Thought Experiment: Unschooling Lessons for a School-Minded Dad

26 11 2007

This harebrained (or is it hair-brained? I could make either case)  idea was inspired by new unschooler Colleen wondering how to prepare a concerned dad for the disappearance of traditional academic lessons and measures. So I credit her for the idea and I did write it in the form of a letter to her, but I bear full responsibility for running amok with it based on many other dads I’ve known and read about through the years. Blame me alone for the fictional composite dad created as a result or for any glibness or generalizations you may find offensive. Any resemblance to her dear husband or any other individual, living or dead in your home or otherwise, is not intentional!

************************

Okay. Suppose you do leave your son’s academic lessons completely aside, and stop thinking about getting him to learn a little of this or that to pacify Dad (which really doesn’t accomplish anyone’s central goals, including Dad’s.)

But don’t stop schooling! Re-focus all that energy directly on your school-minded husband, with one goal: getting him to learn important lessons about unschooling so your son will indeed be able to get an excellent education both broad and deep (not just some socialization and rote schooling) and then someday help his own children to do the same.

(If you dearly wanted to adopt from China, or take your son on a year’s safari or a mission, or dramatically change the family’s lifestyle any other way, Dad would be a willing partner in the process, right? — not just watching and judging you as you did all the research, deciding, planning and acting alone?)

Probably you can both agree that your son like any learner, will benefit most from teachers dedicated to his best interest AND well-versed in education and cognitive psychology research? That could be you and his dad, if you’re willing to study hard and learn your own lessons. No learning could be more important to your son right now, than for his parents to learn to be the education leaders and life-lesson examples he wants, needs and deserves.

So take this semester to specialize in graduate-level education study for his parents. Make that your entire curriculum. Plan it like traditional lessons perhaps, since that is how Dad learned to learn and still believes is best. School him intensively and with rigor! Make Dad your one-to-one teaching target and learning partner (instead of your son) — devote all your attention to teaching yourself how to teach Dad all about schooling and education research and principles.

Et cetera.

You can prove to Dad every day how seriously you are taking this new responsibility for your son’s education, by focusing all your efforts on one-to-one teaching — of Dad! Give him lots of reading assignments, like Howard Gardner’s The Disciplined Mind, Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind, and Steven Pinker’s How the Mind Works, and expect him to outline and teach YOU what he learns from it all. Ask him to make that book list I suggested in a comment for you at Snook, and press him into service independently scouting out research from unschooling and education sources he can bring to your attention and discuss with you.

NHEN published some great dad essays from all sorts of perspectives you can assign, also.

Why I like this idea —
I figure it’s bound to “work” toward your family’s unschooling success, no matter what happens! Either Dad will be a receptive learner and gradually take ownership of the ideas and try them out, get into it, grow in understanding and internalize unschooling principles for himself OR, if he just won’t or can’t after your best efforts to target him and change his thinking, then ta-da! — his own personally experienced failure to learn from all that intensive teaching is Exhibit One for why being the target of “teaching” so often fails, no matter how hard we try to make someone else “learn” something we think worthwhile. . .

You were earnestly aiming important teaching at him. Yet if he resisted, didn’t like the way it feels, had too many other things he wanted and needed to do instead, and it therefore wasn’t “learned” no matter how valuable someone else thought it would be — well, you just taught him the most important unschooling lesson possible!

Maybe teaching is like communism. Makes perfect sense in the abstract, sounds like the obvious answer, until we actually try to make it work and learn for ourselves that it doesn’t.

I don’t mean to sound sneaky or suggest you fool him. I really do endorse this as a TRUE unschooling lesson in both message and delivery. Help Dad experience for himself how learning without schooling works — and schooling without learning doesn’t.

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19 responses

26 11 2007
NanceConfer

And get Dad in touch with other unschooling Dads. They are not the chatterboxes we Moms so often are (go ahead, hit me with the unPC stick) about our thinking about kids and school, but, damn, once you get them started, sometimes it’s hard to shut them up. And if they are anything like my DH, they are even more un in their thinking about learning than the Moms. They are often the breadwinners (get out that stick again) and they see what works in the real world and what doesn’t. Often, it ain’t just book learnin’!

And tell Dad you are doing all this. It certainly shouldn’t be a sneaky thing. You are in this together. He has questioned, with deep love and concern for his child, your inclination to proceed in a certain way. Talk about it! Maybe he’s right. At least give him the courtesy of considering he might be right! At least talk with him like an adult whose opinion you value. You wouldn’t want any less for yourself.

