In order for homeschooling/unschooling to work for us, I had to go through my own deschooling process, which was more deep rooted and tangled up than my kids deschooling was for them. Because I went to school longer than they had, and knowing the public school system from both as a student and as a parent, it was harder for me to look at education and school a different way than I had before.
For those who’ve never heard of deschooling, it’s the process one goes through after leaving an institutionalized schooling environment. Your child has probably their natural desire to learn squashed and will need time to recover from that. With a parent’s help, they can gain back most, if not all of what they lost and begin to see the world as a place where learning is enjoyable and all around us.
So, what can the parent do to help? We have to work on changing our own preconceived notions about education, learning and school. I hear about many parents taking their kids out of school, recreating the same forced learning environment at home, only to have it come to a crashing halt with the mom feeling like a failure and the kids being miserable. Maybe, if they would have given themselves, and their children, some time to deschool, it would have turned out different for all of them.
My husband Billy & I started reading John Taylor Gatto even before removing our children from school. That was the start of my deschooling. I started to become aware of my thoughts on public school, real learning and education. And I started to question those thoughts. Thoughts that I had always accepted, without question because “that’s the way it’s always been done.”
I had been a “good” student (except in high school when all hell broke loose), meaning I did what I was told and made good grades. I wasn’t picked on, I had friends and got along with the teachers. But it was the thoughts about real life and real learning that I got from school that did the most damage.
I remember having to take a cooking class in junior high school. I hated it and got a very low grade on my report card. There it was, in black & white…I failed at cooking. Surprise, surprise…today, I hate cooking and have no confidence in my ability to cook something edible. (Although this serves me well because Billy does 99% of the cooking-lol). Someone, who never met me, decided it was time for me to learn to cook, and because I wasn’t interested at that time and found it boring, I was labeled “poor” in cooking. I never gave it any thought until I started deschooling. It wasn’t like it crushed me when I got my report card. Rather it confirmed that the reason I must have found the class boring was because I wasn’t good at it.
I began questioning why we, as parents, allow the school system to continue having control over our children when the school day ends. I’ve had teachers give me weekly lists of things for my children to do at home. I’ve heard many parents tell their kids “You can’t go out (or play) until you do your homework”. Suppose I want to do something with my family and homework is interfering with that? Why are they telling my children what to do when they’re in their own home?
I questioned why we’re expected to live by school policy at home. There had been many times when my children come home, the day before the standardized tests, and let me know that the teacher told the class to tell their parents that they need to eat a good breakfast the next morning. And then hand me a list of what exactly the school’s version of a good breakfast consists of. Why does the school system think they can dictate what parents and children do at home? Because we let them do it. Yes, WE LET THEM.
Once these thoughts started swirling around in my mind, there was no going back to my old way of thinking. I also started to become aware of other people’s thoughts about learning and education. Soon after I removed my kids from school, we ran into a friend and her son. It was close to the end of the school year and the mother asked if we “take a break for the summer”. I explained that we learn all the time and that learning is all around us. I went on to say that it would be like taking a break from breathing. As they walked away I heard her say to her son , “See, they have to do school work every single day, even in summer!”.
I recall a parent, of a schooled child, asking me how my kids do P.E. being they’re not in school. Who in their right mind would depend on the public school system for physical activity? It’s as if physical activity is only a subject, to be taken just at times that the school dictates. Ridiculous!
I also did a lot of reading during that first year of deschooling. My two main sources were the message board at unschooling.com which are now closed and Sandra Dodd‘s site. I read almost everything on both sites and I could feel my thoughts and perspective changing as I read more and more.
Although that was back in 2004, I feel like my deschooling is a work in progress. I’ve learned so much about myself that it became more of a spiritual awakening than anything related to school. School-speak seems like a foreign language to me now. I see what REAL learning is everyday with my children.
It looks nothing like school.
*originally written in 2004: updated in 2008*Children, deschooling, education, homeschooling, john taylor gatto, joy, learning, learning environment, life, natural desire, parents, preconceived notions, reading, unschool, unschooling