Friday, November 13, 2015

Cultural Studies, Crafts and Pets guide learning in a Life-long unschooler's life

Our high school student Austin Hildebrand has been homeschooled all of his life. He has used his heritage and interests to guide his learning. Here's his thoughts on his experience.

"Being homeschooled is by the far the best gift one can be given when it comes to their education. 

I have been told that statement many times before, and I completely agree. Having the opportunity to have my lessons be structured around my interests made them more interesting and it took a lot of time and effort for that to be done for me.
But as a student, you have more freedom to do the things you enjoy, explore deeper into the things that you love or become obsessed with knowing about, and learn from the people you love most. Homeschooling is not just taught by your parents, but the entire family helps out. Which means that you get to spend a lot of quality time learning from your grandparents, parents, various other relatives, and family friends.

This is precisely the gift I have been given, and I am deeply thankful for every minute of it.

I have been homeschooled all of my years, starting from pre-school homeschooling. This year, I will finally graduate. Since we have been homeschooling for a long time now, my Mom lets me direct most of my own lessons now to make me learn time management and responsibility. I'll need those skills for college and in life, so she has just directed like a manager and gives reviews for most things. We still take time to do fun stuff too.

The furthest back that I can remember I'd say it was my Mom buying books that would be easy and fun for me to read because they were about Little Critter or Guinea Pigs. Then I read them daily to my pet guinea pigs. Reading to a pet is a good way to learn, and they love the attention too. I also used to read to my Great Grandmother plus do puppet shows for her while she was staying with us while going through Chemotherapy sessions. It was a nice way to spend time with her that the other grandkids didn't have. We would read together, put her feet in my movable sandbox (that we used to learn how to do archaeology digs in), put a cat or guinea pig on her lap, gave her some tea and muffins that I helped Mom make, then read. My Father was a puppeteer so I had my own puppet stage (a gift from my grandparents) and used puppets that he made for me.

I also used to create a lot of craft projects to put around the house, naturally, to make the house more interesting. Like creating an Elasmosaurus across the back of the couch out of papers that my Mom had set aside for me to draw on (recycling them from her work papers). Or making balloon animals for the Homeschooling County Supervisor when she was there to review my school year. She was impressed and took the balloon animals home for her grandson.

One of my Grandfather's would sneak out of work early so we could go to the movies together. It was a lot of fun and we often ate together after the movie and visited the Lego Store. He worked long hours and lived over an hour away, so going to movies was a way for us to spend time together. Mostly the movies were in the early afternoon, and for most kids that would have been school hours. Since I was homeschooled, we always adjusted our schedule and went while he was available. Homeschooling gives you the freedom to take breaks when you want to or need to.

I started to learn to cook small things with my Mom and my Grandmothers. Now I can help cook items for big family meals or holidays. What I love most is watching Japanese cooking shows and then trying to make them at home with my Mom. We are learning Japanese and cooking is a good way to learn their culture. All foods have meaning to the Japanese. They go by season, colors, presentation and what each part of that presentation stands for. I have tried a lot of foods I may normally not have tried because it was 'different'. My Step-Grandmother is Korean, so I have also been trying some Korean food and I'm enjoying that too. Also Chinese food, since my Mother liakes that also.

While we were learning World Geography, part of learning about each country, we would cook foods from it. Also read books from that country (at least folk tales), find movies about it or documentaries. My Mom runs a homeschooling cooperative, so she used to organize field trips that included a lot of cultural themes to them. We don't live in the Washington, DC area anymore, so it is harder to find as many field trip places to go in Iowa for cultural studies. A lot of that has to be done with virtual tours and watching Foreign News programs or documentaries.

As I mentioned, I'm learning the Japanese Language;
the culture, its history, cooking, music, and about its pop culture too. We have been focusing on Japanese for many years now. As a way to build listening skills, we often take a day or two and have an anime watching or Godzilla movie marathon. Complete with special foods, snacks, and quite often in our pjs. I try to listen to music from Japan and any time the Japanese Language is an option for a movie or program, I choose to listen in Japanese.

