Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I've been battling with my child's school for the past 5 months. I realize that I am not the average parent, nor is my child the average student. Not by a long shot. He's spacey, and energetic, and smarter than the average bear, and a perfectionist - all rolled up into a lovable and amazing little package. But convention, and a bureaucratic teaching philosophy, don't exactly see him that way.

I am truly at my wits end with conventional school. I'm done. It's not working for my child. And I can't stand to watch what it does to him every evening: the tears, the grind of the work, the hours it takes to cajole an idea from him that he thinks the teacher will accept. And as if that's not enough, we've reached a new low - today he didn't even want to go to school. He's seven. It's simply unacceptable that a kid as bright and as curious as mine is dreading the place where learning is supposed to be happening. 

I want to "unschool" him. It's a philosophy that's been around since the 70s, promoted by John Holt. Truth be told, it is my philosophy of education. It's the philosophy under which I was raised, but as a people-pleasing child, school didn't beat me to death in the process.

I'm ready to jump in and do it, but the other adults in our family have concerns. They are very valid concerns, mind you, and I can be an impulsive person. But I am not sure I can agree with them this time. I feel trapped in a nether-land and hate, hate, hate watching my child loose his enthusiasm for what has been labeled learning. It's just not a benign decision to wait and watch what happens.


Debbi said...

Hi, Amy! I agree with some of John Holt's ideas and disagree with some, and I miss our "Christ & Culture" type debates, so wouldn't it be cool if we could get together and talk about it!!!! :) But YOU know YOUR child and what's best for him. That's why God gave children parents. Homeschooling is working great for us. While I do have conventional "classroom learning at home" several days a week, my kids also have lots of extracurricular activities, and we average one field trip a week, during which I think they sometimes learn more than all the other days combined! Especially since we are living in an area that is overwhelmed with museums, parks, and cool places to go. Matthew (age 9) wants to be a zoologist or marine biologist "when he grows up," so we spend a lot of time at Sea World, the San Diego Zoo, and the Wild Animal Park. We consider the cost of season passes part of our education budget. The kids have even been helping me write some children's books, which may never see publication, but are a good experience for them nonetheless. This is truly where real learning takes place. It may not be for everyone, and if my friends are happy with their kids in schools, I don't try to change their minds. But if your child is not getting what he needs in school and you can give him what he needs, I would encourage you to do so. If he ends up hating school and learning, you will regret not doing something to change the course. When you are working one-on-one with YOUR child, you can tailor the education to meet his needs. You may be able to make some compromises to put the "other adults" in your family more at ease. For example, I know a lot of homeschoolers (and especially "unschoolers") don't like standardized testing. But I wanted my children to know how to take a standardized test b/c I think it will serve them well in the future. I teach them how and give them practice tests during the year, and they take the CAT at the end of each year. They feel no stress, and usually view testing days as "fun" days b/c it is a short school day and we usually have a treat afterwards. They generally score in the 90-something percentile, and this way I have a record from year to year that they are doing fine. If anyone ever objected to my methods or that I am taking too many field trips, I'd have test scores to show that my children are exceeding the national average in academics in addition to being able to learn about subjects that interest them in an interesting manner. Perhaps if you were willing to do some classroom instruction and testing with Hayes in addition to other experiences, it would work for everyone. Bottom line is, you and Richard are responsible for Hayes's education. Do what you know is best for him. BTW my kids LOVE praying mantises!!!

Candy Cook said...

I didn't even make it to first grade with my son. He was sitting down in the road on our walk to school in the mornings, because he hated to go so much. The teachers couldn't accept who he was and ran the gamut of 'diagnosing' him with autism, add, adhd... anything!! because he's surely not normal.

Anyways, good luck with your choice. We love unschool!

Idzie said...

I'm an unschooler in my late teens, and I would never consider doing anything but unschooling my own kids when I have them (unless they want to be in school, of course)! I absolutely love it. Best of luck to you and your son as you (possibly?) set out on your own unschooling journey!


Jamie Hatfield said...

Amy, just because you take him out right now doesn't mean you'll always have him out. Right now, it sounds like YOU are the best thing for Hayes. One thing I've learned with the homeschool thing is that sometimes it's best for the kids (or the parents) to go back to school (we chose a Christian school), and you may arrive at that down the road, if you find a good fit for him. As you know, lives are journeys. Hayes will have many different educational experiences along the path, and right now you're his guide. Follow your gut, and if it's best to get him out of there, please do it. And always be open to changing course. One thing I've struggled with as a parent is changing course. I feel like it's OK to do that in my OWN life, but when I'm herding these little people into adulthood, I feel like I should have all the answers and make all the right choices all the time. I have to give myself permission to change course when it's needed, take guidance from wise people, yes, but ultimately make what Tim and I believe is the right choice for our family. I believe in you and Richard and your decision, whatever that may be - I'm praying for you three as you navigate your way.

Ket said...

Such a charged issue, no? ;)

I love you in all your alternative ways, and Hayes in all his wonderful brilliance. And you already know how I feel about Richard...

We'll be here to cheer you on, whatever road you choose!


Ann said...

My daughter was "burned out" on school after just pre-K and Kindergarten! She was sobbing every day when I dropped her off - as a mom, you just can't take that for long! Both years at nice Christian schools, but just not her deal. So, we've been homeschooling since 1st grade, she's in 5th this year. We have a really awesome Co-op, where she is actually in a classroom with a paid teacher and classmates 2x week, then the other 3 days we are at home. We are moving out of state soon, tho, so I will be probably doing it on my own, which scares me some! We are moving to the DC area, so I'm thinking about sort of an 'unschooling' year, with all the history about!! All that to say, yeah, you know your child best, and they learn in such different ways, that you will figure it out! Some kids just can't be stuffed into the 'normal' educational frame. My in-laws have been surprisingly supportive, and I am sure it's because they see how well she is doing so they know I'm not just 'messing her up', lol! Best wishes to you as you head down the path!

Monica said...

I have several friends who unschool with great success. We haven't gone that route officially, but I've tried to implement some of the ideas along the way. Anytime you want to come see our school you are more than welcome. The best thing about homeschooling is that YOU know your student/child the best and can open up the world to them right where they are- no pressure to go fast or go slow.