I have been thinking a lot about this quote lately. I saw it on a friend's blog (who happens to have a home preschool) a few days ago and it struck a cord with me. I used to complain bitterly about kids in my public school classroom (when I taught high school) not being able to really question; rather, they were experts in discerning what the teacher wanted to hear and regurgitating it. We even reduced critical thinking problems to exercises in rote memory by doing the problems "together" on the board, having students copy the process, then testing them on it. Seldom did I have a student in class who was capable of hearing information, interpreting it, sharing their values and opinions, and creating a plan of action to address the problem/information. I blamed a lacking school system (and social structure, but let's not go down that road). It was so frustrating- and alarming.
Yet, what did I do when I began to teach my own children at home? What I had been taught to do in school myself- tell the children the fact, make them learn it, make them repeat it... the very same approach which had created the capricious students I taught in the public schools. Without thinking about what I was doing, I created specific hours when the children and I would sit at the kitchen table to "do school" and I mandated that we finish each lesson, each day so we didn't "fall behind". Sure, I finessed a lot more than I could in the mainstream classroom, and we often ate while we worked or wore our pajamas... but the fundamental approach was the same. Worst yet- the assumption that I was the one with all the answers to impart to the children- was the same.
At first it seemed OK because we were all excited to be embarking on this homeschooling journey together. But after a month or so the kids were complaining about doing school and I wasn't enjoying it, either. Suddenly, this freeing and exciting process wasn't either- it was plain, old school and I wondered what I was doing wrong?
So we took a break... for the month of November. Yes, the whole month. We did only the things that inspired us- when a child wanted to pull out one of the math books to do a few problems, we did. We learned to count by baking a lot. We did some fun looking science experiments we found on the internet. I set up a bulls eye with the alphabet in my kitchen and challenged the kids to hit the correct letters with a Nerf gun as I called them out. We learned how to say "I eat spinach!" in Japanese by watching dubbed over Popeye on YouTube. Don't misunderstand- we did a lot of learning, just not the way that I had learned how to learn.
Again I find myself at a crossroad. So short a time after I began my homeschooling journey I find that I must stop and re-evaluate. Typically I would see this as failure, but somehow that's not the case this time. The one constant that homeschooling has provided me and my family over the past four months has been forgiveness and flexibility, even as they apply to our perceptions of ourselves. I am slowly- oh, so slowly- beginning to realize that there is more than one way to do this well, and that the ways may change over time. I'm not failing, I'm just learning right along with the kids. I used November to read a lot of books about homeschooling, and to brush up on approaches I'd learned about in graduate school but never had the chance to practice. I am so looking forward to trying them out, scrapping some, embracing others, and discovering our own unique family blend of "school."