Monday, February 12, 2007

A Letter To Concerned Relatives

A Letter to Concerned Relatives

My son is just turning 12. I have not been actively pushing him to do "schoolwork", in fact, he hasn't been doing much of anything. I was getting some flack from relatives because he can't "rattle off" the times tables when they fire questions at him. This had me thinking about how I could explain "unschooling" to people who have no idea what it means. Their main concern (other than the ever popular "socialization" question) were that the kids didn't have "some kind of regimented schedule of learning" and that I was keeping them home to "shelter" them from "the real world". Here is a copy of the letter I wrote them:

Your first concern was that they should have "regimented" schedules for learning. A good schedule is one that meets your personal requirements. Mike's (DH) schedule changes weekly to meet his work requirements. My children's schedules change to meet their requirements. There is nothing inherently "right" about getting up early or going to bed by 8pm. Some of our best learning experiences have occurred at night, when the kids are laying down listening to me read to them.

The idea of sitting down at a table and reading out of a textbook is a misunderstanding of what learning really involves. The tiny bits of facts that are generally presented in textbooks are difficult if not impossible to apply to everyday life. I am curious what a "sensible goal" for curriculum would be in your opinion? My main goal is to raise independent, thinking, loving adults with a grasp on the basic skills they will need to succeed in life. Just how much of what YOU learned in school do you use everyday? Quick, what is the capital of Germany? What is the major export of Brazil? Have you ever dissected a frog at work? Recite the periodic table of elements in order. What is the symbol for Iron? Diagram this sentence and circle the predicate and underline any prepositions. Diagram a factor lattice for the number 32. Had enough?

On the other hand, if you make learning part of your lifestyle, you are learning all the time. We made a weak battery by using foil, salt, and baking soda.... to clean the tarnish off my good silver. We experiment with chemical reactions every day... it's called cooking. What makes an egg go from a liquid to a solid? Why does cornstarch change the physical properties of a white sauce? What makes the holes in bread? How does yeast make dough rise? If you have company coming and you have to triple your recipe for Pepper Steak, how much soy sauce will you need if the original recipe calls for 1/3 cup? If you get $20 for your birthday, and your brother has $5 left over from Christmas, and there is a toy that you want that costs $35 but is on sale this week for 25% off plus tax, if you pool your money, can you buy it? And if you do, what fraction of it is really yours, since you paid more for it than your brother? :-) Now THAT is practical learning!

Quizzing a child to see if he knows the times tables and can rattle them off is not an accurate measurement of that child's grasp on math. I am using a practical, hands on approach to math that give the child a grasp of the fundamentals. If they can see units instead of numbers on paper, then it is easier to manipulate numbers. I don't want my children to just spout memorized facts, I want them to grasp the concepts that make those facts work. For example, yesterday I asked Chris to figure 3 times 12. He got it in seconds. I asked him how he got the answer so fast, since he has only been working on the times tables up to 10. He said "it was easy, you just take 3x10 and add 3x2 ... duh!" See, it doesn't matter if he KNOWS the answer by memory, it is more important that he knows how to GET the answer! Memorizing math facts is only for your own convenience. It has no bearing on your understanding of multiplication. I could teach IVY the times tables. (she is already learning the 3's times table from listening to her brothers practice) but she obviously would have no idea what they mean.

If you believe that my primary reason for homeschooling is to keep my kids away from the "big bad world out there," you are WAY off! I keep my kids home because I LIKE THEM HERE! I want to have this time to spend with them, I want them to be able to develop close ties with their brothers (and sister). I want them to get their values from US, not their peers. In case you hadn't noticed, my children are sweet, loving, intelligent, thoughtful, considerate, helpful, and basically great kids! Why do I need to send them away for 8 hours a day? What will they learn in school that will make such a difference in their lives? I can think of many negative things that they would learn there that would effect their lives! Hmmm, lets see, there's sex, drugs, peer dependance, bad language, bad attitudes, humanism, humiliation, low self-esteem. I can't see how learning any of these things will benefit my children! So why send them? What would they get at school that is so valuable that they can't learn it at home? Why not turn that around and ask, what can they get at home that they can't get at school?

Unconditional love, acceptance, support, guidance, godly training and values, practical life experience, learning how to make a marriage work, how to be a good parent, to share, to show compassion, to help others, to make good decisions. I would say that the things you get at home are the most important. Somehow, a "good job" isn't going to be much help if your marriage is falling apart, is it? What good is a high school diploma if you don't know how to balance a checkbook or do your own grocery shopping, or cook your own meals? And if you think school teaches these things, you are sadly mistaken! School is an artificial environment, nothing there pertains to real life.

No other time in your life will you be in that kind of circumstance where you are stuck in a room with people exactly your own age, working next to, but not with each other, being told to do things by an "authority figure" that have absolutely no bearing on your real life. (Ok, maybe prison comes close) It is no wonder that school attendance is compulsory, no thinking person would voluntarily go there!

You talk about my kids having to go out and meet the world face to face. Well I have news for you.... they LIVE in the real world, it is the public school that is the sheltered environment. My kids get "real life" experiences every day. They go shopping, they run errands, they do housework. How much of what goes on in a classroom is what YOU do every day?

There will be no great "shock" for my kids, they are already LIVING in the real world. Why would I want to take them and pen them up in an institution for 12 years? If you have any specific questions about my children's education, please feel free to ask me. I am quite pleased with their progress.


jessa Dixon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jessa dixon said...

This is quite fabulous.