Wednesday, August 24, 2011

An Idealistic Control Freak Considers Unschooling

Image credit bjmcdonald on Flickr

I have always thought that those personality quizzes from magazines and Facebook are fun.  I've always considered myself to be a self-absorbed, navel-gazing perfectionist who takes herself far too seriously um, self-aware.  The results for me seem to fluctuate a bit depending on the test/my mood, but there are a couple of constants: I am an extreme introvert, and an idealist.  When I was younger, the introvert part caused some anguish, but I have pretty much made peace with that.  Now it is the idealist part that I struggle with.  It is extremely important to me to be authentic and consistent, and it really bothers me when my life and my beliefs don't mesh as well as I would like.

Like Jacob, I wrestle and wrestle and refuse to let go of it, even when I don't seem to be getting anywhere.  This school year is resurrecting all my issues regarding unschooling, and I have been a total grouch.  Not only have the kids been responding to my lack of peace, but also to my lack of boundaries.  When I am uncertain about where I stand, they have a knack for pushing on that very spot until I come to clarity.  In other words, we have been butting heads a lot over school work.

I am really drawn in my heart to unschooling.  Deep down, it is what I believe.  Or at least, what I want to believe. We pretty much have done that up until now.  But now I am homeschooling two kids, and the oldest is in second grade.  We should be taking this seriously! (said in my sternest voice).  I am a college instructor, and spent five years teaching K-12.  Even though my experience lines up with unschooling, my programming doesn't.  I am afraid.

I have always thought that fear was a terrible reason to homeschool.  I pitied the children whose parents homeschooled them out of fear of contamination by the big, bad evil world.  But now my choices regarding their education seem to be just as fear-based (and just as inaccurate).  On days when they happily dive into new material, I rejoice.  Yesterday, I read two chapters of a fabulous thriller written by my seven year old.  Her story was remarkable.  Visions of a future where she was being published danced in my head.  I listened to my five year old happily count by odd then even numbers, fives, tens and hundreds, and smiled smugly to myself.  It was working!  Then, today, when they wanted to spend all day playing computer games, I felt like a failure.

My children taught me to trust their bodies and mine with breastfeeding.  They taught me to trust the process of birth.  They have been teaching me to trust their hearts and desire to grow and treat others well as I discipline them.  And, slowly but surely, they are teaching me to trust their desire to learn.  But I am not quite there yet.  I freak out inwardly.  I feel inadequate to provide the kind of environment and support that will really allow them to excel.  And, I'll be honest--my pride trembles and quakes lest they seem to be lacking in things that other kids their age are being taught, even if the actual content is irrelevant. 

So, what is an idealistic control freak to do? 

I don't know yet.  But I am slowly realizing that it doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing approach.  Kids in public school are not motivated to study academics all day every day.  Expecting it from my own children seems a tad unreasonable.  But, they are far more motivated than many of us have been trained to believe.  

It is easy for me to shake my head at the one-size-fits-all mentality in obstetrics, in vaccinations, in sleep issues and breastfeeding, and even education, as long as it is abstract.  But in real life?  With a toddler and three year old who make any kind of schoolwork with the older two a challenge?

I am trying to find the balance between backing off and supporting them, and nudging and leading them into things that they might enjoy and profit from tremendously, if they only had more exposure to them.  Maybe one day I will wake up and realize that there really isn't a conflict at all.  Maybe I will grow in trust.  Maybe I will see that it isn't working and that we need something far more structured.  I don't know yet.  I just know that I am learning and stretching and growing right along with them, and that this whole parenting gig is really tough, as well as full of unspeakable joy.

I will keep you updated as I process through this, and I welcome your input!  Now, I am off to examine my belly-button lint in microscopic detail...


Heather said...

