Tuesday, July 22, 2008
I was watching the movie Mockingbird Don't Sing tonight, and it made me realize something. It's a movie about a girl who was kept alone in a room from about 18 months old until her mom ran away with her when she was 13. Her father kept her either strapped to a potty chair during the day, or strapped up so she couldn't move in a makeshift crib with a metal top at night. She never learned to speak, and, obviously, had a lot of problems once they were able to try to help her once she was freed from him. The movie doesn't focus so much on the actual abuse, but more on the trials and tribulations they went through to try to teach her language and how to be "civilized", for lack of a better word. It's a very moving movie, and definitely worth the watch. It will make you hug your children that much harder, and vow never to let something so horrible happen to them.

Anyway, at the end of the movie, the mother was talking to one of the researchers that had been working with the girl from the start. She told her that they had used her daughter as nothing more than an instrument to do science experiments on her, or something like that, and that they didn't see her as a human with needs (which is really not true, from what I got from the movie, but...). Basically, she said they treated her like a lab rat. It made me think. It made me think about education. It made me realize that perhaps education is much the same, in that we are all lab rats in a giant experiment.

The girl was labeled "Wild Child", as she was feral and lacking in many areas. So, of course, they approached teaching her in a special way. I thought back to when I was a teacher, and how we used to label children. I taught special education, and if ever there was a place where children are labeled, it's there. We would spend our days trying to figure out what label to affix to each child in order to be able to pick and choose what specific learning styles would be appropriate for teaching said child. It's done in regular classrooms, too. You have your nerds, your idiots, your preppy jocks, your dumb jocks, whatever...Each kind of person is expected to learn differently and behave differently. Their interests are all different, and yet, they are expected to learn the same things. Most of the time, although there are similarities, you can't exactly just toss a bunch of people into the same classification and expect them to learn the same things in the same way.

Then I got to thinking about education itself. I remember how, in school, they would stress that one day you would have to use all of these skills we had to learn. If I had bothered to remember them, I could make pages of lists of things that I have never, ever recalled in real life. Sure, some of it is cumulative, and you kinda have to know it to know stuff further down the line. However, sometimes you don't even have to know the stuff further down the line, much less the beginnings of it! In the movie, they were very intent on getting the little girl to learn language, and use it properly. She had a hard time forming grammatically correct sentences, even though she had the vocabulary to do so. Eventually, they taught her sign language, which she did quite well with, and was able to communicate with until she reached a point where no one else around her knew it to "talk" back. I thought about people who are mute, and how they are not able to communicate through speech, and wondered why it was so very important to prove that she could speak clearly and correctly. (the premise of the actual research was to disprove a hypothesis, and thus, her education really was, at its core, all part of an experiment in which she was the lab rat!)

Are we all lab rats, too? I mean, why did I have to learn how to write perfect essays? Do you know how many essays I've written since I left school? Yep, you got it, NONE. Do you know how much trigonometry I've used in real life? None again. I thought about standardized testing, and public education, and how everyone has to fit into this mold of what a student should look like. I just don't like it. Why did the little girl have to learn to talk? Why did I have to learn chemistry? Sure, it's a few more things that I barely understood, but kinda knew more about for a little while in my life. Please, whatever you do, don't ask me to ever recite anything now that I learned in there, though! It was a complete waste of my time. I'm sure someone got something out of it, but it certainly wasn't me. That little girl in the movie, she wasn't interested in learning how to speak. She managed to convey her thoughts without conventional speech, and she got along fine enough.

Which leads me to what all this thought has brought about. It helped me realize that my education of my children is going to have to be different. There is a thing called "unschooling", where children learn what they want to learn, when they want to learn it (in a nutshell). In other words, let's say that I'm unschooling TJ. We wake up, and I ask him if he'd be interested in reading books about the ocean today. He says, "No, but I would really like to learn how to add and subtract." So be it, today we add and subtract. Instead of using typical curriculum-based books with set order and time frames, you follow the child's heart, and let them learn at their own pace, and what they want to learn at the time. So what if TJ is seven and doesn't know the color green (he does, btw). He'll learn it when he's ready. Perhaps he never, ever gets interested in writing. Sure, he'll have to learn the basics to get by, but I won't force him to write extended essays that basically fill time and will get thrown out no sooner than he's forgotten the skills learned in the lesson. Maybe later he will become interested in writing. Then, while he is ready to suck in the learning like a sponge, I can teach it to him. I can only imagine that that would also make the learning process go that much faster and more smoothly. Sure, I would have to expedite the process to an extent, and encourage learning (perhaps pointing them in the right directions), but overall, their educations would be chosen by them.

