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life is not a unit study

Recently I was listening to another great program by Sarah Parent from her show Humans Being–a Radical Unschooling and Gentle Parenting Podcast. The topic of this particular show was something called “strewing.” Strewing, as Sarah explains, is defined in different ways by different people, but most simply it is the leaving about of “stimulating” materials to Goofing Around Aidan and Dad At the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary in Green Bay, WI.

 Goofin’ Off
encourage your children to further pursue interests of their own–or sometimes outside (i.e. your) interests. (I do not agree with the latter approach.) Please visit Sarah’s blog and listen to her entire podcast on this fascinating subject for more information: HB#21: Do You Strew?. What I really want to share here, though, is one thing that Sarah offered in her show that stuck with me. Actually, it is a letter she read that was written from a mother in Washington state and published in John Holt’s book Teach Your Own. (So the source is three times removed here, but that says something about the sticking power of this message.)

This mother decided to take her children out of traditional school for a one-year hiatus to homeschool them. And so she reflects on the experience of what it means to live life authentically with our children, to share its joys, to connect honestly with someone you love, and to learn with and without our children, for ourselves, all the time. I’ve embedded below an excerpt of Sarah Parent reading this piece below. She reads it well. It is followed by the text itself.

Listen to the audio…
[audio:strewing_excerpt.mp3]

I have never know how to “stimulate” the children. I know that as a parent, I should be raising my children in a “stimulating” environment so that they will not be dulled or bored. But what is more stimulating–a room full of toys and tools and gadgets, bright colors and shiny enameled fixtures or a sparsely furnished, hand-hewn cabin deep in the woods with a few toys, carefully chosen or crafted, rich with meaning, time, and care and intimate with the elements of the earth. The only world I can show them with any integrity is my world.

Perhaps that is why field trips were such a disappointment for us. We started off in the fall, doing “something special,” i.e. an educational field trip once a week. After about a month, we all forgot about taking these trips. They were fun–certainly interesting–but I think we were all sickened by the phoniness. Everyone knew the only reason we all trooped into the city to the aquarium was because mom thought it would be a “good experience.” Of much more continuing interest and of probably greater educational significance in the truest sense were the weekly trips into town to do the errands, to the bank–where we all have accounts and are free to deposit and withdraw as we please–, the post office, grocery store, laundry mat, recycling center, drug store, and the comic book racks, and the evenings at the library and the swimming pool. Those things are real–things I would even do if no one joined me that just happen to be important activities for all of us.

When I am trying to stimulate their interest in something, the very artificiality of the endeavor–and rudeness really,I have no business even trying–builds a barrier between us, but when I am sharing something I really love with them because I also really love them, all barriers are down and we are communicating intimately. And when they also love what I love–a song, a poem, the salmon returning to the creek to spawn–the joy is exquisite. We share a truth, but our differences are also a truth. Common thread and fiber we share, but not the whole piece. And so I do my work each day–work which is full of meaning to me–and offer to teach it to them–cooking, sewing, splitting wood, hauling water, keeping house, reading, writing, singing, sailing on the lake, digging in the garden, and sometimes they’re interested–sometimes not. But if I were to try to stimulate them, sugarcoating various tasks, making games out of various skills, preaching, teaching me to them, they would not have the time–great, great, empty spaces of time in which to search deep within themselves for what is most true about them, and neither, then, would I.

These words struck me in an important way. I am thinking more now about simply connecting with my son as a person–sharing with him what I love because I love him, and asking him to share what he loves with me because I am truly interested. I have no desire to impose anything on to him or to feign interest in something simply because I believe there is some “teachable moment” there or some necessary lesson he must have before continuing to live his life. He is not a project for me to accomplish. I’m not focused on how he’s going to “turn out” because he is right now. Right now. Right here in this place. We are learning and living together–honestly–and I couldn’t be happier.

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