Uncommon Lore: The Unschooling Seduction


imageUncommon Lore:  The Unschooling Seduction

When I was pregnant with my third child in 1993 I was happily teaching childbirth classes in my home, attending an occasional birth as Doula, breastfeeding Allison during my pregnancy, and very involved in my ward at church; serving as a visiting teacher and singing in the choir as well as running the weekly nursery for the toddlers in the ward two hours a week on Sundays.My husband was also serving as the Young Mens President and very busy with his career.

We were living the typical Mormon lifestyle of many families with young children.

I also found time to attend Park Days, Playdates, and Playgroups, hosted monthly La Leche League meetings in my little two bedroom Boulder Co. Apartment, and I was active in the Bradley Birth Educators Denver group.

I made time for cooking with whole foods, gardening with friends, tending various children in babysitting swaps, and I took care of a kindergartener in the mornings who attended afternoon school.

Whew!  I get tired just typing that out.

I continued to read a variety of books on Educational Philosophy and Theory.

Books read during this time include Inside American Education by Thomas Sowell, Educating for The New World Order by Beaverly Eakman, The Closing of The American Mind by Allen Bloom, and Dumbing us Down by John Taylor Gatto.

I also was conducting research on Psychiatry because I wanted to understand how that system of treatment had garnered so much power.  Although I desired to continue breastfeeding my baby, I had been court ordered to eat psychiatric meds after her birth and so during that time I found myself reading all sorts of expose’s on the true history of Psychiatric Treatment.  Peter Breggins books were the best!

When I read Cleon Skousens book The Naked Communist I began to get a much broader understanding of how Psychiatry functioned in American Society.  I also read Prophets, Principles and National Survival by Jerreld Newquist during this time and that amazing book, which had been endorsed by President Ezra T. Benson in General Conference, was a Rock Solid foundation of knowledge to build my Homeschooling Dreams on.

It was also during this time that I picked up several books on Unschooling at the Boulder Public Library.

I read The Teenage Liberation Handbook and some magazine articles on Unschooling.

I bought the Raymond and Dorothy Moore books Home Grown Kids and Better Late than Early.

These books added more fuel to my desire to keep my children unsullied by institutions.

Yet, despite all of my reading, for some strange reason I found it nearly impossible to discipline myself to sit down at the kitchen table with Shelly every day and work with her on reading, writing, and math.

I have witnessed this phenomenon with other homeschooling Moms.  We all enjoy reading, researching, talking, and theorizing the WHYS of Homeschooling, but the actual DOING seems to be much harder to do.

I am not sure if it is because we think we have to recreate the classroom at home (we don’t), or if we believe we have to spend six hours every day “teaching” (it only takes an hour or two to cover the fundamentals of reading, writing, and math with a reasonably intelligent elementary aged child), but I have observed that many parents get stuck and find it impossible to begin, even when they have hundreds of dollars of shiny new curriculum staring them in the face.  Perhaps especially when they have hundreds of dollars of shiny new curriculum looking back at them all beady eyed and threatening.

As to why this is, well, just look at the history of education in North America. There is a reason why Laura Ingalls and Anne Shirley were hired by their local school boards to teach the three R’s at the one room schoolhouse.

A woman can only do so much work in a given day.  And if she is pregnant, breastfeeding, and caring for infants during the night and chasing toddlers during the day, informing her that she ALSO has to spend 1,2,3, or 6 hours every day chained to her kitchen table teaching the children to read, write, and do math can feel like a death sentence.

Unschooling is a seduction because  it tricks the mother into thinking that she can have her cake and eat it too.

Meaning, she can keep her children away from toxic institutions but she does not have to bother with the nuts and bolts of the daily work of teaching.

I remember reading an essay by Diane Hopkins years ago titled What happens when unschooling becomes unparenting?

Reading this essay was an “ouch” moment for me.  I was happily engaged in my own daily work of breastfeeding, teaching childbirth, busy with church and community, and cooking, cleaning, laundry and dishes at home, but by adopting the label Unschooler, I had given myself an out with Shelly.  I believed that I did not have to spend one on one time with her because she was getting everything she needed from our “Lifestyle.”

And this is what I mean by “Seduction”.  It is easy for Mom to allow herself to believe that her child will be disciplined enough to take on the task of doing a daily math lesson, writing, and going from beginning reading to reading for pleasure without any sort of input from her.

We all have heard those stories of the child who picks up a book and begins reading at age three.  And the 2nd grader who knows calculus.  But my five children do not fit into any of those categories and after two years of what I would term my own “parental neglect” regarding her education, Paul found a book, Teach your child to read in 100 easy lessons, and finally took on the daily task of working with her and teaching her how to read.  He thought the unschooling philosophy was just a bunch of worthless hogwash and my strict marriage to it for a couple years was a real wedge in our relationship.

I have witnessed for years that those Mothers who “Live” on certain parenting forums are the ones screaming the loudest about Unschooling.  These women seem to have countless hours every day to spend on the computer chatting with other stay at home Moms about this and that, but they never seem to spend any time working with their kiddos on any formal curriculum.

They will use identifying monikers online like Eclectic Mommy, or Fabulous Unschooling Dad…etc and brag about how great it all is, but when you dig just a bit below the surface of these facades, sometimes you will meet a neglected, lonely little soul who would probably love to spend some one on one time with a parent doing some bookwork, especially when they are at the beginning of Homeschool adventures.

I do not mean to completely dump on unschooling.  I know that many families have achieved significant goals using this philosophy of learning and we all have different goals as families.

But my goals, our goals as a family, were to help our children prepare for a rigorous college experience.  As a confirmed bookworm, I also had set the goal to have a family of readers.

It is sort of hard to love reading if you cannot do it in the first place.  And I have observed that it takes about three years for my children to make it over the hump from reading being a chore to reading being for pleasure.

I get really sad when I talk to young moms who are enthusiastically talking up the virtues of Unschooling.  They always seem to have one daughter who is about four years old.  They have read all of the books, agreed with the theory and LOVE to talk Homeschool with anyone who will engage.

Then after a couple years some of these Moms are the very ones most likely to send the child to public school in frustration because the theory didn’t pan out.  What they need to know is that just an hour or two of daily structure will keep the homeschooling flame burning bright enough that they will not give up in frustration when the various wolves in the form of busybody neighbors, extended family, and CPS Social Workers are nipping at their heels.

Jenny Hatch

Read Uncommon Lore Part One: Introduction

Read Uncommon Lore Part Two: The Beginning

Diane Hopkins Blog: http://www.homeschooling.net/blog/

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