An Unschooler says “Yes” to Public School

After unschooling for years, I allowed my kids to go back to public school. Here’s why…

First, let me say unschooling is something I believe in whole-heartedly. My kids have grown and learned so much throughout their time unschooling. They’ve learned to trust the world around them and trust us as parents to have their back. Their confidence has grown by leaps and bounds but in an effort to unschool, I have come across a unique situation. Where is the line? That line where you as the adult come in and make the decision for them, taking away the power you have worked so hard to instill in them. At what point does a parent say no?

THE PROPOSAL

I know, there are times when things are too dangerous and that’s a clear line. I’m talking in regards to their decisions about their education. As a community of unschooling moms, what would you do when your kid comes to you claiming the next step in their education is to go to a public school?

Now, I can hear the thoughts in your head. I’m sure I had a handful of them myself but trust me when I say, my kids rarely go into anything blindly. They researched. They talked about it. They came up with a fantastic presentation of all the ways a public school could help them. Taking the initiative to find a good place for themselves and asking their mom to support them in their decisions.

THE ANSWER

What is a mom to do? Tell them, “Thanks for taking the initiative but no.” Perhaps, “You can’t possibly know what’s best for you.” Or the all powerful, “Because I am your parent and I said so.” Don’t each of these lines go against the idea of respectful parenting. The same respectful parenting that is crucial to the success of any unschooling situation.

This seems contradictory. The proposal by my kids and the philosophy of education I have come to embrace don’t meld…at all really. What’s a mom to do?

What I did surprised most parents that I know. I said, “Yes, you can try that. I’ll see what I can do to get you enrolled.” Because unschooling is about the kids making the choices of what they study and how. They create their own learning environment simply by the nature of their parent’s educational philosophy. Thus, they want to study public school.

Arriving at this answer wasn’t easy and I did tell them I would give their proposal serious thought and consideration but I would need a few days. This was quite the revelation and my husband and I had numerous discussions about it.

THE SURPRISE

Here’s where it gets a little tricky. My husband embraces my decisions but not always my methods. Unschooling has never been something he completely understood but to his credit, he managed to make a good effort to understand and assist in any way he could. So, when I brought the kids proposal to him, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by his response.

He said, “This would be great for you. You worry about never having enough time with all the things you do and now, you won’t have to worry about them because they’ll be in school.”

I cannot express my surprise at this reaction. However, when I brought it up to my closest of friends, one of which is a homeschooler herself, they had the same answer. This would be so great for me.

SO MANY QUESTIONS

When did education become about the adults? I know it is, but we’ve been programmed to automatically dismiss the needs and wants of children in general. No one considered how much time they put into the proposal. No one thought about their reasoning or logic. No one ever mentioned if it would be good or bad for them. When I presented their request to other adults, it became all about me.

But this decision wasn’t about me. It had very little to do with me and everything to do with my kids choice. This was quite the struggle because the only reasons I could come up with to say yes all had to do with me.

Was I unschooling for them or for myself? Were my motives about giving them the free range to make the choices about their education or about what this all did for me? This was a pivotal moment in my unschooling career and my career as a parent. I knew the homeschooling and unschooling communities I was a part of would look at me like I was crazy for even considering their proposal.

But was it mine to consider in the first place? Was I the supreme house being, a symbol I have actually come to find humorous and loath a little or was I a respectful parent who viewed my kids a people capable of leading their own lives? I’d like to think I was the latter but here’s the thing, if I was the latter, there would be no need for discussion or time for me to think. The answer, as long as it wasn’t a dangerous situation, would be yes without question or hesitation.

WHAT IS DANGEROUS

This caused me to evaluate my idea of dangerous. Is a public school dangerous for my kids?

Given the experience of my son, I would venture a guess to say yet. However, the school they had chosen for themselves serves the special population of kids on the Autistic Spectrum, which has become a hot-button topic these days. Both of my kids are on the spectrum and they are brilliant in many ways and they struggle in various other ways. I won’t go into those specifics here because that’s an article in and of itself but they don’t fair well in some regular situations.

