Thursday, March 29, 2007

What Would Ben Say?

I am wrapping up the second week of taking Mr. Franklin's advice and all I can say is...

I'm tired.

Sure, I am starting to habituate to waking in the middle of the night, and have even worked my way to (gasp) 7:15. And although the first minute or two still feels like pure hell, I have to remind myself that getting up after one or more of the little Savages wasn't too great either. At least this pure hell doesn't involve a massive clean-up effort. I definitely enjoy having some quiet time each morning to get my head on straight (drink coffee) and organize myself before I face the non-stop craziness that comes with educating the little Savages. This part alone makes it worth getting to bed by 11:30 (okay, 12:00, but I'm working on it.)

So, score one point for Ben. I'm still not thrilled with his method, but I think I can get there in another week or two. Eventually, it will actually feel normal to see the sun rising and weird to wake up when it's already light out. In theory, anyway.

Having reluctantly accepted Ben's method in this regard, I am now being forced to deal with the question of his education. Benjamin Franklin was almost completely self-educated.

As my oldest son wishes to be.

Not that Ben necessarily had a choice in the matter - I believe his reason for leaving school to apprentice in his brother's print shop was lack of funds. But it seems to have worked out for him pretty well, or so I am oft reminded.

"Benjamin Franklin was also a highly motivated, hard working individual," I point out. "I have not been seeing these same qualities in you, my friend."

"Well, maybe if I actually liked what I was learning, I would be."

Has he been reading Gatto again?

This time, maybe he has. When I forced him to write an editorial this week, he did not hesitate to choose his topic - Unschooling. "Kids should be able to choose their topics of interest and the environment they work best in," he wrote.

Dangling participle aside, I had to admire the kid for choosing a topic close to his heart. He read up on it, outlined, and wrote up a draft with minimal teeth-pulling or assistance from me.

When I praised his effort, he grinned. "So, will you consider it?"

What would Ben say?

It's a tough call, and I do feel torn on the issue.

I mean, this is isn't just fun and games here. This is his education we're talking about.

This is his education.

Funny how where you put the italics can really change your whole mindset.

On the one hand, I think about how I would have liked learning at that age. There's more of me in him than I like to admit, and I do know and understand how he feels, as much as he might doubt that.

I have read the Gattos and the Holts and Growing Without Schooling and all the stuff out there that reassures fearful parents that yes, they really do learn, even when you don't force them to do it, and in the long run, they are better off.

I remember how, in our first year of cyberschooling, he spent months enthusiastically collecting information on the Apollo moon missions and came away knowing more about the space program than did most adults. I didn't force him to learn that - he did that all on his own, because he wanted to.

Where is that passionate, curious, knowledge-hungry little person now?

Have five years of following a set curriculum, fighting over the fact that it's time to do math, hearing me say put that guitar away and get to work on your paper, followed up with, come on, you can do better than this - have all these things done what I was afraid school would do to him?

A lot of people would say yes.

I humbly admit that, despite his reassuringly high scores on the standardized tests, I have not done the job I had hoped to do with him. He might know the answers, but he doesn't care anymore.

The questions are not his own.

I listened to my fears: that there might be gaps in his knowledge or skills, that he might not learn good work habits, that he would grow up thinking he was entitled to only do what he felt like doing at the moment, that he would eventually get to school and be behind instead of ahead, that he would never get into a good college or have a good job and that it would reflect poorly on my job as his teacher.

I know that it is his life and he has to learn to make his own good choices and deal with the natural consequences when he does not. I know that he would learn better with material that he has chosen and wants to master and when his power-struggle with me is no longer his primary focus. I know that my current method of do it because it's in the curriculum is not giving me the results for which I had hoped. Fighting over schoolwork has done nothing to foster a love of learning in him.

I know this, but it is still so hard.

Let's face it - letting go of the control over your child's education is a huge leap of faith. Most people take a version of this leap when they send the child to school. They let go and trust the teachers and administration into whose hands they have placed their precious offspring to do at least an adequate job.

But to trust the offspring himself? (shudder)

I must admit, they have all been very industrious this week without me chasing them down to "do school." Usually, I use spring break as a time to catch up in areas where we're behind. This time, as an experiment, I didn't ask them to do a thing. (No TV, of course.) It was nice to see that spark of creative genius return to Uno's eye, and Dos was not far behind. When they weren't reading, they were listening to audio books, and they played a lot of music and baseball, constructed and painted some impressive-looking swords out of PVC pipe and other found items, wrote up a plan to make and sell more dog treats at the neighborhood yard sale this month, and generally got along with each other.

Is this what true homeschoolers do?

What would Ben say?

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