Sometimes I get tired of talking about learning and education. As my friend Kristin said the other day, “Sometimes when I hear someone start to talk about their theories on education, all I hear is ‘Blah, blah, blah’.” Yep. Me too. I think it’s because we are pretty set on our learning path. I still have school brain moments, but they are ever fewer and farther between. This sort of ennui on my part is the reason I could never be a full time advocate for education reform and life learning. The never-ending repetitive questions and inability to grasp the concept of organic learning on the part of most people gets on my nerves and at some point I just want to throw up my hands and talk about something else. Anything else. But mostly things like books and movies. And why anyone would do something as inconceivable as re-making “Footloose”. Seriously. Don’t get me started. It’s opening in October. I mean, really, if you are going to re-make something with as dedicated a following as “Footloose” then take a page from the people behind the re-boot of “Hawaii Five-O”. Same character names, same theme song, a nod here and there to the original, but other than that, it’s all new. Why, oh why would you have Ren McCormack show up on the first day of school in almost exactly the same outfit Kevin Bacon wore as Ren in the original? Why would you have Ariel in a t-shirt that says “Dance your ass off” at the town meeting, exactly like Lori Singer’s Ariel did? And why for god’s sake, in a town where dancing has supposedly been banned for years, would you have a scene in which all the local kids appear to have been dropped out of the sky directly from a Broadway musical dance audition? (Julianne Hough as Ariel? Please!) At least in the original when Ariel starts up the music outside the local diner, most of the kids are tapping their feet or moving a little awkwardly – in keeping with that whole ‘hey we’ve never been allowed to dance’ theme. (Yes, I know they all dance in the final scene at the prom, but they still look like kids dancing – not ballroom pros slumming it.)
But I digress.
When my ennui over writing about learning threatens to take over, something always happens to make it go away, giving me a rush of adrenaline and renewed purpose in telling people about life learning. This week it was a post by a new homeschooling parent whose son is Maya’s age. I don’t know the details of why they chose to begin homeschooling in the 6th grade, but I will say Bravo! It takes a lot of guts, I think, to take your kid out of school. More even than if they’ve never been enrolled in school. This parent posted a message on our email list, asking for ideas for social studies and science projects. She is overwhelmed and you could feel the panic as she wrote that she doesn’t want her son to fall behind his schooled peers. That she knows it is in middle school where kids learn to write research papers, and do we think asking him to ‘study’ 4 literary works in addition to his own reading would be too much?
I sat and read her message several times, debating whether or not to answer. In the end I did send her a message. I don’t know if she’ll be able to ‘hear’ the message I sent, because it is counter to all the programming she’s had over the last 6 years while her son was in school. Clearly she’s taken him out which means she does not believe the system is serving him, but still, school brain will be very strong in her and will fight her every step of the way on this journey. At least in the beginning. What I told her was that it might be good to consciously ‘under-schedule’ her son for a while, even if they intend to be traditional curriculum-based homeschoolers. (I did tell her that we are life learners following no curriculum whatsoever, in the interest of full disclosure.) I suggested she take her cues from her son and tailor their studies according to his interests instead of basing them on some pre-conceived notion about what 6th graders ‘should’ learn. And I told her that even if, in her eyes, her son did nothing for 6 months, it would take him no time to ‘catch up’ to his peers, since much of what is done in school has nothing to do with learning and more to do with crowd control.
I was not the only parent to answer. Three other people sent messages. One of the respondents unschools her son, the other two were homeschoolers. I am happy to report that all of us counseled her to use her son’s interests as her guide; to not feel the need to follow a set curriculum or do specific projects; and most importantly to give her son time to decompress, to de-school, before putting any pressure on him at all regarding lessons.
Sometimes parents get it. Sometimes they don’t. One boy we met last Fall as a new homeschooler is going back to school this year. His Mom would sit at our gatherings and talk on and on about how she and her son constantly battled over his lessons at home. How he didn’t want to do any of the things she planned for him and how homeschooling just wasn’t working. Several of us tried to convince her to just lay off him for a while. Let him do what he wanted to do. But her fear was too great. Fear that he would ‘fall behind’ and fear of losing control.
So I’ll keep writing about what we do. And what we don’t do. Because maybe there’s a parent out there who needs to hear it, even if I don’t so much anymore.