My kids are sweet. They assume everyone is their friend and they don’t read body language well. They are also less capable of assessing risk. I imagine most of these things will improve with age and experience, but I can’t expect them to get it if they never have to deal with the cruel real world, or at least that’s what I’m told.

Maybe that was my biggest hesitation. Aren’t I supposed to protect my children? That’s my number one responsibility, right? To protect them from the things they aren’t quite ready to protect themselves from. It’s an overwhelming responsibility, that to protect another life.

THE STRUGGLE

I struggled because automatically, everyone made this about me and it wasn’t. I struggled with the idea of protecting my kids from dangerous things. We have been programmed to be separated. People who send their kids to the local public school are in awe at our strength and a little skittish toward those of us who homeschool. The public school camp is told we are ruining the system and need as much accountability as anyone else. While the homeschool camp has embraced the idea that all public forms of education lead to a plethora of awful things and we look at people who send their children to a public school as afraid, perhaps a little less intelligent or reluctant to fight the system we were brought up in. Two camps, two foundations I have found through this process to have misinformation on both sides.

THE TOUR

I toured this school during my grace period to consider their proposal. I talked with teachers, sat in on classes, noticed the 1 to 6 teacher to student ratios. Saw all the things I would not expect to see in today’s public schools. Yes, it is a charter school and they have more control over some things but I also know many things have changed across the board, some for the better, some for the worse. I asked myself what my hesitation was in keeping them from this experience. After all this careful consideration, ensuring it was not about me and the best interest of my kids, I was prepared to say no.

I planned out the rejection very carefully. It was a course in manipulation and bribery, which in hindsight makes me feel sick to my stomach at the very thought of this extortion. But alas, my kids are always brighter than me in some ways and they continue to teach me every day.

THE CONVERSATION

Then, the day before my deadline, something amazing happened. My daughter, cutest seven-year-old in the world (but I may be biased) told me she needed to talk with me. Most of the time this revolves around random thoughts or to show me her latest illustrated story. But this seemed heavier, more serious.

We sat down and she took my hand into her two tiny ones and said, “We didn’t mean to break your heart when we asked to go to school. I know it hurt your feelings.”

All I could do was blink at her. I forget how intuitive she is even if she can’t read body language. She reads patterns better than any seamstress. When I asked for time, she knew it was because it affected me and I needed the time to search for the answer I thought was right instead of my gut reaction and they obviously knew my gut reaction would be to say no because they took a lot of time to prepare for their pitch.

“Mom, you’re a great teacher and I love you give us choices. You let us choose all kinds of stuff which is cool because other mom’s don’t do that.” she dove into her explanation and it strayed a bit here and there but for the most part, she stayed on point.

“Look, when we talked about it, we knew there were things you couldn’t teach us because you’re new at this parenting kids that are special like us. You’re learning while we’re learning.” she continued and then she took my face in her hands and stared me down, seriously and full of genuine spirit.

“I need to learn how to control my big emotions when I am around other people, not just you. And not everybody is going to know that I’m special so they’re not going to do the things you do to help me. I want to be big and move out someday and I can’t do that if I don’t have experience with other people and learn their reactions. You can’t teach me that but school can. I don’t have to stay there for the rest of my life, but I need to be there to learn this. It doesn’t mean we won’t come back or we don’t love you.”

CHANGING MY MIND

Most people challenge she was this direct. Most people argue she couldn’t be this insightful. Most people don’t know my daughter and those who do don’t question this came through her and slapped me in the face with it. It wasn’t about me and yet it was. They wanted to lighten my load and become more self-sufficient. They wanted to grow up a little faster than I wanted them to and in doing so, they felt they needed these experiences for their own progression.

I have never felt more speechless in my life but I’m fairly certain there were tears (ok more like there were definitely tears), lots of them. She thought she’d hurt my feelings and apologized again. It took me until the next to fully explain my reaction and she still didn’t understand.

My answer had now changed to a resounding yes. A supportive yes. Do I still struggle with the decision – yes? Will I struggle with the decision forever – probably? But then my son brings up a great point.

“Mom, if it doesn’t work out, then you just go back to what we were doing before and that’s okay. Then we all learned something from it.”

I love my kiddos!!

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