There are moments in the life of an unschooling parent that inspire deep dread. And there are moments when I realize that it is all going to be ok. For me, unschooling is about giving my children the tools and guidance they need to be able to learn whatever they want or need to learn. It isn't about specific content at all because that is really their choice, as it is for anyone. I have faith that they can master any topic of their choosing - they are certainly intelligent enough - the thing they need from me is to help them learn how to figure out the best way of doing that. Also, I hope I am modeling good daily life skills - good hygiene, adequate (or better) cooking skills, strong work habits, and an appreciation of why it is good to serve others. I want to give them some ways of taking on challenges that are productive and positive. I want to encourage them to think and question and really see what is in front of them. But this is all fairly abstract stuff. In daily life, it feels a little different.
Now that F&L are both teenagers, the stakes feel higher and the moments of dread (two words: video games) can feel utterly horrifying in the most helpless, hopeless way. It does always come down to faith, or maybe trust is a better term. I do trust that these two people want to learn and want to be useful in the world. We need useful people in the world. We need useful people who have a strong, confident sense of themselves in the world.
Although I am criticized on a daily basis for being a terrible parent, a lousy cook and a terrible yoga teacher (that one feels especially gratuitous), I try to keep the faith that this big experiment has not been a disaster, ruining not one, but two, young lives. Every once in a while, I get a little bone thrown my way that allows me to stay the course. Sometimes it is a very tiny, meatless bone and sometimes it is a nice, big juicy one.
Last night was a nice, big, juicy one.
Lucy played two pieces at her guitar recital last night. They were both difficult for her and, up until about a day ago, I was not so sure that she was at all ready to be playing them anywhere outside of our living room. She managed to cram a lot of practicing in the 24-hours prior to the recital and she played them as well as she ever had for the performance. They are both pieces that take her out of the Beginner category and place her solidly in the Intermediate category, so it was an important step to master them. Is she going to be a fantastic player, win competitions and be hailed as the world's greatest gift to guitar playing? Probably not. But who cares? Her love of playing is genuine and it comes from within herself.
When Lucy decided to learn to play guitar, she came to me and accused me of "never allowing" her to learn an instrument. Since I had strong memories of years of begging her and her brother to learn an instrument, I found this accusation a little surprising but I went with it and found her a teacher, who has been wonderful. She has taken it up with enthusiasm and almost always practices with no or little reminding. She reads music now and is just beginning to explore learning songs outside of what her teacher gives her. Without question, the guitar is coming to Newfoundland with us. Other than the administrative tasks associated with setting up her instruction, I do very little towards making any of this happen. It comes from Lucy and the achievement is all hers.
Lucy also recently decided that she needed to "learn math". Again, my memory of years of math tutoring caused me to be a little surprised by this announcement since I sincerely believed that she has been learning math for quite some time now. The thing is, her math tutor (I have the equivalent of a Grade 5 math education so I am useless as a math instructor) is someone who really teaches math - he teaches how the relationship between numbers can be a way of seeing the world. He has worksheets but they are very visual and are story-based and they do not look like any math worksheet I have ever seen. Lucy has begun to doubt this approach a little.
A couple of years ago, she took a standardized test and did not really recognize the set-up of the problems. She actually knew how to do them all but she had never seen them set up in such a bare bones (and boring) format. She has been stewing about this ever since and she asked me to get her more "normal" math workbooks. Yes, my teenaged daughter actually had to hound me to order her math workbooks.
Last night, her uncle asked her about her summer plans and Lucy responded that she planned to learn math, read, and play guitar. This same uncle then gave her a book that proposes to teach her to learn Esperanto. This was immediately added to the list.
It is evenings like that when I can back away from the edge of the cliff. It's going to be ok.