Saturday, September 17, 2011
To school or not to school?
I have thought and thought and thought about natural curiosity and learning through experiences and self-directed discovery. I am fascinated with unschooling and the idea of being less of a teacher to my children and more of a facilitator and fellow student in this world of new and exciting things. But I worry about balance. I worry about lack of discipline, on their part and on mine. But what I really, really worry about most, is giving my children the wrong idea about what life is really like and really about. As Catholics, we know the value of obedience, the value of suffering, and the value of sacrifice. I worry unschooling takes the focus off things like that and puts it on self-centeredness, and the pursuit of pleasure. “You don’t want to do math? Don’t worry about it.” “You think spelling is a waste of time? That’s okay.” It's not the academics I worry about in unschooling though. I really do trust that my children would learn what they needed to know academically through living a life of discovery and curiosity. What I fear, these days, is whether or not they would learn to live a life of virtue. Would they understand that obedience will lead us closer to Christ, keep us authentically Catholic, make us holy? Would they experience the beauty of offering things up for the good of those less fortunate than us? Or would they wake up each day thinking only of themselves and what they feel like doing?
I have read opinions on both sides of the argument. I have heard it said that unschooling is not actually teaching, and therefore not exactly educating, and therefore not living up to the responsibility of parents as the first educators of their children. I have heard it said that, as Catholics, our tradition is to be rigorous in our pursuit of knowledge and unschooling is not acceptable because it is too laid back. But, I have also read beautiful accounts of very successful people who learned about the world through their own discoveries and initiation. I have seen my own children produce the most amazing projects all on their own.
So, how do I make learning a beautiful experience? How do I instill a love of it and encourage my children to find their passions and talents while still being a responsible parent? How do I raise my children to put God first and be willing to trust in Him for all things and be obedient to whatever He asks of them? How do I teach them that life is not always fun and easy and enjoyable but that the difficult moments, the challenges we face, are what stretch us to be better people. Learning is sometimes difficult but the lessons we glean through the challenges and struggles are often the most valuable. Where is the balance I so desperately seek?!?!?!!?!?!?
Ironically, though I constantly worry and question, our school year is going well, so far. The children are obediently doing the work I require of them and are still finding time for the “fun” stuff they are interested in. We spend our school time on the traditional subjects of math, science, history, grammar, religion etc… but with some input from the children on what they want to learn within those subjects and how they want to learn them. They have some assignments they must do and expectations they must meet but also free time to explore extras and create their own projects. They have unit studies they have chosen to do, that I have given directions, suggestions, and, yes, some requirements for.
So, have I already found the balance I seek? I do not know. I still worry and fret about it often. But, the atmosphere of our home seems to be more peaceful and more relaxed and the children, despite my mistakes over the years, always seem to be learning one way or another. Maybe I am teaching them, through my constant re-evaluations, that learning never ends and sometimes trying new things is the best way to figure things out. At least, I hope….