My Mom and I loved the Smithsonian National Zoo, so we used to go there frequently. Our favorites are the Tigers, Pandas, and Red Pandas first. Then we would spent a lot of time with the Capybaras, Naked Mole Rats, Wild Cavies, and Butterfly Garden, and enjoyed watching most of the small mammal house animals. We would spend the whole day wandering around the zoo, taking breaks when needed. My Father says that we adopted most of the zoo animals. Not quite true, but we did try our best. He admits that he enjoyed it too. We mostly adopted the Pandas so we could go visit the babies before they went on display. We'd go see them as often as we could get tickets for and take people with us since we could get a few extra tickets. The Polar Bears were at the other local zoo, we didn't go there as often. We also went to the Philadelphia Zoo several times and once while there, we saw a Naked Mole Rat giving birth to babies. That was the craziest thing we'd ever seen. She would literally kick them away from her as soon as they were born, other members of her family would drag them off to a safe area. It was shocking to see, but still one of our best zoo animal stories to share. The Smithsonian National Zoo was the zoo that we spent the most time at over the years. Sometimes my Father would do puppet shows for the 'Boo In The Zoo' special event fundraiser. One of the puppeteers from his puppet company had worked as an Intern at the zoo during high school, so he helped get our homeschooling group a special tour with all kinds of extra activities.

We also did special field trips like: a Pirate Boat Adventure, musicals at a special Children's Musical Playhouse, park play dates, toured factories and a recycling center, organized lunch get-togethers with other homeschool families, attending puppet shows of other puppeteers who were friends of ours (other companies) like Dinorock. Dinorock used to let all of us touch the puppets and would explain how they worked. Plus answer endless questions from our homeschooling group about the types of dinosaurs. Often people from other countries would be at the shows and allowed backstage also to see the puppets. It was always fun to hear all the languages spoken, knowing they were expressing amazement and saying the same types of things we did. You didn't have to understand the language itself to know the joy and fascination that the puppets brought to them. The University of Maryland also had a special Henson Puppet and Creature Workshop Exhibit. Since my Dad's boss had been friends with the Henson's, we got a special showing of the Exhibit and were allowed to ask questions. My Dad helped create a puppet display for the Smithsonian Museum. Puppets have been a huge part of our life and they opened the way to many amazing opportunities and experiences that most people would never have a chance at. Performing Arts is a huge part of my life and has taught me a lot of life skills that will help me in the future.

I used to go to work with my Dad some days too. Sometimes he would be training new people and I'd go to help tell them if they were doing the lines right and where their puppets were looking. Other days I'd go to the schools with him and help set up, watch the show, then help break down the show, clean up and load the boxes back into the van. One summer I worked with him while out visiting. Now I am working with my Mother on doing gigs on I'm learning pet photography and using the staging skills I learned from working with my Dad. Now I also learned prop design, lighting skills, set design from my Dad. I get to use it with my Mom now and am learning a new version of it since the stage is smaller and the puppets are squirmy pets. You also have to learn bribery. Food bribes work wonders with the models. Cranky models can make you miss a work deadline. You also have to be quick at taking pictures. I've learned how to crop the pictures and create files to deliver them in.

For my Senior Year School Project, I am learning to build a website. With this website I plan on blogging about gaming and homeschooling. Eventually, I'd like to start a live stream channel too. In learning to build the website, I am studying coding, concept skills, how to install apps to make the page more user friendly and interesting, also how to blog. Blogging is harder than it sounds. You have to stay interesting to your readers, and do it frequently.

We have some Native American Heritage, so we used to go to Pow-Wows as much as we could. It
takes time to travel to them from Iowa, so we haven't been to one in a few years. They are very colorful and highlight a different Native Group each year. We have learned a lot about their crafts, culture, history, and our connection to it. The meaning of the outfits for Ceremonial Dances is very interesting too. Just like Japanese Ceremonial Dances or celebrations, each piece has a meaning in an outfit and the way in which the dance is done, plus the intent that you are trying to accomplish with the celebration. We notice that there are a lot of similarities in Japanese Culture and Native American Culture.
"Makes it easier to understand and respect when it isn't something new, but already a piece of yourself, just from another country's viewpoint."

We also have German Heritage, so I started to learn German Culture, History, and the language. But stopped for now while I focus more on Japanese. I'll get back to it someday.

Since we lived in the Washington, DC area for most of my life, politics is the local news. So I learned Government during my Freshman year of High School. There was so much going on that it was better to learn and understand all the important things rather than wait until this year to do it. That is a good thing about homeschooling, you can be flexible with when you learn certain subjects too. I also find watching Foreign News really gives you a new perspective of what is going on in American Politics. Also how it affects so many other Countries financially. Watching how the World reacts to our Country's decisions is really amazing.

