In the process of enrolling my “unschooled” child into public school, we have ended up speaking with several individuals for input or, in some cases, necessary arrangements. These individuals include staff and faculty from school districts, some teachers (and ex-teachers), a homeschool email list (in this case, the “traditional”/curriculum type of homeschooling), and of course friends and relatives.
I am continually re-reminded that we Hogabooms swim in a different sea when it comes to some big life concepts, like How Children Learn, or just How Children Work in general (spoiler alert: they work a lot like regular people, except usually more honest!). Plenty of people who (obviously) love children very much, their own and others, will flat-out speak what I consider startling un-truths about children. Like how learning to mind authority and follow direction is equivalent to real learning as well as the moral prime directive of handling the kid problem. You know, LITTLE issues like that [she laughs]. I’m also reminded even a lengthy civil discussion (or two or three!) can’t possibly inject Ralph and my worldview and experiences into other individuals – and today I know it is rude and futile for me to try this. The child-as-second-class-citizen schema runs so deep that it takes months or even years to significantly de-program (hello! I’m still working on it!) – and I am coming to believe people would have to truly live the experience for a significant amount of time to speak with any real authority about it.
In Phoenix’s case, we have had many suggestions in the past few weeks: suggestions of how to organize her wardrobe, her curriculum, her food and lunch experience, how to test her, where to “place” her, how to “place” her. Every suggestion has been directed at me or my husband – patently ignoring the fact this entire world is hers, ignoring this even when we’ve said so directly and out loud, even while she’s in the room or available via email et cetera. In many cases, disturbingly but not surprisingly, my daughter is talked about like she’s chattel.
My daughter’s reaction to this makes me fall over dead with admiration. She leans back and tunes out. If she’s not being spoken to, a fine and friendly fuck all y’all. She’s not here to mess with anyone but she’s also not here to play “Good Girl”. She is like the best Buddhist I’ve met.
She is amazing.
Now I am used to adults’ baffling oversight – given that’s how many people treat most kids – but just to inform you how profound it really is, this happens over and over even when Ralph and I have demonstrated for years that this is not how our family operates. I am re-reminded of something I’d forgotten: that many grownups literally do not know how to talk about a child without knowing their grade and their so-called “aptitudes” or without considering grownups “owners” of children (as opposed to guardians or nurturers). And when it comes to these evaluations, I’m not talking about the logical surveying of a handful of factors in order to file a child into a classroom, which makes sense in light of the system – I mean that many adults cannot relate to a child without first “knowing” this information.
It is the oddest thing.
I know I sound feisty. I’m not angry, I’m just continually surprised at what I should no longer be surprised about. In a way, it still saddens me a bit. While today I have made peace with the mostly-schooling world (although that majority keeps shrinking), I think often of the neophyte home- or unschooler – as I once was! – so ill-supported or even vilified by so many. I think of this new family and how much anxiety is often produced by these clashing concepts of human relationships (cf. my handful of very angsty blog posts a few years back). No wonder people frantically self-affix labels – like “whole life unschooling” or “radical unschooling” or “interest-led learning” or “autodidactic unschooling” or even “un-unschooling”. Part of the label-grabbing motive is to defend one’s choice to raise one’s own child in the way seen fit: “Please trust us, we have a plan for our kids”; others may, as I did, be passionately trumpeting: “No. This is different. Different than (practically) everything you’ve been raised to believe!” (I’m still trumpeting that… or clown-horning that, if that’s how you see it.)
We’ve “unschooled” long enough to move past that particular label being useful – it merely serves as a shorthand that I employ when it makes sense.
Now I’m at the end of a day, and still recuperating from surgery, so I’m too tired to eloquently defend a premise I believe in: that nearly all labels, given time, will morph from being useful, to being impediments. Labels are fine, but a fanatic and stubborn adherence to them can keep us from practicing compassion, from practicing humility, and from helping others who are struggling.
Yes, our unschooling experience is valuable, and there is no substitute for it. Theory isn’t the same as living it. I have that life experience to offer – and I do. My blessings and support to any on the path.
Predictably, I’m about six hundred words into a three-hundred word post. I apologize. Let me get to more relevant points:
A few weeks ago I feared the biases my daughter might face from the teachers, adults, and children she’d be spending the day with. But I have worked through those fears (so far!) because I have re-reminded myself that it’s not my job to make people see things the way we do – and, more importantly, that Phoenix can handle this. Our children are whole, and that is what will help them. Our children are intelligent, kind, empathetic, strong, full of humor and compassion, and authentic.
We are here to support them, one hundred percent.
They also have something many children don’t have: a choice.
They have a choice. You know, sometimes I forget how amazing that really is? We’ve worked our asses off to give our children a choice and I’m grateful for the many factors, and all the kinds of support, that have made this possible. My goal in being out as a non-schooling family is to show people: I’m here, we’re here to help, if you ever want to try something even a little bit different.
These days I do not write to offend, or write to defend. I write here with passion. If there is any one else out there that wants to jump off the diving board, I’m here cheering from the cool deep water.
Well, let me torture the analogy a bit. Now? I’m waiting on the bleachers, watching my daughter jump, yet again. She is a beautiful sight.