It's late, and I could go on and on about this, but I'll save it for another time. I just wanted to write this while it was fresh in my mind. I'm kinda excited, and I'm eager to get going on how I'm going to do this. If you happen to have any tips, comments, whatever, feel free to let me know.
posted by Christi at 11:32 PM | Permalink |


  • At 11:03 AM, Blogger Julia

    I've incorporated some of the ideas of unschooling into what we do, though I think most unschoolers would say I'm definitely not doing it right.

    It seems like unschooling would in some ways be very freeing for the parent, but would in other ways be more work than using a structured program. You have to provide the stimulating atmosphere to encourage learning and you have to be mentally flexible enough to use those learning moments when they come.

    I've been at least somewhat involved in the other two major homeschooling groups in the area. I think the one we're in now is the most unschooler friendly, though unschoolers are welcome in the other two as well.

  • At 1:03 PM, Blogger Kurt

    While I agree that school is evil and must be resisted at all costs, I offer two other points of view for balance.

    1. You ask "why did I have to learn how to write perfect essays?" This post is an example of a well-written essay. You learned that in school.

    2. "No one can become really educated without having pursued some study in which he took no interest" — T.S. Eliot

  • At 8:52 AM, Blogger house and home

    the first time i ever heard of the term "un-school" was when reading about a looney tune on livejournal. she is a creep....


  • At 11:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

    Sounds to me like the girl in the movie was "unschooled" and where did that get her? She couldn't communicate because nobody ever taught her to. She knew nothing because she was never "schooled". Kurt is so right--you write essays every time you get on this blog, and where did you learn to use language, punctuation, etc.? It wasn't in a home where you were "unschooled". Given a choice, most people will take the path of least resistance. Children, not knowing any better, will usually choose to do what is "fun" and "easy", not what requires work and focus. That will put them at a disadvantage in life, because if not made to focus and work for what they can accomplish and be the best they can be (even if it means doing things they don't want to), then they will surely have a much harder "row to hoe" since they will expect things to come easily or be done for them or given to them. Sounds like "unschooling" works well for the parent who is too lazy or doesn't care to do what is necessary to educate their child, even if it's for the childs own good.

  • At 12:50 PM, Blogger Christi

    See, I did not go into a deep explanation of what "unschooling" actually is. There is a lot more to it, and it is, in fact, a schooling method, that, although less structured, does have some structure to it. It's not like you say, "Okay, TJ, what do you want to learn today?" When he says he wants to learn about candy, you don't just say, "Okay, well go find a book and see what you come up with." It still involves actual lessons that the parent comes up with, incorporating all areas of education, as well as focus and hard work. However, it also acknowledges that it's a waste of time to try to teach something to a kid who has zero interest in the subject. In other words, why teach TJ about poetry by reading Shakespeare to him when I can just as easily teach him the same skills with his favorite song about candy? Essentially, unschooling is teaching to the child's interests without a set curriculum. Many people I've talked to say that unschooling is actually much harder to do than the regular methods, as you don't have a set schedule to follow, and you have to do things kind of at the moment. For that reason, I'm not quite sure if I'll be able to 100% unschool, but I want to try to incorporate some of the unschooling attitude into the education of my children. I want to teach to their interests and make them want to learn more about everything they're learning. I can honestly say that the majority of things I was disinterested in in school, I can't remember a damn thing about. I learned enough to pass the test...what a waste of time that was! I could have been learning the same things or stuff that was more pertinent to my life at those times with more interesting themes.

    The girl was not "unschooled". She was completely uneducated. There was no method to her education at all, b/c there was no education.

    As to the writing part. I never said my children would not learn to write and use grammar. Why, though, have them write useless essays about topics they could care less about, so that I can criticize and tear them apart, when they can learn the same skills by writing freely about subjects they care about?

  • At 12:51 PM, Blogger Christi

    Lastly, I'm tired of being called lazy. It really hurts my feelings, and it makes me feel like a substandard person. I would appreciate it if you would stop.