Another thing I love about homeschooling is that we have had the opportunity to really get to know our pets. I frequently have a hedgehog on my lap or near me when I'm writing or reading. Our guinea pigs try to eat books and get wiggly, so I'm trying to train them to do tricks along with their modeling jobs. Each one has a different personality and needs. Over the years my Mom has let me have a wide variety of pets and bug projects. Anything from Triops, hermit crabs, guinea pigs, hedgehogs, cats, dogs, ghost crabs, hatching butterflies and various other bugs, and fish to just collecting bugs from outside to study.  I remember going to the park for a hike when the frogs were spawning. Everything moved. There was barely any place to walk that wasn't moving because of a frog. It was a Nature Center that I took monthly classes at but we also hiked and had picnics there a lot. It was also a great place when the cicadas hatched out to catch them and see all the eye colors. Certain eye colors were special and the Nature Center wanted you to bring them in so they could document them. Often we used to go for picnics while homeschooling and then play there while the dragonflies and butterflies were abundant. At the Nature Center close to our house here, we helped catch and tag Monarch Butterflies. Learning about how and why the Government tags them was interesting.

I think that being home has also taught me a lot of life skills that I will need. I have chores I do around the house, but also my Mom has made me learn how to properly take care of myself and any pets. One of my Grandfather's is teaching me to drive. I just need to be more motivated about it. I know it is an important skill to have, especially while living in Iowa. You can't depend on Public Transportation here, and towns are farther apart so you have to really know how to drive yourself. I'll get there.

Since I'm in my last year of school, I have to really focus on learning things that will prepare me for college and living on my own, along with my other classes. Before they were just fun parts of our day to do together, but now I know I really need to focus more on doing those jobs well so I can take care of myself and help my Mom out more. My Grandmother said she will teach me to do other life skills like canning fresh vegetables and fruits, plus jellies. I have helped in the past, but she wants to show me how easy it is to have good food around that doesn't have all the preservatives in it. We love to garden, so both of my Grandmothers can and freeze what we don't eat right away. This has been a normal part of my life, so it is good to know how to actually do it on my own so I can help out more.

I know I wouldn't have had a lot of these kinds of memories if I'd been stuck in a classroom all day. I'd have other memories, but these fit my personality and I've had a lot of fun learning from my family and spending so much time with them. I've been allowed the freedom to grow at my own pace and to dig deeper into subjects that I really like. Really digging into a topic or hobby was not looked upon as me wasting time. Instead, I received continued encouragement to spend time on things that I enjoyed. I still got everything done, just at my own pace and in my
own way. It has made me into a very good problem solver and a creative person. I like that about myself. I think they are good traits to have for future employment and in general for life."

Friday, October 16, 2015

Learning through Hub Learning

Hub Learning is another way to approach unschooling, or interest-led learning. Our high-school student wrote about his learning style, and how he applied "Hub Learning" to his interests. Here he's sharing his experiences. 

My Learning Style

"I learn in many different ways, actually in any way. It’s just a matter of time for how long I can handle it.  This depends on how it’s presented. If it is presented in a size 8 font with a wall of text I will last at most 4 minutes.  I learn easily with videos.  For example, a science video that is about 8 to 20 minutes long keeps my attention especially if it asks questions.  I have learned that one of the fastest ways to get correct information without a teacher in front of the room is to post the wrong answer, for instance on an online forum, and then someone will inevitably explain correct comparisons and give neutral answers or facts. I appreciate this way of conveying knowledge rather than just getting someone’s opinion.  Then I can think it through and make up my own mind.

An example of one of the best ways I learn is R/C airplane building.  I taught myself to build them so I could have one to fly.  That was my motivation to learn.  The same learning dynamic fell into place with the mechanical work needed for my quad:  I learned how to repair it, do upgrades, design new parts, and maintain it because I was motivated to race.  This taught me to complete things and follow my gut instinct, plus this way of learning gives me a feeling of competence and self-determination.  I consider myself to be quite skilled mechanically."

Hub Learning

"My High School years were never charted or graphed or tested, nor was I confined in a school room.  Instead I spent my time engaged in a wide variety of pursuits.  I was happy to be able to spend time learning many different things rather than only doing intellectual book work.

