Where we live you have to apply for exemption from school if you want to take your children out of the school system. You are then assessed each year. This means that someone from the education department visits your home, speaks with your children, views their work samples, and assesses your learning program.
After our first year of being school free, this is what we now faced. Enter: emotional shipwreck (me).
I’d been nervous when we applied for exemption from school the first time, but not like this. I hadn’t had as much to lose. I hadn’t watched my children’s spirits and inspirations come back. I hadn’t realised the damage school had done. I hadn’t had the joy of getting to know my children fully, living life with them, and watching them thrive.
Now I had to prove that we were meeting the requirements of ACARA (the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority), when really, we have no learning agenda at all. Our agenda is life. We just live and do stuff. Sometimes just everyday stuff. That’s all.
I didn’t think the truth would cut it: My kids get up, do what they want then go to bed (when they want).
Umm? How on earth were we going to pass this impending thing?
I’d intended to homeschool. Just a few weeks in, after some insightful words from my husband, we’d realised the ‘school’ had to go. Completely. For the past year, we’ve actually been working hard to de-school ourselves.
My children still read one set of maths books, that I bought in the first few weeks of ‘homeschooling’ phase, because they want to, they like the story and it makes them giggle. So that was one thing that looked ‘worky’ enough…
I wrote down every curriculum area that we are required to follow as headings, and began to write our life beneath them. Under each heading, I articulated how our real life provides the required “learning outcomes”, so that an authority body, who do not know my children at all, could assess whether they are following an acceptable “learning program” for “year five” and “year seven”.
You know what? I filled up ten pages. It turns out there’s a lot of language and literacy in our daily conversations and activities. We talk. We read. We debate. We interpret the texts, symbols, media, messages and agendas that we see around us and that we use, daily. There’s a lot of maths in the things we do at home and out and about too. My son uses maths minute by minute, just to manage his Type1D and stay alive. There’s definitely a lot of art around here, and technology. There’s a lot of everything in the pot. How could there not be? It’s life.
My children don’t sit around doing nothing all of the time. I just don’t happen to tell them what to do.
We don’t segment life into ‘learning’, ‘recreation’, ‘maths’, ‘humanities and social science’, or into any defined “areas”. We are whole humans. You can’t really separate one area from another, even learning from life. It all interrelates.
Our assessor was here for three hours. I gave her my written overview of our school free life. My children showed her their animations, pictures, stories, stuff they’d made (soap, jewellery, Lego, shell collections, recipes, ‘projects’). My son quoted Douglas Adams. I tried not to cry. (Did I mention the emotional shipwreck bit?) What if they took this away from my children, this new light and life of theirs? What if their minds became property of the state again?
They didn’t. We got our exemption. After three weeks of waiting, our official written letter of approval arrived.
The next day, I saw this truth in our unschooling life:
On a school holiday Friday, a twelve year old boy whose hatred for writing has been a part of his identity and mantra for his whole school life, got up, said good morning, set up a table and chair in the sunshine, ate his breakfast then WROTE, with utter concentration and care, for nearly an hour.
I didn’t know why or what. I don’t require him to write at all. I figure if he needs to write he will. It’s not up to me. He shared his writing with me later in the day. A story inspiration had compelled him to put pencil to paper.
This boy gets to freely claim back his joy and inspiration for another beautiful year. So does his sister.
I’m thanking all the gods and butterflies.