Category Archives: School

I learned it watching you

 

The minute I heard about unschooling it made sense. Learn what you want, when you want, and how you want. The first time I heard about it was in this Nashville mommy blogger’s post where she bashes the idea. I read that post and it all clicked. All of my future children would be unschooled. Case closed. I never read or thought another thing about it.

Today I know a lot of families that allow their children to practice self-directed education (aka unschooling). And I have yet to meet someone that became a believer quite as quickly as I did (my Simply Sudbury friend, Catherine, excluded). Most of my friends found it to be a journey. The ideas made sense in some ways, but many wanted more research or literature. How do unschooled kids end up? Do they get jobs? Do they survive in the ‘real world’?

I’ve been marinating on this. Why, God, did it click so quickly and easily for me? Especially when you consider I was freaking amazing at school. If anyone was going to think school is awesome, shouldn’t it be me?

Then I read this blog post, Ours First, from ASDE by Dr. Kelly Limes-Taylor Henderson.

Marginalized groups have been learning the world for a long time, and without school. Before and throughout this colonialist era, it is the way we learned to manage our food systems and organize communities. It is the way we learned to predict weather and navigate seas. It is the way we learned transportation routes and our stories. It is the way we learned ourselves and others. It is the way we learned who the oppressors really were, despite what they told us about themselves in their schools.

It is the way we learned to survive under Western colonialism and imperialism. And it is the way we will thrive beyond it.

And…

Your people have been doing this – existing and resisting, learning the world and their freedom – for years and years. They’ve been doing it for themselves and with each other, and without school as we know it. Despite how the narrative is compiled around you, then, and despite whoever tries to sell you whatever is already inside of you, remember:

Ours. First.

Self-directed education, the idea that you can trust that you’ll learn what you need, when you need, and how you need, made immediate sense to me because it’s what I grew up seeing.

My mom and grandmother are two of the smartest, most capable women I know. I look back at my childhood and I knew that my mom didn’t have an education in the formal sense, but she is smart. Yes, she has her ditzy moments, but even that I saw as a sign of her emotional intelligence and playing to the reality that acting like you’re dumb can buy you social goodwill. I think about how she got on a plane in her early 20s and moved to another country to marry a man she knew, but not really. I think back to my childhood and how she always made the world feel safe for us, how it always felt like she knew what she was doing. And she did this without google, yall! She figured stuff out because that’s what you do.

Then there is my grandma. She came to live with us when I was in 2nd grade. She worked all over Nashville, and would get all over town on the city bus. This alone makes me open my mouth in awe because public transportation can confuse the best of us. And even though she also doesn’t have a formal education, she’s so smart. She knows how to cure things, how to farm, how to engineer. I remember being in labor with Otis, hooked up to all kinds of machines monitoring this and that, and my grandmother squinting and looking at my fingernails to see how my blood pressure was doing. This world was never scary to her because she is a fearless problem solver.

So I guess these women, and really all of the amazing Filipinas I am blessed to know and love, were always a testimony to me. I watched them build entire, productive, full, blessed lives without ever getting a stamp-of-approval from a school. I watched them trust their instincts, abilities, and eventually God to navigate this world.

I ‘got’ unschooling so quickly because I already knew that unschoolers turned out just fine because, in a lot of ways, unschoolers raised me.

Colors of the Wind

I’ve started describing myself as a weird Christian. Because if I just say I’m a Christian then you’re going to think I’m like the Christians you hear about on MSNBC or Fox, and I’m not like those.

I can’t express how seriously I take God. I believe the things most Christian professing people believe (He made everything in the universe, there’s a spiritual battle going on, Jesus is God and died on the cross for my sins, the Holy Spirit is real), but then I believe other things.

Like that He speaks to me. Regularly. And my job is to listen. Is it very Pocahontas/Colors of The Wind? Yes. Yes, it is.

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If you follow me on Instagram you may remember when I was doing those Jesus work outs with Megan and Rev Wellness. What’s a Jesus workout? Basically, Megan would have scripture and questions for me to consider and meditate on while also telling me to do 10 squats. These were some of the most intense, life changing workout sessions in my life. One session in particular stuck with me…

I was on my back doing some exercise and the whole session had been about being able to hand everything over to God and trust Him with every dream in me. To love the Giver more than the gift. So I’m on my back doing this exercise and Megan says something about being like Moses and being ok with not seeing the promised land.