These years included racing quads, raising my animals (ducks, geese, chickens, and my dogs Shasta and Kermit), working on a horse ranch and learning to take care of the horses and how to maintain the facility for a year, a strong home life with my family, learning guitar on my own (electric and acoustic), working at my Dad’s Electric Bike company, and a few mornings each week doing academics, plus a handful of good friends.  Sometimes I had a tutor, like for math, and lots of times my Mom organized groups of teens to learn something together, like Money Education, but really this was for the social I think. Each of these area’s interfaced with other areas of life to network deeper into other competencies.  

My Mom calls this ‘interfacing to network’ - Hub Learning.  She told us the story of Robert Kyiosaki teaching himself to swim really well in the ocean tides so that he could surf and spear fish.  He didn’t learn to swim just to learn to swim.  He had other motives.  In fact, when his parents took him to an indoor pool to get proper swim lessons he failed, yet he was an expert swimmer in the dangerous ocean tides who could surf and spear fish.

I learn this way also.  For example, take racing:  I pay for my own quad and upgrades by working and making money at Optibike. By working at Optibike I learn lots of new skills, including entrepreneurship, marketing and finance, but basically right now I am in charge of motor assembly, electric charger assembly, service, and trouble shooting.  I also helped my Dad design a prototype for an Electric Motorcycle as part of an Optibike expansion.   I learned Autocad – from Cad Software - to design parts for my quad on the computer.  I learned to write a resume’ because it was required to get a Sponsor for my racing. I launched a website to connect with other racers and promote the sport:    All the repairs and mechanical work for my quad I do myself, plus ordering parts and interfacing with vendors in other countries.  I learned these skills so that I could race, not just to learn a particular skill for its own sake. All this revolves around one motivation – this sport I love.  All this learning branched out because of the motivation for this one Hub, or focus.  This is just one example of how I learned through my High School years."

Friday, September 18, 2015

Ripple effects in learning

In education, learning about one topic has a ripple effect across all spheres of knowledge. 
As advocates of unschooling, we don't push students to learn specific subjects separately from each other. The underlying assumption in unschooling is that nothing exists in a vacuum, and when you set out to learn one thing you end up learning many different "subjects" along the way. One of our students was learning about Geography and along with studying where in the world things are, she also studied what is happening in those places. Here is what she had to say about what she learned along the way. 

"In Geography, one of the topics I covered was global phenomena and it dealt with a variety of things such as the plight of refugees. This brought to my attention how many refugees there are here and across the world seeking a safe place to live. This made me realize how grateful I am for having a place to call my home. Irrespective of what culture, race, or country we come from, we all want the same things in life like safety, love and acceptance. This made me think that all current affairs around the world have a ripple effect, like throwing a pebble in a pond. If something happens in one country, although it is far away from your own country, you may still be affected by it." 

For a teenager to view current affairs worldwide as having a ripple effect that eventually effects her is an incredible insight to have. She learned so much more than where a country is in the world, or any other bland facts about it. She really delved into what is going on with people in other places. Even when the situations there aren't very pretty. 

She's had a profound realization of unity in the world. Everywhere in the world, people want the same basic things. Perhaps that realization will also lead to an understanding that what she herself does also has a ripple effect around the world. As Mother Theresa said "I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples."

Friday, September 11, 2015

A peek into Homeschooling in Romania

There is an active and growing population of families choosing to opt out of the Romanian school system. We are thrilled to be able to support families all around the world with making the educational choice that best suits them. We thought it would be fun to give you a glimpse into what homeschooling looks like for this family in Romania. Here's an excerpt from their year-end report. 

"I’m very happy with the progress he’s made with his Reading skills. For the moment, he reads in Romanian, very well for his age, but he can also manage short simple English sentences. 
There’s not much to say about Writing skills, as he cannot be bothered with it. He knows how to write, but has no need to do so, apart for the occasional birthday card. Obviously, he types anything he needs to for his games.

English is another subject where there’s been great progress, mainly due to the fact that in the past few months he has discovered YouTube and he spends hours watching videos of his favorite games. I’d never have thought it possible to learn English this way, but he has become quite confident and he talks in English a lot. Amazingly, he’s started to speak Romanian with an English accent! I’ve downloaded some school books to use next year, so he can learn some basic grammar rules (which I’m sure he’ll find quite boring).

Mathematics is the only subject where we tried to go by the book and he’s made his way through several books of additions/subtractions, which he can do quite easily, so he has acquired more than the skills required for 1st grade. We also tried multiplication and division, but we have to work on this part next year. (We also use several Internet sites for Math).

