Friday, May 23, 2014

Book Review: Homeschooling with Gentleness

Homeschooling with Gentleness: A Catholic Discovers Unschooling by Suzie Andres

I was pleasantly surprised by this little book. Ms. Andres has a clear style that lays out what unschooling is, why there's nothing specific about it or the Catholic faith that would preclude Catholics from unschooling (presenting two main arguments against it and her refutations of them), and the three main sources of her comfort and support in unschooling.

People who already know a lot about unschooling may be bored by the first couple of chapters in which John Holt and his supporters are quoted extensively. I've read a little about it myself, but none of the original works, so this was mostly new to me. Personally I think unschooling (or relaxed homsechooling) is a perfectly adequate way to teach your children at home, but it would drive me crazy. I like to plan every book to the page numbers we'll read each day and week. I still found much to relish in this book, though.
As Catholic parents we will want to teach our children that loving God and doing His will are our first priorities, rather than worldly ambition, or a drive to succeed, even in the academic realms.
One of my favorite parts includes a long quote from John Holt's How Children Fail in which she addresses the fear that if we do not require our children to do anything, they will do nothing at all. He responds this is "the creed of a slave." He claims school has taught children they will behave that way; I'm not sure I completely agree with his argument. It may be that the school environment is a symptom of a larger cultural attitude rather the source. I found it intriguing to think of my own attitude, times when I might act as if I were a slave forced to prepare lunch for my children rather than a mother who delights in time spent with them.
The world needs interesting and interested citizens, not prodigies. We do not need to pass on to our children a large body of information before they leave us. Instead, we need to support our children in their natural learning and the development of their special gifts. Finally, we need to change our outlook. Instead of focusing on giving our children a complete education, or a perfect education (neither of which are necessary or possible), let us strive to awaken in them a love of learning. If we can help them to develop an attitude of life-long learning, we will have done enough.
We're not unschoolers, but this is my attitude about our studies, particularly in history and science. It is not my goal to teach my children everything about ancient Greece or African geography or the human body. Instead, we use the material to practice reading, thinking, filtering, and the process of learning itself.
Certainly we will again be attacked by scruples about our parenting and homeschooling efforts. But we must recognize such scruples as temptations, and seek to overcome them with patience and gentleness toward ourselves.
In the end, there are book lists, because no book on homeschooling should be without such a thing. There are lists of books for parents, for little ones, young readers, and older readers. I consider myself fairly well-read, and there were both books I loved and books I had not yet read on the lists.

The author has a newer book, A Little Way of Homeschooling, which our library added to its shelves. I look forward to reading it as well.

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