The Mental Vacation You Didn’t Expect
If your child’s been in school for any length of time, an unexpected mental vacation may be in your future. Your child’s mental vacation, I mean — not yours. Often children who are coming out of a school setting tend to balk at jumping right into homeschooling. It’s perfectly normal. And understandable. They’re burned out, they’ve had it, they’re cooked, fried, mentally toasted, lacking in confidence, interest and inspiration. Anything that looks (or sounds) like ‘school’ or ‘learning’ triggers a FIGHT OR FLIGHT response. Educational goodies stored inside a locker do not suddenly become more appealing just because they’re sitting on the kitchen table next to the napkin holder. That’s just geography.
“After reading Tammy Takahashi’s wonderful book I realized that maybe my children don’t need to deschool, but I sure do! Through her book Ms. Takahashi helped put to rest some of my uneasy feelings about homeschooling. She gave me the power to really put into practice some of my ideas about homeschooling, unschooling in particular, that I’ve been too insecure to implement thus far.”
Now, most kids won’t be able to explain how washed-out and uninterested they feel. But, what they WILL do is resist any of your attempts to jump into homeschooling. It could be actively (“No way!”), or passively (“Sure mom, that sounds great”) — followed by an energy-draining war of push-pull-drag as you try to get them to do what they just agreed to do.
They’re not trying to drive you nuts. Really. Rather, they’re unconsciously letting you know they need time to decompress. To have room to breathe, to relax, take time to heal, to stop dreading education. They probably don’t remember, but once upon a time, they loved learning.
So what happened to that giggly joy, that natural delight, those hundreds of questions they peppered you with all day long? Public school happened. Compulsory schooling is designed to take your happy, curious five year old and slowly squeeze all that joy away and replace it with unquestioning obedience. It’s a training regimen akin to military boot camp: learn to respond instantly to bells, commands to sit in a circle, line up, sit quietly, raise your hand to go to the bathroom, to get a drink of water, don’t speak without permission, and learn only what the teacher wants you to learn. It doesn’t matter if you want to learn whatever it is; you’re required to do it — and do it well — so you’ll get good grades on your report card. Otherwise, here comes punishment. Mom and Dad will be upset, they’ll wonder why ‘you’re not applying yourself’. To add insult to injury, you’re also required to learn this uninteresting subject/project with a willing attitude and a sunny smile. In other words, fake it. Lie. Pretend enthusiasm. Because if you don’t, you’ll most assuredly be labeled: uncooperative, anti-social, a troublemaker, ADD/ADHD. Take your pick.
by John Holt
“If you are one of the millions of walking wounded still staggering from your own encounter with forced institutional schooling, and trying to spare your own kids from its damage, this book will be your guide and a good friend.” — John Taylor Gatto, Former New York State Teacher of the Year.
The main point of school is not to educate, but to train your children to behave without question. The kids have no say-so in what goes on for 80% of their day. Oh geez, I almost forgot; the school insists on following them home, too. Add in homework. Make that 90%.
Now look at this Beginning Homeschooling Adventure from your child’s perspective. There you are, bubbling over with enthusiasm, exciting plans, brilliant ideas, standing next to a very pretty pile of books, papers and pencils. What does your child see? They have no frame of reference for what you’re saying. Choices? They’ve never had any choices in their education. No one’s ever asked their opinion, so they have no clue how to even make a choice. You might as well be speaking Martian. All they know is that this looks and sounds just like school. And you look like just another teacher.
I know that’s not what you want to hear. You want to jump right in and get started. Trust me, it’s better to save your energy. If you ‘push’, you’ll get resistance. If you ‘make them’, they’ll pull away. It happened to us, and I’ve heard the same from hundreds of parents over the years.
What is deschooling? It can best be compared to what you do to relax in your adult life. I’m sure you take time to unwind after a hectic day or week. We all need a little “Zen-time” to recharge our batteries. Maybe you putter in your garden, curl up with a good book, play on the computer? Perhaps you prefer 30 minutes in a nice, warm bubble bath. Letting your mind wander, no deadlines, no phone calls, no 1,000 household chores to attend to. Ahhhh. Forty-five minutes of this would be wonderful. An entire hour … probably impossible … but mmmmmmmm. You lie back, soaking in warm bliss, musing, beginning to daydream. You know that once you’ve had your space, this quiet time to yourself, you’ll feel calmer, rejuvenated, ready to handle whatever else comes your way. You just need this little bit of time to recharge …
Tap-tap-tao on the door. “Mom?” a little voice asks, “You in there?” You groan. “What?” The little voice answers, “I need to ask you a question.” Now you’re getting irritated. Can’t you just have 15 minutes alone? You whisper to the closed door, “It can’t wait? Ask me when I get out.”