For the past year, Science studies consisted mainly of a Chemistry/Physics class he was enrolled in. It’s a government subsidized learning center for kids, which offers a lot of different classes. The Chemistry class was quite hard, covering stuff that school children only learn in 5th grade and beyond, but everything is explained in simple terms with lots of fun experiments, to make science appealing to seven years old kids. And we had a final test, too, which he passed. So we’re good, as far as Science is concerned. 

At the same center, he took a very interesting course combining History and Crafts. They studied mostly Ancient History and at each lesson they also crafted some object relevant for that particular period, a cardboard Roman shield, an Egyptian pyramid and so on. We also read several books concerning Ancient History, some of them in English. So that’s Social Studies for us.

He also studied French at the center, but I cannot really say that he’s learned much. A few words, some songs and not much else. We’ll probably have to find some other program, something more fun. Anyway, these classes have been very useful as they gave him some sort of going to school experience and he got to make some friends, temporary, as most friends are at this age. It also helped me put my mind at ease on the controversial subject of socializing and HS."

Jacqueline ~ Romania

There is a mother who is a homeschooling advocate in Romania through her blog, and who is our local contact for our Romanian families. You can visit her blog here

For our native Romanian readers, here is the year-end report in the Romanian language. 

"Sper ca ai avut un an (scolar) bun. Noi cu siguranta am avut. Iata, pe scurt, ce a invatat baiatul meu, P., in primul lui an de homeschooling.

In esenta, s-a descurcat de minune. Noi nu folosim vreo programa anume, dar incerc sa acoperim cumva toate materiile relevante. (Am oroare de programe scolare ca urmare a experientei avute cu fata, care a fost timp de opt ani in invatamintul public si a avut de invatat pe de rost tone de lucruri inutile, din categoria celor pe care le uiti de indata ce ai luat nota la materia respectiva).
Revenind la baiatul cel mic, ma bucur sa-ti spun ca a facut progrese majore la citit. La ora actuala, citeste in romana foarte bine pentru varsta lui, dar se descurca si sa citeasca propozitii mai simple in engleza.

Despre scris nu prea am ce sa spun, pentru ca nu prea il intereseaza subiectul. Stie sa scrie, dar nu prea are nevoie sa o faca, doar cite o felicitare ocazional. Evident, se descurca sa tasteze orice are nevoie la jocurile lui.

Engleza este o alta materie la care a inregistrat mari progrese, mai ales datorita faptului ca in ultimele luni a descoperit YouTube si petrece ore in sir uitindu-se la materiale video despre jocurile lui favorite. Nu mi-as fi imaginat vreodata ca este posibil sa inveti engleza in acest mod, dar fapt este ca a prins curaj si vorbeste mult in engleza. Cel mai uimitor este faptul ca inceput sa vorbeasca si romaneste cu accent englezesc! Am descarcat recent o serie de manual de engleza pe care intentionez sa le parcurgem in noul an scolar, astfel incit sa poate invata si ceva reguli de gramatica, desi sunt sigura ca o sa i se para tare plictisitoare.

Matematica este singura materie pe care am incercat sa o studiem ca la carte si am parcurs impreuna mai multe culegeri cu adunari si scaderi, pe care le rezolva cu usurinta, astfel ca este deja peste nivelul cerut la clasa intii. Am incercat si ceva inmultiri si impartiri, dar este un subiect asupra caruia va trebui sa insistam anul urmator. (De asemenea, folosim si diverse site-uri de Internet pentru matematica. )

La capitolul stiinte, anul trecut baiatul a fost inscris la un curs de chimie/fizica organizat la Palatul Copiilor, unde sunt o multime de cursuri interesante. Cursul de chimie a fost unul foarte serios, cu materie pe care la scoala copiii o parcurg abia in clasa a 5a sau dupa, dar totul le era explicat in termeni simpli, cu multe experimente distractive, astfel incit lectiile sa fie atractive pentru copii de sapte ani. Am avut si un test final, pe care P. l-a trecut cu bine. Asa ca stam bine la capitolul stiinte.
Tot la Palatul Copiilor, P. a fost inscris si la un curs care imbina istoria cu lucrul manual. Au studiat cu precadere istoria antica si la fiecare lectie copiii realizau si un obiect relevant pentru perioada studiata, un scut roman din carton, o piramida egipteana si asa mai departe. Am citit, de asemenea, mai multe carti despre antichitate, unele in engleza. In acest fel am acoperit noi stiinte sociale.
In acelasi loc, a mers si la curs de franceza, dar n-as putea spune ca a invatat foarte mult. O serie de cuvinte, ceva cintecele si cam atit. Cred ca va trebui sa cautam un alt program de limbi straine, ceva mai distractiv.