  • At 3:38 PM, Blogger Glenda

    I really hate when people post comments anonymously.

    Christi, I'm a friend of Julia's and she pointed me towards this post. My son is 10 and has pretty much been unschooled from the get-go. I say "pretty much" because there were brief periods in his younger years when I tried different curricula, only to discover they were far more interesting to me than him. We finally settled in to totally unschooling when he was about 6 and I can honestly say it has been the BEST decision I've ever made as a parent.

    BUT (because there's always a "but", right?!!), it's not a lifestyle for everyone. I definitely spend more time with my son than I would if he were in school 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. There are definitely lazier ways I could spend that time ;-).

    The time we spend together is not structured time. We have certain people we see on the same days each week, but that's about as structured as our lives are. We enjoy blowing whichever way the wind blows us. Rather than living our lives around a school schedule, we simply live our lives.

    People learn to write essays without going to school for years to learn how to do so. On the flip side, plenty of people go to school for years and are supposedly taught how to write essays, yet their spelling, grammar, punctuation, and other writing skills are horrifying.

    I wholeheartedly disagree with the T.S. Eliot quote Kurt posted.

    I think it's interesting that Anonymous pits "fun" and "easy" against "work" and "focus". In our household, those four words can go together with no problem. Even if something is challenging rather than easy, it can still be fun, we can complete it, and we can definitely be focused, whether it's something we're working on together or individually. It's not at all uncommon for my son to work on something challenging, to get frustrated with it, to walk away from it, and then, of his own accord, go back to it and continue working on it, when he can better focus. He doesn't expect things to come easily. He doesn't expect things to be done for him or given to him. He is not unusual in this regard -- there are plenty of unschoolers who are similar. Just as there are public- or private-schooled kids who DO expect things to come easily, to be done for them, and to be given to them. I think it's way too easy to group people into a category and make a broad judgment if you yourself haven't PERSONALLY experienced both ends of the spectrum. I *have* experienced both ends and what comes between them, from the perspective of a kid and from the perspective of an adult and parent.

    Christi, if you haven't already spent time surfing around Sandra Dodd's website, it's my favorite unschooling resource. (www.sandradodd.com). Unschooling combined with respectful parenting is her focus -- when I first began reading about unschooling "back in the day", the more time I spent reading Sandra's site and other sites and unschooling lists, the more I began to realize the concept behind unschooling encompasses your whole life, not just the education aspect of it. Again, this is not a concept for everyone, and it may not be quite what you're looking for. But her site is a good starting point and she has links to other sites listed there as well. If you surf her site and find it's not your cup of tea, well, at least you'll have a better idea of what you *don't* want! It took me some time reading about unschooling and respectful parenting before I reached the point that I was ready to really try it -- it was a scary leap, but we haven't looked back and haven't regretted it for one second.

    I do find it interesting when people who don't have *personal experience* with unschooling (meaning they were unschooled themselves or they unschool their children) chime in in a negative way (calling you lazy, saying your children will never learn this or that), but you're going to find that is the norm. If you're looking for support, you might want to find an unschoolers list and just read read read. Any negative thing anyone has to say to you has already been said to others of us a hundred times over (and proved wrong a hundred times over). Just keep in mind that anything you post on your blog opens you up for criticism about your choice.

    Sandra's site should have links to a couple unschooling yahoo/google groups that you would probably find very helpful and supportive. If you don't find the links for those on her site, ask Julia to give you my yahoo email addy and you can drop me a line.

  • At 4:23 PM, Blogger Carrie

    I just wanted to say that I didn't read this whole post because I want to see the movie first. I will come back and comment and read all the comments after I check out the movie!

  • At 6:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    Glenda, I'm Christi's mom and I'm the one who posted as "Anonymous" as I've been unable to get my user name to work any more. Christi knew I was the one who wrote the post and we had a heated discussion regarding same. I'm glad that unschooling works so well for you--it sounds as if you have only one child and are able to spend all your free time with him. Christi has 3 children and VERY little free time between caring for them, working her numerous jobs and taking care of the house. Although I'm unfamiliar with all the aspects of unschooling, it sounds like it takes LOTS of time to accomplish in a successful manner and I'm very concerned about my grandchildren getting an above average education. I feel that knowledge in a wide variety of subjects (even subjects that children aren't always interested in) is a definite necessity in today's world. I believe I know Christi and my grandchildren a little better than you, and that's why I don't think unschooling is necessarily the right path for them. However, Christi is going to do whatever SHE wants to do or feels is right anyway, so it doesn't matter what I or any other anonymous poster has to say.

