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My daughter is 17. She has been stepping into herself lately and many people in our lives are noticing it with pleasure. I was talking to her about that, trying to explain why we are so pleased. Luckily, I realized I would be better served writing it and just letting her enjoy the attention so I stopped.

I homeschool my kids. I take pains to tell people I respect teachers and I believe strongly in collective support for child education. But the longer I stay outside the educational system that we all believe is the standard for educating kids, the more I wish for a different option for all kids everywhere.

My daughter went to kindergarten. We were living in a rural area of northern California. The school was a satellite school for kids who were too far from the town to go to the main school. The year we were there it contained 18 kids from 6-14 and 2 teachers. There was a teacher's aide too, her son was the 14 year old and he had downs syndrome. She was hired to be there and help with all the kids. I wasn't paid, but I stayed there and helped every day because it was too far to drive home again, and because my daughter was shy. My son who was 1 at the time also went most days. The kids helped each other with their work. They played games to learn. The teachers were older and counter cultural and pragmatic about balancing the requirements they had to meet for the school district with the needs of the children. There was a gate the kids walked through to get into the school yard, and it has the word Aspire carved above it. In my opinion, that school at that time was the best of what the hippies ever cared about.

But then we moved back to southern California. My daughter in that setting hadn't made one friend all year long. I went to her teacher at one point and told her I was afraid something was wrong with my daughter. She looked at me a second and then said no, she's fine. I've lost track of that teacher, but she changed my life. Because when I thought about enrolling my girl into a class of 25 kids and not being welcomed every day into the classroom with her, I didn't believe that would be a good choice for her. And instead of deciding something was wrong with her, I decided something was wrong with the choice to educate her that way.

The first few months we struggled because I would dutifully try to "teach" her, and she would resist my efforts. Finally I gave up and started looking at the schools. I was very frustrated with her. She knew it. And she went off somewhere private in the house the location of which is still a mystery to me, and she taught herself to read in a manner of a few weeks.

Trusting my daughter and son to lead their own learning and autonomy has been a rocky process for me. I know some notable unschoolers, and I don't feel comfortable claiming that title. I have traveled between trusting the kids and enriching their lives and nagging the kids on responsibilities I think they are ditching. I'm far from being a perfect parent but I have grown into a better person by letting my kids teach me how to support them.

Eventually we found a like-minded group of families who were bravely trusting their kids to lead them out of the beliefs they had about early child education and parenting. We have all watched the kids grow into themselves, and we have seen all the struggles as we land on the distant shore reconnected so beautifully wrote about. The courage that it takes to disconnect from the common wisdom of childrearing humbles me. I think the only way to do it is a daily process, not knowing how far you will end up from your starting place.

The reason everyone is so thrilled about my daughter's growth is that she is finally smiling more than scowling. She looks comfortable talking to people and she is starting to try new things. For so many years she would talk to people if they talked to her, but she was a loner. School would have been too stressful with her with the constant social component.

There are kids in our circle of friends who would be medicated if they were in school. There are kids who would have been so horribly bullied in a school setting. There are kids who didn't read until they were 12. That would be impossible to accommodate in a school setting because by third grade a significant portion of the instructional material is being read by the children. But these kids take to reading when they finally get it. Most of them have been read to for years so their comprehension is farther along than the mechanics of reading. Their speed in catching up to grade level reading is swift.

The parents I know have held their ground while their families and friends drill their kids, trying to see if they are learning anything. They have endured the serious and concerned talks asking if the late reader is making progress. For me, it was so scary sometimes allowing my daughter the space she needed. I wondered if she would ever find a way to grow into a comfortable space in herself. I held my breath for what seemed to be months sometimes and trusted her to find her way through. So when parents come to me and notice how my daughter is blossoming, they are also telling me it's okay to breath and to know that we all did well by our kids in trusting them to grow at their own pace, and in the way that felt natural to them.

