A Paper for submission to Taking Children Seriously, a website.
|The View From Below
What it's like to grow up the child of normal parents and at the direction of public schools.
I am now 19 years old. Whether it be through dint of my personality or tenacity, or something else, my mind survived twelve years of schooling and a year of preschool unscathed enough to adapt quickly to the practices of unschooling. I remember vividly the actions of my childhood, but see these memories with the clarity of maturity. From this I gain a very unique perspective.
Many parents wonder, when they encounter unschooling, whether or not it is a good decision. I have read the reassurances of the founders and supporters, but I feel they are not enough. I can't provide an account of the wonder of a childhood under unschooling. What I can provide is an account of what normal life is like, and how much better unschooling would have made it.
I was a violent child. I was released from a Montessori school for it, "released" being their word for getting kicked out. My parents tried everything they could read about or think of. I remember my reasons well: I was often bored, and fights were exciting. It's the same reason I liked to throw rocks, salt slugs, and play in the water: I did something and there was an immediate effect that I knew I caused. I was stubborn, too. I always loved the snow, but I hated cleaning up toys. Why put away what I was going to play with the next time I saw it? One day in winter, it had snowed for several days, and I was ecstatic. My parents told me I had to clean up my toys before I played in the snow. My plan was to play in the snow, then come back and play with the toys again. I was so set in my plan that I didn't play in the snow that day in defiance of having to pick up my toys.
When I was in kindergarten, my teacher was surprised at my vocabulary. She was more surprised that I hated the work. She knew I loved to learn because I would devour the children's books given to me and I was fascinated by all sorts of games and their rules. I remember being told I had to make three full lines of the letter "A" before i could go to recess. I put one incredibly long "A" on each line and dashed out. I knew what an "A" was, why should I have to do it over and over again? "You just have to" was the reply.
In second grade I fell in love with writing. I loved it. I put scribbles on paper, and stories formed, stories that moved and ended like I wanted them to. I learned math then, too, but I no longer remember the experience. My life was writing. In third grade there was a lot less writing and a lot more math. I can see now that I pushed the negative feelings of not having writing assignments on to math, but then I was confused. All I knew was that the fun was over, and this new, notfun thing had replaced it. I had and still have an aptitude for math, but I still hate doing it, too. That's how powerful imprinting is in our childhoods.
A number of memories from the next few years are hazy to me. Classes and teachers meld together. humorously, I blame the reduction in recess time, but really I think it was the change in my classmates. they weren't cheerful jokers anymore, they were all...boring. The classes were getting boring, too. there were fewer creative assignments and more memorization, and we were all expected to behave the same. I remember being scolded for finishing assignments too quickly and for correcting the book. I discovered a faster way to do long division than the book, and was told that I couldn't do it that way and I wouldn't get credit if I used it on an assignment. I used it in math classes in later years to great effect. another time I was scolded for reading ahead in the book. I was told to sit quietly, a feat difficult for an average child nd near impossible for one so animated as myself. I was sent to the principal's for disrupting class. What I describe here shouldn't happen. If a child wants to learn, the worst thing you can say to them is that they can't learn it yet. The problem is that this happens all the time.
In middle school I really think a certain amount of brainwashing occurred. I passed classes, but I can't remember anything I learned in them. Not even the slightest inkling of a fact. I remember bringing a Stan Freeberg CD into history class, I remember a student in my English class accidentally using the F-word in jest, I remember that my Health teacher was very overweight. I don't remember learning.
I went to the normal high school for two years. I remember two classes well: French and Science Fiction. My French Teacher was actually French, and he was very witty. He told us stories in French about a monkey named Monsieur Mousse. The English equivalent of the name is "Fluffy". He provided no English version; we were simply told the story in French and if we had been paying attention, it would make sense. I had a wonderful time decoding the stories. He also had a number of books in French I spent some time reading "Asterix and Obelix", a comic. The books in his room also spurred me on to learn Latin on my own time. I still can't speak the language, but I can read some of it. I've never heard it spoken.
My Sci-Fi class was actually a Junior-senior class that I happened to get stuck in. It was almost all creative writing, and the final report required me to create an entire universe, plus write a short story or chapter to go along with it. I declined a partner and wrote a chapter, designed a history, figured a timeline, and drew some spaceships and species. It was the most fun I had ever had in school. it was also one of the hardest assignments I have ever had.
My experience in Sci-Fi renewed my interest in space. I was old enough to realize that Math was not evil per se, and I wanted to know more about the field of astrophysics. I asked my dad to introduce me to some of the physicists he met while attending college. he refused, saying I wasn't old enough. After a few months my interest faded.
I voluntarily attended the local alternative school until the end of my education. Every year I went, I worked with the teachers to modify my classes to include the greatest amount of writing possible. I missed a few classes in my blind enjoyment of writing, and enrolled at a technical high school also. I took Autocad and later, Robotics. I did well in both. I spent much of my free time learning about educational alternatives, and for a short while, I asked people's opinions. I stopped very quickly when every single person around me said that if I were to not graduate high school with a regular diploma, or if I were to not attend a prestigious college, I would die penniless in the street somewhere. Never mind that I had held jobs before and had a half-dozen letters of recommendation, or that I knew Autocad, a skill so in demand currently that companies have hired convicted felons. Nevermind that I had moved out and was living comfortably with unstable income that totalled less than minimum wage.
I can see where I would have done things differently than my parents and teachers. I can see where I would have changed nothing. I can see now, from where I am in my life, that a diploma is not the only thing that matters. It can be important, but It's not necessary. The jobs at which I have worked have never hired me for my education. Every last one hired me because I am a hard worker, and learn quickly with great gusto. They hired me because I don't think like everyone else, and because I am knowledgeable in many topics not covered in school. These are the skills and assets needed for the rest of my life, for any child's life. I still don't know what a predicate is, and I have doubts about whether or not I can still do long division without a calculator. None of that matters. I am who I am, not a product of the schools, and that's why I live comfortably at 19.