Life is Our Classroom
Since long before I married and had children I have been passionate about education. You see, I really did not enjoy my life experience with the traditional approach to education. I attended public schools my entire life (and in an area with a well-funded school system). I found the experience boring to the point of being mind-numbing. What I remember most are the other kids. I had a few good friends but then there were also the tyrants who ruled the bus and the hallways. I just never really understood why I had to go through all of this. What was I supposed to be learning and how was I going to use it later?
I know that we all just had a vague notion that we were paying our dues and if we wanted to get a decent job we had to go to college and in order to get into college we had to endure this. Besides, our parents said so; so what choice did we have?
Once I had kids ready to go into school, my wife and I began to compare notes on what we ought to do about their education. She was a lifetime Catholic school girl – preschool through university. And she felt fine about her experience. We tried to get our oldest admitted to our church’s preschool, but there was an age limit that we missed by a month or two. Finally, a friend told us about the local Montessori school. It was a longer drive but we figured it was our best shot. We enjoyed the experience with this school. We admired the non-traditional Montessori approach that was structured around the individual child’s needs and progressed at their own pace. Eventually, all four of our children attended this school with our oldest attending through fifth grade.
Before we left on our North American journey, we decided not to enroll the kids at the Montessori school for that semester. I mean, we wouldn’t be there most of the time and the money saved would go a long way in our budget. My wife then bought lots of curriculum books and prepared to homeschool all of the children with my help. However, we quickly became overwhelmed. It just didn’t seem worth the effort and besides, we were doing so many cool things and visiting so many incredible places that books and papers just didn’t compare. So, after several sputtering starts, we just dropped it.
When we finally got home, we intended to enroll the kids back in the Montessori school. But my son talked us out of it. Since that time, we have been enthusiastic students of a form of homeschooling nominally called unschooling, or autodidact education, which means self-directed learning. If you aren’t familiar with unschooling, then you will be surprised and probably suspicious of it when you first check it out.
My wife was initially uncomfortable with a form of education that does not involve teaching. With unschooling, there is no teacher, no classroom, no curriculum, no grades, no school buses, and no bullies. In fact, there is no school. The concept of unschooling is as much a family lifestyle as anything else. And, when combined with parents who have detached themselves from careers that kept them away from home, unschooling becomes an umbrella term for a family that fully lives life together.
In March we will be attending The Autodidact Symposium in South Carolina. There, we hope to join with other unschooling families and learn more about this new path for our family’s future.
I cannot tell you how happy and relieved that I am that we have moved our family in this direction. It is as if all of the pieces finally fit together. For the first time, we will be truly free to discover our world together, with no schedules, no ties that force us to be somewhere particular. Yet we still enjoy those ties to friends, family and culture that bring us back to our homes. It’s the issue of force that makes the difference.
We are free.
I’ll post more about the Symposium when we go. We are looking forward to some of the speakers, and to networking with potential mentors for our kids.
There are some other impressive national unschooling gatherings scheduled, including an unschooling cruise in the spring of 2011 (the spring 2010 cruise was scheduled to stop in Haiti, and the disaster there forced its cancellation) and recently there was a gathering at an indoor water park in Ohio.
The more we read about this way of living as a family, the more we like it.
Of course, if things don’t work out, we can always go back to a traditional approach but why would we want to?
Anyway, let me know if you are interested and I’ll post some of the books and resources that we are using/have used in our unschooling research.