The story I’m about to tell is true. I’m keeping it completely anonymous, although I suspect some of my readers will know who I’m talking about. I’m using it as an example because I believe it is not unique; in fact, I believe this story is more common than not. This is not meant as a criticism of the parent in question, although I find it sad that she and her husband couldn’t let go of their preconceptions about what learning should look like.
LKDWTW stands for Let Kids Do What They Want and it is an integral part of life learning. It also plays a role in any homeschooling family, to a greater or lesser degree. This methodology feels natural to kids, since it is basically how they spent at least the first 2 or 3 years of life. It is very difficult for parents, however, because to be successful at it you need to stop trying to control your children.
Last Fall we met a family new to homeschooling. The boy was entering his 6th or 7th Grade year. The first time we met them, my initial thought was that the mother was so anxious about everything that unless she found a way to relax and let go, they were going to have a tough year. Several of us, on more than one occasion, counseled her to let her son ‘de-school’ and do ‘nothing’ for at least a few months. He would still be learning. Sitting with her the few times that I did, I knew that she could not hear us, so wrapped up was she in her own ideas about what her son needed to be doing. Cut to a few weeks ago, when a message from her on our email list told us that her son would be going back to school this Fall, because homeschooling “didn’t work for them”.
Whenever I hear a parent say that homeschooling didn’t work in their family, I know what they mean is that they expected to run a school at home with their child as the student and them as teacher/principal. But surprise! It didn’t work that way and they met with resistance from their kid who wasn’t excited about replacing one school for another, even if the new school was situated in his living room. In this case the parent in question said that she is relieved that her son will be forced to do academic work, which she could not get him to do, while at the same time fearing that by being forced, he will lose what love of learning he has left.
What I find sad about this is that the mother understands the effects school has on her son (or at least has had – he lost much of his love of learning) but cannot bring herself to let him be long enough to rediscover it on his own in whatever form it may take.
She also told us that she wanted him in school so that she won’t have to deal with and regulate his constant desire to be playing a certain video game. She fears, however, that he will make friends with children whose parents allow them unlimited access to the computer and gaming, thereby causing him to further rebel against her and all that she knows to be good and right. (Video-gaming being an instrument of Satan and all) Again, this is an issue of control. This woman and her husband have a definite bias against video-gaming. In the email she sent it was basically deemed as something poor white trash people allow their kids to do. (That is not a quote, by the way.)
Here’s the problem. What if their son wants to be a video game designer when he grows up? Game design can be a very lucrative field, and if he loves doing it, why not support him in that? Of course, it could be that after a few years he would discover that gaming is not his passion and move on to something else. The way things stand, he’s being told that gaming is beneath him and he should be ashamed for wanting to do it. This means the game he loves will never lose its’ appeal because it is being treated like forbidden fruit, which as we all know is the hardest to resist. Meanwhile he’s being force-fed a diet he detests and which he does his best not to eat. (For more on restricting TV and media, check out this article by Pam Sorooshian at http://www.sandradodd.com/t/economics.html )
Finally, and perhaps saddest of all, is that this parent says she will take her son out of school one day a week to do ‘some’ homeschooling, and is prepared to lie to the school to make it happen. In almost the next breath she says the boy is “in training” in integrity and responsibility, which they value more than academics. Hmm, does anyone else see the contradiction in this? In other words, lying to a school does not constitute a compromise of integrity if you are doing it for the ‘right’ reasons? And if you value integrity more than academics, why are you forcing your kid back into school? The mixed messages in the email, including lying vs. integrity and that homeschooling didn’t work but she wants to do one day of homeschooling each week reveal a family in confusion and disarray, afraid to trust their son and their instincts.
If I could wave my magic wand and make them hear me, this is what I would tell them: Let your kid do what he wants to do. At least for one year. Consider it a sabbatical if you need to. What’s one year out of a life? What’s one year if it brings back joy? And creativity? What’s one year spent gaming 8 hours every day, if that’s what happens? You have nothing to lose, and absolutely everything to gain.