Home Education Magazine
July-August 2003 - Articles and Columns
Homeschooling and the Type A Dad - Brad Beckerman
Whether we came to homeschooling as a refuge from the barking dogs of formal education or to the conclusion of a long study of all the options, we all want many of the same things--the opportunity to grow together as a family and the opportunity to remain primary movers and shakers in our children's lives, rather than merely providing respite from their real world. The freedom to wander, explore, create, and rest on our own timetables. Unschooling, like no other approach, sells these opportunities in spades.
The picture of unschooling, as drawn by any number of authors and online purveyors of the practice, is surely a pretty one. After no small amount of study, I was left with a vision of the picture-perfect family. My own. In perfect harmony. Learning without trying, succeeding without sweat. If I were to pursue marketing as a vocation, and homeschoolers as my target population, I would be peddling unschooling. Everyone loves a product that sells itself.
The way I've come to see it, if homeschooling is like jumping off a cliff into the great unknown, then a structured approach can be likened to diligently getting that net up to break the fall. Unschooling is more like enjoying the ride down.
The thing is, I don't want to die.
The tethers of unschooling can be too long for comfort, although I am certainly not in it for the comfort. I have thought more about this, now that my kids are getting older, and my commitment to homeschooling has grown from an attractive idea to a lifestyle. I've had to look at who I am, and how close I really am to this perfect unschooling guy I've had dancing around my imagination since the idea first took hold.
I don't think when Holt formulated the unschooling approach, he ever really planned on it appealing to individuals with type A personalities. I am sure it was assumed that those who have trust and control issues, and are prone to nervous disorders, would be attracted to school-in-a-box approaches. With a multitude of self assessment tests available, and, if you pay for it, education "professionals" available for consultation via phone, email or fax anytime, it doesn't make sense that these people would even consider the unschooling approach.
And yet, here I am.
We have been unschooling for some time--if you can believe that from someone who has a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old. Certain elements of unschooling, as I interpret them, I have very much taken to heart, especially when it comes to the process of constructing a nourishing, stimulating environment. You see, even in the unschooling world there is room for a control freak. My children's world is the one I make for them, and that is where they learn.
I am not really that uptight. But I do have my moments, and the pendulum keeps swinging. Type A guy. Type B guy. And back again. Recently I decided, without justification, that I had been too complacent and had failed to supply the social stimulus I felt my kids wanted. Spiraling into a stress-induced, walking, talking coma, I concluded I had utterly failed them and called a couple of local schools to bail me out. The moment passed. Finally calm, I still had my doubts. And then a few days later, I was visiting with a homeschooling friend, who said, in an unmistakable tone that combined encouragement and support with a healthy dose of reality, "Gee, Brad, it never really occurred to me to manage my children's social lives."
Ok, so sometimes I'm just plain wrong. Back to full type B guy. While here, I can smell flowers, count blessings and see progress. I can learn as well as teach, and trust that whether tomorrow brings an unexpected adventure or merely routine, something will come of it.
Ah, but I know myself, and I can see my future clearly. Next week, in a moment of inspired lunacy, I will buy my 5-year-old daughter a book meant for high-schoolers. As I read the book and see that not only does she not want to hear any more of it, she doesn't even understand the story, I will spiral again into type A guy. "Their environment needs an overhaul." "I have failed." "Woe is me." This is my vacillating reality, and this simply wasn't covered in the unschooling brochure. It is a struggle for me for many reasons, not the least of which is I believe in struggles.
As I write, it is my birthday. My wife Barbara told me yesterday that my daughter had a wonderful idea for a birthday project for me. Barbara told me this as she was pushing me out the door. They had work to do so I went to the movies. My mind wandered. I imagined my beautiful little girl diligently putting together her pieces to make for her daddy the earth, the sky and the stars up above. And so, I got up this morning and looked at my daughter, who was thrilled to give me what she conceived all by herself and carried out with the help of her mommy and brother. Sitting before me, made of so many pieces of paper, foam, paper plates, yarn and anything else that could be found, was the product of her inspiration. She also made me a great big taco and a huge plate of nachos. Not the earth. Not the sky. Not the stars up above. And that was OK by me. It was a good day to be type B guy.
Today, unschooling worked. Not a plan. No structure. And resulting in a product I could never have imagined. And tomorrow, I hope I don't get in the way of what can happen. Unschooling is worth all its struggles and rewards, even for this type A guy.
© 2003 Brad Beckerman
July-August 2003 - Articles and Columns
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