The other day, I received a Facebook message from a friend of a friend asking about homeschooling and unschooling. She's considering changing what they're doing and wanted to know what I think about living and learning. The vibe I got was that the real question is, "What drives you to do this?" She wants underlying principles, thoughts about how children learn, and practical ideas about how to go about it.
I haven't responded.
I just don't know what to say. I don't know what I think anymore. I don't know how to do this. I don't really rightly know what I'm doing and I go back and forth all the time about what kids need in a practical sense versus what they need in a big, broad idea sense.
There's a lot of factors informing all of this. For one thing, it's winter. It's been winter for what seems like a long time. I always have a freakout at this time of year. Always. It's always about the same stuff too. This year is no different. We're stuck inside, sick off and on, grating on one another's nerves, there's low motivation, and moods drop low in the gray and the cold. That's to be expected. I can reasonably excuse most of my doubt and freakout as "just winter."
Still, winter is not the whole of it. Winter is the thing that is inspiring a lot of the feeling of doubt, but it's not the thing itself. And that there's doubt is not the precise reason I don't know what to say about living and learning, unschooling and parenting.
Another factor is that my children are getting older, and they're getting more complicated as that happens. Nowadays, what we do is also what we've done. It's in the past. I'm not getting any of it back. I can't do it over. All I can do is see it back there and wonder if it was the right thing. Honestly, I don't know if it was. I don't think any of us do. None of us can. Sometimes people speak really authoritatively though, and it sounds as though they do know what they're doing.
When I'm feeling doubt, that doubt is underscored by others speaking authoritatively about ways of being/doing that seem at odds with what I think & do. Often, what they say doesn't even have to be at odds with my own personal goals or ideas. The authority itself makes me perceive their words as gospel, that whatever it is they're stating is effective and implementable, that they have, through effort, clearly and cleanly achieved their goals. This makes my doubt blossom fully. Because I am unsure of what we do and how it happens, I become very aware of how messily we achieve anything and this is also a failing. It takes my failure and expounds upon it. If in doubt, I go straight for self-loathing. It's a skill.
Which is also why historically, it helps me to get back to philosophy, to get back to the big, broad ideas underneath my goals and reinvest in them, find why it is I do what I do and am what I am. Yet still, I am at a loss at the moment. These messy, complicated, slightly older children are still confounding to me. What is it that they need? I have no idea! When I begin to think about what they need, all I can see is what I can't do, what my limitations are, the problems I can't solve, the tools I don't have.
Then I begin to wonder. What am I even doing? Perhaps I'm not prepared to do these things. I feel weary, incapable. I feel inadequate to the task of being here, preparing the children, engaging them, providing them with the tools and resources necessary to... And there I'm stuck again. To be happy? Productive? To reach their full potential? What would that even look like? What's possible? What's reasonable? What, precisely, is enough?
And there's the question. I cannot answer what I think about things because I don't know how to think about them. I am complicated by life, by stressors, by circumstance. My goals become cloudier than they once were. My ideals turn to muddied variations of their earlier, robust visions. It is easy, when things are new, to commit whole-heartedly and perhaps naively, to ideology. It is simple. It is stark. It is plain and easy to see and understand. Further in, getting into the ins, the outs, the messy, dark recesses of life and its limitations, ideology is beside the point. Practicality trumps all. And that is where I find myself. Bogged down by the need to feed everyone, to keep the floors clear, to attend meetings, and run errands.
I don't know what to say about unschooling anymore because we're not unschooling. We're seeking diplomatic solutions for life. We're in constant negotiations, attempting collaborative upkeep in seriously messy ways, and it all just looks like so much treading water. We're keeping plants and pets and ourselves alive. We're making dates and maintaining inventory. We're yelling and slamming doors and snuggling and discussing birthday plans. We're trying to make goals, to host conferences of dreams and wishes, to balance what we think is good for us with what we're inclined to, and to decipher what is True. So much so, that I feel disingenuous trying to offer Truth to anyone else.