I’ve been unschooling myself ever since I finished my masters degree 8 years ago.
It wasn’t on purpose. I didn’t know it. I didn’t even have a word for it until this year. But I’ve had to, in order to find my way. Let me explain.
We all joke about how school didn’t teach us enough about life. My college prep high school didn’t allow time for home economics or even an official driving course. We also didn’t learn anything about budgeting or parenting. But I think we’ve all accepted that school focused on reading, writing, math, science, history, etc.
So like everyone else I know, I’ve been slowly teaching myself over the last decade (since getting married) to cook, to budget, and then to parent, etc.
Along the way I began to explore all kinds of fun, practical and previously unknown worlds – such as gardening and painting. Additionally my husband introduced me to carpentry, web coding, and adventurous activities such as hiking, camping, and sailing.
But then my journey went deeper when my big kids started grade school and I began to think about homeschooling them. So I began to look around and read books that come up in search results when you look for information on homeschooling. Some of those books are focused on the affects of public school.
The big surprise was how much reading this material helped me to understand myself — as a highly educated, thoroughly schooled individual. After K-12, college, and 3 1/2 years of grad school, when I was 26 and pregnant with my first kid, I had spent 20 1/2 years in school.
And I had become a person who valued achievement above all else and was conditioned to be obedient and follow all the rules, to do what was expected of me and meet everyone’s expectations in checklist fashion, to dutifully stay in my box and be content with what I had, to be smart but not innovative, to follow and not lead.
Maybe I’ll get better at explaining this, but I’ve got to start somewhere. I found a book by John Taylor Gatto, a retired schoolteacher, and in it he talked about how some of the fundamental goals of the way public school is designed were mindless obedience, self-alienation, separation from family influence, and to value arbitrary performance goals in the form of grades.
I really really love both my boys’ teachers this year, but I’m disturbed by how often the communication from them is to make sure the kids sleep and eat well for a test the next day, or a request to reinforce the importance of accruing points to make the end of the month classroom goal. My kindergartner gets points in an app on a daily basis for various types of positive behavior, and can lose points in the same fashion.
My second grader came home a few weeks ago proudly bringing me his report card of all A’s, and to me his pride was disproportionate to the occasion. I was proud of him too, but he was pleased with his success as if he was succeeding in ‘the most important thing’. It made me think of several other things that he is wonderful at, that I need to affirm and stress to him the significance of those successes too. He is the type to do well in school, the type that becomes the teacher’s pet. Two years in a row he has been Student of the Month in October, the first month in which the award is given. He is so conscientious I want him to learn to not take himself quite so seriously.
He is me. We joke that he has my temperament, and his brother has my husband’s – but it’s true.
And now that I see my journey, I see where my firstborn is headed.
My biggest internal stumbling block for years was perfectionism. Every time someone criticized one thing I did, I agonized over how to avoid such a mistake in the future. My goal was always perfection. Maybe because for years of school I excelled in being perfect. Tons of A+s and 100%s, often on my first draft.
I spent my formative and post-formative years in a classroom, learning to follow arbitrary rules and do the checklist that would get me a good grade. And then a few weeks ago I read Awaken the Giant Within, by Tony Robbins, and in one chapter he talks about Life Metaphors, about how you should realize what life metaphors you are living by and change them if they don’t give you the vocabulary, mindset and mentality that you want in life.
Do you know what I scribbled in all caps on an entire page in my notebook?
LIFE IS NOT A CLASSROOM
I’ve spent my last 8 years realizing that life is not a classroom, and this one insight in this book allowed me to finally break free and embrace a new metaphor(s) for my life. Something like life is an adventure, or a gift, or a journey.
Life is not a classroom.
Rules, checklists, grades, points. This is not the stuff life is made of. Life is about relationships, about people. Taking chances, making mistakes, getting messy (Magic School Bus reference lol) – learning to fail is as important as learning to succeed.
You know what? So is knowing who you are and why you do what you do.
This comes back full circle to the assertion that an inherent goal of the fundamental design structure underlying school is self-alienation. When I read that sentence last year it was like it hit me in the chest.
When you learn to accept arbitrary rules and to live a life of mindless obedience, you give up on knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing, and you quiet your internal voice of reason and passion.
Then you medicate with food and technology, and can’t live life according to your core values.
I read another book by Britton LaTulippe. I didn’t agree with everything he said, but one thing really resonated. He made the argument that school is designed to turn both boys and girls into productive workers who value being part of the workforce, and to encourage them to wait longer to have kids, because kids break the spell of school.
Oh my word, it’s so true. You’re humming along in your designated swim lane and then you have kids and it awakens this desire in you to be more, to be enough, to give to them out of all you have to give… I can’t even explain it. But all the parents out there know what I’m talking about. It puts you in touch with your inner self, I think because it is possibly the most profound experience that we have in life.
So my husband has always been a rebel at heart. He loves to think outside the box, color outside the lines, drive offroad, explore off the beaten path, and sees rules as more of a ‘suggestion’. I heard somewhere that often we are drawn to marry someone who has qualities that we aspire to, and that as the relationship matures and as we mature, we must come to internalize those qualities too or we will resent the other person. I thought that was intriguing, and I can see how my husband’s rebel nature appealed to me, and how together we have successfully brought me more to the middle, more to a place of balance and self-awareness, and the ability to fail and move on, to mess up and not take it personally, not act as if one mistake can put my identity and value in jeopardy, and to instead view life as full of possibliity, as an open canvas instead of a quiz.
What is my point? I have two reasons for sharing this. The first is because I have new thoughts to share with you that will build on these things (I’m so excited to share what I’m reading now! stay tuned), and the second is this truth:
School did not help you become a leader, and it will not help your children become leaders either.
This journey of leadership is one that we must initiate and own as something valuable that we as parents must steward. Qualities to be cultivated in the home and passed on from us as parents to our children.
My point is not that everyone should homeschool. We don’t yet, although we might.
My goal is to share my journey, to help you understand your journey, and to find together what motherhood means for us today.
I believe that for those of us who went to public school we need to understand how that affected us. Statistically the vast majority of us will not homeschool, and we need to understand which parts of our kids’ education about life we should not delegate to schools, and not assume they will teach them correctly what to learn and what to value. For those who choose to homeschool, they should explore the nuance between school, education, and learning, and understand the psychology behind their methods, mindset, and chosen curriculum.
So when I say that I am unschooling myself, I mean that I am unlearning and relearning fundamental truths about life, that I accidentally learned while getting an education in math, science, history, etc. I want to urge you to join me on this journey, but you must understand the true nature of it. When it comes to life values that school innately misdelivers on, I believe that homeschooling does not guarantee success, and neither does going to public school predestine failure. Just to clarify, if I homeschool my kids it will be because that matches up with my values for who I am and how I want to spend my time, not because I believe I must homeschool them in order for them to escape x, y, z characteristics that I learned in school.
As parents we must model and teach leadership and authentic life values and habits to our kids. I believe our generation will be the one to learn this lesson, and that in understanding the role of school we can take back control of the messages our kids truly internalize about life in their formative years.
I feel like apologizing that all of that was so heavy, but I’m about to share about some books and insights that have completely changed my life, and it won’t have its full significance without some context about my journey.
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