Deschooling a Parent
When a Child Leaves School
By Darrin Dubowsky
As a parent who is new to
homeschooling, let alone life learning, I’ve had to do a lot of work on
myself. I guess you’d say that I’ve had to deschool myself.
When we took our thirteen-year-old
daughter out of school (well, she actually took herself out!), I was ready
to play school with her. I bought a desk and some bookshelves, and remodeled
our family room so she could have a space to work. Even though other families
that we’d met warned me that she would require some time to decompress (“detox”
as one mother put it), I got really nervous when D just wanted to slouch
around the house, lay on the couch reading, bake cookies, read some more,
and play with the dog. Wasn’t she supposed to be learning?! And what was
I supposed to be doing all day; wasn’t I supposed to be teaching her stuff?!
What I did was sit down and
read too. I re-read all the books my wife had bought when our daughter declared
she didn’t want to go back to school after the holidays. They reminded me
that I needed patience, that D would eventually get tired of doing “nothing”
and begin to do something. And that she was probably learning anyway.
So I decided to get to work
myself. (My employer has allowed me to go to the office two days a week
and work at home the rest of the time so that I can be at home with our
daughter while my wife works.) That went on for a couple of weeks, with
me clenching my teeth and trying to ignore the sighing, slouching daughter.
Then, I began to notice that she was working away on her laptop, asking
me questions, going to the library, and talking on the phone making arrangements
to do some volunteering at our local arts center.
When I asked her what she was doing, she just
smiled at me and said, “Oh, I’m just messing about.” Clearly, she didn’t
want me playing teacher. So I didn’t. Now, going on six months later, I’ve
realized that D’s decompression time slid nicely into muddling around, and
then morphed right into purposeful self-education. Being at home, in charge
of her own time, has given her opportunities to explore who she is and what
she likes, and to investigate a wide variety of questions and ideas.
It has taken time and space
(both physical and psychological), as well as some example-setting by me
(no flaking out in front of the television when I was procrastinating),
but D is turning from an angry, bored, passive young person into a happy,
curious, active learner. We have great conversations over lunch about a
wide variety of things: what’s happened in the news that day, how to find
a natural cure for the dog’s itchy skin, how to get her friend B to be more
interested in Egyptian tombs (D’s current passion), and the structure of
the state government. She has brought all those topics up and I have to
admit that I’m learning from her and from our interaction.
I have a hunch that she is
keeping up with her peers at school, something we’ll know for sure when
she’s tested (her choice) this Spring. But I do know that learning at home
has meant that since her actual academic work takes a small amount of time,
the rest of the day is free for putting into practice what she is learning,
for exploring, and for just plain living.
A real bonus is the lack
of peer pressure. D spends a lot of off-school time with her friends – some
from when she went to school and some new ones – but she doesn’t seem as
prone to blindly following them as when she went to school.
Apparently, those wise authors
were right once again: The child who learns without school is able to develop
individually with the freedom to feel good about being herself, rather than
a carbon copy of everyone else.
And me? I’ve learned a lot
from this adventure. I’ve learned that kids can be trusted with decisions,
that they know what is best for themselves...and can go out and get it with
our support. And now that I’ve backed off, I’m getting a lot of my own work
is a computer engineer who lives and learns with his wife and daughter in
a small mid-western city.
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