We are the Rossings: Rick, Deb and Joshua. Our unschooling journey started in early 1998, several months before Joshua was born. Rick’s mom called us and needed our help in researching her options to deal with an issue with Rick’s youngest sisters who were having problems with their public school experiences. We’ve always been the go-to “computer geeks” in the family, having a reputation for being able to find information on just about anything.
In our research, we came across a term that piqued our curiosity: “homeschooling”. We learned that it was legal in all 50 states, and that Connecticut had some of the simplest regulations. We also began seeing problems with public schools that family and friends were running into. It wasn’t just one school, or town, or state. It seemed that there was something wrong with the system as a whole. We didn’t quite have everything figured out at the time, but we knew we wanted something better for our yet-to-be-born son.
While Deb had a pretty good public schooling experience—good teachers and a learning style that “fit” the way the system works—Rick’s experience was not quite all that for various reasons. Chief among them was Rick’s being a “quick study” who readily absorbed what he was interested in, tuned out what he wasn’t interested in, and wanted to move on once he had learned (or rejected) it. He wasn’t a big fan of going over it again and again. By the time Joshua was a toddler, it was obvious that the two of them “share a brain” (similar personality traits, learning styles, etc.). Joshua made it quite clear that he disliked being quizzed. When he knew that we knew that he knew the answer, he would make up something entirely random. Someone asking, “What’s 2+2?” might receive the answer, “Fish.” (At one point, we had an entire counting system consisting of food: fish times ham equals lasagna, etc.)
When people began asking about preschool/kindergarten, we would tell them that we planned to homeschool, because it really wouldn’t be fair, either to the boy we had nicknamed “The Blur” for his constant motion, to his classmates, or to whomever his teachers might be, to try to confine his energy behind a desk.
Sure, we had concerns. We knew no one else who homeschooled, or even what it really entailed, though Deb spent a chunk of her time poking around on various message boards and groups. When we started down the path of “unschooling”, we began having concerns about whether Joshua would learn “Enough.” That led to questioning what “Enough” meant. Once that first domino fell…
We started to question everything we thought we “Knew” about learning, education, and even parenting. We resolved never to simply accept “because that’s the way it’s done” as a reason or a motivation do to anything. If we couldn’t find a real justification for something (like wrestling with worksheets), we abandoned it.
When people asked us questions about our choices, we started answering questions with questions. One conversation with an elderly aunt went something like this:
Aunt: “But he has to go to school, right?”
Aunt: “So he can learn to read.”
Deb: “Do you know anyone who learned to read before starting school?” (knowing that she knew several, including Deb, who was asking the question).
Aunt: “Well, yes, I guess so. Maybe school isn’t necessary for that.”
That aunt came to be one of our staunchest supporters and cheerleaders, wishing she could have homeschooled her children way back when. If only every encounter could be like that.
It wasn’t all joy, though. About eight or so years ago, we hit a bit of a rough patch, when Rick started feeling a bit jealous (his word) of the freedom Joshua had. He was free to try things, to explore, to be himself with our help and support in a way that Rick had never felt free to be and do. He was being a “responsible” adult, doing all those things he was “supposed” to do, listening to those internal voices about “earning” things, and being “productive”, not “wasting” time or money on “silly” things, things that were “childish” or “useless”.
Joshua was getting to have the childhood Rick wished he could have had in many ways. Exploring those feelings and questioning the voices opened up a whole new (to us) idea: grownups could unschool, too! We could be free to follow our ideas and passions and explore things simply because we were interested in them, even if it wasn’t “productive”, for as long as we were interested—whether it was for an hour, a day, or years. This newfound freedom has led the family down some fun paths: Rick started a duct tape crafting hobby/business. He also discovered a passion for creative writing, leading to one novel published already with several more in development.
When we asked Joshua what he liked, disliked, or would change about being unschooled, he shrugged his shoulders and said he had no real basis for comparison since this is the only life he’s ever known. He’s grown into a young man who knows who he is as a person, not as a “something grader”, or a “such-and-such school student”. He’s himself and that’s more than enough.
Freeing ourselves from oppressive words such as “Should”, “Ought”, and “Must” has been one of the greatest benefits of our journey. We’re free to just be us.