In part 1 of this special feature, our comrade from the Upper Midwest, Myra Eddy, discusses her reasons for unschooling her child and the wonderful benefits the two have gained.
I admit it. I do it because I’m selfish. I want my time for myself. When I think of the time I would have to spend away from my family to earn more than bare living expenses, it becomes so precious that I cannot put a price on that time. We are a post-civilized stay-at-home family. Of course we don’t always stay at home. As Grace Llewellyn writes in The Teenage Liberation Handbook: how to quit school and get a real life and education, “The idea is to catch more of the world, not less.”
It seems the modern suburban family includes two working (professional) parents, a few well-dressed very clean children, and a host of paid laborers (from the folks who make their lattes, to daycare workers and teachers, and all the other minimum-wage clerks who swipe credit cards nearly nonstop) to make it all happen. Our family, however, for the most part, skips the parts of that picture that involve money, since we don’t have any to spend. We have all the time in the world together to do whatever we feel like doing, whenever we’d like to do it. We don’t purchase experiences to experience, we just live life however it comes to us every day.
This is pretty much the basis of unschooling for children. It’s a particular kind of homeschooling that is child-directed; that is, children pursue any kind of learning and experiences they desire. It’s funny. A lot of people who have kids in public school assume that if given the opportunity, children will cease all learning; that children only learn because they are forced to learn in school. I think all children are naturally inquisitive, unless this desire is completely quashed by parents and/or schools, and I might add television in there too. As parents and communities, it is up to us to provide opportunities for children to learn whatever they desire. And to me specifically, being a completely spontaneous stay-at-home family is the best way to provide any and every kind of experience for my child.
My child in particular would not do well in school, anyway, I do believe. She doesn’t like being taught. If I try to teach her anything—ANYTHING—she puts her hands over her ears and squinches her eyes shut. So how does she learn without being taught? She is curious about life. She is free to ask questions. She is free to experience. There are days we stay at home in comfortable clothes, cleaning the house and reading a hundred books. A lot of days we go to the park, pool, or beach. We visit family and friends. We play dress-up and pretend. We have earnest discussions about death and adoption and where babies come from. We count.
My child is learning to read simple words. “Mom! Write more words for me to sound out,” she says. I do, and she sounds them out. She counts backward from ten. I am amazed; I certainly didn’t teach her that. Although she is shy, she loves to make up her own songs to sing. She plays some kick-ass drums, a loud flute, and she’s pretty terrific at the boviphonic ohm cannon (ed.: click, and search the name). She knows a few-dozen words in Spanish. She has ridden a bike for three summers and can ride for a couple of miles. She likes to sweep up piles on the floor and sewed up a rip in her blanket. She drew her friends and family as one-eyed pirates. She paints with real paints, has always used real scissors, and uses a knife to cut vegetables. She can do cartwheels, straddle rolls, and spin in the air. She loves to dress up as a princess in high heels and crown, and play in the dirt. She can roll out tortillas & knead bread. She even took her own pizzas out of the oven by herself. She’s four years old.
My point in telling you all that is not to brag on my child or point out how gifted she is. She is a child who gets to experience real life everyday. I could tell you the things I have learned to do since I got out of the work-consume-die lifestyle. I can grow vegetables, cook without recipes, identify edible weeds, walk several miles, conjure up money when there is none, fix things, make do or do without, sew, share and help when I can, and publish alternative zines! I am by no means gifted either. I just now have a lot of time to do things myself.
I was really amazed that the less money I spent on crap I didn’t need, the more money I had. Writing it, I know it actually makes perfect sense. Our family of three survives just fine on less than $800 a month. I feel like I have more money now than I did when my spouse and I had yuppie jobs & earned more than $800 a week. I know I have so much more time. I feel blessed that I learned how important time is and how unimportant money and possessions are. I think of my daughter as much more than an accessory to be managed into success. She is absolutely her own person, and because I wish her the best happiness and good times, it is my hope that she will never have to have a job.
Myra Eddy is a midwestern anarchist artist housewife with a passion for nourishing plants, people, and community; she is already living in the next paradigm and hopes to see you there.