Being a "homeschool" mom for the past 7 years I thought I understood child-led, or interest based, learning. I delighted in watching the synapses fire as one of my four little darlings discovered something new or figured out how things in their environment worked. We lived in a constant state of wonder and we were curious about everything. And as each child has joined our happy little tribe, we have gotten curiouser and curiouser.
In California to "homeschool" you basically either belong to a (publicly funded) charter school and follow a course of independent study or you become a Private School and design your own educational approach. We have always belonged to a charter school and my kids have done "well" according to certain measures- you know, like standardized tests and approval ratings from family and friends. But I don't want to raise people pleasers or test takers. I want to raise thinking, feeling, connected humans. The way I have been doing it wasn't quite right.
The charter school is sort of like The Matrix in my mind. It is a construct that is pre-programmed and when you enter it you can be traced by any government agent. It is dependent on the belief that the system is working.
Last weekend I realized I was still searching, I knew the answer was out there. I had a scary panic attack, (while trying to "prove" in a concise learning log, what I as their mother was fully confident of) that made me open my eyes a bit wider. Charter schools require a learning log every 20 days, showing new learning in each subject. But I know -without having to provide a worksheet sample - that my 4 kids are all doing great according to each of their own learning styles.
Previously doubting and wary family members have now conceded that my kids are well adjusted, smart and they have peer relationships and know how to find their way in a group. They are also comfortable talking to other adults and they don't rebel against authority because they don't feel their freedom is threatened by it. Because I worked very hard to absorb the stress that our modern system of schooling places on children- basically I became Morpheus and was piloting our Nebuchadnezzar as close to the surface as possible.
The problem was, this was taking it's toll on ME! My focus was constantly on them. My life revolved around their activities and my "free" time was spent gathering resources and information or tracking and recording what they are doing for some elusive "permanent record" that the state says they need. This was not a lifestyle they were eager to imitate and any mom knows kids learn all the most important stuff through imitation- walking, talking, eating, pontificating...
With all the wonderful sources of education available, along with our family's decision to live in a consciously committed community- and constant, frequent advances in the fields of technology, we have found it easier and easier to find ways to learn what we need to know. We have also realized that when you need to know something you learn it fast.
For example my 12 year old didn't read until she was 8. I spent a lot of time reading to her, so she didn't need to. Then she discovered a book series all her friends were reading, and they began to create their play based on these stories. All the kids in our groups used these books as the manual- if there were disagreements they didn't come to us, they went back to the book to solve the discrepancy. She was reading 4 grade levels ahead within 6 months. She resisted memorizing times tables until she got fascinated with working long division problems and needed to multiply frequently.
We don't even know what the world we are preparing them to inhabit will look like. Our kids need to know *how* to learn, our schools teach what they think children should learn.
We have decided that next year we will file independently and unplug from the Matrix. We will "unschool". But first we will "deschool" and then we will ALL continue living, loving, laughing and learning together- without school. We will follow our interests, pursue our passions and be involved in doing- appreciating that when the world is your classroom, learning happens.
Already I have noticed a subtle paradigm shift: I am feeling more relaxed and focused on the tasks in front of me. I quit Facebook (how I stayed connected to the "homeschool scene") because I want to model slow living. I can trust that my kids are invested in what interests them (that's what kids do!)- and they are motivated to learn far more (and more quickly) than any lesson plan could ever account for.
We will continue to explore the deliciousness of this lifestyle, which many attribute to the "father of the modern homeschooling movement", John Holt. Not even a parent himself, he could clearly see that compulsory schooling wasn't working and as a superintendent of schools he was able to observe How Children Learn, How Children Fail and what to do Instead of Education (the titles of three of his books).
If you wonder why you see more and more small people out and about, doing awesome and amazing things, and you think you might be interested in taking charge of your children's education I encourage you to read Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto. But be prepared, it is like choosing the red pill.
"You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes."
For me and mine, I am happy that we have decided to go deeper into the rabbit hole. We look forward to all the characters that we will meet on our journey... all the merry unbirthdays, all the Mad Hatter tea parties, and to following the white rabbit, wherever it may lead.