Monday, September 24, 2007

Letter to a wonderful and concerned friend

Following is a letter to a really great friend who was wondering why I had quit 2 weeks into using a free virtual academy which utilizes the K12 curriculum. Hey, I know it's not very unschooly of me, but I thought we'd be able to use it more the way we wanted...WRONG! Anyway, this friend of mine was worried that I lacked discipline in teaching and that my daughter lacked discipline in learning. My friend was not judging at all, just concerned. Here is my response:

Lisa,

First, let me say that I totally adore you. And I love that you are concerned. But don't worry, you don't have to be. This k12 thing was new for me. The last time I did a structured curriculum like this was when Andrew was 7, and in first grade. We almost left the planet in a double suicide it was so horrible. :-) I have always been opposite of the type of homeschooler who feels they need to reproduce school at home. I'm the kind that is referred to in homeschooling lingo as an more of an 'unschooler'. Unschoolers take the position that humans were created to learn. It's what we do. As a result, one no more needs a pre-packaged, arbitrarily designed curriculum to learn the "three R's", than one would need a curriculum to teach them how to walk or talk.

Look at infants/toddlers there is no stopping their learning. They literally "live to investigate" the world around them. This never stops for human beings...never. However, people start to assume that kids don't like to learn because around the time kids have been in school a few years, many start to say they don't like school or learning because it's boring. I don't think learning should ever be boring, but let's face it, in school, it can't get boring and seem pointless.

So I ,and thousands of other homeschoolers like me, use our children's interests to help them learn the basics and beyond. Instead of bending my child to be interested in the history of Rome (k12) , at 7 years old, I read to her stories about princesses, because she wants to hear those stories, and she then learns about medieval history. It doesn't matter that she doesn't learn things chronologically in much of any subject except for maybe math, because it builds on itself.

I believe a person's desperate desire to know and to learn is completely different from the idea of education. Learning is what we all do. Education, the way people refer to it, is something that you get or is given to you. It may be semantics but I think it's very true. Everything in school that I truly learned, I learned because I wanted to know it, not because someone was teaching it to me. How do I know? Because there is so much stuff I conveniently forgot from school. I forgot it because I didn't care, it was not useful to me. I might have retained it long enough to regurgitate it on a test, so what, I still did not learn it. So, I want my kids to really learn things. I want them to really love learning things. I want them to know that learning things really isn't hard. Because when you love something so much that you want to know it you *will* do whatever it takes to master that subject.

When you used the word discipline, which has many meanings, the only meaning it has for me is: to train by instruction or exercise (Dictionary.com). Autumn is most definitely disciplined. There are things she is not allowed to do and there are things we, by example (first) and word (second) try and help her understand is the way to go. But as far as academics go, that is mostly up to her and when she is ready, because she will not learn what she doesn't care about or is not ready for. Heck, I won't learn what I don't care about...I never have. You know the old saying, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink"? Well my saying is, "You can lead a child to schoolwork, but you can't make him think." When it comes to embracing hardships and the tough stuff that inevitably comes with life, I really tend to think it is more faith and discipleship to Christ that gets us through those times, and less discipline. Those things are really lived more than they are taught. I had to live through my mother's death. I didn't take a course on it...know what I mean?

If I were to say that there is something I actually "teach" Autumn, it is about our faith. However, because Autumn sees that being Catholic is a huge thing for our whole family, she WANTS to know about it. She is learning to read now, because she really WANTS to know how to do it. She likes to work on things in her math book because she is interested in math. And she really loves science. So, as an unschooling kind of homeschooler I make sure I have all sorts of stuff around and do things with her that she's really into and then her retention just blows me away.

Below is an excerpt from a note I sent to another K12er doing the Virtual Academy, this is what I wrote to her (maybe it will help explain better where I am coming from):

..... Actually, I am feeling relieved about the Virtual Academy. We are very much relaxed homeschoolers...kinda unschooly, the most formal I get is religious ed. I love CHC stuff for that. Since K12, in all it's advertising stressed the "go at your own pace", I figured we would, since our pace is a turtles pace. :-) However, K12,(as you know) really does have schedules and targeted times for completing the year's work. At the rate Autumn was going it would have been January 2009 by the time we were done. :-) She really LOVES the science tho.

Our oldest, Andrew (now a senior in public high school), was barely formally taught much academically, until he started 9th grade at school. He is not a genius and we didn't do anything special. We just let him guide his own academic education, although we did alot of the guiding of his moral/religious education. Anyway, after the initial cultureshock of 9th grade in public school he has consistently stayed on the honor roll, with no pressure from us. This was a kid who's idea of reading was Calvin and Hobbes and his writing was his own comic book series. I never tested him, I never graded him, I didn't 'make him do school'. He did have chores, and church etc...but his education was his own. I helped facilitate it, not force it.

Now he is taking college level English and is great at math, though he doesn't like math. He loves economics, history, and literature...though he still doesn't read for pleasure. He has excelled in the media/film department (which will be his major in college...so it makes sense). For us, and it doesn't work for everyone, we started to realize (early on) that the more I tried to teach things to Andrew (ie: coerce him to learn some arbitrary subject) the less he was interested in learning anything, but the more he pursued knowledge for it's own sake ( because he was interested or passionate about a subject) the more he learned. Learning things had to be Andrew's choice or it just bounced out of his head. Highschool was Andrew's choice, not ours. So, since he chose it, he realized he needed to do well, for himself, and no one else. Anyway, that is a brief synopsis of how we homeschool. It is mostly child-led. And to be perfectly honest, even most grown ups don't like being taught something unless they have first chosen to learn it.

I read to Autumn and Ben all the time, right now they are into Spiderwyck. I read to Andrew as well, long after he knew how to read. We have lots of discussions about things as family. Just through growing up and wanting to do what grown ups do, did Andrew (as Autumn and Ben are now) learn the things they need to know to be grown ups in the world. No one's education is perfect, everyone has holes. To instill a lifetime love of learning is what I want my kids to have....whether we use a curriculum or just life.....


So, my sweet adorable friend, Autumn's gonna be fine and I'm gonna be fine. You and I both know that life throws enough shit at us that God will be given the opportunity to mold us to His will....if we let Him. That is the most important thing I could ever possibly teach my children: to be faithful to Christ and His Church and to strive always to do His Will. I want Heaven not Harvard for my kids. And if you think about it God molds us to His will lovingly and when we are ready. How long did He want me to be Catholic? How long He waited. But God gave me the time I needed to figure it out...and that is that same thing I am doing for my kids.

Thank you for loving me the way you do. I love you too!!! See ya tomorrow when you pick up Tumnal.

Love,
Rach

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