We have all been there (over on we call it "homeschool freakouts".) It takes a long time to stop worrying about what everyone else thinks and what we were taught (just like it does with every other aspect of parenting that we choose to change from how we were raised.) In unschooling it is called "deschooling" and is a very real process. Seeing the value in everything is key, and it takes practice to "see". Recognizing your own urge to be in charge is the start... and if you can do it with breast feeding and everything else then you can do it with education...really. Mine are 9, 11, and 13 and are well rounded individuals who have very definite areas of gifting and other areas where they struggle-- just like everyone else. And just like their schooled counterparts they have things they know a ton about and other things they know little about but once the interest balls starts rolling they pick up all sorts of interesting tidbits that I never thought they would willingly learn. And those days spent obsessed with the computer? My husband spent ALL his free time on the computer growing up (was in sp. ed. at PS)and is now a well known and loved video game pundit who is not only writing a novel but also writing a game engine... so all that time on the computer not only taught him how to spell despite his dyslexia (gotta love spell checker)but also fed his love of programming (taught himself) and gave him the confidence to do what he is passionate about.

dulce de leche said...

Heather, thank you so, so much! That was exactly what I needed to read right now. <3 <3 <3 I appreciate you taking the time to share and encourage!

Leslie said...

I am the exact same way with homeschooling as you!!! I could completely relate to this post 100%. I'm in the exact same process. So, I don't have any encouragement or advice - just another mom on the same journey, appreciating hearing another mom's heart!

Aadel said...


I am not a perfectionist- but I can understand the control issue.

It takes trust- in yourself, in your children, in the nature of learning, in God.

It takes time- Time to re-learn old habits, time to change worldviews, time to see fruit.

It takes honesty- looking at the situation and being honest about where you are, where you were, and where you can go.

Join us on the journey! (and welcome to Christian Unschoolers!)

mamapoekie said...

The unschooling handbook has a term for this, but it slipped my mind.
I feel like you already know about all the issues here, but let me sum them up for you: In the western world, we are taught to distrust and be wary of life. That causes fear. An obsession towards control is just that: fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of what is outside of us.
You cannot and should not control your children, that would be negative for everybody's mental and physical health.
Trust them, accept what comes, surrender!
Video games teach them oodles of stuff they won't get out of academic books :)
Hugs and blessings on your journey.
Just let go

Michelle in Mx said...

I'm on the journey with you. Plus my seven year old has learning disabilities - and I realized that you take her into unschooling and "learning disabilities" all disappear and it just because a learning style! :-)

Rae said...

we are just beginning to homeschool my son who is 5 this fall. i wonder daily if we are making the right decision. i myself like structure and will certainly be a challenge and i hope we can provide him with a great academic environment at home. i think it is natural to question our decisions as parents. all the best to you in your journey.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing your journey...I am exactly where you are now, and I'm so encouraged to know I'm not alone.

dulce de leche said...

Thank you all so much for the encouragement and wisdom. <3. It means so very much. <3 <3 <3

Maria said...

I'm not sure I have much encouragement, because I am right there with you right now. Technically TB is preschool aged, yet he reads at the first grade level and is progressing daily. We didn't push him. One day he started sounding out words on signs, then at the grocers, everywhere we went, and finally in books. We supply him with books he is interested in (thank God for the library or I'd be broke!). My concern is more in what happens if we decide next year to really send him to public school or even private school Kindergarten and he is already ahead and doing first grade or higher level work? needless to say, I've been having some major panic attacks lately related to his schooling future. As an only child, I think there are some real benefits for him attending school, yet I am convinced (and yes, afraid) that he would struggle, not from being behind, but rather ahead.

I've blabbered far too long. Mostly, I am there with you. I need to let go of control (my husband is staying home, not me), encourage TB to learn on his pace/in his way, and be his advocate when the time comes. Maybe our homeschool pre-K year will be the revelation that homeschool is the right thing for our son. Maybe not.

Lauren said...

We've discovered ourselves on a natural path of progressive steps in unschooling. However, they weren't borne from an educational desire for our children — they came as we really, truly, madly sought God and to exhibit Christ for them.
We've been learning that as we love as Christ, as we serve as Christ, as we live as Christ, we become natural, righteous, radical unschoolers.
So I would encourage you to just seek to bring God's kingdom here to Earth now. Everything else will fall into place!