comfortable lifestyle start drinking the kool-aid?

It’s easy. You realize your family likes Kool-Aid better than anything else. That’s how.

Have I completely lost you? Sorry! Let me explain.

ABC did a story on an unschooling family. A VERY biased story on an unschooling family. The reporter goes so far as to call the children “feral”. It is clear that she wasn’t doing the story to educate people on what unschooling is. Her motive was clearly to out this terrible, horrible thing we unschooling parents are doing to our children and society.

Really?

Cause mainstream public education based on a model developed to create a society of factory workers is working out so well?

Cause I want my children to WANT to learn not HAVE to learn?

Cause I think that an underpaid full time substitute throwing worksheets at my kids just isn’t good enough?

Really?

Cause as someone who holds a Masters in Education I can’t distinguish good, educational philosophies and apply them to my own children?

I know, I am crazy. (just think…I am qualified to teach children, too)

Now, lets get a few things straight. I think that most teachers are fabulous. I know so many and my children have had the great fortune to be in many of their classes. But they have had bad teachers too. And sadly, a year of a bad teacher can ruin 5 years of great ones. I wasn’t willing to let my children be stuck in an educational setting I didn’t think was the best for them. I thought (and, sorry, have proof to back it up) that being home with me was a much better choice for them.

Instead of spouting numbers and theories I think I will do away with some common unschooling myths as they relate to me and my family.

Myth: Unschooling kids watch tv and play video games all day. OK, well, in truth, there are days that happens. Everyone’s mind needs a break sometime. Isn’t that what kids in brick and mortar schools have Sat and Sun, and Summer Break for? It’s just that our learning is much more out of the box than that. It isn’t on a set schedule. It happens in the smallest of moments and in the largest of venues. It happens when we are playing at the park and suddenly get a lesson in Native American folklore or sit down to watch a movie and get immersed in discussion of the German Resistance Movement. No, Carter cannot list the names of Presidents in order. He can, however, tell you in great detail about the lives of many of them. What is more important?

Myth: Unschoolers don’t use books, specifically textbooks. Are you kidding me? My house is full of books. We spend more money at Barnes and Noble than most classrooms do. When something interests my kiddos we go to the book store to get more information on it. We have that time and flexibility.  I don’t have to say “wait ’til the weekend”. We can strike while the iron is hot. I don’t use the library cause I tend to forget to return things on time.

Myth: Unschoolers don’t use curriculum. Bull on that one too. Connor spent this whole year doing K12′s curriculum.

Myth: Unschoolers don’t do chores. In this house they do. That is being part of a family and a community. Everyone has to help out to make things work. It is important that my children know they are capable of helping both themselves and others.

Which brings me to a point that I have to say, this is where most people do not understand the true, core value of unschooling. I really struggled with it at first too and it was the above mentioned friend, Elizabeth, who one day really put it into perspective for me:

Unschooling is honoring your child. Unschooling is allowing them the freedom and time necessary for your child to learn who he is and where he wants to be in life.Unschooling is giving your child a multitude of experiences and exposure to as many things in life as possible as they walk that journey of self discovery. Unschooling is putting things in their path that challenge them along the way but never dictating what road they choose to walk.

It takes an ungodly amount of patience, time and trust to let that unfold in your child. But it is so worth it because what you come out with on the other end is a child who knows himself, his world and his place in it. A child who is capable of setting their own goals and who has the desire and drive to achieve them.

So, getting back to using K12 curriculum for my unschooled oldest. Think that goes against unschooling? It doesn’t. K12 was a tool Connor needed to reach his goal of attending a certain private school this year. Back to that proof thing I mentioned….Connor placed in the top 10 kids out of over a thousand who applied. He had a goal, I supplied the tools, and he was able to make it work beautifully. More proof? He started his own company at 11 that is quite successful. Still more? Carter no longer takes any kinds of meds that he needed in school and loves to read and write.

I understand that many people fear that allowing a child to direct their own future and education is putting too much faith in such a young being but I don’t see it that way. I believe I am here to guide my children to become the best they can be. Not the best I want them to be. There is a big difference and if you understand that difference you may just be ready for a glass of kool-aid…grab a glass and watch this. It is 8 minutes long and fabulous! It even talks about a bacon boy with meat vision……..




