My Kids Don’t Go to School. Get Over it.

get-over-it-or-get-it-over

I’m considering using this as the title for the book I’m writing about unschooling. It came to me as we were travelling across France with our children so they could discover the origins of half their gene pool. This trip happened to coincide with “la rentrée,” that time of year when French parents, teachers, and government administrators place high hopes on children as they begin a new school year, armed with sharpened pencils, woolen sweaters and (admittedly) a lunch box worthy of a Michelin star.

Throughout our trip, our children were asked repeatedly why they weren’t in school. I at least admire that French adults target their questions directly at children and expect them to answer, rather than searching their parents faces accusingly. While it’s hard to summarize a life lived in intellectual freedom while ordering a cheese baguette at a roadside rest stop, my children’s answers were polite, succinct and honest.

“We are educated at home.”

“Yes, we learn in both french and English.”

“No, we don’t follow a curriculum.”

As the trip went on, however, and the questions kept coming, I noticed that my children’s answers became tinged with justification.

“We use a lot of internet learning resources.”

“We may go to school someday, who knows?”

“Well, we travel a lot, so homeschooling is really our only choice.”

What? My husband and I have always encouraged our children to speak for themselves about how they learn and why, because we feel they do a better job at it than we ever could. When they were much younger and I was the one faced with the questions, I was a defensive, bumbling mess because I always felt criticized. As I listened to the evolution in my children’s answers throughout our trip, I realised that they too were feeling judged and felt the need to justify their choices. Or worse, having doubts. If so many people were asking, maybe their choices were wrong or bad. Maybe they should be in school.

I was feeling it too. At one particular rest stop, as my son was helping a man with directions, tracing his finger along a huge plexiglass map, his wife kept looking suspiciously back and forth between my husband and I and the kids, as though there were a real possibility that we had abducted these children, forcefully taken them out of school and driven them across the South of France. What other explanation was there?

Although homeschooling is legal in France, it is rare, highly monitored and strictly controlled, therefore dissuaded. And while alternative schools such as Montessori are popping up like wildflowers in the garden of Versailles, they remain schools. Adult directed, institutionalized learning is still the norm and highly valued. So it isn’t surprising that people find it at best odd, and at worst unconscionable, that our children don’t go to school.

I don’t blame those asking the questions. We’re asked everywhere we go, in every country, by a wide variety of people. But I do find it sad that so few people are able to consider the learning value that comes with both daily living and exploration, be it discovering a foreign country, or visiting a local museum. Only one woman, of all the people we met, congratulated us. She was from Finland.

The idea that the only way for children to succeed in life is to spend their childhoods in a classroom is so ingrained in our collective conscience, that any other possibility is deemed threatening to our very social fabric. Compliance, competition and the dire importance placed on performance sends the message that doing well in school is no longer just about success, but survival. This notion is indeed something we need to get over, and quickly. I would have said so, but I couldn’t think of how to translate it in french. I’ll have to look it up.

Advertisements

16 thoughts on “My Kids Don’t Go to School. Get Over it.

  1. Sigh….
    Yes.
    The dreaded justifications. I understand the curiosity… but have zero patience for interrogation. I guess I have always wondered… ***WHY*** other people get so huffy about personal decisions that have nothing to do with them.

    IE: “Does my decision to educate my kids differently HURT you personally? Affect you in any way?? Affect or hurt YOUR kids in any way??… No? Then why-oh-why the indignant interrogation? Am I trying to FORCE you to educate your kids the way I educate mine? No? Then why-oh-why the bitter defensiveness? Do I attack and interrogate you for YOUR choices?? No? Then why do you feel somehow justified in attacking and interrogating me for mine??”…

    It’s one of those I-just-will-never-understand things.

    I will never-ever understand why some folk seem to find it… impossible… just to let others BE. It’s almost as though they feel they have some special mandate to “set-us-straight”… or correct us… or… I dunno…. something.

    It’s one of those flummoxing things that I strive (unsuccessfully) to understand….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As both a mainstream and Montessori qualified teacher having taught for 25 years I know the challenge both parents and teachers face in the system. It is not serving the future leaders and I know it has to change soon if education is to enable a societies that thinks creatively and peacefully.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Nikki, I really appreciate your comment. It’s always nice to have feedback from teachers. I appreciate your open outlook. I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for teachers today to navigate a broken system that so limits their ability to be creative in the classroom. Thanks for your input!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Homeschooling/Unschooling just fits! 😀 I am proud with you guys! Love the part of finding half the gene pool too. I think it is one of the most valuable resources in life, knowing who your people are and where you come from. Keep on keeping on, we are doing just that right here in our homelands.

