Unschooling Revelation

I just walked in and saw my son watching Beakman’s World. Instead of getting upset that he was “just sitting there”, I had a revelation.

He was watching a movie that he wanted to watch and therefore gleaning as much as he could from it. (Unlike when someone makes you watch something and part of your brain is thinking about all the stuff it would rather be doing.) So here he was, learning, just like he usually is, whether he is playing a video game, watching a movie, playing with Legos, whatever. So essentially what he was doing was educational.

In the past I, like a lot of moms, would have gotten upset because I want to make him be useful. I’m trying to prepare the house for Sabbath, I’m hurting, and I need help.

Here is the thing. People pack their children off to school, every school day, for 7 hours (and if they have a long bus ride like I did, 8 or 9 hours.) There they sit and do many educational things all day that do not engage them. For the most part, they don’t really care about these things and ask why they have to learn them. In between those 20 minute educational lectures/lessons (I am generalizing here– when I was teaching some lessons were as short as 10 minutes, others were up to an hour long) they stand in line, get out books and put them away, get a drink, eat lunch, take electives where they have to take out and put away, wait for their classmates to finish their work, do extra busy work that is there for classroom management not for actual education, spend a few minutes talking to friends while waiting in line or during recess, get shushed, corrected, and so on. They take tests to prove that they remember what the teacher told them, wait for others to finish their tests, loose pencils/books/etc, spend time finding all of those lost items, and all sorts of other activities that are not beneficial to the adults at home and may or may not be educational. The wasted time in a school room is an issue teachers know well and which we are taught in our classroom management classes.

Start the year with review of last year. Then learn something new. Then review that thing. Then take time to study that thing. (I hope you haven’t mastered the subject, because there’s nothing else to do in the classroom right now.) Then finally take a test about the thing. Then forget about the thing and move on to a new thing. Even on rare days when new information is imparted, it’s usually teaching for the test, not teach the subject for the purposes of knowledge and understanding. We were told to expect about 20-30 minutes of actual new content being taught and the rest of the day being remedial and managing the class. Half an hour of learning. Out of eight.

Now a classically homeschooled kid has a lot more time at home (when they aren’t running to outside things like sports and dance classes– lots of time in the car for those). The parents spend much of their home time planning, organizing, teaching, and keeping the child on task (and anyone who has done classical homeschool can tell you that that takes a TON of energy, though of course it depends on the kid.) So let’s say the child spends 4 hours doing book work. (Some do much more, some do much less.) They may or may not be interested in what they are being taught and some are learning a lot more than others. For those who aren’t learning then there is repetition and practice and the parent trying to find new ways to teach the lesson. During that time the child is being taught by the parent, which means the parent is pulled away from the other things the parent could be doing. On a good day everything goes smoothly and everyone finishes their work with no tears. On a bad day…well. When we were more classical most days were bad days. The rest of the day is often taken with chores and outside activities though they certainly get more downtime to explore their own interests.

The thing is, in both of those situations the child is only expected to be doing educational activities for much of the day (including all those extracurricular activities) and that child may or may not be getting anything out of ANY of those educational opportunities. Yet here I am with a child who is actively learning regardless of what he is doing because he is full engaged in what he is doing. He’s doing it because he IS interested and wants to learn more about it, and I am going to complain because he is JUST watching TV? Meanwhile, if he were sitting in a class he’d likely be doing a time-sink worksheet that exists only to slow down the faster kids and keep them busy while the slow kids catch up. Is that really better than television?

How messed up my thinking has been. I had forgotten the point was to see him learning, to look for the learning going on instead of keeping my own personal servant. I should point out here that he had already spent quite a bit of time helping me today and he often does helpful things out of love instead of being coerced, just like I do things to serve him, out of love. It is so easy to forget all the helpful things that he does do when I notice him sitting there “doing nothing” while I am busy.