the evolution of a hippy mama

Besides gradually switching us over to a local and more organic diet, I’m also increasingly disillusioned with the current public educational system. This journey all started when I was looking for a preschool that offered Spanish for M. I learned about Montessori, and then about other non-traditional and alternative methods of childhood education. I synced this with what I’ve been learning about positive parenting and gentle discipline, and have been slowly developing the opinion that our current mainstream school system and educational model fails all children in some way, even up to completely destroying the learning process for certain kids.

I’m not saying you can’t go through traditional schooling and not come out alright. I did. I was an all-A student, graduated from college, have a job/career, and generally function just fine (ok, maybe that hasn’t always been the case, but I got there). The point, however, is that often I was not intrinsically motivated to get good grades. My self-worth was based on the A, or the gpa, and I built my identity around being “an all-A student” which equaled, in my mind and the minds of most adults around me, “good” or “smart”. I don’t really want M to equate being “good” or “smart” with getting a letter that simply indicates that you could jump through certain hoops. It doesn’t mean anything, in the big picture. The things that really inspired my future learning and even my career were these:
a) my mother and grandmother modeled behaviors that were learning-seeking, such as attending healthy cooking classes, careers in nursing that they felt inspired them to learn more, traveling, watching the news and discussing it, finding activities outside of work/school that were interesting and sparked learning, such as playing music or attending festivals
b) I found that I loved foreign languages and traveled with my grandma and French Club to Europe. I found that history and cultures were interesting to me
c) I was raised to be compassionate toward others by offering them help with no-strings attached, showing real interest in their problems, and devoting time and energy to those who benefited from it
d) My natural curiosity and interests were supported: my grandma took me to music lessons and karate lessons, I had access to bands and orchestras, access to libraries and bookstores, and I was never discouraged from seeking out what I found to be inspiring

So nothing that helped me to be a well-adjusted and happy person later in life had anything to do with the fact that I got an A in chemistry, even though I hated chemistry and manipulated the teacher into giving me answers just so I could get that A. Looking back at classes like that one, I feel a sense of disappointment and disillusionment from the teachers and the system. I remember feeling trapped in the classroom, uninterested, and bored. These feelings can’t always be avoided, but can’t we somehow improve our educational model to eliminate much of it?

I love M’s current Montessori program for encouraging her to engage in what already interests her and inspire her to continue learning. I want this natural form of learning to continue past second grade, where our local Montessori program stops. I’m not interested in M receiving letter grades. I honestly don’t even want her thinking about grades. I don’t want her to worry about tests. I don’t want her to sit in a class, bored and watching the clock, tempted to be texting or passing notes or behaving badly just to feel interested in something again. I don’t want both of us to dread homework in the evening, slogging through paper worksheets when we’d rather be outside learning about the properties of snow, the behavior of bees, or the physics of gravity when we jump or swing.

I want my daughter to go to school happily, even in high school, because she knows she’s going to be interested and invested in her own learning processes. I want her to explore her own interests and discover math, science, geography, and literature in a natural way, as it relates to what she already wants to learn about. I want her to discover teamwork in a natural setting. To learn about and participate in her own food sources in a way that naturally promotes learning about nutrition, anatomy, and physiology while simultaneously educating about the environment, animal sciences, and the economy. I don’t want her in a school that separates her so profoundly from learning, but rather one that immerses and supports her in it.

I can’t even believe that this type of learning is called “unschooling”. It’s an unfair title! I am envious of those who do it, but I can’t homeschool or “unschool” for a few reasons:

  • I’m a single, working mom. I need my child to be in a safe, supervised place. I can’t stay home with her every day to provide her with any type of schooling or “un” schooling.
  • As a single mom, I need to be part of the “village” they say it takes to raise a child. I don’t live in a commune, therefore I need teachers, coaches, and administrators to be our village.
  • I am actually not interested in being the facilitator of my child’s curriculum, whatever that curriculum may be. Homeschooling is not for every parent. I enjoy my career (although I wish I didn’t need to work all the hours), and find that it gives me much needed balance and sanity

Based on the above, I need to find a learning community (aka school) for my daughter that endorses my beliefs about education and child development. I hope I can find it by the time she’s in third grade!

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Categories: education, parenting

7 Comments »

  1. I’m in search for a similar community. The idea of sending Evelyn to a regular old public school just somehow doesn’t sit right with me. I would LOVE to do the “un”schooling but I also need to be able to pay the bills and afford our travel!

    So I figure even if Evie does end up going to public school, traveling the world with her and educating her through “world schooling” will be a good supplement to the public school.

    I just have a major problem with the way society is set up – go to school and sit for 8 hours a day, to learn how to go to work and do the same for 8 hours a day (or something like that). I don’t want that life for my child. We should play & live MORE than we work, not the other way around.

  2. Are there any Waldorf schools by you? You might jive with that. I think you can also facilitate her personal growth while she attends a public school. Though I have the same thoughts as you about them and would rather not send my child to one, I don’t think they will ruin your child if your approach the experience consciously.

  3. If you think you might be interested in home schooling, I highly recommend Oak Meadow. Waldorf approach, teacher support, very, very nice people!

  4. What you said above is that your home experiences about learning were more influential than your official school ones. If you end up with public schools that are not what you like remember this. Clearly you are doing the education you believe in already within your home/family. Knowing life isn’t ever perfect and learning to live with and inside imperfect is also important. It will work out … honest.

    • It’s true that we all have to adjust to less than ideal situations in life, and certainly the public school system is not the worst of those. In a non-traditional curriculum, however, children will still experience plenty of stressful, boring, or less-than-ideal circumstances (that comes with life no matter what) so I don’t see why I should squash so much of her love of learning in the process.

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