I look back at my beliefs about childhood education and I feel I was brainwashed. I didn't know, when we started out to homeschool that childhood could be a self directed journey to self. Seeing child after child find their way through on their own terms and watching them grow into self-motivated interesting young adults has been a life changing experience for me. I wish more people the chance to experience this joy.

Originally posted to Renee on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 11:20 AM PDT.

Also republished by Education Alternatives and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (22+ / 0-)

    "My plan reduces the national debt, and fast. So fast, in fact, that economists worry that we're going to run out of debt to retire." - President George W. Bush, February 24, 2001

    by Renee on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 11:20:12 AM PDT

    •  Wonderful piece, thank you (8+ / 0-)

      It's so great to read of others going through what we did and having positive outcomes.  And to share with the world by writing of it hopefully opens a window for others to look into of another way of being that is valid and life enriching.

      We also held our breath throughout many years...I'll have to write about it also to add it to this growing "library" of pieces.

      •  I'm glad you liked it! (0+ / 0-)

        I'm glad we aren't the only ones who held our breath. I think it goes with the territory because it is so unusual to raise kids this way. I'll look forward to hearing about your journey.

        "My plan reduces the national debt, and fast. So fast, in fact, that economists worry that we're going to run out of debt to retire." - President George W. Bush, February 24, 2001

        by Renee on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 10:39:42 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  They say.... (0+ / 0-)

      They say that a lawyer who represents himself is a fool.  What would you call a parent that represents to be a teacher?

      •  Oh, I'm not a teacher. I just facilitate them. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        chimene

        They are self taught.

        "My plan reduces the national debt, and fast. So fast, in fact, that economists worry that we're going to run out of debt to retire." - President George W. Bush, February 24, 2001

        by Renee on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 10:40:11 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I want..... (0+ / 0-)

          If my freedom is involved, I want a real lawyer.   Yea, yea, yea  I will also give him my ideas and input.  But first...... a real lawyer.

          For my kids, I want a real teacher.  I supplemented my own kids education all the way from kindergarden thru college.  The idea that I could have done all that myself would have been pretty foolish.

          •  Foolish for you maybe. Luckily people have (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Kamakhya, chimene, angelajean

            the choice to walk their own paths.

            "My plan reduces the national debt, and fast. So fast, in fact, that economists worry that we're going to run out of debt to retire." - President George W. Bush, February 24, 2001

            by Renee on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 11:07:24 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Some assumptions here? (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            angelajean, Renee

            Are you assuming that people can't learn without being taught by a credentialed teacher?  Are you assuming that kids taught a full state mandated curriculum remember it after the test, or in later years?  Are you assuming that the hours spent in class and on homework are all necessary for that learning?  Are you aware of how self directed learning works?  

            I know that I had most of those assumptions at one time and that I did not know how self directed learning worked, but when our son refused to do school as the system demanded I researched other options and found, over time, that there were indeed other ways of becoming educated that looked very different than spending years in a classroom with teachers.  We took him out of school in the middle of 8th grade and never looked back.  He taught himself and is now, at age 25, a very well-spoken, thoughtful, engaging, employed, intelligent, educated, delightful human being.

          •  What a shame. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Renee

            You've missed out on a wonderful opportunity.

    •  Thank you mystery rescue ranger! nt (0+ / 0-)

      "My plan reduces the national debt, and fast. So fast, in fact, that economists worry that we're going to run out of debt to retire." - President George W. Bush, February 24, 2001

      by Renee on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 11:03:54 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is a beautiful diary and it expresses so much (8+ / 0-)

    of what I feel about homeschooling.

    I especially feel connected to you when I read this:

    I have traveled between trusting the kids and enriching their lives and nagging the kids on responsibilities I think they are ditching.

    Finding the balance is so very, very hard sometimes.

