Sunday, August 2, 2009

"The Name is not the Way"

The wise teacher does not choose to give a particular name to her or his style of educating children. All named teaching practices have political implications, and political movements become parts of the pendulum course that education has followed throughout history. Names are limiting, for other people's definitions are attached to the names. A name can evoke unnecessary, unwarranted reactions to implied meanings that are not true of you at all... Do not follow the dictates of any one group; follow the dictates of your own, carefully developed, philosophy.
-- Greta Nagel, Ph.D, The Tao of Teaching, 1994.
Names have associations, no matter how objective we try to be. Say, "rose," a certain smell comes to mind. But roses also have thorns. Say, "spaghetti;" some will think of warm dinners at Nona's, others will think of the times they were too poor to eat anything but pasta and canned sauce.

When I say "unschooling," do you think of kids and moms experiencing the joy of discovery in everyday life; learning to love experiencing things firsthand; knowing they can stop what they are doing and look up that bug that just crawled across their book? Or do you think of lazy moms, lazy kids, panicking when test time comes, wanting what they want at that moment, instant gratification? When you think of classical education, do you think of a wealth of knowledge, eloquence, self-discipline? Or do you think of mom being a slave driver; memorization; joyless learning? How about Charlotte Mason? Is it gentle learning with nature and living books? Or is it raising weaklings, not tough enough to "cope" with the ruthlessness of today's workplace? Only hippies unschool, right? And fascists classically school. Victorian wanna-be's do Charlotte Mason.

I know these statements are not true. I've witnessed quite disciplined "unschools," very gentle classical schools, and very modern Charlotte Mason followers. Maybe you have, too, but I'll bet there are plenty who have not; they have only seen what their experience has shown them. Even when you choose a method to use in your own home school, you may make assumptions and generalizations which may not go along with everyone else's concept of that method. So when you name yourself as an "unschooler," for example, expect that someone else will make some generalizations about you which may or may not be accurate.

When I first started home schooling, it seemed like everyone wanted to know, "What method are you following?" Every book I read seemed to be telling me, "You need to find a method or you will be lost forever." So after doing tons of research, I chose one and used it for six months. We were having problems, but tweaking seemed so wrong. It was a method, wasn't it? Tried and true. If I tweaked it, it wouldn't still be THAT method, would it? So I tried another method, in all its purity and glory. But there were real problems with that, too, after a while. What was going on? Was I incompetent? Add to this the "Aunt Maybelle voice," and I was a mess, especially since the method I was using said, "If you don't do it this way, you will FAIL."

Wait a minute.

Fail? The Chief is going to be in the "second grade," and is doing everything on a third and fourth grade level, even with all the mess ups and start overs and goings back. How is he failing? That was when I realized, it was not he who would fail, but the method.

I was so busy trying to perfect my use of the method/s that I did not see that I was working too hard for a method that was not working for me.

This is what we are telling ourselves, if not other people, when we say, "Oh, I use the _____ method." We are saying that we are willing to relinquish our control of our families and home schools to this book or person. If it works, the method gets the credit. If it fails, then we take the blame because it's the METHOD. It can't be wrong, can it?

Don't get me wrong. All methods have their pros and cons. You might actually find one that is the perfect fit your you and your family. If so, that is WONDERFUL! I think that happens very, very rarely. If a time does come, however, when you find yourself having doubts, thinking, "why can't my kid do this? All those other kids can narrate stories/write essays/draw like Picasso," maybe it's time to do a little re-evaluating. What drew you to the method in the first place? Go back and answer the ten questions. Instead of asking yourself, "What's wrong with my kid, why can't he do this?" ask, "What's wrong with this method, why isn't it working for us?" Write down what works about the method, use them, and drop the rest and try something else. Is this sacrilege? Are you a slave to your method? What's more important, the method or your family? Think of how it feels to be a child who is asked daily to do something he can't do. How would you feel about yourself?

Think of it this way. A warrior who can only use a bow and arrow would be pretty worthless in close combat. A swordsman is frustrated if his enemy is on the opposite bank of a very wide river. Why not train yourself with multiple weapons so you can overcome many obstacles, whatever comes into your path? And the next time someone asks you, "What method do you follow?" you can answer them with confidence, "The one that works."