People keep asking me how my eldest son is getting on at school. He has been going for over a month now. In the first week, he was quite excited by the newness of the experience, especially the independent commute! However, he complained about being bored in lessons. We told him it was very early days, and the teachers would be sussing out their new students and settling into the new term. "Give it time", we said. Two weeks in, we had tears and angry outbursts and he asked if he could stop going. I think he felt angry at himself because he knows that school is not our choice for him. Rather, he has chosen to be there. It was tempting to just say, "Oh, come back to unschooling. Don't worry about it." But he has made a commitment to the school, and a lot has been invested in getting him all the uniform and equipment, so two weeks didn't really seem long enough to make a fair assessment. We encouraged him to keep going, throw himself into the opportunity and see what school was all about. Interestingly, he told us he felt like a free-range chicken now confined to a battery cage. I encountered a similar description recently in "The Teenage Liberation handbook - How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education" by Grace Llewellyn. She quotes Colin Roch, a 12 year-old unschooler writing in John Holt's Growing Without Schooling publication, No. 78, who said, "Comparing me to those who are conventionally schooled is like comparing the freedoms of a wild stallion to those of cattle in a feedlot." It's a powerful image.
After our conversations, though, our boy seemed to throw himself into school life with more resolve. He told me about a challenge for the year given to inspire the boys to earn a certain high number of merits. Our extrinsically motivated son, who will do anything for a scout badge, told me quietly but assuredly, "I want that award". And he has been earning a steady flow of merits, and has only had a few detentions so far - for misdemeanours such as forgetting books and homework rather than for any rudeness or poor behaviour. He has been elected form charity rep and spoke in assembly today about an event he is organising to raise money for a cancer charity. He has come home and got on with various projects and pieces of homework, organising himself and trying hard at subjects which are not his most comfortable. So, all-in-all, he is on a steep learning curve. Best of all, he tells us he enjoys being with his friends. And, to my delight, he shows no signs yet, of losing the unschooler element of himself. He came home a few days ago telling me he had been interested to read about Buddhism in his RE lesson. He had a homework assignment to answer some ultimate questions as if he were a Buddhist. "Better to talk to someone who is a Buddhist," he said, and proceeded to contact a local Buddhist centre we visited a while ago. He made an appointment to interview one of the monks and I drove him up there this evening where he asked his questions and took a video and photographs to share with his class. I was impressed at his mature and respectful attitude to the whole undertaking. And it was self-initiated. Wonderful. So, I suppose it is going alright ... for the moment.
Last night we went to the welcome evening for new parents. It is a long time since I went into school as a parent, and it was so busy and noisy. I had forgotten. We sat there and were 'sold' the school's vision and strengths. I found myself feeling sad and confined ... And I do not mean to be too down on the school because I know that, as schools go, it is a 'good' one, whatever that really means. But I came home, and had a look on the website at the curriculum, and I noticed the emphasis on helping your son to revise and retain the information he acquires in lessons, and the emphasis on testing, exams and results. And I sigh to myself. This is the system. A friend of mine posted a link to an article on a social networking site yesterday. It is about repatriation. She shared it with me because I know what it is like to move between countries, to be changed by the experience, and to struggle to fit in anywhere. (Our family lived for some years in Turkey.) As I read the article and looked at the illustrations, I thought, "This could equally be applied to unschooling." The problem is that once you have moved from the culture of school to the freedom of unschooling, you are changed by the experience, and you view school culture differently, as an outsider. Watching out son last night, sitting between us at the parents' welcome event, I could see that we are not partakers in the product, the system, rather we sit there observing it, analysing it, apart from it somehow. It is difficult to explain, but if you read the following article, we are triangles - in more ways than one. And, though that can be a lonely thing at times, I cannot help but be thankful that we can think outside the box.
"I am a Triangle and Other Thoughts on Repatriation"