Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Socialization, Homeschooling, and Life Lessons

I currently have a very unpleasant cold, so getting something new written for the blog this week hasn't really worked out. But once I realized if you don't subscribe to my newsletter, then you probably don't know about all the writing of mine that's been shared other places over the past month, I figured I would share that content. There's a fair bit of it!

There's a new home education magazine out there, with a terrific layout, and secular content covering everything from books reviews and resources, to thoughtful columns by such writers as Patricia Zaballos. While the magazine is not an unschooling magazine, plenty of contributors to Home / School / Life are unschoolers. Including myself! Or, more accurately, I'm a regular contributor the the Home / School / Life blog. I've been pleased to share two posts on that blog so far, and I'm happy with how each of them turned out!

How to Talk About Homeschooling (So That People Will Listen)
I left kindergarten for a life of school-free self directed learning, so I’ve had many years to get used to talking about home education. Some people are curious or excited, some angry or defensive, but what remains a constant is that almost everyone has an opinion on the topic and some questions to ask. I still freeze up sometimes when asked an unexpected question, or stumble over a simple explanation, but for the most part I feel that I’ve gotten pretty good at dealing with the range of questions and reactions that come from different people. 
The approach I take hinges on a couple of key questions: who is it I’m talking to? And, what’s my goal for this conversation? It all depends on the answers to those questions. (Read more)
How Unschooling Shaped My Social Life
We’re all familiar with the tired old myth of the “unsocialized” homeschoolers, spending their days locked inside, interacting only with their family members. I’ve certainly spent my fair share of time disputing these myths (earlier this year I even wrote a post addressing every possible misplaced socialization criticism I’ve ever heard). Yet while there are plenty of wrong ideas on home education and socialization, I find myself pondering how unschooling has impacted the friendships I make and the communities that I’m a part of now, as a 20-something adult. 
Like many homeschooled families, when I was young my family participated in a range of activities, from homeschool coops to French classes, group hikes to choirs. What set us apart from many other home educating families in my area at the time was just how much input my sister and I had in the activities and outings we were involved in, and on whether we stuck with those activities. I knew that my mother would step in when asked (and occasionally when not asked!) to help solve a problem–such as when the musical director of a production I was involved in was trying to use me, a “good” kid, as a human buffer between the two most disruptive children in the group–and that if there wasn’t a good solution that I was free to quit. If I didn’t like a group of kids, or found that certain adults treated me and other children unfairly, I was never forced to spend time around those groups or individuals. (Read more)
Not only am I now a regular contributor to the Home / School / Life blog, but also to the new website Vermicious, created by author and unschooling parent John Seven. I've only shared one piece on that site so far, but I'm excited to be taking a departure from my usual education writing, in order to explore some different topics. My tagline is "Idzie Desmarais learns from the rituals of life," which really sums it up perfectly.

Lessons from the Dog Park
Last year my family brought a new dog into our house. I’ve grown up with dogs, we’ve
always had them around, but while I still live with my parents, this dog search marked the first one that I truly participated in as an adult. After months of searching, of countless calls and emails and visits to shelters, we finally found an Irish Wolfhound cross named Blue, with soulful eyes, a habit of leaning against your legs to better look up at you with said soulful eyes, and a deep streak of goofiness, who very quickly won all of our hearts. 
This year, in an attempt to help him get the exercise he needed–and hopefully socialize him out of the habit of jumping up and down at the end of his leash screaming at other dogs–we started bringing him daily to the local dog park. 
As human socializing goes, it’s pretty low key. The dog owners sit and stand around a central picnic table, watching their respective furry creatures romp, talking about funny pet stories and pet health problems, discussing which dogs haven’t been seen in a while and which dogs we hope never to see at the park again. It’s pretty telling that I remember the names of a couple of dozen dogs (not just my own dog’s best friends Crystal and Lexi, but also Heaven and Elvis, Bunker and Merlin), yet only know the name of one dog owner. It’s pretty clear to everyone who the truly important individuals in that park are, and it’s sure not the humans. (Read more)
Now I'll leave with an excerpt from another piece of mine that has recently been shared, this time in Home Education Magazine. If you're a subscriber, check out the November/December issue!

How Do We Value Ourselves?
In our culture, it’s very obvious that we value certain knowledge and skills more highly than others. Namely skills that are academic and intellectual, communication skills, and social skills (somewhat less tangibly, seeing as those are harder to test). It seems everything else comes a distant second. 
Schools are all about teaching academic skills to the exclusion of all else (though how good a job they do at imparting those skills is very debatable). 
When we take school out of the equation in our own lives and families, we have the option, the opportunity, to take a hard look at what skills are valued, and decide to broaden what we personally value and encourage. 
But are we taking that opportunity? Too often, I don’t think we are. 
My family didn’t, or at least didn’t to as much of an extent as we could have. This isn’t meant to place blame on my parents; we’re each of us constantly learning and growing, and unlearning ideas that have a negative impact on ourselves and others. My parents did the best they could in the places they were at, and I’m grateful for it. But looking back, it’s very obvious that the skills they were most concerned with me and my sister acquiring were those taught in school. It was subtle, because it was unintentional, but that preferencing of academic skills, at least to some extent, was very much present.

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