Monday, March 05, 2007

I'm an UNschooler...

Ok, I'm uschoolISH. Don't ask for a definition, I just don't have one. We dual-enroll, so we have books, we just don't use them much. We do book work for math and we read, read, read and we watch lots of educational programs and we learn from lots of other areas. A few weeks ago, I bitched to a local homeschool group about our reviewing teacher. When we started out, our choices were slim and I didn't know how to find a supervising teacher. An internet search brought me to the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators, or NICHE. Great and all, but we're not Christian home educators.

I was clear with the teacher I chose that we were secular and unschool-leaning. She assured me that she'd worked for many years with many different types of homeschoolers. That first year, she suggested several religion-based homeschool textbooks, saying, "I know you're secular, but..." The second year when we decided to use the portfolio option instead of testing, she lectured me about including something that proved my son had learned grammar and sentence structure, proper writing technique, and a tape-recording of his reading. We hadn't studied sentence structure or grammar outside of the normal common-sense stuff. Most people speak with correct grammar by the time they're five, so writing this way is not difficult. Do we really need to break it down to nouns, verbs and adjectives, and discuss the proper tense? Do we really need to learn things like subject and predicate? I can honestly say in my entire adult life, I've never used the word "predicate" until this teacher required we include it in our portfolio. Chad is a reluctant writer, and pushing and forced writing activities only strengthen that reluctance. And what the hell does reading aloud prove? I can barely read Dr. Suess aloud without stumbling a bit, and saying "the" instead of "a" or something similar. He would lose points for every misread word, and he was then at the point of reading several 5th grade level books per week silently - big words and all.

So I cheated. I printed a couple stupid worksheets about parts of speech and subjects and predicates and I actually stood over my son while he did them. I briefly explained each worksheet and then asked him to answer aloud before writing the answer. If he was wrong, I simply told him the answer and we moved on. These cheated worksheets were my examples of his grammar lessons, and if he remembered any of that stuff longer than five minutes, he's doing better than most kids in public school as far as I'm concerned. Considering newspapers and the like are written at a 4th or 5th grade reading level, the fact that anything harder shows up on his reading list is a pretty good example of his reading progress. We picked a reading selection without too many multi-syllable words for him to read aloud, and I let him practice reading those two pages for almost half an hour before we recorded it. When we recorded, I let him run the machine, and if he misread or didn't like the way something sounded, he rewound and recorded again. The whole thing left me feeling icky and wrong, but it satisfied the teacher, and I was hoping once we were past all that silly grammar stuff it would not have to be repeated this year.

I was wrong. I just received a letter from our reviewing teacher, sealed with a sticker showing a sweet little boy praying and the word "Faithfulness" across the top. Ugh. The letter states her requirements for portfolio content as:

1. Results of baseline tests (this doesn't apply to us)
2. lesson plans, diary or written record of planning overview. (we don't plan, we just learn)
3. Outline of curriculum used (umm...)
4. Samples of work in each subject area: Reading, Math, Language, for grades 6+ add social studies and science (we have a reading list and math work, but language? .. I'm also concerned about next year and how the hell I'm supposed to prove he learned social studies and science? A list of videos and field trips?)
5. Any grades, assessments, written reports, test results, etc. (we do none of this)
6. A list of books read (covered)
7. A cassette tape of the child reading aloud (wtf? Why?!?)

I'm starting to think this woman doesn't understand the meaning of "unschooling," nor does she appreciate the benefits, obviously. I'm shopping for a new reviewing teacher this week for the next school year. I'll also spend the week making a fake lesson plan for the year and pretending I have a clue what days we did or did not "do school." Traditional school uses the same methods to prove learning as they do to teach. I'm not teaching my children to pass tests, I'm teaching them what they need to learn, in any way they need to learn it. So how the hell am I supposed to prove learning that isn't done simply to pass a test? I do not want to misrepresent my kids' progress and feel like a huge cheating loser for this, but I'm at a loss on a better way to handle it at this point.


Angela, Mother Crone said...