In tot cazul, cursurile acestea au fost foarte utile pentru ca i-au oferit copilului un fel de experienta a mersului la scoala si si-a facut si ceva prieteni, temporari, asa cum sunt toti prietenii la aceasta virsta. In plus, asta m-a ajutat si pe mine sa-mi domolesc temerile referitoare la controversatul subiect al socializarii copiilor care practica homeschooling."

Jacqueline ~ Romania

Friday, September 4, 2015

10th grade reflection: Son's point of view

Now we get to hear directly from the son of last week's homeschooling mom about why school was so miserable for him, and how homeschooling has changed his perspective on life. Enjoy part 2 of this story! (If you missed his Mom's point of view in part 1, you can read it here.)
Entering the tenth grade was supposed to be a restart from the last year, in which I barely managed to pull through with less than stellar marks. But my public school career was completely unsalvageable by the second semester. Sometime around the end of seventh grade,  I began to lose interest in doing the assignments and projects the administration required everyone to complete for good grades. The assignments were unoriginal, tedious, and seemed, for the most part, unnecessary to normal life. While the actual subject matter was quite interesting to me, the excessive, unnecessary assignments ruined any hope of enjoying classes. Eventually I stopped doing the assignments flat out, partially to spite the authority the school had over the student body. My faltering grades lead to daily screaming matches with my family over what could possibly be wrong with me. I was failing half my classes by the end of the semester while my parents were freaking out about my future. I decided that leaving public school would be the best course of action, as I would not be forced to follow the same path as every other teenager, and could study whatever subject I wanted without the school’s overlords pressuring me to do only as they wished.

            The end of the first semester marked the end of my public school career. I could finally relax, learn what I wanted at my pace, and not worry about tests and projects failing my education. This second start with homeschooling felt like a breath of fresh air after my dreadful high school experience. I was homeschooled before entering public schools in the third grade, but this time it felt better. The first time I had no frame of reference to determine whether I enjoyed or not, so it felt much better to start homeschooling knowing how public schools worked and how unhealthy it could be. My previous experience with homeschooling may very well have helped lead me to the many problems I had with public schools and their authority. 

About a week or so after leaving school, I was much happier than I had been in a long time. Slowly I began to move away from the way public schools want students to think and started thinking of things I could do now that I wasn’t forced to do only certain things. Now I could finally study recent history instead of only the American Revolution, or read any book I could get my hands on, or learn the basics of Javascript on my computer. The world is opened up, and I can do with it as I wish.

~ Vincent, Colorado

Friday, August 28, 2015

Reflections on the 10th Grade: Mom’s Point of View

It's so rewarding for us to hear the stories of our families who have gained freedom and joy in their lives by getting free of the school system. Read on for a moving story from this mother about how her son went from being an angry teenager to an engaged, alive person pursuing several passions. Next week we will post the son's reflections of his experience in school, and the difference since he has started homeschooling. Check back next week for part 2!
                                                                                   - Peggy and Karen

"Deciding to homeschool/unschool has been an incredible decision for our whole family. After a very rocky 9th grade year, we went into the 10th grade year with an agreement (from all of us) that we would not have a repeat of the 9th grade. We briefly discussed homeschooling, but my son made a decision that he wanted to try school again for the 10th grade. I think he wanted to be with his friends, and I think there was some hope that things would be better. By mid-year of the 10th grade in public school, though, my son was a shell of his former self. Moody, angry, irritable, reactive... those are words that could be used to describe all of us! We were all exhausted and traumatized by the constant battle to get school work done. As parents, we were getting scary e-mails and phone calls from the school, and the expectation was that we better do something about our kid - and fast! The threat was that if we didn’t, we risked letting our son fall through the cracks, only to become a teenaged failure. This was horrifying to us, and we didn’t understand what was happening with our son. I am sure the pressure was even worse for our him! Our bright, observant, thoughtful kid was miserable, and every time we talked to him about school, he became deeply defensive and angry. We couldn’t figure out what was wrong, and neither could he. Ultimately, my husband and I decided that our relationship with our son was more important than his grades. Even though we were getting a lot of scary stuff from the schools, we made a difficult decision to let him succeed or fail on his own terms. This was really hard, but ultimately, it helped us to make choices that would lead us home.

