Saturday, June 23, 2007

Label Me Schizophrenic

(This article originally appeared in the March/April, 2006 issue of Home Education Magazine.)

Classical. Charlotte Mason. Unschooler.

Yup, that’s me.

There’s just a slight problem. The labels contradict one another, don’t they?

Yes.

And no.

They’re accurate, but inaccurate. (What is the sound of one textbook flapping? I’ll move beyond the Zen musing and get to my point.)

I dislike labels. I refuse to label our homeschool. My aversion to labels has been both advantageous and embarrassing over the five years we’ve been doing this: advantageous, because I’m free to approach learning in a variety of ways, and embarrassing (in the beginning, though I’m over that now) because I never had a succinct answer to, "What curriculum do you use?"

I used to hem, haw, stutter and say something about an eclectic mix. I was initially reluctant to say, "We unschool," because most people interpreted that as, “Yes, I really do homeschool because I’m lazy.” I shied away from saying “We’re pursuing a Charlotte Mason education” because I didn't follow CM methods to the letter, and hadn’t even read all of her original writings. I didn't want to say "we’re classical" because, although some classical elements were present, we fell short of the mark and I feared someone would ask me to say, “My child adores The Iliad in Latin, Greek and one other language of my choice.

So, what was I? It used to bother me, not having a definitive answer. But these days, when faced with The Question, I look my inquisitor in the eye and brazenly reply, "I design our curriculum myself." It’s a true and simple answer that covers the fluid flexibility of our days. Sometimes I design structure, routines and the tackling of a workbook. At other times, our copywork from classic literature would make Charlotte Mason quiver with pride at the thought of her mentoring. And often – quite often – my design includes open-ended time full of reading, writing, observing, talking, experimenting and growing.

The point is that I have never found a single, definable “method” that works all the time for all my children. No two years of our homeschool have been the same. Well, perhaps that’s not entirely true. What has been constant is that I've included a mixture of methods that works for my kids. Each year there’s been some formal, structured curriculum, driven and directed by me. I made the choices, introduced it to the kids, and in most cases, we all enjoyed what came of it.

When we didn’t enjoy it, I asked myself, "Why am I doing this?" If the answer was that as a responsible, loving parent I’d determined this study to be in my children’s best interest, then we continued. Some parts of life are simply like that. I don’t, for example, clean toilets because it’s a “delight-directed” activity. It is, however, in everyone’s best interest that I don’t allow mold to grow in dark corners, so I push on with the toilet-cleaning. But if I push a hated school agenda not because it’s in our best interest but because I think we “should” do this, or “everyone has to go through that,” or simply because I’m having trouble letting go of "the plan," then I know it’s time to reassess. It’s usually at that point that someone will ask, “But how will your children learn to do things they hate?”

Ah, yes. The Life-Is-Full-Of-Stuff-We-Hate objection. To the surprise of some, though our homeschool is relaxed, my kids don’t always – gasp – get to do only what they love. Yes, it’s true we all must learn that life is difficult. But, life is also full of joy, beauty and unexpected delights. I don't want to stomp on all the goodness while trying to prove to my kids that the world is a tough place.

The tough stuff intrudes on the best of days, the happiest of families and the most joyful of times without my help. I don't have to create opportunities (such as six extra pages of math problems) for my kids to learn that life is hard and they must do things they hate. They can learn that when they deal with the neighborhood bully or scoop the litterbox. What I do instead is seize opportunities to teach them how to respond to life's hard edges.

And that brings us back to the hard edge of a world that demands labels. If I must be labeled, the only homeschooling tag I’ll take is “schizophrenic.” Our homeschool simply doesn’t fit neatly into one educational box and I’m drawn to a variety of approaches, from the aforementioned unschooling to touches of classical.

This schizophrenic collage that is our life was nicely illustrated one recent day. I had planned “A Planning Day,” looking ahead to what I hoped we’d investigate in the coming months. My planning was interrupted by my 9-year-old when she ran into the house, cupping a cricket in her hands. Suddenly, there were all kinds of questions: How long will he live? What will he eat? What can I keep him in? How can we find out? We grabbed Anna Botsford Comstock’s Handbook of Nature Study and the kids looked up crickets. They called the local pet shop, remembering crickets they’d seen there (albeit unsuspecting ones who are food, rather than who get food, as we found out when the clerk laughed, "I do know what eats them.”) That day, my girls did some basic research, used indexing, reference and alphabetizing skills and learned that crickets will eat anything, up to and including watermelon, chocolate chip cookies and paper.