*and before I get a bunch of comments from parents who have chosen other educational methods, I have no judgment on any choices. Lord knows I have tried most of them at one point or another. Each family, each child and each environment are unique. What works for me may not work for you and that is totally great. Your kids may be in the most awesome public school ever. I am really happy that is the case. It wasn’t for us so we chose differently. America was founded on the belief that we should all have choices…

Comments

  1. I so wish I knew I could do it effectively for my daughter. Unfortunately, she's better off with the teacher she has than with me. I can teach a classroom full of squirrelly college students – I can't bring myself to teach my daughter. That is to say, be the primary teacher. We supplement, supplement, supplement.

    But I wish I had the fearlessness you do to home school. It's clearly been such a good thing for your boys! :)

    My recent post Circling the Wagons Won’t Protect Your Brand

  2. oh Bravo, Barb! Wonderful, thoughtful, well-written post. I agree that the media's coverage on homeschoolers is biased, they are looking for the sensational/ the catchy sound bite- and they will look for families that are a bit odd, or not finding such a family they will portray them as such. Melissa Wiley has been pretty vocal on twitter about this, I am thinking she will have a post up, too.

    great post! My kids are thriving without school :)
    My recent post San Juan Capistrano School Strike, help for parents

  3. Hey-I miss you first off.

    Second off- I totally get where you are coming from. If you had asked me 6 years ago if I would homeschool my kids, let alone unschool them, I would have asked you to pass the bottle you were clearly drinking heavily from.

    We totally got into homeschooling accidentally and out of necessity and then found that unschooling was the best choice for us.

    I do love it now. I will miss Connor terribly next year but he is more than ready to fly the coop and I am focusing on the fact that Carter and I will be able to do more things that his brother determines himself way too cool for now!

  4. I will have to look for her on twitter. Thanks for the heads up :)

  5. You know, I love reading about unschooling. I wouldn't say that we unschool, we are more eclectic schooling lifestyle, I think. Which means, when mama freaks out regarding how behind she perceives the children to be, she throws work at them. And we work on multipication, spelling, reading, etc. Left to himself, my 11 year old would only ever play video games and watch tv. I have had to set limits on those. My 8 yr old would only ever play with her toys and watch Word World. So, I insist we do some work. I have been homeschooling for six years now. I love the idea of unschooling, but I am terrified that the kids will choose to waste their time. My oldest is a sophomore in high school. She also schools at home. I am not sure how unschooling works for older kids… it's a bit scary to think about their future.You know, I love reading about unschooling. I wouldn't say that we unschool, we are more eclectic schooling lifestyle, I think. Which means, when mama freaks out regarding how behind she perceives the children to be, she throws work at them. And we work on multipication, spelling, reading, etc. Left to himself, my 11 year old would only ever play video games and watch tv. I have had to set limits on those. My 8 yr old would only ever play with her toys and watch Word World. So, I insist we do some work. I have been homeschooling for six years now. I love the idea of unschooling, but I am terrified that the kids will choose to waste their time. My oldest is a sophomore in high school. She also schools at home. I am not sure how unschooling works for older kids… it's a bit scary to think about their future.

  6. I totally get the fear factor involved. It is scary! There are days when that fear kicks in with me. So, we go to the zoo. I know that sounds insane but the zoo always sparks some interest with the kids. I make sure we only visit a small section so we can really watch and learn about them. Usually that leads to them wanting books and googling for more info and a much calmer mommy.

    I know quite a few unschooled teens who enter college at 15. Not sure how I would feel about that but it is fairly common with unschoolers.

  7. Thank you for offering another point of view on this – I saw the piece on GMA and agree – it made the whole prospect of unschooling look completely insane. I think part of that may have been due to the family they chose to profile, though. Before this week I had never heard of unschooling; thank you for sharing more information.
    .-= Sarah @ Cole’s First Blog´s last blog ..Mommy & Daddy – Thousand Word Thursday =-.