  • At 6:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    Oh, and BTW Christi, I didn't call you lazy--I know you're not lazy. I said "Sounds like "unschooling" works well for the parent who is too lazy or doesn't care to do what is necessary to educate their child, even if it's for the child's own good". As far as I know, you're not using the unschooling methods yet.

  • At 12:46 AM, Blogger Glenda

    Christi's Mom, you said that you are unfamiliar with all the aspects of unschooling. Just as I referred Christi to Sandra Dodd's site, I encourage you to take some time to check it out too. From what you said in your comment to me, it definitely sounds as if what you consider "unschooling successfully" is not at all what unschoolers consider "unschooling successfully".

    I never professed to know Christi at all, and I'm not sure where you got that impression from reading my comment. I do, however, know unschooling, and I know where to direct someone looking for information and support regarding the topic. Christi very specifically said in her post that if someone had tips or comments to let her know; my comment was in direct response to her request.

    The bottom line is that if a parent wants to unschool, or follow a more traditional homeschooling method, or send their kid to private school, or send them to public school, the parent will do what it takes to make it happen.

    Christi is not the only parent to have more than one child, or more than one job, or a household to take care of. If she wants to pursue unschooling and is unsure how to get there with having three kids and multiple jobs and a household, I can guarantee she will have no problem getting tips and suggestions from other unschoolers who have "been there, done that" or are "currently there, doing that". That doesn't mean it will be easy, but if she has three little ones and juggles multiple jobs and cares for a house, then she's used to things not being easy.

    I hope you're right that Christi is going to make the choice she feels is right for her kids . . . whether that choice is unschooling, traditional homeschooling, public school, private school, or some other choice out there.

    We parents only get to raise our kids once and we have to do what we feel is right, even if it means *our* parents don't always agree with our choices.

    I'm fortunate that my mom was open-minded about homeschooling, and then unschooling, when I first broached the topics with her. When she had questions, I answered them as best I could, and I provided her with books, magazines, and websites that also provided answers; she did me the courtesy of making use of those resources. (Those resources were provided to all my son's grandparents; sadly, not all were as courteous about making use of them -- those who did not are, interestingly enough, the ones who are unsupportive.)

    My mom has a lot of respect for me as a person and as a parent and knew I would do only what I thought was best for my child, and she has not been proven wrong in her choice to let me make my own parenting decisions and to support my decisions. Time has shown my family that, yes, kids CAN and DO learn to read and spell and write and add and subtract and multiply without having to be taught via textbooks or other traditional methods . . . and that kids CAN and DO become interested in so many things without those things having to be forced upon them. Whereas five years ago my mom was probably unconvinced unschooling could work, these days she is a strong advocate of unschooling and all it encompasses.

    You may not agree with Christi questioning traditional schooling methods, but it doesn't accomplish anything positive to be unsupportive and narrow-minded (and I'm basing the "unsupportive and narrow-minded" on the three comments you've posted here thus far). Imagine what you might find out if you spend a couple weeks *really reading* about unschooling from kids who are unschooled, from teens and grown kids who were always unschooled, from parents who unschool their kids. How much more supportive it would be to *your daughter* and *your grandchildren* if you opened your mind to the possibility of there being more than one "right" way for children to experience life.

    You contradicted yourself by saying it sounds like unschooling takes "LOTS of time", then you said you think unschooling is for parents "who are lazy" or "don't care to do what's necessary for their children". Honestly, NONE of those statements are accurate!! Again, if you go to the source (unschoolers), you'll get much more accurate information than working off assumptions.

  • At 1:57 PM, Blogger Glenda

    Christi, I believe you should be able to get any information you want, and then some, about unschooling via Sandra's site and the links on them. I'm going to bow out of the discussion at this point. I let Julia know that if you ever want to get in touch with me, I don't mind her giving you my email addy. Good luck with whatever choice you make! I'll see you on Julia's blog =)