Nance

26 11 2007
COD

I completely disagree with the premise that dads will naturally be resistant to unschooling. If dad is so tuned out that the news that his wife is considering homeschooling or unschooling is a shock, then there are far bigger issues for that family to deal with before they talk about pulling the kids out of school. Kids in those families may be be better of in school.

Further, as has been discussed to death in the past, most of us were pretty damn miserable in school ourselves. I don’t think men as a general rule are that resistant to swimming against the tide. In fact, I think most of us secretly are desperate for an opportunity to do so, but feel our careers trap us in a life of mindless conformity. The opportunity to be different, without risking our financial security, would be welcomed by many fathers. Also, as mentioned by Nance, being out in the work world all day, dads are also acutely aware of just how useless most traditional education is.

I just don’t this is a big issue in a well functioning family.

26 11 2007
NanceConfer

Maybe it depends on how we define “well functioning.”

Our roles are so deeply embedded, the provider Dad, the timid Mom — maybe not what folks on this blog experience, but it’s out there! — it’s hard for a lot of Moms to speak up and hard for a lot of Dads to take that risk to get the life they secretly yearn for.

And I think unschooling is often something we discover after deciding to homeschool. That was certainly the case here. My DH was way ahead of me on the learning curve and watched me go through all sorts of research about curriculum choices, etc., before I realized none of that was going to work here.

But if the Dad thought ” school-at-home homeschooling” and Mom ends up at “unschooling” or even “relaxed homeschooling” . . . he may feel he was misled or not kept in the loop.

It would be nice if everyone had a marriage of communicating equals but things do happen. . .

Nance

26 11 2007
COD

I question if most dads would even notice the change. It seems like they are leaning a bit on the Dominionist Christian control freak father stereotype that would explode if his wishes were not being followed explicitly.

Most of the homeschool dads I have met in real life are very much like me. We get confused fairly quickly if the conversation goes much beyond, “So you homeschool…” We simply aren’t reviewing our wives purchases each month to make sure they are buying only approved curriculum, or even paying close enough attention to know exactly what they do all day.

I think almost all homeschoolers, or at least all not driven by religious control issues, become more unschoolish over time. That would sort of negate the point that women need to have some strategy to convince their dour and suspicous husbands of the benefits of homeschoolers. For career homeschoolers, it’s much more of a natural progression.

The flavor-of-the-week homeschoolers probably are more likely to have this conflict. Most of them will end up back in the schools anyway though.

26 11 2007
COD

That should be “…benefits of unschooling” in the next to last paragraph.

26 11 2007
JJ

Three thoughts for now:
1) Glad to hear more homeschooling dads ARE like COD et al 🙂
and
2) I agree homeschooling tends to trend over time for any one family, toward relaxing rather than more rules and “rigor”
and
3) The dads described in my earlier post today aren’t authoritarian or dominionist, nor do I think Colleen’s husband was; they seem much more hands-off, sort of like “fine, dear, you can do whatever, just don’t make me crazy” — is that closer to what Chris sees in his experience?

26 11 2007
Not June Cleaver

My husband is on board with unschooling. I didn’t realize to what extent until the other night when I was lamenting about math. He said, “You know, I just don’t see why we should push them to do something they aren’t ready for. When they are ready, they will learn it quickly.” He’s so cool. I just wish we didn’t have to do an annual test where the test maker decides what they should know and when. Urrrrgh.

26 11 2007
JJ

That does sound cool. I have to confess I was the math lamenter, too, and if pushing it had worked for Favorite Daughter instead of nearly ending her relationship with numbers — and our relationship with each other! — I might still be a math pusher. Alas (or thank goodness, depending on how you look at it now) I wound up proving the unschool rule by telling myself math was an exception. . .

26 11 2007
NanceConfer

How well do they have to do on the test, Not June?

And, yes, your DH does sound cool. They can surprise us, can’t they? 🙂

Nance

27 11 2007
NanceConfer

Just thinking about this Chris:

“I think almost all homeschoolers, or at least all not driven by religious control issues, become more unschoolish over time. That would sort of negate the point that women need to have some strategy to convince their dour and suspicous husbands of the benefits of homeschoolers. For career homeschoolers, it’s much more of a natural progression.

“The flavor-of-the-week homeschoolers probably are more likely to have this conflict. Most of them will end up back in the schools anyway though.”

Maybe the many women I see posting about this on lists are just not moving at the same speed as their DHs. The women got to relaxed first. If we all get there at the same time — no problem. If, as in my case, DH gets there first and patiently waits for me to catch up — OK. If the wife gets there first and is getting grief from the still-more-schoolish DH — and she doesn’t know how to explain the change to him — problem.

