Picture this scenario. You are considering homeschooling your child. You have read and researched everything in print available on the subject. You feel that you are more than ready to take that first step in homeschooling. At precisely that moment, you are introduced to the term “deschooling.” And you are back at the beginning of your research.
Deschooling? If you are currently homeschooling your children you have undoubtedly heard this term. If not, briefly deschooling is the process during which children who had previously been in public or private school need time to decompress, to shake off the schoolish notions that have surrounded them and find their footing in the freedom that homeschooling affords them. Think of astronauts reentering the earth’s atmosphere. Same thing, different situation.
To further complicate the issue, you will find that the ongoing process of deschooling is not limited to your children. The deschooling process is ever-changing, exhilarating, maddening and is something that we as parents must experience as well. Not the experience of our children’s deschooling, rather our own very personal process of deschooling.
Unless you have been homeschooled yourself, you carry with you various thoughts, ideas and notions about “teaching” children and “learning”. Having ideas is natural but holding on to some of those ideas may interfere with your child’s freedom to leam. Deschooling is not something that you will “get through”, rather it is more a sense of moving on to other levels in your thinking about learning.
Our oldest son Christopher’s deschooling journey, after three years at home, has worked its way through him and landed right back at me. I constantly work on my own deschooling journey. The first time I felt that sense of just how great my own deschooling needs were was during those first shaky months of homeschooling. I asked Christopher one night, “What have you learned today?”
What had he learned today? Why did I need to know that? Did someone come into my room at bedtime and ask me what I had learned? Why was I looking for proof from him? What was I thinking? Who or what was behind those words?
With that, the deschooling process began. By asking myself that first question I opened the door to an avalanche of questions such as these. Why would “busy work” displayed on the fridge mean more than the time a child spends gazing out a kitchen window? Why would it be “better” for a child to write a report (complete with footnotes and bibliography) on botany than to till and plant and nurture a garden through the season? Why would it be “acceptable” for a child to be seated at a desk from nine to three five days a week than to explore wonderful museums, meet local artists, or read to their heart’s content?
It would not be “better.” It is not “more acceptable.” And “busy work” is just that – busy work. Yet many new homeschoolers make the mistake of trying to make their children jump through hoops, displaying how their children can leam and how they as parents are able to teach their children. So much of this is tied in with our own histories, with our own school experiences, with the expectations of someone else. Overcoming those histories is vital if we are going to free our children’s learning and natural curiosities in ways that we could only have dreamed of during our own school years.
Are there universal moments of deschooling for parents? I think so. I find that most homeschooling parents go through regular periods of feeling that their children are learning nothing, that they have taken the wrong path, that anything that feels this wonderful must be wrong. We have all been there and will more than likely be there again. It is much like having days when you think that your parenting skills are top notch and others when you are certain that Anila the Hun was a better parent than you. It comes with the territory. Being able to recognize those “school hangover” moments for what they are is important. They do become easier to spot with time.
I have four children. One of my “hang-over moments” involved reading. Since child A and child B learned to read at such and such an age, stands to reason that child C will leam to read at approximately the same time, right? Wrong. Each of the four will leam skills, be it reading, writing, algebra, changing a tire or calculating a restaurant tip when and if they need that particular skill. Children are not on predictable timetables. Homeschoolers do not have to perform on cue.
One of the many perks of homeschooling is the unexpected opportunity to learn again. There comes with homeschooling your children a renewal, a sense of “boy oh boy, do I love to learn new things!” Learning is no longer something that your children will “do at school”, separate from your home. It is now a seamless part of your lives together. Part of this includes a true sense of understanding, a marvelous realization that you have choices in what you learn and when you learn it.
This new understanding brought our family to a point of talking about those things we “thought” we needed to learn and those things that we were dying to leam. I think that was the moment in our homeschooling journey when the veil was lifted. This was the moment when everything changed. We were empowered, we were strong and we knew that all of the years of teachers and principals and school boards telling us what was important for all of us to leam were over. We are smart, well-informed people and we can and will guide our own learning experiences. This is deschooling at its best.
What can you expect to encounter in your own deschooling? Something different from every other homeschooler you meet. But the nagging doubts, the questions from family, friends and strangers and even yourself will all have a familiar ring. Am I doing the right thing? Will my child be okay? Will leaving school or not sending them in the first place be a mistake?
So many questions, but basically the same answers. The natural curiosity of children, the drive to know more, along with the wonders of the universe will get you through it all.
Trust is perhaps the biggest issue here. Telling yourself that your child will be just fine is another. Believing it all is the biggest issue of all. Bottom line. You will believe when you are ready. Not when your child tells you that he is fine. Not when your family tells you what a good job you are doing. Not until you are ready. Someone else saying this will never make it so. Honesty is at the very core of your own deschooling.
We can’t change the past. We all have had far too many years of schools and textbooks and administrators in our lives to pretend that they don’t exist. Deciding to homeschool your children is a major step away from all of that. Recognizing and embracing the deschooling process is another.
Remember … think astronauts, think decompression, think breathing the sweet air of learning free. You can do this. Your child can do this. Give your children room to soar and they will. Need one last thought? You will be soaring right beside them. What a wonderful feeling.
© 1998 Pattie Donahue-Krueger. Reprinted with permission from Issue #11 of F.U.N. (Family Unschoolers’ Network) News