Unschooling On The Side

I guess I AM an optimist. I just went to take a nap in my bedroom which is directly under Son’s bedroom where he and two other teenaged boys were playing a board game. You’d think I’d know by now that there are board games – think senior citizens playing checkers – and there are board games – three 17 yr old boys doing anything. So instead I’ll write the post I was going to write later today.

Recently on Elisheva’s Ragamuffin Studies homeschooling blog I read something that really made me think. In a post about her son being uncomfortable with schedule changes, she said that she forgot to “be the guide on the side, rather than the sage on the stage.” I don’t know whether she made this up or got it somewhere else, but it worked its way into my brain and I find myself saying it like a mantra. Several times in the last few days, it’s saved me from an angst-iety attack when what my kids seem to be learning doesn’t fit my perception of what they should be learning.

Daughter is a reader, which is wonderful. However, oftentimes it seems to me that the only things she reads are Pokemon cards, Club Penguin chat, Neopets Magazine and restaurant menus. Sure, we go to two libraries every week and she brings home at least two cloth bags full of books, but I rarely see her read them. How in the world, I wonder, is this kid going to learn anything about history, science, math or literature? But, unschooling advocate that I am, I repeat my mantra while biting my tongue, and let her follow her interests.

A couple of days ago we’re buying drapes to darken my bedroom and she gives me a fifteen minute history of blackout curtains as they were used in England and the US during World War 2 with a side trip to discuss bomb shelters and the London Underground or tube stations. She says she read it in an American Girl book earlier this week. That night, we’re watching Jeopardy and she knows three questions that I didn’t know she knew. One was about Theodore Roosevelt having Booker T. Washington to lunch at the White House, one was about Abraham Lincoln’s son, Tad and the third was that “ferrous” means “containing iron.”

I don’t know why I’m surprised at this. Just yesterday, I finished reading “Shadows and Lies” by Marjorie Eccles, which taught me more about the Boer War and the Relief of Mafeking than I ever learned in school. Because I’ve been reading from 7-20 books a week for over fifty years, and because I have very eclectic taste in books, I’ve probably gotten about three college degrees’ worth of knowledge from reading. So why do I doubt that my kids can do the same thing?

Maybe it’s the same mindset that people have when they doubt that parents who have been educated in public schools can teach their children as well as public schools can. It’s always seemed like a silly argument to me. If I learned something well enough to pass it and graduate, why can’t I convey that knowledge to my kids? If my kids want to learn something, why can’t they find a resource where the knowledge is available – maybe with my help – and use it to study the subject?

I guess it comes down to a matter of trust. Public educators don’t trust parents to teach their kids, nor do they trust kids to be capable of learning through any agency other than teachers and textbooks. When I doubt that my kids can learn without my constant direction and correction, I’m falling into the same mindset as the people who believe that my kids can’t learn without school.

So thanks, Elisheva, for getting me back on track. Sometimes I forget why the unschooling/homeschooling community is so important to me both online and offline. Now, I think I’ll attempt that nap again while the boys are out flailing at each other with swords made of foam and duct tape. It’s such a waste of time and I’ll be so glad when they outgrow it and get interested in more worthwhile things like what they’re going to do with the rest of their lives, which is what they should be thinking about instead of playing… Oops, there I go again. Guide on the side. Guide on the side. Ommmmmm.


About Lill Hawkins

My two home schoolers have left the nest to pursue college, but that doesn't mean that Geekdaddy and I have sunk into boredom. He's still talking to his tomato plants and I'm still talking to people who wear wooden cups around their necks on a string and overhearing conversations that would make a sailor blush at restaurants. Thank goodness or what would I write about with the kids gone?
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