You can hear whispers outside the door, aware the kids are waiting, hesitating, pacing back and forth. And there goes Zen-time. You’ve been interrupted, the clock is tick-tick-ticking, you’re not relaxed anymore. Sure, you can stay in that lovely bath for the remainder of the twenty five minutes, but it’s not the same. You’re being timed, people are waiting. You finally get out, towel yourself off, answer your child’s important question, make dinner, banging a few pots and pans around for good measure, start the wash — with this air of resentment and a small chip on your shoulder. And everyone can see it. It might last an hour, a day, or recur every time you take a bath again.
Deschooling’s the same for your kids. They’re trying to take their own ‘bubble baths’. They need some personal space to relax, unwind, try to find their way back to their normal selves. Essentially, the wind’s been knocked out of them and they don’t quite know how to get back up again. All that takes time. But no one seems to understand, people keep knocking on the bathroom door; it’s time to go here, time to do that, hurry up, what’s the matter with you, aren’t you done with that bath yet?
There’s no telling how long deschooling will last, but the general rule of thumb is, one month of deschooling for every year a child was in school. Some kids ‘detox’ sooner, but it’s rare. And for most kids, the damage, the loss of self-esteem, the exhaustion, runs far deeper than we adults realize. They’ve had years of not being in control of their lives, whether at school, or at home. Other adults and relatives (and maybe even you) constantly watch them, judge them, mentally rate their knowledge, performance and attitude. You want to know how they’re ‘comparing’ to others. This is exhausting for a child. Hell, it’s exhausting for us adults. I think of it as a form of School PTSD.
I also know you’re thinking. “If I don’t get that youngin’ hitting the books immediately, doing vocabulary words, entering spelling bees, attending museums, taking standardized tests, preparing for college, they’ll fall behind. They won’t be motivated to do anything, won’t graduate high school, get scholarships, go to college, find a great career, get married or have babies — all because I let them slide and ruined them for life!”
Relax. The sky is not falling. Your child’s inertia is only temporary. And there’s no big hurry to get crackin’. As award-winning teacher John Taylor Gatto will tell you, “It only takes about 50 contact hours to transmit basic literacy and math skills well enough that kids can be self-teachers from then on. The cry for “basic skills” practice is a smokescreen behind which schools pre-empt the time of children for twelve years…” Surprised? I was. But having experienced it with my own kids, I can tell you it’s true.
And 50 hours is not even one year of homeschooling.
Right now your child needs you to sit on your hands, learn to be patient and trust them. They’ll probably happily retreat into video game nirvana, read comic books, text their friends ’til their thumbs cramp, sleep til noon, be total couch potatoes. And that’s fine. Think of it as an ICU. They’re healing. Eventually, they’ll get bored. Boredom is a great motivator. One day they’ll find themselves suddenly interested in something again. Maybe just a small thing, like one of those oddball products on TV. Now your kiddo just has to go look up who invented this thing and why. Perhaps it’ll be an urge to make money so they can buy a movie or a game. They then have to figure out how to make that money: shoveling neighbors’ driveways, learning to trim hedges, starting a dog-walking service? Or perhaps coding a web site? They might grab the family camera to snap a picture of a squirrel doing something funny and unexpectedly discover they have a love of photography. The possibilities are endless.
This is the time for you to really start paying attention to how they learn, to find out what they’re interested in, to read homeschooling books, converse with veteran homeschoolers, compare notes with new homeschoolers. In other words, take this time and Deschool Yourself. Stop thinking like a teacher, stop setting up ‘school’ in your home, stop listening to relatives and friends who question your ability because you’re not ‘certified’. That’s a system meant for generic, mass education — which fails more often than it succeeds. You want to emulate such a thing? You’re homeschooling the child you gave birth to, the child you adopted, the love of your life, the center of your heart. Could there be a more perfect union in the world? Real learning doesn’t need school trappings. It just needs your attention, your precious connection to this young, talented, smart, loveable human being.
It took my kids twelve months to deschool. It took ME even longer. I had my own 12 years of ‘school-think’ to jettison into outer space. I won’t gloss it over and tell you it was easy or that I didn’t worry myself into a frazzle now and again. But, my kids surprised me. There they were, couch potatoes one day, and the next day — seemingly out of the blue — full of ideas. After they finished recovering, the Run for the Roses began and I could hardly keep up! And three years after we filed our Notice of Intent, my oldest had somehow zoomed and leaped through his high school courses and enrolled in college at the age of 14. My youngest took a little longer; he began college at 16. When both took their college entrance exams, they tested at the 13th grade level (college freshman). That single year of deschooling was more than worth it. They’d caught up. And then some.
Yours will, too. Just trust them. Believe in them. And think twice before knocking on the bathroom door.
© 2006 Cindy Englan Stanley