Immediately I knew what the promised land was. Nashville Sudbury School. If you aren’t following me on Facebook then quick recap: me and 7 other families started a school so that kids could practice self-directed education in a democratically run community. Our first meeting was in the fall of 2015. We’ve been at it for a minute.

Getting this school up and running was my everything from March 2017 to June 2018. MY EVERYTHING. I spent lunch breaks running all around Nashville touring any place that might be even a little appropriate for a school.  I USED A PHONE AND TALKED TO STRANGERS in order to find out what paperwork needed to be turned in and when to start a private school in Tennessee. The other day I got a catalog of courses a fire protection professional could take to stay up to date on fire codes in my mailbox because that’s how often I was googling the codes manual for educational institutions. I CALLED AN IRS AGENT.

And I was doing all of this for my kids. My little boy isn’t designed for school. And my little girl might burn it down (fire codes be damned!). All of this work was because I wanted to give my kids a place to be free.

My stomach tightened at the idea of handing over NSS. I couldn’t possibly do all of this just to not be a part of it on the other side…could I? Would God seriously ask that? My brain really couldn’t imagine it. Honestly, it reminded me of when I broke up with my high school/college boyfriend, walking away from something you had worked really hard to build for no real reason?

The minute the lease was signed I knew something changed for me on a deep, cellular, spiritual level. This school needed to be built, but it wasn’t where we needed to be any longer. I heard God whispering that it wasn’t what was planned for us, but I fought the whispers back because what about my sweet boy? Where else could he go, I argued…

Two weeks later I met up with a friend I had made during the Sudbury stuff, Catherine. She went to Christ Lutheran, one of the churches we considered renting from, and was a passionate supporter of  self-directed education. We really only knew each other a little bit. She came to tour a space with us and came to a founders’ meeting. I liked her and felt a kindred spirit with her because the Venn diagram of Christians + Sudbury is pretty small, but that was pretty much it.

When we got together I immediately start blabbing about NSS updates because I assumed that was why she wanted to get together, to talk Sudbury. So we did that for a minute and then she was like, “I asked you to meet because I think you might be a weird Christian, too. And I wanted a friend to talk with about God stuff…”

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We spent the rest of our time sharing how seriously we take God, His word, His salvation (big and small), and His unending ability to meet us wherever we are. This is semi-unrelated, but this summer was also the exodus of some of my fiercest prayer friends so the birth of this friendship was giving me all the “God takes care of all your needs” feels.

rickey smiley jesus GIF by TV One

I even asked if I could take a snapshot of where God suggested me as an answer to her Psalm 145:11 prayers.

“Can I take a pic of your journal?” I am so weird.

Fast forward to June. God quits whispering. He starts using His inside voice. We pray. A lot. Because this isn’t about starting a school for me. This has always been about my kids. And walking away from this wasn’t God asking me to walk away from something I could put on my resume (“Marie Starter of Schools!”). He was asking me to walk away from something I have a lot of faith and hope in to help my babies, specifically my little guy. To say this was gut wrenching doesn’t begin to cover it.

But here’s my clue to knowing a decision has God’s hand on it: Peace. My spirit is settled even if none of it ‘makes sense’ on paper. The minute my spirit settles and rests in the confidence of my Father in heaven, I usually don’t think twice. I start moving towards His leading.

So we did. We walked away. We went on vacation. We caught our breath just long enough to hear God invite us to something new with my weird friend Catherine and Christ Lutheran, Simply Sudbury.

Last week, NSS passed their fire marshal inspection. And I wasn’t there for it. I didn’t get the “Congratulations! We did it!” email because, well, I am not part of the we any longer. The reality of not being in the Promised Land despite having witnessed all of the burning bushes and Red Sea partings gave me some feels, but it didn’t put even a tiny dent in my peace or even my joy. As I watched Instastories of their fire marshal inspection I cried real tears of joy on my side of the Jordan River*. Because He’s good. So very, very good.

Do I think God is in this? Yes. It has all the Color of the Wind vibes for me.

Does that mean I have any idea how the rest of this will turn out? Nope. Not a damn clue.

