Wednesday, May 11, 2016

to unschool or not to unschool

Chana came over to me yesterday: "Where's my graphing calculator?"

I dug it out and handed it to her.  (Fine, I told her exactly where to find it and she couldn't and then I went to exactly where I told her and handed it to her.)

Later I asked her, "Are you helping random online friends with their homework?"


She's willing to find her calculator and look things up online to either refresh her memory or to learn things in math she doesn't know.  Unschooling FTW

As Chana mentioned to me later, "I said, 'I don't know how to do that but hold on, I'll learn it and teach it to you.' "  This is the unschooling mentality.  This is why we don't worry about what they do or do not cover when young.  Because the concept is that when it is interesting or useful, it can be easily learned.

But I actually came here to discuss Jack (6).

Jack has been making great progress in his Hebrew reading.  When he asked for a tablet, in addition to paying for it himself, I traded that for the first few months of owning it, he would read Hebrew per hour that he played while he was paying it off.  When he finished paying it off, he was happy to stop reading.

He has been doing so well I was starting to fantasize about teaching him a curriculum.  R' Winder workbook, starting chumash, learning Torah everyday...
As these visions of sugarplums danced in my head, Jack, it turns out, does not want to pursue reading at this time.

He said he doesn't enjoy it and doesn't want to do it.

I was in a dilemma.  He sits and focuses really well.  I could probably induce him (despite Alfie Kohn's admonishments) and maybe he could achieve lots of skills and information.  I began to wonder, should I unschool him?  Or should I try to teach him?

Is unschooling a "bedieved" situation, where I truly prefer to teach a child if he is capable of sitting and focusing?  Or is unschooling an ideal, something wonderful that brings joy to learning and is fun and efficient?

Let me state here that I was never an unschooler by idealism.  I fell into it because Chana has an unusually anti-authoritarian personality and I learned more about unschooling as I realized that was the name for what we were doing.  I found many benefits and joys from it.  But generally it's a scary way to go and it felt risky in a lot of ways (though for her and Elazar, it actually felt riskier to take the more standard route.  As someone once said to me about Elazar when I mentioned he is ADHD, "You are so brave to homeschool!" And I replied, "Actually, I think it would take more bravery to send him to school").  So with a kid like Jack, who will flourish in homeschool because of his cautious personality, but would do very well sitting for hours a day and being taught, is unschooling an ideal?

Let me interrupt here to say that I've been writing this blog post all day.  At one point, driving Chana home from class, she asked me what I wrote about Jack.  I mentioned my dilemma about unschooling him or not unschooling him.

Chana was disturbed.  She said I am being unfair.  Unschooling is such an amazing and fun experience and I am depriving him of that just because he has the ability to sit and learn.

Even before my conversation with her, I had already decided to continue unschooling at this time.  The philosophy of unschooling maintains that there is no real need for Jack to labor over his Hebrew reading, because when he wants to do it, it will come quickly and easily for him.  (Or if not easily, he will be motivated to struggle through it.)  I am still, of course, petrified about Chumash and Gemara skills.  But time will tell.  I look forward to seeing how this plays out.

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