"Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

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


Sierra Mama said...

I was in target last week with Trevor and I saw Trapper Keepers (on the way to the Bionicles, lol). So funny that you mentioned them because I was floored that they still had them, LOL

Joie said...

Great post. We learn the same way your family does.
It is so sad for me to see everyone talking about going back to school, something tugs at my heart and I silently mourn for the poor children that are subjected to the schools.
On the last day of school in our district, my kids and I watched from our backyard as the elementary school let out and joined in the cheers we were hearing from the kiddos over the fence. Seems like just yesterday we did that!

Sparkling Adventures said...

I agree — yawn — many posts are just another back-to-school hype-up for schoolers and homeschoolers.

Whoops -- where did the summer go? We'd better get those kids learnin' again!

Living in freedom — what a privilege. On my husband's prompting (gasp!), we are experimenting living without clocks. On a practical level, I did some handiwork and asked him how long the silicone needed to dry before I painted it. He replied "two hours", and then corrected himself -- "When you can touch it and it's dry..." was his final response.

JoAnn said...

Great post. How have I missed this blog of yours?? We've been FB friends for a while now and I just missed it. Glad to subscribe now.

redrockmama said...

The commercials on tv are the thing that annoy me most. They glamorize school and that is not at all what it's like!

You know we use curriculum...but, that's the beauty and freedom of keeping your kids home - following each child's needs and wants...and also the freedom to do what each of us (as parents) feels right to do.

That Crazy Family said...

Ooooh I am so blessed by your blog! It is so sad to be surrounded by mothers that get excited over sending the children away. I like Joie mentioned, mourn for those poor children!

Amy D said...

Then there are those parents who do send their kids to public school but learning doesn't stop for them. They also teach at home. :)

Faux Hammer said...

We are just beginning to ponder homeschooling for our kids...I am often inspired by what I read in your blog when you discuss unschooling/homeschooling. Our son is 4 so we have about 2 years to decide and figure out if we'll send him to kindergarten or just continue life learning at home. It's overwhelming about where to start, but it makes so much sense to me to not lock kids up in classrooms all day. I still remember sitting in classes at various ages feeling so aggravated while I waited through classroom management/control. What a waste of time. For me it wasn't trapper keepers, but I do remember the excitement about the fresh boxes of crayons each fall and smell of a new vinyl pencil case.

Faux Hammer said...

oops, that last one ("fauxhammer") is not the guy pictured, it's wifey Annie. :)

Guggie Daly said...

Literally, today, I was in Target, casting a forlorn look at the school supply area and feeling grumpy about it.


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