My child wanted to learn, but couldn’t with all the distractions in his typical classroom. And what amazed me most was that he could articulate that at age 5. I was a working professional and single mom living in central Virginia where we had no family nearby. It was just us then. No way could I realistically think about homeschooling, but the thought was creeping around in the back of my mind. I hated that I spent so much time away from him and that other people I didn’t know were raising him.
Looking back at my journal it was around this time that I first heard about hackschooling. A TEDx talk by a 13-yr old hackschooler came up in my UpWorthy newsfeed. His ideas on creating a life that led to health and happiness through self-education based on one’s passions gave me a warm fuzzy. I didn’t immediately think that could be us though.
It took two more years for me to actively start searching Google and finding out what this homeschool life was all about. By then Dee was in second grade at a new school and it still felt like there was much to be desired in his learning experience. There were also big changes coming up for the both of us. I had finally met my match and we were moving to Louisiana to start our new life together as a family.
I had been wanting to visit New Orleans since before Hurricane Katrina and now we would be living there! However, my enthusiasm did not carry over into the thought of enrolling my child in the public school system. I had not heard great things. It almost seemed perfect, as if I needed that final push to jump into the world of homeschooling. I had already quit my job the year before. Nothing else was holding us back.
So amid planning our move and packing I started my search and found that K12, an online education suite, was affiliated with a local charter school in the state; LA Virtual Charter Academy. After days of due diligence, I called to get more info and came in contact with a nice lady who seemed to be talking to me from her personal cell phone. Looking back and knowing what I know now, that call was nothing but a pure sales pitch, complete with the aggressive tactics used to get you to buy, like right now. I wasn't buying anything, but the state sure would be paying if my child signed up.
She encouraged me to get on my computer to pull up the website and patiently waited for me to fill out the online paperwork. There was no turning back if she could help it. I hate that I didn’t fully understand at the time that it was still traditional public school, just done at home with a computer (a free loaner one at that!). The standards, curriculum, teaching style, all of it was exactly the same.
September of that first homeschooling year with LAVCA, I started digging more into public education and ended up down a long, winding rabbit hole, much like Alice in Wonderland. Living in Virginia, which is one of the few states that rejected Common Core early on, we were completely immune to these new national standards that everyone was suddenly complaining about. Well, it didn’t take but a month or so to notice the difference here and I didn’t like it one bit!
During my research, I learned that typical classroom learning is called Direct Instruction (that sounds innocent enough right?). It’s great for a short-term gain of facts, but not so much for long-term retention and deep understanding of knowledge. The bigger problem is that it goes against the natural way a child learns and it leaves them out by not allowing them to choose what and how they learn. I experienced this discrepancy with my own kid. Ask him to tell you about his favorite animals or power rangers and you see him come alive. He could even tell you about an episode of Wild Kratts he saw last year. But with his schoolwork, he struggled to recall simple things he learned the day before. Why is that? Why do we walk out of high school having learned things for 13 years that we soon forget?
The other thing bugging me was the insane amount of test prep for state assessments. One-third of the students' grades were based on how they did in Study Island which is a database of test questions they had to run through each week for each subject. They were required to do at least 10 questions per subject and achieve a 70% or better. I had never seen that amount of test prep integrated into normal school work and grades. Add in the regular, periodic unit assessments and I’m sure Dee felt like he was always taking tests.
Once I got the big picture of what was really going on in the educational system, I was horrified. Mostly because of how much I pushed him and reinforced those negative feelings of failure and disappointment at not meeting these rigorous standards. All for what? So the charter school could get their test scores and maintain the flow of government funds coming their way? No, thank you! I was back to the drawing board.
We were out of LAVCA and into a local co-op by January of 2017. There I learned about a lot of different options for parent-led learning as well as online curriculums. The sense of community I gained was awesome! By recommendation, we resumed schooling with the Easy Peasy curriculum at AllInOneHomeschool.com. I really liked that it was self-paced and Dee could do a lot of it on his own. It was great for awhile and he liked it, but the same negative feelings and lack of motivation eventually came back. He still didn’t have any input into what he was learning and how he spent his day because I was on him to finish every topic as it was laid out in the curriculum.
We eventually stopped Easy Peasy while I searched more for the answer and decided it was time to leave the safety net of a structured curriculum altogether. Not to mention I was getting married and wedding planning was a mind-numbing experience. Unschooling/hackschooling, or Self-Directed Learning as I like to call it, was finally the way to go in my eyes. Before I could fully embrace it though, I learned we had to deschool. It was touch and go some days. Half the time I just let him play video games and watch YouTube all day (much to my husband’s dismay). The other half I would demand that he learn something, anything, out of my own guilt and worry of failing as a parent. (This is why parents need to deschool too - to let go of all previous perceptions of what learning really is.)
However, after a few months of this, I realized he was learning stuff. He was learning to plan and regulate his own day, make his own breakfast and lunch, and ultimately how to discover what he's really passionate about. For the moment that turns out to be Minecraft. By watching other gamers on YouTube he completely taught himself how to play and now I’m amazed at the structures he builds and the experiments he designs for himself. To someone not in the know, it would seem like foolishness, but he’s actually getting a dose of all kinds of "traditional” subjects just by playing and creating in the game. Most importantly he is happy and healthy.
As we end our time in deschooling mode, I’m excited about the future. I look forward to exposing him to lots of new things as we explore more of our new city, meet new people, take classes of his choosing, and discover more of what makes him tick inside.
*Dee is a nickname to protect my son's identity online