Thursday, March 21, 2013

i choose to die on this mountain

Sometimes, I pick a battle and I take a stand.  Yesterday it was an orange.  Elazar likes me to cut gently into the orange to make it easier for him to peel.  However, if he peels and breaks through the membrane, it's "juicy" and it's dead to him.  We've had this discussion about bananas and ice cream sandwiches before.  I will take off the wrapper or the peel, but sometimes it breaks or cracks a little and he may not have another one.  That is wasting.

Well, we didn't have that conversation before the orange.  (He is 5 now.  I would think this is a 2 or 3 yo problem, by the way.)  I accidentally over-enthusiastically cut the grooves, and they sliced into the membrane, making nearly the entire orange "juicy."  He lost it.  He behaved obnoxiously and disrespectfully.  I think he first threw a tantrum, which I respect, because life isn't going his way and it's infuriating.  I often use these tantrums as an opportunity to let them ride the full wave of fury and frustration, and reality doesn't change.  I try to maintain a solid and loving presence while they do this.  I feel like in that jumbled way that children confuse parents and God, it gives the psyche the experience that there is a loving presence while reality goes against their will.  And eventually they pick themselves up and move forward.  Which I think is an important life lesson.

But not Elazar.  He escalated.  He tried to hit me.  He threw the orange at me.  I maintained my loving, calm presence for a while.  But soon I began to feel, like in that jumbled way that children confuse parents and God, that Elazar might be soon about to experience a capricious, vengeful and wrathful idolatrous god.  So I decided to clarify that I was taking a stand.  I crouched down, looked him in the eye, and stated very firmly: "I will NOT do another orange.  I don't like the way you screamed at me and are screaming at me."

This escalated things further, and sometimes when he shrieks like that I begin to wonder if I was wrong to take this stand.  But instead of my usual second guessing, I just felt irritated and justified.  I do not want to be treated like this.  I will not tolerate being treated like that.  The only way to put a stop to it is to make it clear that he cannot speak to me and treat me like that.  I will die on this mountain if I have to.  You will not cross this line.

This occurred in the middle of the day.  At various points over the next hour and a half, he cried about it and screamed about it.  When he finally spoke to me calmly about it, I said I am still upset at the way he treated me, and maybe if he asks me in half an hour I will do it.  He did ask me in half an hour.

I thought a lot about how much of our day this orange incident took up.  This is definitely one of the things I like about homeschooling.  In the early elementary age years, there are so many strong emotions and so many interactions that are intense for the child.*  And in homeschool, we really do have the time and the chance to walk them through these incidents when they occur.  In school, he'd probably suck up his feelings, which would be age appropriate for 1st grade and not necessarily a bad skill to master (or he would cry a lot, and hopefully have a compassionate teacher).  But he'd be coming home at 4pm and we have to do homework and dinner and bedtime, and there just isn't the same leisure to devote to these turbulent emotions.

* (During puberty, there are also so many strong emotions and interactions that are intense for the teenager.  During life, there are so many strong emotions and interactions that are intense.)

Monday, March 18, 2013

mitoch shelo lishma ba lishma III

I'm not going to summarize because summarizing and clarifying take up so much space that I don't answer the question.

long term thinking
A lot of times I don't realize that you really have to think very long term with unschooling.  Even a high school student isn't really an indication of what the person's motivation and attitude towards Torah will be in the course of his or her lifetime, as an adult.  I've seen many times where people pressure teenagers to behave a certain way or do certain things, which is somewhat absurd when you think that you are forcing a behavior temporarily, and in a few years, when the child is no longer in his parents' domain, he will do what he really wants to do.  In that framework, it makes sense to carefully nourish lishma motivation.

skills vs ideas
I've mentioned before the debate amongst educators as to how much effort needs to be put into skills in an era where everything is online and much is translated.  Think similar to the bygone era where people used to memorize, before the printing press made that unnecessary. 
A lot of pressure of education is making sure that the children have skills, which is a lot of drudge work and repetition.  If you are a parent who puts a strong value on your child acquiring skills, unschooling can be a risk.  Personally, I am gravitating more towards the notion that the information is to a large degree available, and hopefully the desire to learn will eventually motivate a quick and efficient acquisition of skills, or else the child will eventually learn enough to acquire the skills in the course of learning.  In that case, my emphasis and goals would to make the learning experiences pleasant and very interesting.  And I would be inclined to wait for the child to show interest, instead of trying to coax them into interest.

seeding the values of the home and naturally things come up
I read an interesting article that was somewhat opposed to "radical" unschooling on a message board recently.  It said that all the parents who say that unschooling works spend a lot of time crafting a wholesome, organic (in the sense of emerging naturally) environment for the children.  Sure, the children eat healthily, since that is what is in the house.  You present all sorts of interesting activities to choose from.  But what about the kids who have TV and junk food?
Not to get off topic, I do allow unlimited media and although we have a lot of healthy food in the house and not too much junk food, we don't forbid any junk food.  But that point did get me thinking about how unschooling is not a free-for-all.  The parents DO have clear values and there are expectations about respect, living in the community of the family, living in society, behavior, and all sorts of things.  In a family where Torah is a value, there are many many situations where Torah emerges naturally.

