Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Learning at Home: Part 2 of 9

Although we appear to be 'successful' in our h/schooling, the cost of how we're doing it is too high.

Here's the plain and simple truth about our h/schooling:  Beneath the surface, it's not working...at least, not nearly as well as I'd want to see it working.

The rub is that Matthew hasn't been enjoying school for a good while now, and resists it with everything in him.  To get an hour of school work done with him on a given day, last winter, took many more hours than that - perhaps in this way we were similar to the public system.  For so long I've had this kind of thought as I struggled to get through just one more day of schooling with Matthew:  Surely, surely, we can get an hour of school done...it's just an hour...it's not an unreasonable amount of time and his publicly-schooled peers are doing this...why can't we??!

But again, at what cost?

Matthew's natural philosophical and curious outlook on life has dimmed over the past year or two, and this happened so gradually and over such a long period of time that I didn't even really notice it until spring time, when we stopped doing formal school (mostly because of my high internal frustration level) and his curiosity suddenly and very noticeably sparked again and he began learning.

I suppose what I'm really questioning these days, then, is how learning happens, and at what stage of a child's life.  Dr. Neufeld's developmental approach suggests that, provided the right environment, a child's maturation will happen spontaneously (rather like inner springs) and when the child is ready.  I believe this in my head, but have had to grapple with myself in my heart as to whether or not I am willing to stake my children's future on it.

Here's what has helped me decide in the affirmative on that issue:  Just as a baby might learn to walk at eight months or at twelve months or (in the case of my eldest) at a shocking 20.5 months, why is it so hard to believe that an older child will naturally and spontaneously develop at different times from his/her peers?  After all we don't take a six-month old baby and demand that s/he learn to walk...we simply wait for him/her to be ready and encourage him/her along every step of the way.  Right?  Why would our approach as parents be any different for children who are, say, 6, 8 and 9?

Why was it important to me that Matthew be on par with his schooled peers regarding curriculum?  That was all about me and not about him.  Didn't we decide to school at home because we wanted more freedom than that?  Who (other than a school system standardized by necessity) says that a child needs to be able to read by the time s/he is 5, 6, 7, 8, or even 10?  Won't 12 work just as well?  Sure, it's great if a child can read early, but if that's not their natural inclination are they better off in the long run if they are forced?  By what mandate is it critical for our child's future/adult successes that they are able to print or write or do multiplication at 10 or 12?  Why is it that our society pushes our children towards independence at the ages of 3, 5, 7, 10, 12, or even 14?  Why do they need to know the names of all of the provinces and territories by the time they are 9?

Does it shock you to think about the assumptions that underly the answers to these questions?  It surely has shocked me as I've really thought about these and many other assumptions I've had...rocked me, in fact, to the core of my academically-oriented being.

Really and truly, why do these standard measures of childhood academic success mean anything?  Why?  The more I think about these things, the more ridiculous these arbitrary markers of 'success' seem.

I'm truly not trying to be snarky or offensive here.  I'm not out to berate our public education system, which exists for a reason.  And I also want my children to know how to read, how to do math, and all of those gazillion things that are taught year after year in the public system.

But I no longer understand how these and so many other criteria have become the measure by which we evaluate our children as being normal/typical/bright/ahead/behind/worrisome/gifted/remedial/etc etc etc..

Our education system is not very old - did you know that?  Opinions vary considerably on how old it actually is (Fifty years? One hundred years? More? Less?), but any way you look at it, it's not an old system.  I didn't realize, until just a short time ago, that our public education system, which seems so clearly laid out in terms of what works for the masses, is not very old at all.  Not that long ago, children were educated mostly at home, through life circumstances...including many of the prime ministers of Canada and presidents of the United States.

This fact set me back on my heels a bit.  I'd always simply assumed that our educational system here in Canada was pretty much the best way to go (even if we implemented it at home)...after all, it'd been around for a looong time and experts must have the system pretty down pat.  Right?  But when I realized that it's really quite a young system in terms of longevity and experience, it freed me to open my eyes to other possibilities.  It really made me question why it is that we seem, as a society, to assume that requiring children to be independent at an early age is the best thing for them; and why we assume that immersing neuro-typical children of various abilities and functionality into a system that is designed not for the ends of the bell curve but for the middle will, in fact, meet the needs of all.

Isn't our job as parents to ensure that our children are able to manage independently not now, but by the time they reach adulthood...or sometime beyond that magical-for-some-reason age of eighteen when they're hopefully ready and mature enough to embrace the world?  Isn't our job as parents to hope that by the time they are ready to reach for independence, they're equipped with whatever they need to function and contribute within our society and, importantly, with a love of learning and an ability to figure out how to learn what they want to learn?