Even though we had decided to back off and not take on so much of the pressure we were getting from the e-mails, robo-calls, and messages from school counselors, we all still struggled. It was painful to watch my beloved son struggling every day with going to this place that obviously made him feel terrible! I tried enlisting help from all of our son’s teachers, and only got a response from 3 of them. I think his teachers cared, but I also think they had a huge amount of work in front of them, and our quietly failing boy in the back row (who they barely remembered) was not high on their list. This was very stressful, and we were not perfect in our resolve to let our son fail. We struggled with our own fear and panic. Would our son be OK? Would he ever have the chance for a full life? Was he throwing away his opportunities for success in the world? And, even more importantly, why wasn’t he happy? Why was he struggling so much? He couldn’t articulate this, and the more we asked, the more frustrated he became with us. We had to really work to back off. It took us a long time to let go, but when we finally did, it was a watershed moment.

I picked my son up from rock climbing on a Wednesday just before he finished out the fall semester. “Vinnie,” I said, “It looks like you are going to fail some of your classes. Dad can probably help you figure out how to pass them, if you want. But, more importantly, I want you to know that there are other ways to become an educated person. Maybe this way isn’t working for you. There are other options for you. I don’t know what is happening for you at school, but we can do things differently. If you want to talk with me about options, we can get some dinner and talk.” To my complete surprise, my son started talking. He admitted that he was about to fail, and talked about how even though he was interested in the subject matter, he just couldn’t bring himself to comply with the assigned work. He described how the work felt arbitrary, and how he felt insulted by the “busywork” of school. He didn’t want to do the things they wanted him to do. I told him that we could consider a variety of options, and that we as a family would take the winter break to decide what would be the best option for our son.

From that moment forward, I finally felt like the mother I have always been. I remembered that my son’s life is HIS life. He doesn’t belong to the schools, and neither do we as his parents. His school’s structure is set up to warehouse hundreds of kids and make sure they all meet big external standards as a group. This has never been what education has meant to us as a family. What we value is freedom and joy in learning. We believe that learning is and should be fun, and that  becoming educated means you have your head on your shoulders and can examine the world and your life consciously and critically. Being educated means you know how to get the information you want and need when you want and need it. It is about being able to take in information, process that information thoughtfully, and communicate about it effectively. It is about being able to deepen as a human being, from a well-informed place, so that you can live a full, exciting, passionate life of your own creation.

By the end of the winter break, my son informed me that he had decided to homeschool. This was the day before school was supposed to start for the spring semester. Vinnie told me that he was concerned about losing touch with his friends, so we decided that he would go to school, get as many numbers as possible, and make sure he felt good about this decision to homeschool. When I talked to him after school the next day, my son had cleaned out his locker and made his final decision. The relief was absolutely palpable.

Over these last few months, my son has gone from an angry, unreachable teen to an engaged, alive person. He is reading again, with as much voraciousness as he did when he was younger. He has rested and recovered. He has sought out the things he wants to learn. He started taking online computer programming courses and has found a college degree program he’d like to get into some day. He traveled across the US for a month with my Mom and sister. He got to drive a tractor and feed the goats and donkeys and chickens on their farm property in Texas. He learned to scuba dive, and he is learning to drive. He joined the varsity rock climbing team and is able to climb three days a week. He got interested in social justice and race relations, so we watched movies about civil rights leaders, read news articles, and had discussions about Ferguson and the #BlackLivesMatter movement. He spent time snowboarding in the mountains, and skateboarding to Dairy Queen. He is exploring what it means to be a friend, and what it means to say no to people who drag him down. He is owning who he is, and taking responsibility for being an educated person in his own, shining, unique way. He is becoming himself, in the best way possible.

Of course, we are not without struggles now. We still have to work on letting go, and he still has to work on taking responsibility for himself. But this is now in the spirit of joy and freedom and growth, rather than pressure and threat and fear. This is healthy and challenging, rather than traumatizing and terrifying. I am so grateful every day that we made this decision to take back the power in our lives. I am grateful that we could let go enough to see that there really are options and possibilities in this life. We are not at the mercy of the system, even though it can feel like it when you’re in the middle of it. We are the true creators in our lives, and we are glad to have reclaimed this for our family."

~ Rachel S., Colorado.