  8. Personally, I think you do a fab job at homeschool. I love that your kids have more hands on learning than most and that you find unconventional ways to get them interested and learning ie- keeping up a blog.
    It definitely sounds like your schooling is not only effective but keeps your kids interested in learning- where a lot of kids lose that interest in learning in brick and mortar schools (like I did).

    If I could do it, I would- but unfortunately I don't think I would be able to do all the wonderful things you do with the kids. Your kids are very fortunate to have such a brilliant Mom! :)
    My recent post Happy Birthday to Mr.Complicated and Mother Earth

    • Awe! Thanks Corine. It's funny cause I don't do near as much as I would hope but I think all parents feel that way at some point.

      BTW-need to get a room booked for SLC. I got my flight :)

  9. I was unschooled! And proud of it! Love the ted discussion, and love how you encourage learning rather than force it!
    My recent post Make your Own Spa Mask

  10. Lori Lavender Luz says:

    I think it's great that you are so in tune with your child(ren) and committed to them to be able and willing to unschool.

    Cheers to you, you radical hippy Republican-leaning mama you.
    My recent post My watershed moment: the breakthrough I needed to become a mom

  11. Bravo, Barb. I can imagine it is hard, but it sounds like you are doing exactly what you need to do for your children. We have all been so trained to "do whats right that we forget to do what's right for our families, children and selves sometimes.
    My recent post Farmhouse White Loaf

  12. Bravo, Barb. I can imagine it is hard, but it sounds like you are doing exactly what you need to do for your children. We have all been so trained to "do whats right that we forget to do what's right for our families, children and selves sometimes.
    My recent post Farmhouse White Loaf

  13. Great post. Good encouragement for a first year homeschooler. Love to know I am not the only one who believes in her kids (although I am not as confident about it as you are…..yet!

  14. Thank you so much Barb. You have pretty much summed up my life and my experiences.

  15. My husband has been talking about homeschooling because he’s reading Underground History of American Education. He linked me to your post. We have four children and our oldest just started kindergarten in private school. We aren’t sure it’s the best for him. We don’t like the worksheets. He’s shy all of a sudden. It just doesn’t feel right. We are attachment parents and understand the importance of parental involvement. The problem? We aren’t patient and don’t think we can offer him the best education by our own means. How do you get past the stumbling block of “I’m not good enough to teach him?”

    • I think the best way to get past that is remembering that you are probably the best teacher to teach him. Most people unschooled/homeschooled for the first 5 years of their kiddos lives—it’s just that no one thinks of it that way.

      In my opinion, unschooling is most successful if you have a tribe to lean on. I don’t think I would have gotten past my fears and doubts if it wasn’t for our Life Learners group. And to be honest? I don’t know that the fear and doubt ever completely goes away. You just get better at recognizing what it is and is easier to move past the mini panic attacks.

  16. I heard you say unschooled at lunch today and wanted to learn more about it. Thank you very much for having this post so handy! And that video was amazing! I don’t have the patience to teach my children or the structure, but the best teachers are the ones that act just as you describe and in fact one of my frustrations with CSAP and other testing measures for “no child left behind” is that there is NO flexibility for the teachers to teach to the students’ interestes. I was in GT in elementary school and that was the entire curriculum for 4 – 6th grades – whatever projects we decided to pursue. It was incredibly valuable – kept us engaged, taught us essentially how to learn and figure things out which is all that can be asked of school. Day to day academics aren’t really applicable in “real” life, but learning how to learn always applies.

    Kudos, Barb. Thank you for this.

    • I loved that we had the chance to have lunch! GT ‘back in the day’ was the unschooling of public schools :)

  17. I am so happy I came across your site today. You are a woman after my own heart! People who find out we unschool are absolutely amazed because I am the farthest thing from a hippy – well we do sustainable living but we also have ‘Republican tendencies’ as you posted.
    People always tell me how well behaved and intelligent they are. They are 6 & 4 and decided they wanted to learn French so that is what they are doing. Because they want to….
    One wants to cook all day and the other wants to write a book – she is 6. Well, if that’s what she wants to do….

    • Glad to meet another un-hippy. I think if more of us were open about it that stigma would go away some. Don’t get me wrong, love my hippy friends but its just not my style