    Like

  4. I feel the same about our unschooling choices. WHY do people think they can have an opinion on our family’s choices. It hasn’t happened in a while but maybe next time I will say in a polite tone…”We don’t answer personal questions about our family’s choices” OR, keep handing it back to them by repeating their question….”Oh, you’re curious about homeschooling/unschooling and you want to know how children do exams?” Just keep repeating it all back to them until finally, they realise they are not going to get your to justify your family’s life!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Greetings from a (muddy 😄) mountain in Bosnia! I’m originally from Finland, but now living here, and I too congratulate you! We’re on a similar path with our 2 and 5 year olds, already explaining what does it mean to unschool and will they ever learn anything (although our older can already form words in writing, not to mention many other things). Sometimes resulting into interesting conversations, but often also feeling interrogated and doubted…
    Just wanted to drop by, say ‘all you write sounds awesome!’, keep at it and enjoy the ride! 😊 And visit us in Bosnia, if you’re ever around! (Our inn http://www.vukovkonak.com)

    Like

  6. We’ll be going on a 2-months visit to Germany next year and I’m already looking forward to all those questions! 😛

    I usually answer the first 1-2 questions about our children’s education in a very vague way in order to find out if the person asking is really interested in learning about home education in general and unschooling in particular or if his or her mindset is just too fixed to even consider any alternatives to school.
    It usually goes more or less like this: “Which school do your children go to?” – “We are homeschoolers” – “Oh, so you teach them yourself?” – “No, not really, it’s more interest-led learning” … if they keep asking after this, they are often really interested to learn more about it.

    However I should add that where we are at the moment we mainly meet people without children or whose children are grown up already. My personal theory is that a lot of parents whose children currently go to traditional school do not allow themselves (consciously or unconsciously) to take a positive view on self-directed education because it so radically questions everything that they have been taught to believe to be the best or even only possible way to prepare their children for a successful future.
    Honestly, how many children do really enjoy going to school? How many families do not have to struggle with arguments about homework, getting up in the morning, problems with teachers or other students, bad grades, deadlines, failed tests etc. on a weekly or even daily basis? To acknowledge the value of unschooling or even just to tolerate its existence might lead those parents to fully realize the absurdity, pain and false promises of the standardized education system. I guess it might be just too much for them to take…
    Maybe in the end it’s not even that much about the social fabric but about the emotions that might arise within those parents and about denial as a means of self-protection. For people without children this might be also true in relation to their own childhood experiences.

    Another way to phrase unschooling might be this:
    “Our children follow a personalized multi-lingual curriculum based on traditional learning methods, a practical approach and advanced technology.” 🙂

    Ellen, do you know the documentary film Being And Becoming directed by Clara Bellar? It’s a beautiful film and it’s a great contribution to make unschooling more known in France (and for example Germany as well). http://etreetdevenir.com/EED.fr.html

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Nina, I’m laughing because your question scenario is exactly how ours unfolds nine times out of ten! It seems that people can swallow the idea of being educated at home when they believe it translates to following the same curriculum taught at school. Without fail, mothers always say to me, “So you’re the teacher? I could never do that.” When I tell them that we don’t follow a curriculum and that what my children learn is up to them, their faces kind of screw up and their tongues get tied! I LOVE your unschooling explanation! I’m going to memorise it and use it from now on! I may quote it in my book, with your permission of course. You’re absolutely right about the self-protection mechanism that kicks in with people who have been traditionally schooled or have children in school. It’s a tough battle to erase all those societal “should” tapes that play over and over in our heads. I haven’t watched Being and Becoming yet, but I saw a preview and posted it on the muddy life FB page a couple of weeks ago. I can’t wait to see it. Have a wonderful trip to Germany. You’re well-equipped to handle those questions my dear!

      Like

      • Thanks! I just sent you an email… Please keep on writing those great posts and enjoying the unschooling adventure with your family! 🙂

        Like

  7. We’re starting to get the same questions about homeschooling as well. Like you, I appreciate that people are talking to my kid, instead of me. Even when the topic’s not homeschooling, I’ll redirect kid questions to the kid in question when they come up 🙂 What I’m not enjoying are the looks on people’s faces as they find out my daughter is homeschooled. Since they’re directed at my daughter, they seem particularly unpleasant. Fortunately, she’s ignored them all so far. I’m not sure if it’s because she’s fiercely independent, and was encouraged to make her own decision about public/home schooling, or if it’s because she’s mostly only been exposed to people who think the world of her, and has not context to interpret their facial expressions with.

    Like

    • Hi again, yes, those looks can be really awful and condescending. My kids pretty much ignore the looks and comments, or change the subject if they’re not respectfully phrased, which is actually a good habit in general. Keep exposing your daughter to people who think the world of her and she’ll have the confidence to deal with the people who don’t. I like to think that if one out of every 20 people who ask questions about homeschooling really listens and maybe even questions prevailing ideas about education, then it’s worth it.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s