The last day of school came and went quietly. I stood outside the school gates as usual, under an umbrella in a sudden and violent downpour so typical of these mountains in the summer. My eldest daughter came out of the classroom as she always does, with her dripping school books and paintings under one arm and a piece of paper that told us she had officially completed three years of maternelle pre-school here in France in a grubby hand. She showed no remorse at leaving, just a preoccupation with small things, as any typical five year old has.
I had hugs and kisses from the wonderful mothers at the crêche, where my youngest daughter has spent her last two years. The mamie told me that it had been an honour for her to look after my daughter and that she is a darling child. She is. I felt really, really sad to be leaving them.
And in the emptiness of these departures we came home and the children threw their school bags on the floor, kicked their shoes into the corner and ran off to watch t.v. and I sat down and took stock of the situation. I thought, “now the de-schooling begins.”
But although I had read about de-schooling, I wasn’t really sure what de-schooling meant for me specifically. In general, it is about taking a period of time directly after school has ended to readjust to a life centered around the (extended) family; forgetting the dogmas, timetables and rules of public schools, forgetting about ‘measuring up’ to other people’s standards and forgetting about having to learn what someone else tells you to, when they tell you to. It is about finding one’s own rhythm, one’s own pace in life and what one finds important and truly valuable within the family. All these things may apply more to the parent than to the child in the beginning, as new boundaries are ‘felt out’ out home. Kids can just relax for a while, parents somehow are more prone to worry and start nagging and niggling their children. The watch word here is—let go—at least for a little while.
My way of coping over the last few days—our first three de-schooling days in fact—was to bury myself in some books whenever I had a spare moment and I have been returning again and again to John Holt. God of the homeschooling movement for many. I think I have been trying to reaffirm to myself the reasons why I decided to do this in the first place by going back to the classics. And coming across a passage in Teach Your Own today made me think very deeply about exactly what de-schooling may mean for me personally:
I remember my sister saying of one of her children, then five, that she never knew her to do anything really mean or silly until she went away to school – a nice school by the way, in a nice town. —John Holt. Teach Your Own
I have seen this in my eldest who is also 5 and I must say, I have also seen it to some extent in my youngest, although she is only 2½. This meanness and silliness, (expanded upon in the next quotation by Jud Jerome about his son on the same page) really confirms the way in which I think school may have deleteriously affected my children already:
Though we were glad that he was happy….we were also sad as we watched him deteriorate from a person into a kid under peer influence in school……silliness, self-indulgence, random rebelliousness, secretiveness, cruelty to other children, clubbishness, addiction to toys, possessions, spending money, purchased entertainment, exploitation of adults to pay attention, take them places, amuse them, do things with them – all these things seem to me quite unnecessary not “normal” at all (note: except in the sense of being common)………and while they develop as a result of peer influence, I believe this is only and specifically because children are thrown together in school and develop these means, as prisoners develop means of passing dull time and tormenting authorities to cope with an oppressive situation.” —John Holt. Teach Your Own
De-schooling to me means giving my children the time to reverse most of the same characteristics seen above, which I see so often in them nowadays. Giving them the space to know that we are not here to act as ‘disciplinarians’ towards them, to continually enforce strict rules that have been set in order to be broken through some idea of ‘tormenting authority’. Nor that they need to act out their dog-eat-dog playground traumas around us or our family friends, being defensive against others in order to protect themselves from harm. We are here to gently nurture and support them in every single way we can, within this supporting framework called ‘home’, a million miles away from the school gates. This is what they need to learn right now.
And judging from the way today that my eldest daughter has behaved, (with broad friendly smiles for her sister, where before there may have been rivalry; generous accommodation for her parents, where before there may have been challenges to authority; openness to questions, where before there may have been back-handed lies) I think that she is already putting the oppressiveness of school behind her and coming back into the fold of her family, who only after all, have ever wanted to do the best for her.
A little about Lune: Myself, my dear other half and my eldest daughter moved from England to the French Alps three years ago. We lived for a while in a tiny hotel room in a part of France sandwiched between Switzerland and Italy, overlooked by the oldest shadow of them all – Mont Blanc – the highest mountain in Western Europe. Then we moved to a slightly bigger apartment, where I had my second daughter and now we reside in a chocolate-box wooden chalet in a small valley not so far from there.
Its idyllic here, yet we struggle daily with a wanderlust that continually calls out to us from pastures new. In an attempt to answer this call, we recently decided to take our children out of school at the end of this June and travel around Eastern Europe in a caravan. Though before this can happen, we have to spend next winter trying to earn enough money to pay for the trip. Dear other half will work full time night and day, whilst I will have sole charge of two girls age five and two, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for five long snow-bound months.
If my eldest daughter is anything to go by, I know she will be bored pretty quickly with a ‘regular’ homeschooling curriculum. Coercion is not her thing and I have to live with this child through all her moods, good and bad. If we are snowed in for any amount of time here, we may not make it through to spring without having to flee to a tropical beach (hey, shouldn’t we be doing that anyway?). However, I read on the net a few months ago about something much better than a curriculum; something that engages the child with vim and verve. It’s called un-schooling.
Un-schooling means no rules. Now that sounds a lot more promising, but where do I begin? I know, I’ll start by trying to convince my dear other half, who is an ex-school teacher.