Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Not quite 2 years

I have not posted here for almost 2 years! But I wanted to post some of the articles I have written for The VaHomeschoolers Voice, the newsletter for the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers (www.vahomeschoolers.org)..Here goes---From Sept 07

When an Unschooler Chooses Traditional Schooling

I began my journey as a homeschool mom, before I was a mom. I decided to homeschool before I ever met and married the father of my children. Fortunately, he shared my vision and since I was already a school teacher he trusted that I could make it work. So when my oldest, Andrew, was 5, I created a little home classroom, bought some cool curriculum and got down to this business of schooling. We zipped through all of Kindergarten and 1st grade during that first year and while it was fun “playing” school, the curriculum (I honestly don’t remember now what it was) was a little boring and I decided the second year that I wouldn’t purchase anything, I would just follow our interests and see where it led us. I hadn’t heard of unschooling, I just fell into it because it seemed more interesting for both of us. Somewhere along the line, I read about the Colfax family and their experiment raising their children without formal schooling and how their boys who went off to Ivy League colleges and I embraced unschooling further. As the years passed, all 3 of my sons were largely unschooled as I allowed their interests to direct the direction of our schooling choices.

As Andrew began his high school years, he became discontent with the path our unschooling was taking. Many of his friends were enrolled in homeschool co-ops and often talked about homework, taking exams and writing papers. He wasn’t doing any of these things but began to feel that he wanted to be doing them. Shortly before the beginning of his sophomore year, he expressed the desire to enroll in one of these academically rigorous co-ops. I was initially opposed to the idea because I had embraced the unschooling lifestyle and was comfortable with the ease and freedom it had allowed us as a family to explore what we were interested in and be free of the rigid schedules and demands of a more ‘schoolish’ approach. But because I was also committed to allowing him to choose his own path, I investigated the co-op he was interested in. Initially I was told there was a waiting list of 13 families and it was unlikely he could enroll for that year. He was disappointed, I was relieved. But, a few days later, I got a call and the head of the co-op, who offered to let my son enroll if I was willing to teach high school World History. I was not excited about enrolling him, but I love history and I love to teach, so I knew that a plan was coming together, in spite of my reservations.

He began the 2006 school year enrolled in Biology, Writing, World History and Spanish. He went to class 2 days a week and came home with piles of homework. We struggled to figure out a schedule that would allow him to complete these assignments, get good grades and keep up with his other activities and responsibilities. I began to call it the “Co-op that Ate My Life”. Many days it was overwhelming and seemed to have taken over the easy, satisfying life of unschooling we had previously enjoyed. I also struggled with idea that he was no longer unschooling and had embraced the academic style I had moved away from over the years. But he was loving his new schooling experience and really learning in all his classes. One day I finally realized that this was unschooling, because it was what he wanted to do and he was learning because he had embraced the academics and he was excited about it. I am not sure why this would be a surprise to me, because I had also loved school and became a schoolteacher because I loved it so much. Why should I be surprised then, that my child, who is like me in many ways, would enjoy it just as much as I had? As a bonus, he made a great connection with his writing teacher and discovered that he loved to write and is good at it. He is even considering making writing a career choice.

So now we have begun our second year at the co-op (that ate our lives) and his younger brothers are each taking a couple of classes and our lives feel very “schoolish” to me. It is not where I expected to be but it is where unschooling has brought us. It is just another path in the homeschooling journey we have been on for 10 years and next year will probably look a little different still, as Andrew turns 16 and enrolls in classes at community college and gets his drivers license. If unschooling means allowing my children the freedom to direct their learning, to pursue their interests and embrace their passions; how can I complain because their freedom has led us in a surprising new direction? That is what unschooling does, even if it means unschooling becomes schooling.