March 18, 2009

Reflections of an Unschooler in a 4th Grade Classroom

Peter is about to finish his second quarter at the University of Chicago. This is finals week for him, but it isn't too stressful, he says. One class required a final project, another a paper, then there is a Calculus exam, and he might be getting out of his German final. I forgot to ask him about that. So he's hanging around the dorms until Friday when he takes the train home.

He called yesterday, and we talked about his job. This quarter he's been helping in a fourth grade classroom for work-study. We were both excited about this because he's never been in public school (except for taking choir two years in high school). He has his own opinions about education, so it has been a good experience to expose his theories to real life. He sees the struggle teachers have to maintain control and he sees how kids, even at this age, have given up. Their ability to think on their own is practically nonexistent. Yesterday he had a small group to himself, filling out a comprehension sheet on one of his favorite books (he read it over and over again at that age, with no book reports or comprehension sheets, I might add). The kids had no clue what the answers were, and they wanted him to give them the exact sentences to put down on their worksheet, as if there was only one right answer.

So I asked Peter what he thought the answer is to providing a great education to kids. He said smaller classrooms, for sure. But that would mean more teachers and bigger buildings (and more money). Then the kids need to be able to follow their interests with less stress, like a Sudbury Valley model. Another idea would be to just let the kids stay home--it would be better than what's happening now. At least they wouldn't learn to hate learning. Next we tried to imagine a world where everyone unschooled and realized that's impractical because so many parents have to work. Then we thought maybe all the money spent on education could be used to pay a parent to stay home and unschool their kids!

Dream on.

another post about Peter in this classroom

Here's a picture of Peter when he was 4th grade age, from the pre-digital era (at least at our house). I had to hunt through my boxes and scan it in. Melissa looked at all my pictures filed chronologically and she said, "So this is what you had to do before digital cameras?" Yes, dear. This is parenting in the Stone Age.


gina said...

Imagine getting paid to be the best mom you can be- how fabulous! Something's got to give- until then I am just thankful for these I can have them at home with me. :)

Unknown said...

I love hearing his perspective on education. I always find it interesting how kids who have never been to school see the world. (maybe much better than the rest of us).

abba12 said...

Having been to public school, government structured homeschooling and full homeschooling with intrests in unschooling I hope that I've developed a similar perspective. One of the big helps would be smaller class sizes yes. Another would be teachers having to prove some personality traits first. In my time at public and private schools there were some teachers that loved kids and loved teaching and look extra time out of their day for individuals. There were others that yelled at students until they did as the teacher said, and were out the door faster than the kids were. These teachers shouldn't be allowed in, these are the reason some children fall so far behind and we have 12th graders graduating not knowing how to read.

Amanda said...

LOL about Stone Age parenting. Fortunately, I left the Stone Age after my first kid. Unfortunately, that means he's the only one with a real life scrapbook! LOL.

And yeah, I think education dollars should be given to moms to stay home with their kids, too!!

Heather said...

When I was in college I did part of my student teaching in a 1st grade classroom. There were 30 kids over half of them with siblings in the special ed program and destined themselves to be there (low income school district with very high level of inbreeding--really.) The 1st grade teacher HAD to use the new reading curriculum but preferred the old one and so she made the kids do BOTH--I spent most of my time correcting 30 worksheets per child per day. The other part of the time I tutored the ones who were behind (I was a sp. ed./el. ed. major and did half sp. ed. and half elem. ed. for student teaching) more often than not the kids--1 month into 1st grade, didn't even bother trying to figure things out themselves. In 1 month they had lost their love of learning (the kindergarten was a "play" style kindergarten where they got to be kids so they hadn't lost it there.) It was that experience and then my experience teaching when I graduated that made me want to home school my own--I DID NOT want my kids to deal with that (I had a very similar 1st grade teacher and because of her I HATED school.)

Jena said...

Thanks for all your great comments, but what about that 4th grade picture? Isn't he CUTE?

abba12--I like your idea about personality assessment for teachers. I think that's a great idea. Now that I'm older, I can see that being in a classroom full of kids all day would have been incredibly stressful and I wouldn't have made it.

Heather--hating school from 1st grade is just torture. I'm glad you came out of it in one piece!

Crunchy--I have the typical scrapbooking MO--the first child has a really good one, the next child a little less elaborate, and the third child has none (but she does have a book with lots of loose things stuck inside). Blogging is my new scrapbook. :)

G.Dowell said...

Yes, I vote for getting paid to stay home and educate my girls. Where do I sign up for that?

I think that our society has long neglected the value of stay-at-home-moms!

G.Dowell said...

By the way, the pic of Peter is great. Such a cutie.

Anonymous said...

Love the encouragement of what Peter did "without any comprehension sheets!"

I was just wondering yesterday if the ones that came with our literature curriculum are really needed. Why can't we just read the books?


Jena said...

Maybe I should put a poll on my blog seeing how many of us want to get paid to stay home and homeschool. :)

Jamie--Good point. I've always thought book reports and comprehension questions killed the fun of reading! But you know, I was always interested in what they were reading, so I'd ask questions and hey--I was checking comprehension, but in a relaxed, natural way. And if I read aloud to them, I'd stop and point out setting, characterization, etc. and ask what they thought would come next or if they agreed with the author's choice of plot elements. That's treating your child like an intelligent fellow-human, and in return, they act like one. :)

Letitia said...

opening night is tonight, so we're really looking forward to it! I'll have lots of pictures from dress rehearsal when I get back in town.

Traci said...

I like the way Peter thinks! I need to be paid for keeping my kids at home! Yea, like that's ever going to happen!
In all seriousness, he gets it. That is exactly what needs to change in our schools.

Anonymous said...

i also love the idea of paying parents to stay home with their kids, but with one difference. i think that dad's should have the option of being the stay at home parent. i don't hate kids, but i'm a unschooler, not a mom so i just dont have any bias.

With all the money spent on testing, tons of textbooks and school buildings that would probably be a feesable situation. But first we have the huge job of making unschooling generally known and understood.

Dream on about that!

Jena said...

Hi Kaya, thanks for making me realize that it's not just moms who can homeschool! Sorry about that. I'll edit the post to say "a parent." :)

At A Hen's Pace said...

Thank you, Jena--this post and the "Battleship" one are so encouraging to me!!


Motherbird said...

What a great chance for him to see what he "missed" in public school!

Copyright Information

All of the written content and photographs on are protected under copyright. But feel free to link to my content anytime. And if you have any questions, just contact me at yarnsoftheheart [at] gmail [dot] com. Thank you!
Clip art courtesy of and Pure Clip Art