It wasn’t my idea to not school our kids. When it came time to enrol Iris in kindergarten, Sheila simply couldn’t do it. She checked out all of the local schools, but homeschooling seemed right to her. I was Sheila’s sounding board, but I was too buried in “The Machine” to understand the shape of an average day at home. So I supported her choice, and six years later we have no intention of changing course (no pun intended).
Some would call our approach to education, or lack thereof, “unschooling.” Others, those who see unschooling as a pure, clearly defined approach, would call us out for using that term since we register our kids in a Distributed Learning program run by our local school board. We try not to categorize what we do. We’re simply living our lives and trying to help our children follow their ever-changing dreams. It bothers me that people have to fight about terminology, and it amuses me when people become dogmatic about being anti-dogmatic (e.g. those who become territorial about a word like “unschooling”).
When asked about our approach to education, I usually tell people that we homeschool our kids. It’s easier than explaining the seemingly random busyness of our lives, and the way in which our children absorb information that matters to them despite our lack of curriculum. I believe that most people, when they hear the term “homeschool,” envision mornings spent at the kitchen table teaching the three R’s (Reading, Writing and… huh?!). While I respect that many of our friends actually do this, it isn’t how the Clan Cameron rolls. Sure, as the kids get older we may add more structure… and we do keep an eye on long-term goals… but we’re in no rush to push credentials over natural learning.
Education has its place. I wouldn’t want to have an operation without knowing that my surgeon had received plenty of formal education about cutting people open and removing parts. But for the most part, I now believe that school is overrated. While there are many fantastic educators wanting to teach, and even more young minds yearning to learn, the system itself — like most other institutions — has outgrown itself. Too many kids fall through the cracks, and too may teachers become burned out. I have come to see formal education, at least at the primary level, as a great equalizer: it can bring people up to a certain level of knowledge (which is a good thing in many cases, especially where segments of a population have historically been deprived of knowledge); but it can also pull people down, with its focus on “filling in gaps” rather than “following strengths.”
No post about homeschooling would be complete without mention of “socialization.” While many of my homeschooling/unschooling friends say it is a non-issue, I don’t entirely agree. At least in our situation, with our somewhat nomadic lifestyle, it is challenging to ensure that Iris and Simon have other kids to play with and sufficient opportunities to grow outside of the shadow we cast. But it’s not like we are raising mushrooms (left in the dark and covered in you-know-what). We do our best to seek out other kids, and we often spend extended periods of time in the company of other families, where kids are immersed in play for days on end, forced to sort out their differences and find common ground.
I’m sure my attitude toward education will evolve as my children do. But for now, I’m quite happy to be the parent of two kids whose form of education remains undefined. Forget terms like “homeschool” or “unschool.” I’d prefer to call it “living.”