Hi there Colorado homeschoolers! So the question is, who am I, why should you trust me, and where did I learn all that I know?
My name is Cindy Englan Wentz, your host and veteran unschooling mom of two grown, comically messy, college-educated kids. We began our journey in public school in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s. One child was labeled “gifted”, the other “slow”. I was a hands-on mom, fully convinced I could make a difference if I pitched and volunteered, played an active role in their K-12 schooling. I was a classroom assistant, fundraiser, Odyssey of the Mind Coach, Vice President of the PTA/PTO, and organized Teacher Appreciation Week. I worked in the office, the nurse’s station, many classrooms, the Gifted and Talented program, and helped the para-professionals with everything from xeroxing, to lunch and playground monitoring. Things began unraveling in the first weeks of kindergarten, and slowly got worse. Still, I thought my presence was making a difference, changing things for the better. I was so wrong.
Finally, in the spring of 1993, my oldest overhead me talking to another mom who was planning to pull her four children out at the end of the year and begin homeschooling them. So oldest got the bright idea I could do that, too. My answer was to sputter. “Are you crazy? I can’t do that! I’m not certified, I’m not religious, I’m not this, I’m not that ….” He said, “Mom, please. If you send me to middle school next year, I’ll run away from home.” That stopped me in my tracks. A couple weeks later, the President of the PTA/PTO and I took a tour of the the middle school, and found out there was no real curriculum. The Principal actually laughed at us. Middle school, she explained, was not about curriculum or academics. It was for learning to socialize and transition into high school. Three years of learning to pass notes in class, giggle, gossip, form crushes and figure out how get up the nerve to call a girl on the phone? You must be kidding.
At this same time, my oldest got his younger sibling onboard with this homeschooling idea. So now I had two kids asking me several times a week: we’re doing this …. right, Mom?
So, okay, I’ll look into this crazy notion. I read books by the dozens, attended a Rookie Workshop, homeschool support groups meetings, park days and events. I asked a million questions of so many people. Gradually, I got excited. Little by little I began to think maybe I could do this. Then, a bombshell dropped just before spring break. The district was changing the curriculum, so the PTA/PTO President and I attended a district meeting about it. She pulled out a tape recorder so we’d be able to refer back to it later, and give the correct info to the parents who were already asking questions. They stopped the meeting. They told her to put it away. She smiled and explained why she had it out, but the moderator said NO. Confused, she shut it off and put it in her purse. Three administrative types in dark suits surrounded us, and escorted us out of the building. We couldn’t even sit in on the meeting? NO. The next morning, we were both locked out of our kids’ school. We had to have permission to come inside. We each needed an escort to stay with us the entire time we were in the building. We were told we were “subversives” and couldn’t be trusted anymore. For pulling out a tape recorder at a meeting? Seriously? Yes, seriously. I kid you not.
That was it. Finis, done, outta here. There’s something fishy going on here.
Within a few months, the same sorts of things happened to other parents who had the nerve to ask questions. They pulled their kids out to homeschool/unschool them too. It turned out to be a mass exodus.
Unschooling appealed to us the most. By the fall, I was ready. Or so I thought. But when push came to shove, I panicked. I need curriculum! I need textbooks! So we begged some and borrowed others. I made lesson plans, sat my kids down every morning, and had them do lessons. I bought a blackboard, a pointer, chalk, workbooks, teaching games, you name it. This lasted six weeks. My kids very very reluctantly cooperated. I became exhausted from filling in planners and grading papers every night. What happened to unschooling, they asked? This is just like public school. I finally threw in the towel, admitted they were right, and we began unschooling.
Only there’s no roadmap on how to unschool. No exact rules to follow, no grades, nothing to tell me what to do next. I was terrified. Lost. I made so many mistakes. But the kids hopped in the driver seat and took over. They taught me how to unschool. Sometimes textbooks came in handy for a subject now and then. And they bloomed and blossomed. They leapfrogged over me, educating themselves to a higher degree than I’d achieved or ever hoped to. I wasn’t the teacher. THEY were the teachers. In the end, it was the best “degree” I could’ve ever received.
Three years after we started, my oldest enrolled in college. He was 14, and the youngest student the college had ever admitted. My “slow” child started college a few years later, at 16. He received his BS from the University of Colorado — in Applied Mathematics, with Honors. This is the kid who refused, absolutely flat-out refused to do math until his mid-teens, when he wanted to enroll in college. Then he proceeded to teach himself. So when you ask yourself, but can I do this unschooling thing? Yes. I’ll launch you, give you a ton of guidance and great ideas, and your kids will teach you the rest.