*Is it the Jordan they crossed? I am totally relying on a Ginny Owens lyric so that could not be Biblically correct so…

School is in Session: Curiosity and Ownership

A couple of weeks ago I let the cat out of the bag via Facebook that we are planning to enroll Otis in a Sudbury School that is starting in Nashville. This “announcement” means that I have lots of friends that are like

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I’ll be honest. I don’t want to talk about it. It is such a non-mainstream thing to do and we’re already weird enough already that I kinda just want to hide when this topic comes up. I have so many fears during these conversations. Mostly, I’m afraid my bumbling verbal explanation will make no sense. Seriously, I’ve been thinking about this unschool concept for nearly a decade. Five years before I had Otis. Three years before I got married. Trust me, I’ve thought about your question about algebra. Being able to succinctly share what we’re doing and why we’re doing it is not something I’m able to do quite yet.

But since I’m a billion times better at writing than talking, here’s me taking a stab at it.

Curiosity

When I was in third grade the only thing my teacher brought up to my dad was that I didn’t seem to ask a lot of questions. She was concerned. My dad’s pride, on the other hand, was palpable. His daughter didn’t need to ask no stinkin’ questions because she was independent and smart and strong. Only weak people ask questions!

I remember joining my dad in his pride. Ha! Stupid people ask questions. Smart people just know. And so the rest of my school career was way more about knowing and getting answers correct and never showing the weakness of a question.

(I could unpack so much more on this topic but succinct. I’m trying to be succinct.)

(Also, I realize it was a public school teacher concerned about my curiosity, but she was a pretty special lady so I’m not sure that she counts as the norm.)

I married the most curious man on the face of the planet. I remember walking around Target with him one time while we were dating and him stopping at the weirdest things and wondering how they made it. What material did they use? How can you get this thing hot enough to melt that thing without ruining this other thing? What type of weaving is this? How much could it hold? What else could you use it on? If I open it what would be inside?

ALL. THE. QUESTIONS.

I never realized how much I didn’t question until that day. How absolutely un-curious I am. How maybe that whole “questions are for dumb people” mantra was, well, dumb.

Real learning happens when we’re curious. Real learning is insatiable. Real learning happens when we’re exploring the world.

I am open to being 100% wrong, but I’m not convinced the education system wants us to be curious. They want us to know things and the want us to come up with great answers, but I’m not convinced they’re interested in great questions.

I also believe that what we’re curious about is a gift from God. Mark is curious about music and gadgets and problem solving. I’m curious about power dynamics in relationships. I have no clue what Otis is curious about, but I want to give him as much freedom to find that out as possible.

Ownership

In a Sudbury School students and staff have regular meetings to discuss the rules and management of the community. They get together, students and staff, to discuss rules, how the facilities will be used, who to hire and fire (yes, students can fire staff). Each student and staff member has 1 vote. A judicial committee is also set up to mediate complaints and broken rules.

My primary reason for wanting to unschool was to foster curiosity. After learning about Sudbury, the ownership and engagement in a community are now the qualities that I’m most excited about.

What is the hardest part of getting young people to vote? Convincing them that their vote matters. Have you ever wondered why that concept is so hard to grasp for a young person? Is it possible that for the last 13 years they’ve lived in a system that said, “Nope. Your voice? Don’t care. Do what I say, when I say, how I say.”

It’s really, really, really hard to convince a slave that he’s free.

I am hoping that this type of school instills in Otis the belief that his vote and his voice really do matter. I hope he learns this not by going with me once a year to a voting booth, but by participating in the democratic process in a regular basis within his school community.

I have tons more to say about this. But succinct, Marie. Succinct.

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I do have a bit of a sales pitch/ask:

The Nashville Sudbury School is just getting started. Like, had our first founder’s meeting a couple weeks ago started. If this school sounds interesting to you in any way please join the Interest Group on Facebook so you can keep up to date on interest meetings and whatnot.

Also, if you or someone you know has older kids (11-18), including those that are not thriving in a typical school, please invite them to check out the interest page as well. The original Sudbury school, surprisingly, is not made up of a bunch of self-starting geniuses. Many of the kids that found their way to the original Sudbury school did so after failing miserably in the school system. If your kid has struggled with bullying, learning differences, discipline problems then this is something I would highly suggest you consider. Join the Interest Group here.

Live long and stay curious.