The point is that I had to let go of “The Plan” – my plan for the day – and seize the new plan that had presented itself. We were all much happier and learned more than if I’d said, "Go away. I'm planning your education."

And I was grateful for yet another day of richly layered, meaningful learning, made possible by this schizophrenic mom’s aversion to labels.

Viva schizophrenic homeschooling, and long live aversions to labels.

20 comments:

Liz said...

I always called my method eclectic. Since I have a rather eclectic decorating style, a rather eclectic taste in books, a rather eclectic taste in movies and music, it only seemed right that my homeschooling curriculum would be eclectic as well. Somehow eclectic sounded funky like I was making deliberate choices that tied together in ways that not everyone could understand. In fact they did, but in very serendipitous ways a lot of the time. They tied together because we are in fact fairly well integrated people, but I wonder whether sheep and Tolkien would always seem like they tie together. We never even had a sheep named Bilbo.

Liz said...

I always called my method eclectic. Since I have a rather eclectic decorating style, a rather eclectic taste in books, a rather eclectic taste in movies and music, it only seemed right that my homeschooling curriculum would be eclectic as well. Somehow eclectic sounded funky like I was making deliberate choices that tied together in ways that not everyone could understand. In fact they did, but in very serendipitous ways a lot of the time. They tied together because we are in fact fairly well integrated people, but I wonder whether sheep and Tolkien would always seem like they tie together. We never even had a sheep named Bilbo.

elaine said...

THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!

As a brand new homeschooling parent, I have felt this need to fit into a homeschooling "type", but I keep bouncing around the three areas that you feel you enjoy.

A relief to know that it is okay to like different aspects. To me one size NEVER FITS ALL.

kim said...

Wow, a kindred spirit. I too have been walking on that fence for years and trying not to label. Last year after a conference I decided I should offer a workshop on "Relaxed Classical." The only trouble is, I never feel as if I've truly hammered down the relaxed part or the classical part so I consider myself too inexperienced to lead others in to the mire! Good luck with your homeschooling an keep defying lables. Whatever the case is, your kids are happy and learning!

Carol said...

I couldn't agree more. I brought my girls home from public school because a 'one-size-fits-all' approach didn't work. Why would I would I make my homeschool 'one-size'?

Patience said...

Wow, excellent post, you have said everything I believe and do myself.

Rodrigo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Candlestring said...

...And now you can read A Cricket in Times Square :)

Candlestring said...

Oops, that's THE Cricket in Times Square.

Kristen Laurence said...

You're inspiring, Karen. I think I might call your education "Well-rounded". It is what I want to provide for my own children.

Karen E. said...

Thanks so much all you kindred spirits!

Liz, you've inspired me -- maybe rather than "schizophrenic" I'll call my homeschooling style "serendipitous." :-)

Kristen, "well-rounded" does sound much nicer than "schizophrenic." ;-)

Alice Gunther said...

You hit the nail on the head with this piece, Karen!

Just perfect!

Leonie said...

Great article, Karen!

Karen E. said...

Thanks, Alice and Leonie!

LLMom said...

Karen,

This is just wonderful. I have always tried to fit into a label and struggled. I began as an "unschooler" but as the family grew, our schooling did too. I felt a bit guilty but now see that year to year even can be different and that is ok as long as its working. Labels just weigh us down.

Karen said...

I've been reading through the posts in the Unschooling Voices and some of them have made me feel like "that's not me" even though some would probably label me a radical unschooler. When I got to this post, though, I felt like I had "come home."

Thank you.

Karen E. said...

Thank *you*, Karen, for such a kind comment!

kathryn said...

Viva schizophrenic homeschooling, and long live aversions to labels.

That is a great line! I've been homeschooling for a decade now (6 boys and another baby on his/her way)and I am more fed up than ever with feeling the need to apolgise for my 'eclectic', 'unlabelable' style. Thanks for helping me not feel so guilty about not conforming!

writer2b said...

I appreciate this post. I do okay as a homeschooler until I attend a meeting and hear what others are doing; then I feel like I should have a "label." I'll be back to read this again when I'm recuperating from the next one of those meetings...

Rebecca E. said...

Just read this in 2013, but when I read Cathy Duffy's "101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum", one of the options presented was "eclectic" - and that's about what we do. I pick and choose what I like, and we focus on it when it works out, and otherwise we take advantage of unplanned moments for education (the "unschooling" approach). I like it, because I feel so hemmed in by a set curriculum that has to be done a certain way and at certain times OR ELSE!!! Homeschooling is work, but also fun. :)