September 26, 2007

Rule One

This whole unschooling thing is bringing me face to face with some of the less pleasant sides of my personality. Today I saw the control freak side of myself rear its ugly head. It took some serious self-control to keep the beast down but cool and calm won out in the end. Here's how it happened:

J suggested going to the downtown library today. "Great!" I thought, "He's really starting to take the reins!" But what section do you suppose he wanted to visit first? The video section. I was okay, though. The control freak side of me was still hibernating. We browsed the anime. J chose a couple DVDs, then, at my suggestion, we looked through the drawing books. I chose one on 3-D animation, because we spent a better part of this past Sunday in the 3-D animation studio at Zeum in San Francisco. J wasn't too inspired but he didn't say no, so I added it to the pile.

Next, we went to the fiction section. I looked up "Johnny Tremain" because I had decided J needed to read more classics. J had other ideas. He was not so keen on this book and said he wouldn't read it, nor would he listen to me read it. The beast began to stir. Instead of insisting we read the book, though, I took a few deep breaths and added it to my pile. "We'll see," I said, imagining J tied to a chair, trying not to listen, while I read "Johnny Tremain" outloud. I think it's pretty safe to say this is not a picture of unschooling harmony.

The big mistake here was my reason for wanting J to read more classics in the first place. I had just finished reading Mary Hood's "The Relaxed Home School" in which Hood states that when her children have read a few too many uninspiring books, she suggests they look to the classics for their next selection. She never says her children happily accept this suggestion each and every time, but I can read between the lines. I know very well that other people's children do exactly as they're told. Mary Hood tells her children to read "Johnny Tremain" and they frolic to the book shelf, finishing page one before she has taken her next breath.

Even if this is the case (and, honestly, I doubt it), I now understand what a huge mistake it is to take what works for one family and assume it will work for my own. That, right there, is my first rule of unschooling. Here, I'll put it in caps for you:


I've only been at this for three weeks and I can already offer my first piece of helpful advice. I'm learning. Yippee!

The postscript to this scenario is a happy one--much more in line with that image of unschooling harmony than the "Johnny Tremain" scene. Back at the library, with no prompting from me, J started looking up books about volcanoes and Mt. Vesuvius, then chose a couple to take home. After checking out our books and DVDs we went across the street to a cafe where we ate cookies and read about volcanoes and plate tectonics. When we got home we started our Mt. Vesuvius model. It was fun, educational, and completely initiated by my son.

So, even though I felt J was being extremely uncooperative and I imagined myself tying him to a chair for his bedtime story, I managed to hold my tongue and follow his lead. Much to my surprise he walked straight into the picture of unschooling harmony. Thankfully, I had the good sense to follow.

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