    Right now, both of my kids are in school in Argentina. My youngest hates going but is learning Spanish so well that we are keeping him enrolled. He just spent a Sunday afternoon asleep on the couch. He is making up for lost sleep during the week. He does not do well with early mornings. I feel like living with a school schedule has taken away a lot of his motivation for learning. The good news is that he thinks so too and he is able to explain to me that it will be worth it for this one year. The language acquisition is the key - next year, back to homeschool. I am looking forward to it very much. I am grateful that we have our homeschooling to get us through this year as well... it is helping us to see the wide problems in the system and to remove ourselves from the ones that we can control. We don't care about grades (or try not to) and we don't worry about missing the occasional day from school. It helps keep us sane :)

  •  I guess I didn't mention some of the things that (5+ / 0-)

    made me hold my breathe about my daughter. She has delays, one of which is in empathy development. That has made parenting her and her brother so hard. She would have been a better single child. But suddenly she is taking an interest in the younger kids. She is learning how to mend her relationship with her brother. And I didn't do anything but let her be in the sorts of situations that she could handle. She has grown through some significant difficulties.

    "My plan reduces the national debt, and fast. So fast, in fact, that economists worry that we're going to run out of debt to retire." - President George W. Bush, February 24, 2001

    by Renee on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 12:06:01 PM PDT

  •  Congrats on the Community Spotlight! (3+ / 0-)

    This diary deserves it... and the topic is one that should be discussed much more often at DailyKos.

  •  Great piece about that difficult transition... (4+ / 0-)

    from trying to educate someone to giving them the space to find the agency to pursue learning themselves.  My partner Sally (reconnected) and I went through it as well, but when our two kids (now 25 & 22) were teens.

    So you say you don't claim to be an "unschooler".  I would say you fit my definition of that pretty well, if your daughter snuck off somewhere and learned to read.

    Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

    by leftyparent on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 04:34:49 PM PDT

    •  It's funny how hard it is to claim the label (3+ / 0-)

      unschooler.

      Sometimes other unschoolers are unwilling to give the title to those who use the slightest amount of curriculum. And sometimes those of us who unschool are unwilling to claim the title because we don't want to seem anymore fringe that we already are :)  Labels do get in the way, sometimes, don't they?

      •  They do... they're all about categorizing &... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Renee, angelajean

        counting.  So one can say, "You know, I met 5 different families recently that are letting their kids unschool!"

        Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

        by leftyparent on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 06:28:21 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  I like being on the fringe, because it feels (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        angelajean

        regular to me. But I hate talking about being on the fringe with people who start judging because I'm so different than them.

        But you are right about unschooler being a difficult label to claim. Most of the people I know call themselves eclectic.

        "My plan reduces the national debt, and fast. So fast, in fact, that economists worry that we're going to run out of debt to retire." - President George W. Bush, February 24, 2001

        by Renee on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 10:55:03 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Thanks for that. I secretly love the unschoolers. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      angelajean

      But the unschoolers I know unschool everything. I had some limits I was pretty stuck to with the kids. We didn't do schoolish kitchen table stuff at all. It's not like there are any cut and dried definitions though

      "My plan reduces the national debt, and fast. So fast, in fact, that economists worry that we're going to run out of debt to retire." - President George W. Bush, February 24, 2001

      by Renee on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 10:50:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Kudos to you. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kurt, Renee, angelajean

    We also homeschooled our children.  One received her PhD at age 24.  The other has two Master's degrees.  Both are independent.

    I too support public education, but my children taught me that simply allowing our children to follow their interests...while observing and making certain that they learn the three R's works also.

    Not everly child will excel in academia, but if we allow it, every child will honestly pursue his or her interests.

    Too much public education is simply babysitting and child crowd control.

    "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win". Mohandas K. Ghandi

    by Randolph the red nosed reindeer on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 06:34:00 PM PDT

    •  Thanks, and right back at you! (2+ / 0-)

      I think those of us who have watched our kids learn this way have a valuable story to tell the people around us. I wouldn't have believed it was possible for kids to learn without schooling.

