Today, Phoenix walks into my arms after swimming.
“I reached Enlightenment. Like the Buddha.”
Then a second later she says:
“You’d better watch out.”
In celebration of Phee’s spiritual milestone I bought her a dozen cupcakes from Bonjour Cupcake in Olympia. Pretty special stuff.
So, I’m expanding my horizons a bit. Typically un-shy about unschooling here at this site, and on a Twitter account or two, in real life I keep it mellow. Actually, docile and resigned. But, but, but before you call me a milquetoast, I have my reasons. I swear! The thing is, around here most people hear “unschooling” and it’s their first exposure. And they have opinions and assumptions immediately. I am talking from the SECOND they hear the word. And even those who’ve heard the term or have seen a segment on TV or read an article (ahem), well, they have already made up their mind and diagnosed quite a bit about anything unschooling-related. And usually, when it comes to my family, incorrect or just plain bizarre diagnoses. The point is, I say “unschooling”, the other person starts talking. Blah blah opinion opinion. I’ve responded by shutting down because A. I’ve considered myself un-asked and B. it has been a bit exhausting to hear the same stuff from so many. I have been responding with conversational null and voids like, “Yeah, a lot of people have that concern.”
I thought I was being gentle and kind and open – but I realize, despite positive intentions, I’ve been a bit passive.
Over the last few days I’ve been mulling a few things over (unusual for me, as I usually jump to my own KrazyBrain conclusions pretty quick!). At the Life is Good Unschooling Conference Ralph and I had the pleasure – amongst many pleasures – of listening into to Jeff Sabo’s talk, “In Defense of Unschooling”. The presentation was, essentially, one hour discussing common responses we get from people when we say the “U” word (and yeah, every response? I was familiar with it), and suggestions for how to deal with these responses, depending on our mood and the situation. I’ve been thinking over Jeff’s suggestions quite a bit.
So, long story short, I’ve decided to be more assertive. More active in the conversation and more “out” as an unschooling family. If someone asks why my kids aren’t in school, I now say “we unschool” (instead of ” we homeschool”). If someone asks what unschooling is, I’ve stopped saying, “Oh, it’s a type of homeschooling.” The reasons I said these things were, mostly, it framed things nicely for the other party. Then I got to listen, or not, to the ‘splaining headed my way.
These days, when asked, I tell them a bit more.
“Unschooling means different things to different people. For us, it’s a parenting practice based on the indisputable truth kids are learning all the time, and the belief they shouldn’t be segregated from normal life. Our kids have better opportunities than sitting most of the day, memorizing and then regurgitating facts for tests. We’re also not interested in forcing them into the many social problems in institutional school environments.”
Or some such.
So based on the kinds of things I do say now, I had a lovely interaction with a homeschooling mom today at the YMCA, while our kids swam. Nothing went tits up and I felt more a part of, and less a lady that sits on the bench and texts and smiles at people and is “polite”. And in case you’re wondering, after I got my little “pitch” up there out of the way, we spent most the conversation talking about her experience and her concerns. She told me she receives a lot of criticism for homeschooling. And I listened to some of that criticism and offered up – what I hope was – supportive feedback.
Tangentially, much later in the evening a friend told me, “I was surprised when I heard that you ‘unschooled’ your kids… because when I got in the car the first time I met them they were using words I hadn’t learned until I was seventeen”. I love hearing stuff like that. And tonight I was thinking, Why? Why do I love hearing that kind of thing?
Yes, part of it is: it’s nice to know your children are thriving in some way. But I no longer need my kids to sound smart for my own vicarious virtue (since first-off “smart” is overrated, and second what other people think of my kids is none of my business). I also no longer need to be constantly self-soothing I’m doing the Best Right Perfect Thing at all times – because today I know I’m flexible and can change strategy if I need to. No, when it comes down to it, I guess hearing my friend’s mind being blown (or at least opening a bit) is pretty cool. Maybe one of the cooler interactions that happen between people, on whatever end of the conversation you find yourself.
And I guess I feel a lot of gratitude and a lot of gladness that my family and I have had such a full and rich life. My kids haven’t had to go through the kind of drudgery I had to. They aren’t learning to be praise-addicted as I did. They are more active participants and authors in their own lives. My children aren’t alien to me, or problems to be managed, or irritations to be herded, or products for me to inject my own hopes and dreams into. They don’t have to waste their time doing what other people want. They can waste their time or spend it wisely as they see fit, unencumbered. They are free to learn. I am truly grateful.
And like, when a friend sees this going down for our family, and sees that it works? He’s all the more free to make that choice for his own children, should the opportunity arise.
Yeah. That’s worth speaking up a bit.