I likely would never have been forced to deal with these questions if our kids were typical kids, and typical learners (whatever that means).  It would be far, far easier (even if still not the best) to assume the best in a system of status quo with children who are early readers, who are academics in the way that I was raised to be.

But I don't have kids like that, for one reason or another, despite their being largely neuro-typical.  I have one child who is a very reluctant reader and who is very resistant to structured learning, and yet who is both highly intelligent and highly sensitive in addition to being prone towards anxiety.  I have another child who is approximately two years behind 'grade' level because of a combination of historical trauma and malnutrition factors and who, despite being very intelligent and a down-in-the-trenches fighter to the last, is also victim of language and memory barriers.  And I have a final child who, though mostly likely amongst the three to 'succeed' in the public education system as we know it, is also behind 'grade' level due to factors over which she had no control and who is one who will need to be gently prodded along in the right direction.  For any number of reasons, my children would likely fall through the cracks of the public system and so I am in this position of, in their best interests, having to find alternate ways of educating them.  Again, as I mentioned yesterday, I thought that good intentions on my part and a commitment to working hard to teach them at home would be enough.  Would work just fine.

But it's not.  And I need to figure out a different way.

And thinking through the how of it over these past months has left me with so many questions, resulting in a few biggies:  What do I want for my children when they are adults?  Really, deep down, what do I want for them?  What will they look back on when they are adults and think about this process of being schooled at home, and what will they regret and wish they'd experienced in order to prepare for life?  So many thoughts have been twirling and whirling through my head and so many feelings have coursed through my heart as I contemplate my beautiful, soft-hearted, amazing children for whom I want nothing but the very, very best.

(to be continued)


  1. This is what I was saying earlier. You prepare your children for life beyond childhood. How you do that is up to you. I only have one caution- DO NOT think you can eliminate recriminations or regrets about the way you raised them. That is a fairy tale in my opinion. Do what you need to do, in a manner that suits them now. Okay, I'll get off my soap box now. :)

  2. THanks Missy...ever the practical and supportive and encouraging friend. And you're so right, I've come to believe, about preparing them for beyond childhood. Sigh...why did it take me so long to figure this stuff out??



    1. It hasn't taken you long! Your kids are still little. There are many of us on the other side of teenagers that are smacking ourselves in the forehead saying" Why did I make it so hard"?

  3. Hi Ruth,
    Lovely reflection! There are so many kindred spirits asking and writing about similar questions, whether you know about them or not... take courage and heart!. This (not very) old, weary, education system is pretty rickety; although at the same time it works pretty well despite everything, in countries like Canada. Previous to mass public education, only the elite had access to things like literacy. Mass public education has created mass literacy... it's changed the world in amazing ways in such a short time! But also done so much violence and damage, to individuals, to groups, and to whole cultures (ie. colonization etc which mass public education has been a purposeful tool of as we see with residential schools in Canada for example). My experiences as a teacher have taught me that there is no such thing as a 'typical' child or 'typical learner' (so your children are absolutely 'normal' in this regard!). The standardization of children (and learning) needs to stop! Did you hear this little program on CBC Sunday Edition about the Finland education system? Inspiring interview with Pasi Sahlberg, author of "Finish Lessons"... it's a wonderful conversation for further encouragement: http://www.cbc.ca/newsblogs/yourcommunity/2013/02/finnish-lessons.html

  4. My word, I wish I'd had YOU as my teacher Jackie!

    Again, you have echoed (in a much shorter space!) many of my thoughts. When I wrote that the education system exists for a reason, I was thinking, too, about the benefits of mass literacy, and about how in parts of the world, a school system meant that children could actually leave their workplace in order to go to school - first it was just for an hour or two on a Sunday and, over time, for longer periods of time over additional days. We have much to be grateful for to a means of bringing literacy to the masses.

    And yes, it's the standardization that's so frustrating - and the assumptions we all make about how important this standardization is.

    I did not hear about the CBC program, but I am aware that in Finland and Sweden and other parts of Europe, schooling is very different...kids don't even start school until they are 8 or 9; until then it's play...even then schooling might be outside (literally), etc etc. My understanding is that Finland, in particular, has undergone a massive transformation/reformation in their schooling system over many years, and that the surprising results are that when children graduate, they perform academically in the top 5% of students throughout the WORLD! It is very encouraging. I'll also check out the link to the CBC program- thanks!

    Some day, Jackie, we're going to have a lovely face-to-face conversation!!