Wednesday, August 11, 2010
It's that time of year again, folks
Nothing reminds me how different our lives are from most of the world than back to school season. August comes and people who were previously enjoying trips and camping and playing with their kids suddenly turn their attention to school. Lives are taken over by shopping and school supplies and teachers and schedules and school buses. Even among my friends who homeschool, I'm often the odd man out as talk begins to take a rapid turn to curriculum and lesson plans and co-ops.
Summer's over, time to start learning!
The whole wave of back-to-school mania that is engulfing most of the country makes me feel a lot of different emotions, not the least of which is gratitude.
Gratitude that we have the freedom to opt out
Gratitude that we chose something else
Gratitude that the kids are happy and learning and loving the life they lead
Along with that gratitude though comes.... confusion. I'm perplexed. Maybe it's because we've been living without school for so long, or maybe it's just the way I'm wired, but I honestly have a hard time understanding the concept of learning as something that is done at a certain time in a certain place. Just as John Holt says, "It's a nutty notion that we can have a place where nothing but learning happens, cut off from the rest of life."
This is what I remember about going back to school every fall: I remember being excited about getting new clothes. I remember the painstaking process of picking out the right Trapper Keeper (note to self: see if they still sell Trapper Keepers). I remember the anxious curiosity that came with checking out how much kids had changed - or not - over the summer. I remember stressing out over which teachers I would get, who I'd end up sitting next to in home room, and whether or not I'd have friends to eat with at lunch. I remember being bummed that I'd have less time to read, to write stories, to draw pictures, to daydream.
Not once, in all my years of going back to school, do I remember ever thinking, "I wonder what cool things I'm going to learn this year." **
**I did, in all fairness, have a few excellent teachers who taught outside the box, helped me to learn some interesting things, and to whom I'll forever be grateful. But what does it say about my schooling experience that I can count on one hand the number of teachers - in TWELVE years - that made a difference in my life? And, what does it say about the way school is structured that in the vast majority of cases, the real lessons I learned from those particular teachers were not generally lessons that pertained to the subjects they were teaching?**
In our family, fall means baseball starts up again. Fall means it starts to cool off and we can venture outside more often. Fall means most of the world is back in school so we have our playgrounds, libraries and museums back to ourselves again. Fall does not mean it's time to start learning, because we never stopped.
I remember several years ago an extended family member asked me if we followed the school year or if we schooled year round. I tried to explain to her that we don't separate learning from living. I tried to tell her that we answer questions and provide support and materials and interesting things to do and places to go and people to meet, but that the learning is up to the kids. I told her that we believe in honoring them as individuals, and trusting that they are the best ones to know what they need to learn when. And how. And why. I thought I was so eloquent. Feeling proud of myself and quite certain that I'd gotten my point across, I paused. She just looked at me and said, "But do you do it year round?"
She truly did not understand. As bizarre as the notion of school is to me, so was the notion of life learning to her. And that just makes me sad. Sad because it's the way most people think: school is for learning; summer vacation is a break from learning. And the truth is, forced "learning" isn't really learning at all. Memorizing facts long enough to repeat them back for a test is not learning. Albert Einstein once said, "Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school."
So many people talk about school as something that prepares kids for "real life." But guess what? Real life is not separated into subjects. Real life does not require that you spend 7 hours a day in a classroom segregated by age or ability, and real life does not dictate what you can and cannot learn, study, or explore in your own time.
We live our lives. And we learn. And yes, we do it year-round.
"True learning-learning that is permanent and useful,that leads to intelligent action and further learning, can arise only out of the experience, interest, and concerns of the learner" ~John Holt