Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Department Store World

When I was a child, I was very particular about my food. Nothing was allowed to mingle on my plate for fear of the flavors mixing. My mother used to say I had a department store stomach, because even though my parents loved to point out that the food all mixed together once it got there, I refused to eat any other way. Really, what kid wants their green vegetable to touch any other item on their plate? It just ruins the flavor.

It is human nature to sort things. We've been doing it since God told Adam to name the creatures of the earth. I'm sure Noah had separate decks for carnivores and herbivores, considering he had to keep them on board for forty days and forty nights. And then a man named Aristotle thought it would be neat if we classified everything. This would eventually lead to our present day system of taxonomy. Scientists categorize everything.

Which makes me think about school. I grew up in the public school system. I remember well being sorted by age into grades, sorted by height into lines in the halls and gym, sorted by cold or hot lunch preference in the cafeteria. In our school, the brown bag students were actually sent to the auditorium for lunch. We probably threw off the well oiled machine of seating kids at their class table, quieting them under threat of getting their lunch last, lining them up, and sending them back with trays of food. You are also sorted by academic skill, although I don't recall being aware of this until I reached junior high school (grades 7-9). And of course, each subject is separated. Math is not allowed to touch English. English can't play with Social Studies. Art was more of a reward than a subject after second grade until high school, but only because I went to a specialized art-focused high school. When you think about it, school is highly scientific. It makes me wonder what the old one room schoolhouse was like, in contrast to our present system.

I was watching a news show on Sunday morning when it suddenly occurred to me how far we've taken our scientific ideals. Look how we've separated our major debates. We have the health care system debate, the economy debate, the environment debate, the clean energy debate. We argue a lot, don't we? Again, we separate everything like good scientists, like me with my plate of food, cautious against cross-contamination, measuring and studying each item individually. Could it be that by introducing children to society by this system of classification, we have unwittingly created adults who feel it is normal to compartmentalize their lives?

I'm more holistic now in my approach to life. (OK, I admit I still separate some of my food.) When I started homeschooling, I began with the school model, like a good little traditional school graduate. It was what I knew, and so, when I started homeschooling Marina in kindergarten, I separated her subjects, an hour of math, an hour of reading. Yes, I was that crazy when I started homeschooling. Luckily, I have keen observational skills. I started noticing how much overlap there is among subjects. I started using that to my advantage. If she wrote a paragraph about some historical subject, that counted as both writing and history. She learned to count and do multiplication tables while taking walks. Physical education and math! With the reassurance of a friend, I realized I did not have to spend an hour on each topic, that that time period was set by a school where they had to allow for getting thirty students into the class, settling down, taking attendance, homework collection, etc. After considering all that, I'm amazed anything gets accomplished in school.

I've come to realize that there are many types of scientists. Just because some of them enjoy spending their day arguing over how to classify a jellyfish, doesn't mean that is the only way to think about a jellyfish. As I've slowly but surely arrived at the idea of unschooling, I've learned I'm more of a behaviorist. I like to watch, to discover what interests my children and help them go for it. It's taken me a long time to reach this point. Fear of answering to my school system kept me along the traditional route for a long time. Even though I half unschooled them for many years, Sierra is the first of the three of them to be completely unschooled.

It would be nice if we could use a more holistic perspective in all areas of life. Maybe our schools could at least start understanding the merits of mixed-age classes. Maybe our government would come to realize that things like health care, clean energy and the economy do not exist in a vacuum, but are interdependent. If they take the time to focus on only one of these issues, it will impact the others. Maybe it's time we stopped classifying life into sterile compartments and started looking at the world as something whole and interconnected and beautiful.

Except for peas. I really don't want my peas touching my other food.

9 comments:

Mama Teaching 2 said...

I loved this! :) Isn't it funny how you start out all stressed and to the letter with homeschooling and then YOU learn that it isn't that hard?

Anonymous said...

Same thing here....although my youngest didn't escape school at home altogether. Two things I love about it that spring to mind immediately: a) dd12 and dd16 love being together and b) there is very little stress/anxiety in our house.

Deborah

Stephanie aka The Stark Raving Bibliophile said...

Excellent post! I agree -- this excessive need to compartmentalize things seems to permeate everything.

Risa said...

Just letting you know I gave you an award. Love your blog!

The Stone Age Techie said...

Great post - it makes me think of curriculum webbing, where you basically do as you suggest here, only on paper. It makes the kids' learning look so important and compelling to school administrators:-)

Mama Self said...

OK, I am a self-proclaimed semi-classical home-schooling mom. But I TOTALLY agree with how everything overlaps (school and politics alike). I see that as life. We are body and soul, intellect and emotion, science and faith. I just wish more people could see "complete" as good. Thanks for your thoughts. And, by the way, my youngest son would whole-heartedly agree with the thing about peas!!

Have a blessed week!

Anonymous said...

Very well written and expressed, Tina. Altho I loved school and its compartments, I have grown to have a more holistic view; a lot of that you taught me. Love, Mom PS I like my food all mixed up - it's the Hungarian goulash in me!

Laura said...

I really enjoyed reading this WONDERFULLY thoughtful and eloquent post! You are a gifted writer - and your kids are sure lucky to have your guidance as they follow their hearts in your haven of learning and exploration! Thanks for the inspiration!

40winkzzz said...

okay, so i've subscribed to your "other" blog (this one!) already. i see i have been missing a lot. this was a great post!

i too started out with a traditional textbook curriculum. after a few months i started dumping it bit by bit until i had nothing traditional left but the math! my son did fine with it, but i hated the fact that it was so disjointed and unconnected, not to mention rather dull. i have never gone back to a textbook curriculum, though i haven't unschooled either. as you've probably heard me say, we "walk a zig-zaggety line somewhere betwixt," and we never do things quite the same way from one year to the next.

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