"History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind." ~ Edward Gibbon
Caterpillars to Butterflies
Column by Retta Fontana.
Exclusive to STR
My brilliant daughter scored 4.0 in her science classes in college! I'm feeling so happy and proud. This, however, is not about grades. It's about transformation.
When she was a small child in school, she often seemed anxious. For a long time it was worry over what to be when she grew up. Telling her that she could be anything she wanted to be didn’t assuage the pressure she was under in the classroom. Telling her not to worry and that she could wear any number of different hats in life and change her mind any time did little. I was happy to tell her that what you do is not who you are, and that if she couldn’t provide for herself that her Dad and I would provide for her, but it didn’t help either. I knew that I was not getting to the heart of the matter, but I didn’t realize that I was not addressing the anxiety of psychological pressure from the system, which was enormous.
I’m glad those days are over! I took her out of school when she was almost nine. She began to ease out of bed in the mornings naturally, instead of resisting the clock. She ate when hungry (what a concept) instead of me begging her to take one more bite. I saw her take pleasure in grooming herself rather than me nagging her to please brush her teeth and hair or we would be late. (I never wanted to grow up to be anyone’s ball and chain how did this happen to me?)
At first I felt compelled to "teach" her at home, but we both suffered. I pared it down a few times until I at last just dropped the whole thing. While holding my breath, I let go and we tried "childled learning" or "unschooling." It was psychologically difficult for me, but I knew intuitively that it was the right thing to do. Slowly the organic joie de vivre we had known prior to “school” returned to our life.
Each day she would dress herself at her own behest and go outside and climb a tree. She'd sit up there swinging her legs for the better part of an hour while mother wrung her hands, worrying that some busybody would call social services to report a neglected child. I had to force myself to leave her be and get busy with my chores. One day she came down from the tree and asked me, "Mom, how does the world work, anyway?" My heart swelled with happiness! I'll never forget that moment. How often does a child have the opportunity to pause and consider the world around them, to formulate a big question like this? Not often enough. Aren’t we all just too busy? I found out that this question was a typical mark of successful recovery from being "schooled." With her budding curiosity, her schooling ended and her education began.
In answer, I explained to her that everyone needs things food, shelter, clothing, etc. Her dad went to a job and they paid him money to do the work. He took that money and made the house payment, bought groceries and shoes for us. In turn, those people that he paid took that money and bought what they needed.That money went around and around the world. (If you can’t explain something as an brief elevator ride, you don’t understand it. I was also a firm believer in letting a person ask if they wanted more information. Clearly she was not shy.)
She seemed satisfied to operate from the premise I offered and then slowly began pursuing things of interest. Thanks to her father, I had the luxury of that time to spend with her. We read a lot and I treasured every moment. One day she asked me to teach her times tables. I remembered how my mother tortured me with them and made me feel stupid and angry. I
determined, as always, to give her a much different experience.
We bought a poster board, drew lines and filled in the numbers of our times table. I showed her the number patterns, which she seemed to find as delightful and sensible as I now did. The chart disappeared into her room, and I'd sometimes overhear her whispered repetition of the numbers, committing them to memory. The information became a useful tool for her rather than a point of contention between us or a lightening rod of negative feelings. Learning†occurred. No one suffered and her desire†to†learn†continued. At 16 she tested into college English and off she went. She loves to learn and has aspirations.
I'm so thankful for all the loving and freedomloving people whose ideas I'd discovered along my path. Each one helping me understand more and more the importance as well as the integrity of freedom and love rather than force. If I accomplish nothing else in my life, by raising my children without coercion I have given my greatest gift to the world two
more free souls.