My student

My student

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


I have recently had an epiphany. Without even realizing it, or making a  conscious decision, I have realized that what we do in the way of school is what people call "unschooling". I'm not a huge fan of the term, as to me it sounds like no learning is going to take place. But what it means is that a ton of learning is going to happen, just not in the typical, school-type way. I just re-read the first post I wrote for this blog just titled "Teaching Lu" and in that post I was basically explaining our unschooling ways, without even realizing it. 

What it means is that we will just live life and I will teach Lu all throughout the day in actual, real-life situations. We won't sit down and have school time at 10:00 each day. I won't give her "tests" to see what she learned. The thing is, without her proving it to me, I know a lot of what she has learned already. How do I know? Well, I "presume competence". I know first-hand what she has been exposed to, what we have read about, seen, talked about, and I presume that she has learned it, because I believe in her cognitive abilities to do so. I know without a doubt that she knows all the colors, most of the shapes, some numbers at least to 10, some or most of the alphabet, how to spell and recognize her name, a ton of animals and all kinds of things about them, and many, many other things. I know all of this because we have talked, and read, and played, and done all kinds of things involving all of these topics for years, so why wouldn't she know them? And then in her own time, in her own way, she uses her PODD to say things that express what she knows, without any pressure from me.  

Unschooling allows for people to rest when they need to, to play when they need to, and learn at every opportunity that naturally presents itself. This already works for us because Rett Syndrome really takes a toll on Lucy's body some days. She might have a bad seizure and need to sleep for two hours. She has four feeds a day and she needs to be relatively still during those times so her stomach does not get upset. We have been doing quite a bit of guided reading as per the Four Block literacy model.  Guess where we do it...cuddled up on the couch together. We've been learning a little about money here and the store with Lucy using her own "purse money" to make purchases. She chose and paid for her own new Cabbage Patch the other day.  She's been learning manners, by using them with real people, and she's been learning about germination and seeds by planting some actual seeds, and keeping a log of how they grow. All just real-life things.

I want to interject a short story here that really changed my life. It was basically the catalyst for my decision to not complete my Special Ed degree and change my major to Rehabilitative Sciences:

While doing my block teaching, which is like pre-student teaching, I encountered a middle school boy that had a lot of emotional issues. He was very sweet, and did well in class. One day he came in and it was obvious that his little world was crashing around him. Apparently he was going to fail his grade and not move on to high school. He was a mess.  All I wanted to do was sit and talk this through with him, help him de-escalate, and work though the situation. But...I was the teacher and my job was to continue on with my unit on the Four Square Writing method. I knew full well that that boy didn't give a crap about writing right then, and I understood why. If I remember correctly, a big part of his concern what was going to happen to him at home when his parents found out he might fail. 

I knew that this was only the first time that I was going to be faced with a real-life situation that was a whole lot more important that what I was trying to teach in class, but that I was going to have to put on a back burner and ignore in favor of "teaching". There are students in every school that are hungry, abused, neglected, and lost. Each day they are supposed to go to school and try to sit still and learn, when there might be extreme situations in their lives that should be coming first. I just didn't feel that I was going to be able to worry more about school subjects than helping my students deal with life. Not surprisingly I went on to do counseling and therapy work. 

How I felt about that boy and his impending meltdown is how I feel about Lu. She has so much to contend with by just having Rett Syndrome that I don't feel like it is necessary, or fair to try to squeeze her into some structured educational setting, or even anything very structured here at home. Learning will come as it comes. Chad and I teach her all day, every day, every chance we get. She already knows, I think, most of what other kids her age would know, if not more.  And really, more than any other things in the world, I want Lucy to know without a doubt that she is loved, and valued, and important. There are no text books for her to learn that. 

I realize that this description of school probably sounds even more hippy-dippy than other things I tend to say. I feel certain that the most challenging aspects of this approach will be the task of appeasing others and assuring them that Lucy is learning what she needs to learn, specifically the PA Department of Education, and generally the other people in our lives. I will figure out how to present it to the Dept. Of Ed just like thousands of other "unschoolers" do each year. What I hope to receive from those that love us is the same level of "presumed competence" that I have for Lucy, with faith in me to provide what is best for Lu at all times. She's a smart cookie and my goal is to continue to help her learn about the world around her, while at the same time taking care to be gentle with her emotional and physical well-being first and foremost.