trusting torah to be interesting
I think maybe my biggest fear that my child won't be involved in limud Torah is founded in lack of trust.  Do I not trust that the Torah is infinitely interesting? Do I not trust that learning is one of the greatest pleasures and satisfactions that a human being can experience?  Do I not trust that the intricacy of halacha is a framework that leads to a better and more satisfying life?  Do I not trust myself to be able to present the Torah as l'tov lanu, for our own good?  Do I not trust myself to be able to convey that the Torah is delightful?
 שָׂשׂ אָנֹכִי עַל אִמְרָתֶךָ כְּמוֹצֵא שָׁלָל רָב.

mitoch shelo lishma ba lishma II

I asked the question here about the issue of "mitoch shelo lishma, ba lishma" (start off doing it not for its own sake, to ultimately lead to doing it for its own sake) and how it is in conflict with unschooling.  In unschooling, there isn't much encouragement to do things not for their own sake.  All intellectual exploration emerges from an interest in the subject for its own sake.

In Judaic studies, that's a risk.  If my child doesn't want to learn math, so you figure when math becomes relevant, she will acquire it easily.  And if it's never relevant to her, then she'll work around it.  There is so much to learn and explore in life, and being passionate about it and excited and capable of exploring it is the bedrock of unschooling.  But I don't have such sangfroid about Torah.  Passing on the ideals, principles, halachos, knowledge and system of Torah is very important to me.  V'Shinantam L'Vanecha.  An expression of how much I value the Torah is displayed by my passing it on to my children.

Before I go further, let me firmly state that I think Chazal are expressing a truth with their statement.  Although I may be questioning it when looking at it with respect to unschooling, that doesn't mean that I discount these words and their wisdom.  Many times in my personal growth and development and learning, I have thought deeply about this statement and it has given me great insight.

The question I ask here is: is it necessary for me to get my children involved in Torah, or is it a viable chinuch option for me to wait until they are naturally drawn to it, and to respond at that point?

But, to risk being like Queen Esther, I'll share my thoughts in the next post.  Come to the party in the next post and מחר אעשה כדבר המלך.

a little bit about how we evolved into homeschooling

One of the reasons I got more and more "unschooly" as the years went by is because, as we were living life, the only conflicts we seemed to get into revolved around me pushing for academics when they weren't interested.  We would be having a thoroughly nice day, relaxing and enjoying each other's company and pursuing whatever activities we were pursuing, when I would start pushing "school."  We have to do math.  We have to do Chumash.  We have to learn this, do this, write this.  Or we'd be leaving for a trip and I wanted to make sure they got their daily assignments in.  And that would cause stress and strife.

Always, when looking back at the day and the conflict that we had, I would go to my still silent voice and ask myself what I want my children to get from their homeschool experience.  And always, always, it wasn't a specific skill or piece of information (beyond the basic reading, writing and arithmetic).  It was that I wanted my children to have emotional health and the ability to lead lives filled with wisdom, exploration, joy, and healthy relationships.  

I found that pushing my educational agenda was often counter-productive to that goal.

I found myself focusing on my relationship with my kids instead of on schoolwork.  I found myself choosing to spend pleasant time with them instead of having them do "work."

Thursday, March 14, 2013

mitoch she'lo lishma ba lishma

Sarah has been working on her Chumash paper for school.  She was so involved in it yesterday, that I had to pull her away from it to go to parkour with me, and she spoke animatedly about it for most of the ride.  She was so excited about it, and full of passion for her subject.

I was thinking about that a lot today.  If she hadn't been "forced" to write that paper by the school, if she hadn't been pushed into it, she would not have done it of her own free will and motivation.  She would not have decided to thoroughly research and investigate an area of Chumash, slog through a bunch of mefarshim, ask questions, come up with an approach, systematically outline it and write it out and achieve that much clarity.

Will unschooled children never do that?  Is the only way to get a child to do that by assigning it?  Am I missing out on all sorts of possibilities by taking an approach that the children only do what interests them?  Don't children who are obligated to do things they wouldn't choose to do end up being exposed to a variety of different areas, and ultimately can possibly choose satisfying paths that they never would have chosen if not obligated to try it?  Am I limiting my children?

This led me to the concept of "mitoch she'lo lishma, ba lishma," which I think makes the question even stronger.  This is a principle in Judaism that means we don't always start out doing things for their own sake or for idealistic reasons.  We often embark on something for other motivations, for ego, for reward, for approval, for something other than for its own sake.  But in the course of doing it, we realize that it has its own value and come to appreciate it.
So it would seem that inherent in the understand of Judaism, and especially learning Torah, we start off doing it not for its own sake, but in the course of being immersed in it, come to love and appreciate it.

