It’s been an interesting ride since my last post about my daughter’s school punishing the kids who opted out of the (optional) standardized test. I thought maybe 10 people would read it, but I guess it struck a chord, because it’s gotten a little over 900 views since I posted it four nights ago. The support has been overwhelming and the handful of trolls talking trash along the way have kept things in perspective. I appreciate the majority of people who took the time to read the post and respond thoughtfully—whether they agreed or not—either in the comments, on Facebook, or through Twitter. Especially given this response, it seems important to catch everyone up on what’s happened since.
My daughter was excluded at school today. Not from some game on the playground or for misbehaving in class, but because we opted her out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test. All the kids who took the test over the last couple weeks had an ice cream party, but my daughter—and other kids who opted out of the test—were asked to leave the class while the party took place. In fact, it was covered up. She was sent to another class to share a story, and she didn’t know what was happening until she returned to her normal class. When she entered the room, the other kids were whispering, “Shhhh, don’t tell her!”
Where do I begin?
One thing I’m constantly grateful for in my job is that I’m surrounded by education-related content, and even better than that, I have opportunities to meet with educators from all over the U.S. At our spring meeting in DC, while catching up with my teacher friends, the one question almost all of them asked was, “How’s unschooling going?!”
There’s two things I loved about that: 1) they were genuinely excited and curious, and 2) it was an opportunity to share perspectives and get ideas. Some of them are familiar with unschooling and some aren’t, but all of them had great ideas for me to bring back home—innovative, engaging ideas from their own classrooms that work well with their kids.
I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about our unschooling adventure. “How’s homeschooling going?” people ask, not realizing (or remembering) the difference. And what’s struck me is how strongly I feel the need to explain what we’re doing and how it’s going, as if to provide enough detail to justify the whole thing—and sometimes, I realize, it’s as much to convince and reassure myself.
After each interaction, I take a step back and question it. What am I trying to prove? Why not just say, “great!” and move on? I feel a responsibility to not only be honest, but to be specific, and I’m not entirely sure why. It’s partly due, I’m sure, to the fact that in my circles, education is a big deal and I wouldn’t want those around me to think it’s something we’re taking lightly. And of course, so many of us were raised in a traditional public or private school setting, that the idea of homeschooling, not to mention unschooling, is murky, uncharted territory.
I wrote my first post about unschooling and how we were thinking about ways to homeschool a little less than three weeks ago, and pretty much right after I wrote that, it became clear we would be jumping in head first, sooner than later. As the testing began and the pressure rose for our first grader, her days became more miserable and her nights filled with stress and anxiety. We found ourselves thinking (again), surely there must be a better way. So we took the plunge and pulled her out of school.
Our oldest has just entered her fifth year of public school with our middle child entering her second, and it's becoming more and more clear, every day, that much of what I read about school from around the country is true for us: public education is broken. I am not an education expert, nor do I play one on TV, but it seems to be that even at some of the "best" schools, education and learning is still about getting good grades to get a good job to make money to buy stuff. And how to get good grades still looks very similar to my primary school education 20+ years ago. In fact, the rubric for success in school is basically the same, too (i.e. turn in your homework, do well on tests, don't rock the boat, etc.).
Once again it’s late and my thoughts are swirling. A few things got my mind stepping from place to place. First it was this chemical spill in West Virginia that has hundreds of thousands of people without water to drink, bathe in, etc. Then there was the update on the Target data breach which now says that up to 70 million people’s card numbers, addresses, phone numbers, etc. could have been compromised. From there it was easy for me to jump to one of the few questions I struggle with on a regular basis: what the hell are we doing?
As far as I can see, the vast majority of the world’s issues stem from money, one way or another. Governments and companies abuse their own people in order for a few to profit. Large populations are taken advantage of in order to make stuff at a lower cost, so that product prices are lower/more competitive, thereby selling more, and again, making a small percentage even richer than they already are. Capitalism and the model of “go to school to get a job to make money to buy stuff” just can’t be sustained. Have you ever walked through a department store or grocery store and wondered, “Who is going to buy all this stuff?” And for me, the next question is, “Why do I want all this stuff?”
I’ve written before how sharing here creates connections across spaces, lives, and people in ways that sometimes I see, and sometimes I don’t. The other day I wrote about this article I read and how it illustrated choice and acceptance for me. My friend Terry in Kentucky responded with how it reminded him of one of his favorite videos from 2013, “This is Water.” So I, in turn, checked that out and it captured so many principles and behavioral changes I’ve been working towards over the last few years, that I’ve decided I should highlight it here.
“People realize that we shouldn’t throw away trash carelessly. Well, we shouldn’t throw away people either.”
~Favio Chavez, Orchestra Director
Just saw this article on NPR about the Landfill Harmonic, a documentary on a community in Cateura, Paraguay that’s building instruments for its kids out of trash who then can play in the local orchestra led by Favio Chavez. Seriously brought tears to my eyes.