Several things happened all at once. Or several questions came up, I suppose I should say. One was on the matter of giftedness and its meaning. The next was concerned with the learning of mathematics. The last was about laziness. All of these issues are interconnected in the heart of the unschooling parent, or anarcho-parent, as I am calling myself these days.
Giftedness is but a label, used to distinguish between the varying needs of children/people in institutional environments so as to formulate proper instruction. In the mind of the anarcho idealist/cynic, all that amounts to in the long run is the continued servitude to the system itself. The only reason the labels are necessary is to provide the specialized instruction. With instruction in itself debatable in value, methodology can hardly be determined as appropriate. Right?
Then the matter of learning mathematics and the possibility of never needing them (or at least, higher math) came up. Someone said they felt as though learning higher math was absolutely helpful and necessary so as to understand relevant tasks in life like how to create a budget, create one's own sewing patterns or understand the patterns of others. In this sense, the formal training of higher mathematics was claimed to have empowered one's creativity. Having watched my children build with Lego, K'Nex, and having created my own insane bits of cloth and whatnot without using formal written articulations of geometry, I argued that really the opposite is true: that creativity can empower an understanding of higher mathematics.
I've been handed similar arguments before - that learning basic mathematics and some higher math (algebra, geometry, trigonometry) by rote eventually enables us to understand some of the beauty of advanced mathematics. I thought of an article - which I admittedly never got all the way through - discussing the sorry approach of traditional math education and how it robs us of a deep understanding of the beauty of higher math.
At this point, I lost sight of my argument altogether. Then I read this article illustrating the concept of "by the time you need it, it's too late." And here the crisis set in.
What if we do need to understand how to articulate mathematics? What if I - oh! I mean they of course! - miss the opportunity to discover that naturally (despite Aleks' continued demonstration of his ability to readily understand and use at least basic math concepts)? What if my children count on their fingers or feel ill at ease with numbers or refuse to do their own taxes? What will that mean?
In the midst of this crisis, I confront what I fear is my own laziness - my own desire to do as little as possible, to find easy ways out. I hear other parents comment on the laziness of their children. I see them mentioning fearing the state of their future adult children - the sorry state of their apartments, their inability to finish college or find a spouse. Surely I must be exactly what they fear: the gifted child highly skilled in getting around doing anything nasty or unpleasant, dependent on a man, college dropout...
My husband made a joke the other day about how I'd better not divorce him as I bring so many demands to the table: I don't work (at a paid job), I like sleeping in, I don't cook, and I like to go out a lot. I of course rolled my eyes and said, "yeah, I bring nothing but demands!"
If I take all these simultaneous concerns together and seek out their underlying basis, the question becomes, what is laziness? What constitutes laziness? What do we really need to be doing? What do human children actually, fundamentally require for successful adulthood? What is my definition of my children's success? What the hell am I doing here?
Here is where I struggle to reconcile what I feel to be true, what evidence supports, and the culture that provides my constant context. I struggle even to articulate these matters simply and succinctly. I could babble on for days or weeks - or years if you've ever read my blogs! - trying to determine what this even is, let alone what to do about any of it.
That said, I think that laziness is a perception. That the idea of it comes from a culture of over-work, of under-pay, of implied (forcibly, subversively) scarcity, - a culture where we lock up the food and work people to the bone, devaluing and undermining the invisible labor of raising future workers and creating instead systems that teach but do not nurture, which spend 99% of their effort on maintaining control in a transparent attempt to sustain the institution itself in an everlasting vicious cycle.
I sense this to be true in every turn that I take. The more I learn, the more I loathe the web I feel ever-trapped in. The urge then is to reject it all and run far away. But there's a catch: I am a product of this culture. I cannot divorce myself from this context. I am in some ways merely the sum of my experiences, all of which have been of this culture, this insane capitalist concoction, born of dominance and endless thirst. I too thirst. I am incapable of wholly rejecting every inch of it.
Rejection of everything, too, leaves me directionless and with a confused feeling where I grope around for evidence to support the decisions I make and find little in the way of proof. Therefor I rely on a bizarre, unscientific test: If I lived in the woods, with other people, in a hut, writing cuneiform in the dirt or whathaveyou instead of blogs, what would I and my children need? Not written higher mathematics, in all likelihood.
However, regardless of the need (or lack thereof) of higher mathematics articulated in written form, I still find them somewhat useful in this life; in this context; now. Now is where my children live, unfortunately. Thus my own unscientific test fails me. And my confusion and fear dig deeper.
What to do then? Contrive ways in which we might trick the children into learning higher math? Have faith that Lego and Magformers are enough for now? Or do I do as I usually do and rely on the conversation to lead us there, encouraged onward, no doubt, by my fears and worries pressing in on me in years to come? Is this, then, but finding faith in the constancy of uncertainty?