We live in PA, and I know quite a few unschoolers who really have a difficult time when it comes to evaluations. They often spend at least a week in spring creating tests and doing worksheets just to satisfy the evaluators and save themselves the grief. Typing our narrations throughout the year is also helpful.

There is a point to grammar the traditional way, and that is when it comes time to learn foreign languages. It is next to impossible to to figure our cases and tenses properly if you do not understand them first in English.
But you can use verbal books like "Primary Language Lessons" and Intermediate Language Lessons" by Emma Serl to verbally learn these things.

SETON Testing Service offers CAT Achievment tests for $20 to be administered at home, and then sent back to them for quick scoring. We have used this for years.

Holly Simpson said...

Hi. Just came across your blog today and wanted to give you this link in case you haven't already spent tons of time working on your "curriculum." This one is from Sandra Dodd's website, and its generic but educationese-sounding "unschooling curriculum". If you click on the links for ACME elementary or ACME secondary you will see them, and you could just fill in your child's name and maybe tweak it a little. Hope it saves you some time.

Holly Simpson

Heather said...

Thanks so much for the suggestions! A general achievement test would be a great way to demonstrate progress in the basics, especially when it's inexpensive and I can administer it myself. I have some other ideas brewing for showing science and social studies next year, and that curriculum statement is awesome. I'll be using that as a guide the next time I submit a Plan of Instruction. You ladies are a huge help!

Brian said...

Oh, Heather, thank you, thank you, thank you! You have a great attitude, and it's wonderful to find such a cool spirit blogging about something so important.

Although I have no children, I too am frustrated by the bureaucratic crap people have to put up with just to escape the bureaucratic crap. To add coerced religion to it is to just add injury to injury.

Keep up the good fight!

Brian said...

BTW, I can't find a "contact" link to send you and e-mail, but I would like to to invite you to check out my math-ed blog and link to it if you feel it is appropriate.
I have become a "guerrilla math guy" because of the current state of math ed in the US. You might like to check out "The Math Mojo Chronicles" at
This post is only meant as a way to contact you, so you can delete it as soon as you've read it.
You can contact me at mathmojo at, if you see fit.

Heather said...

I should have a contact me button. Not like I get a ton of hits, but it's always nice to email someone if you have a question or comment you don't want to share with everyone. I'll have to fix that.

Ami said...

I live in a 'testing' state. If one intends to comply with the educratic requirements for home education, a standard achievement test is required at certain intervals. Small wonder that many homeschooling families never register at all. Some have registered and regretted it later. If one replies to the standard demand for test scores from THE REGULATORS with the information that they're no longer homeschooling, the regulators have to go away.

I typed all that for no reason really, except for you to know that silly educratic regulations abound everywhere. I'd love to see them take care of the children they're responsible for before they go sticking their noses into the business of homeschooling!

Oh. And I think you need to find another evaluator if you intend continued compliance with silly state regulations.

My college student (who unschooled all the way through his primary and secondary education) is taking Spanish in college. He's an A student, and we never bothered with grammar instruction.

Also, Family Learning Organization in Washington State will rent the tests to you as well.

Shutting up now.

shirleyhill said...

At first I was confused but then it dawned on me that you live in Ohio. Wow. You certainly have to jump through hoops to hs. I live in TX and I believe it is probably the easiest state to hs in. We're considered the equivalent of private schools and therefore if we don't accept state money THEY have to leave us the hell alone. Yea.

But we do have the same issues with the Christian side of the hsing movement vs us non-Christians. Pain in it, I tell you. We don't unschool because of the impossibility of doing that with an Aspie kid like my 14 yo. It would be nice but...I'm sure you know how that goes.

Lynanne said...

Do you live in a district with a HSAP or is there one nearby that you can open-enroll to? Have you thought about the testing-only option? (you can administer the ITBS yourself. I have the details somewhere). Finally, there is a yahoo mailing list for IA/midwest un-schoolers (IDEA2 or something like that) who might have suggestions for supervising teachers. I could look up the exact address if you are interested.