Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"We" who?

I have noticed something. When kids who don't go to school (have NEVER gone to school) hit age 9 or so, suddenly they leave for school in droves. Just happened with two kids we know. First of all, I applaud parents for listening to their kids and following their wishes (both these kids asked to go to school).

That being said, I am curious about why this happens so often whether precipitated by child or parent. I have some ideas.

When kids hit that 8/9/10 age they enter a new stage of being in the world.* They are no longer "body-centered" and suddenly there is a realization of what an incredibly tiny part of the universe they occupy, instead of the previous years when they ARE the whole universe. With this shift in being comes the huge hammer-blow of realization about mortality. Puberty is beginning and bodies are changing and there are so many other people in childrens' lives. They are gaining skills of independence. They are building their own communities.

Here is where this matters for school-free families. These new emotionally-centered children are building new definitions of "we." Whereas the family has been the core community up until this time, children now want and need to build strong relationships with people outside the family unit. This is healthy. This is good. Kids need to define their own "we." This does not mean that the "we" of the family goes away. Far from it. Having the physical and emotional support network of a strong family (not necessarily biologically linked, just permanent) means that kids have a safety net to try on all the other identities they are curious about. A child's "we" outside the family will change again and again as friendships come and go, interests change etc.

Kids who are desperate for a new "we" want to go to school. Parents observe moody, restless kids and think maybe school can provide something they cannot. Here is where I jump on my soap-box just a bit. It is not our job to TEACH our children (as in "teacher"). It is our job to live fulfilling and interesting lives and to trust that children will learn where there is something to learn. To quote John Taylor Gatto** "When you want to teach children to think, you begin by treating them seriously when they are little, giving them responsibilities, talking to them candidly, providing privacy and solitude for them, and making them readers and thinkers of significant thoughts from the beginning. That's if you want them to think." I don't think institutional school can do that. So, when the family "we" cannot provide the stimulation or opportunities (with friends, in the community etc.) to form new "we"s for kids, school seems like a good option (i.e. "There will be so many kids!")

So--I am of the opinion that our job as parents of children of this stage of growth, it is our job to cement the "we" of our family by offering as many opportunities as possible to try thing WITHOUT the family. I want Evie to have a close group of friends. She does. I want Evie to be comfortable in a variety of places/situations. She is. Her personal identity is strong and growing because she has the opportunity to form a variety of "we" groups and she knows that the family "we" will always be there. Evie has never asked to go to school. Occasionally I ask if she has ever thought about it. She has no interest. I think school can be another option for kids to form their new "we." But, at what cost? An institution where conformity and allegiance to the literal and figurative ideas of absolute authority endangers the delicate process that kids are navigating on their way to maturity with healthy, curious, fully conscious minds intact.

Children need to define their own groups of "we" as they grow older. Parents have the responsibility to help make that happen. School is not a reasonable avenue for making that happen but can look pretty enticing.

That is what I am thinking about today.

*As I may have mentioned 10 or 20 thousand times on this blog, Natural Learning Rhythmsis my favorite book on this topic.

** From The Public School Nightmare


Andrea said...

You make a lot of great points. My boys are 9 and 10, and we are not always unschooled, which is making a HUGE difference for us (no talk of school around here). I do see the always homeschooled friends heading to school this year, and I agree with many of the reasons you posted, especially the emotional/social changes you mention. We have had many conversations about why our friends are choosing school, which my boys don't understand. Thanks for the book recommendation, I hadn't heard of it before.

Stephanie said...

I always thought -until this last year or so- that I would say "okay" to my child's request to go to school. I mean - it's their choice, right?
And now I've pretty much changed my mind. Most of the time.
It's too painful for me to envision them learning the lessons that school has to teach. (self doubt, conformity, the absolute obeyance of any authority, the valuing of things that are Not important or wrong, in my opinion...)
Now when people ask I say "when they are able to stick up for themselves" I would let them go - I imagine around 16 or so. :?

I've had this on my mind a lot for Trev, lately. I think it's getting near for him.
He's not a social kid, really. I mean, he's not awkward or shy, certainly, he's just happy at home with us, or by himself when we're in a big group. His dad and he are great "guy" friends.
I can see that he is getting ready for a truer friendship - a friend whom he has much in common with and can kick around ideas. He doesn't really have that. The friends he has are more casual than bosom friends.

School certainly won't be the answer.
He really, really likes one little boy of a coworker of Eric's, so we need to make a plan with her, and I'm thinking maybe game day at after-school library programs.... he's just not interested in classes and such, yet. And the Boy Scouts things around here are less than ideal, to me. (Religious.)
We'll figure it out! :)

Lynch Family said...

@Stephanie--An excellent reminder that for some, the "we" is one. I was that way until well into my teens. It is all about options and opportunities--including the opportunity to say "no, I'm fine here!"

ItMakesYouSmile said...

Jen, thanks so much for your very well stated and thoughtful post. I think that what makes this so hard for parents (well, one of the things, anyway) is that no matter how much we understand and accept some of these ideas intellectually, it is extremely difficult to remove our egos from the equation, to really be able to see our childrens' needs for what they are - or even not see them, but let the kids determine what they need - and help them to meet their needs, whatever they may be, in an authentic and meaningful way, without our egos interfering with "shoulds" or "shouldn'ts".

Lynch Family said...

Oy! The "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts!" I suffer from the "I-know-I'm-right" disease in a major way. I have found it is very helpful for me to make up a scenario similar to mine but involving imaginary strangers (when I am in a conundrum) and ask myself what I would say to about what those other people SHOULD do. Sometimes the answers are embarrassing to my ego, but it sure helps me see through the fog!

Eluciq said...

awe evie is a lucky person to have well educated parents that give her the safe, trusting environment to find the "we".

Herrmann, MD said...

We have lived in family housing for the university in Madison for almost 7 years, and we see most families and their children come and go. My daughter is 9 and in the last year, 5 of 6 of her friends have moved away. Our daughter, now 9, is going through everything you described. The main reason she wants to go to school because she is bored and feels like she has no friends (also we have a 2 year old that demands a lot of attention that I feel like she is getting tired of). It would be interesting to write a book about the general "phases" that unschooled or homeschooled children go through to help out. I appreciate you taking your time to post this information.