Nance

27 11 2007
Not June Cleaver

Nance, they only need 4th stanine, which isn’t much (something like 23rd percentile?). I just hate the pressure of forcing them to be tested on stuff they might not know.

He definitely surprises me. I think he secretly reads homeschooling stuff at work. 😉

27 11 2007
JJ

I love this visual!
The boss creeping down the hall to catch someone with porn sites or corporate espionage emailing, pouncing on your DH absorbed in something online, triumphantly shouting “gotcha!” — and then realizing it is good-dad home education inspiration. 😉

27 11 2007
JJ

About the testing, NotJC is right. There can be harmful effects on your child and the larger community we all live in, from such tests even EXISTING — on curriculum standards and the resulting materials in the marketplace, for example — even when your child doesn’t take them! Certainly there can be harmful effects when the child does take them even for fun, or IS required to take them, even if it’s never scored or if the score doesn’t count, or when the passing score is ridiculously low.

Everything matters. Anything we “attend to” matters.

The same is true of those silly “surveys” marketers and campaigners and even real researchers ask the public. The mere act of hearing the questions and thinking about answers is intellectual work that has an effect! Often not the desirable effect but an effect nevertheless. Wouldn’t you think people who purport to be experts at research-based “education” (cognitive psychology) but really practice mere schooling and training — — would at least be self-protective and shrewd enough to realize they can’t have it both ways and expect us to continue deferring to their “expertise” as a science?

Either testing matters or it doesn’t, and if it matters, some of its side effects will be unintended and even negative. If it doesn’t, then the Emperor has no clothes and let’s take him down!

27 11 2007
NanceConfer

In the meantime 🙂 — not that I’m not right there with you, JJ — see http://www.fcarweb.org/ for more of what many of us in FL think of out test monster, the FCAT —

If the kids only have to score in the 4th stanine — let’s Google that and see what it is — 24-40 percentile — here’s one link: http://www.vahomeschoolers.org/pdf/stanine.pdf.

And it’s percentile, not percentage — so your kids have to score at least as well as 24% of the population taking the test.

Not the same as getting 24% of the questions right.

That’s on a composite score — not on each test — don’t know how your state does it, Not JC.

Here’s one link figuring out percentile scores: http://www.chem.wwu.edu/lampman/acsexam.html

So you’d need to find out, maybe you already know, how many correct answers are needed out of how many questions on what test to make the 24th percentile. Or what that number was last year.

So if it’s 30 out of 100 right — as in the example at the link — shoot for 35 and see if you can do that bad on most tests.

Yes, it sucks to have to take the tests at all but if your children have no problem scoring in the 4th stanine or above, if it’s just a walk in the park to them to get that many questions right, not all questions, just enough to satisfy the test monster — then it could be a lot more of a relaxed event, it seems to me.

It could be a good experience in how seriously we should take a lot of crap. Stay up late, eat junk food, don’t crack a book — and still score better than you need to! On a test that your Mom and Dad and everyone in this house knows is just a pile of bureaucratic garbage.

Have a test-score burning party when they are no longer needed! Feed those bad attitudes! Maybe by the time your kids are hsing their kids, they can realize JJ’s dream. 🙂

Just how I have thought we would deal with testing if my kids had to. Or if they had to go to school and what we would discuss about grades, etc.

Nance

27 11 2007
JJ

It’s true. I have a dream . . .

27 11 2007
JJ

Someday children will be judged by the content of their character or not judged at all!
(cue the amens)

29 11 2007
Colleen

I know you all got off the subject of dads in these comments but I just had to chime in…I love this post! 🙂 Very clever, indeed. And Cod, I don’t believe it has anything to do with control. I think most of these doubting dads (mine in particular) are genuinely concerned about their children’s education. It’s probably due to social programming more than anything else. It may be different for people who have homeschooled their kids from the beginning, but when you’ve had a child in school for a number of years (does that make me a flavor-of-the-week homeschooler?) and you expect learning to look a certain way and produce certain results it’s not so easy let go of those ideas. I give my husband a lot of credit, though. He doesn’t really buy into the whole unschooling philosophy yet (he’s getting there!!) but he trusts me and our son enough to let us lead the way. I think that’s a huge leap of faith, really.

29 11 2007
NanceConfer

It is, indeed!

Nance

23 11 2008
Deschooling a School-minded Dad « Cocking A Snook!

[…] due to new interest in secular home education from visitors via Parenting Beyond Belief. THOUGHT EXPERIMENT: Unschooling Lessons for a School-minded Dad – . . .Maybe teaching is like communism. Makes perfect sense in the abstract, sounds like the […]

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