Sometimes I forget how fortunate we are. When I talk to families mired in the politics and demands of the school system, I sit back and wonder how we managed to avoid it.
I used to chalk it up to a certain amount of laziness on my part. Go to pre-school open houses? Start filling out forms (my absolute LEAST favorite activity) and checking boxes to make sure my kid gets into a “good” school? Um, no thanks.
But of course there was more to it than that.
Let’s call it one part laziness mixed with a few parts amazement – at a time before we had children – at a family we knew who had three unschooled kids who hummed along to Bach, loved their Spanish videos, spent afternoons wandering the halls of the Met and were equally at ease with adults and kids of all ages.
Of course, that’s not the whole story, either.
If I’m being really honest, I might say one part laziness, a few parts amazement and, well, maybe a touch of “in your face” thrown in for good measure. The truth is that I enjoy being different. It’s one of the reasons I love living in New York; as Denis Leary said in his 1992 “No Cure for Cancer” show (which I saw live at Irving Place btw), “New York teaches you to live life the way it should be lived. Moment to moment. Yes, because every moment in New York could be your last. Oh yeah. You could be walking down the street tomorrow, feeling good about yourself, drink free, drug free, looking forward to the future and somebody accidentally nudges their poodle off of a 75th floor ledge. And he’s headed for the ground at a hundred-and-seventy-five thousand miles per hour. And curchunk he’s imbedded in your head! You’re dead on contact. The headline in the Post the next day reads, Man killed by best friend.”
But truly, the main reason we wound up on this strange and wonderful path called unschooling is that I learned to see my kids as individuals when they were still very young. Especially after Ben was born and it was so startlingly obvious that he and Maya had such different approaches to learning as well as different interests. For instance, she LOVED word games and letter games and making the letter sounds and spelling out words and if you tried that with Ben he would cover his ears and yell “Stop!” or if we were at home, simply run to his bedroom and shut the door. On the other hand, he would build huge towers out of paper cups with no problem; towers larger than he was and that looked as though they couldn’t possibly resist the forces of gravity, but did. Give him some tape or string or wood or anything else that could be glued, taped, strung or nailed together and he’d transform it into something great. Just don’t ask him to spell it.
Now both my kids read well and enjoy it. Maya is still a better speller and Ben a better builder, but as their interests have widened so have their skills.
So when I see parents and families whose kids are in school and miserable; who are experiencing first hand how schools often pit parents against their children or demand that the parent take the “side” of the teacher, I remind them that their child is a fully realized human being and that rather than viewing them through the eyes of a system based on conformity they should take a step back and view them as the unique individual that they are. And if their individual self is at odds with the school’s system of classes and demands, the fault does not lie with the child.
Forget the data. Stop trying to fit your kid into some pre-determined mold. Look at them right now and if you can, see them as you yourself would expect to be seen; as the person you are and not who someone else thinks you should be.
Also, be a little lazy. Take a day or two (or 1000) off from the pressure of thinking you need to raise the perfectly educated, perfectly perfect kid. There is no such thing anyway. Hang out, watch some TV or watch your kid do whatever the hell it is they want to do. It doesn’t need to be officially educational or have any redeeming value whatsoever beyond their enjoyment of it. Join in if they want you to. Enjoy some time on your own if they don’t.
Dare to be different by raising happy, unique kids for whom the word conformity has no practical application.
Your children are great just the way they are, in all their imperfections and quirks and lovely strangeness.
By the way, so are you. Enjoy the journey.