      "My plan reduces the national debt, and fast. So fast, in fact, that economists worry that we're going to run out of debt to retire." - President George W. Bush, February 24, 2001

      by Renee on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 10:56:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  We would love to learn more about your experience (0+ / 0-)

      Would you be willing to write a diary (or more) for Education Alternatives?

      •  Thank you. (0+ / 0-)

        I promise that in the near future, I will dust off some of my old literature and research regarding homeschooling.  I would like to publish a diary that offers objective insight into homeschooling.

        When we homeschooled our children, homeschooling was a bit of an oddity.  I was frightened by the thought of homeschooling my children, but I...and my wonderful wife...really came to understand that our oldest child, my son, would not function well in our public school system.

        Obviously, my son has done quite well for himself.  He is independent, happy and productive.  Had we allowed him to enter into the public school system, he would most certainly have come to be labeled as ADD or ADHD.  He is actually...I say this objectively and not as a proud parent...quite brilliant.  As many brilliant people are though, he could never have fit into the cloying environment of public education.  Public education teaches to the mythically average student, which leaves the gifted hopelessly bored and the less gifted hoplessly overwhelmed.  

        I have no ax to grind with public education, but I do encourage every parent to do what is best for his/her child/children.  If that means eschewing public education and to start homeschooling their child/children, then so be it.

        "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win". Mohandas K. Ghandi

        by Randolph the red nosed reindeer on Mon Aug 15, 2011 at 07:21:02 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  If I knew then what I know now... (7+ / 0-)

    Thank-you so much for sharing this...Being a single mom, I have to admit with much regret that my oldest child suffered alot through his years of public education. From being bullied to school counselors trying to force the title " learning disablities" on him as well as using his single parent status as a reason for some of his problems. It hurt so much that they had me convinced that I was such a bad parent. I had thought he and I were doing so well, as from the begining I read to him ...sang to him...talked to him... and I made sure that those who were his care-givers did the same.By the time kindergarden came around..he was already reading.He could sit and have a rather fasinating conversation with almost any adult in his life. He was open, funny and totally drawn to learning new things but slowly as his school years progressed he became more and more withdrawn...I spent more and more time being called in for teacher conferences that never did anything more than re-enforce the notion that I had somehow failed as a parent...In a way, they did turn out to be right because I allowed them to take over my son's education (or lack there of). It took until his junior year of high school when a very gifted teacher broke through his walls of defenses and turned back on the light of learning in him...He went on to college making the Dean's List time and time again. He and I are closer than ever as we've been very open and honest with each other. His little brother is 12 years younger than him and his education as gone in a most wonderful direction, while I couldn't homeschool...we found ways to let him expand his own horizons...we do make time for home projects...and grades while looked at are not the most important thing. I fear that as long as there are so many restictions, financial contraints and false expectations of what real achievement is, placed apon our public educational system, it will be hardest on the younger parents who place their trust in this system because the negative effects can have a long-range hold on a childs future  

    “The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you.” -B. B. King

    by JMoore on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 07:05:46 PM PDT

    •  I'm so glad that you both made it thought that! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JMoore, angelajean

      It's painful to hear your story because that could be the story of any of us. But I'm so glad that you shared it. Sometimes I think it's those of us who can look back and see that we were pulled from our center who can help the next generation to hold firm. If we all keep talking, some of them will listen to us!

      "My plan reduces the national debt, and fast. So fast, in fact, that economists worry that we're going to run out of debt to retire." - President George W. Bush, February 24, 2001

      by Renee on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 11:00:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  My daughter is 17 (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    angelajean

    I so know where you are coming from.  I never had the ability to home school my daughter, but I tried everything else.

    In the end, what worked for her was the exact opposite of what worked for your daughter.  That may be just because the other alternatives suck.  :>)

    Good for you for finding what worked for her and I'm so happy she is finding her confidence.

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