(This is anti Alfie Kohn who says that giving rewards tends to make people less appreciative of the inherent value of an activity.  And this is in line with the Rambam, who says to give children candy, money, and honor for learning Torah, so that they'll be immersed in it and hopefully come to appreciate its true worth.)

So wouldn't this suggest that I get my children involved in Torah, even if they wouldn't be naturally drawn to it?

I have some thoughts.  But I'm going to leave this as a question and answer it in a different post.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

not for the ADHD

It often happens when Chana and I sit down to chumash, that suddenly Jack and Aharon begin bouncing on us, jumping on us, sitting on our laps, pulling our hair, pinching, pulling, playing, needing something.  It's hard enough for Chana to work her way through difficult passages and Rashis, and having the little ones squirming on top of us, vying for attention, does not help!

That is one of those homeschool things.  I used to do Chumash only when the littlest one was napping.  Now, although Aharon still naps, he's old enough to play happily by himself during the day, so I don't rush to do it during naptime.  And to be fair, today it was Aharon, but just as frequently it is Jack, who is 3, who suddenly needs to be snuggled and talked to and played with.  Sometimes it is both of them.

Sometimes there is a LOT going on when we are trying to do Chumash.  What I usually do in those cases is take a little break (often with Chana), and we all wrestle around on the floor, roughhousing and giggling and giving them lots of attention.  And then they go off and we can go back to Chumash.  If we don't do that, we usually do Chumash with them hanging off of me (or her) and interrupting every few seconds.

multimedia and unschooling

I was thinking today about media.  I'm the unschooling type who allows unlimited TV, computer, ipod, ipad, video games, whatever.  (not in the bedrooms, but that's internet safety, not limiting time.)  Elazar's spent a good bunch of days on the computer, to the point where I've been thinking about bringing Ari's office computer down.  And I am morally opposed to a 5yo having a $500 piece of equipment for his personal use.

I was thinking guiltily (as I sometimes fall into) that if I only had the energy to clean up all his messes, to supervise painting and building and baking, he wouldn't be on the computer so much.  I hide the paint (I actually just ordered new, at his request, and I haven't told him it's here because then I have to supervise it and if I'm not in the mood, he gets into it anyway and the mess is rather large), I have removed many of the toys that get spilled every single day and not cleaned up (small legos, marble run, tinkertoys, and gears.  he still has large legos, wedgits, some other building toy, and lincoln logs, and blocks.  It's probably a good time to rotate them, right?  But then i either have to clean them or supervise cleaning them, numerous times a day).  I'm often shooing him out of the kitchen when he wants to make a concoction.

Don't get me wrong.  I spend plenty of time supervising art, plenty of time cleaning up and rotating toys, and plenty of time baking and baking and baking.  (I don't particularly enjoy baking, and I've baked more in the last year than I have in the last 15 years combined.)  But my guilt told me that if I would spend every minute doing what he wants (which would surely be at the expense of the other things that are priorities), he would choose more real-life interesting things than multimedia.

I have a couple of answers to that.  First of all, I take stock.  Am I truly falling down on my obligations as an educator?  Am I truly being a little too passive, too lazy, too hands-off?  If so, then I can give myself a little pep talk to climb back on being a present, active, involved parent.

But if it's not true, and I'm being reasonable, because I have allocated my time and energy as best as I presently can, then I remind myself that he is pursuing what is interesting to him because he is learning something.  I never would have imagined that the hours (and I mean HOURS) that Chana spent rewinding and scrutinizing facial expressions on TV shows would be the foundation of animation.

It turns out I went to the library, and when I came back half an hour later he was playing in a different room, with lots of physical activity and imagination.  So he really can be trusted to moderate himself and to choose a variety of activities that are good for his mind and his body.

And finally, when I thought about what he's been doing on the computer, I feel that I would like to give him the space to continue.  He's extremely interested in Paint, Word, and certain miniclip games that involve reasoning and problem solving.  He's been sounding out words and typing.  If I get out of his way and provide him with the tools and the space and be available as a resource, he will learn in the most efficient and pleasant way that he can.

math rashi

Even though I haven't been brave enough to unschool Chumash, I dropped math 2 years ago, when Chana began to seriously dislike fractions.  I slowly introduced them to her a year plus later, in a very relaxed way, when we didn't "need" to keep up with any curriculum, talking a lot about pizzas and how many slices they have, and moving on to addition and subtraction and reducing and multiplying and dividing and improper fractions.

It was nice that when we hit a rashi that had fractions (hashem remembers the sin for 4 generations and does chesed for thousands; rashi says hashem's punishment to chesed has a ratio of 1:500), Chana was receptive to reducing the fractions and showing how they are equivalent.