My Journey to Unschooling

Jul 22, 2003

by Cyndi Clack

Journey—a word that suggests moving from one place to another. That certainly describes our experience with home education. We have not always been in this place of unschooling, living and learning. This is the story of how we got here.

As it seems we question everything to do with the status quo now, it is remarkable that thirteen years ago, we put our oldest child, Amber, on a bus and sent her off to school because that's just what you did when your child was five years old. It was during that year, through several amazing incidents, that God convicted our hearts about homeschooling. We went to our first homeschool conference in the spring of 1990. The only vendors there were A Beka, Bob Jones, Christian Liberty Academy, Konos and Lifetime Books and Gifts. We naively purchased A Beka and began homeschooling in the fall of 1990. The next ten years or so were filled with various programs—A Beka, Konos, Unit Studies and Sonlight.

Of course there was a pattern to our schooling. I had a baby about every eighteen to twenty months during those years. I would get pregnant and be very tired and sick. The children would pursue their own interests while I directed from the couch. We read tons of books together and watched a lot of cool things on TV and had great discussions. The children learned how to cook, how to maintain the house and how to do laundry. The baby would be born and a couple months later, I would panic that we had not done any schoolwork. Then we were off to the book fair to stock up on curriculum, bring it home, and hit the books. Slowly we would get bored with that and start drifting back into our comfortable style of living and learning. Then, I would be pregnant again and the whole cycle would start over.

I never could seem to be totally at peace with unschooling during that time. I carried guilt that we weren't doing school. Their academic growth was narrowly defined in my mind as working through textbooks, completing workbooks and taking tests. During that time, I had no real understanding of unschooling and didn't believe that a Christian could be an unschooler. It was ten years of inward turmoil.

When Amber turned fourteen and was considered in high school, I became determined that we needed to get serious about credits. So we began to tackle the subjects that the state recommends for high school graduation. For the most part, Amber went with the flow. I gave the assignments and she did the work. However, algebra was a nightmare. We cried, we screamed, we threw books. But she had to study algebra, right?

Let me take a slight turn to tell you some other things that were going on at the same time. In 2001, we were really being challenged about our parenting practices. You see, basically, we had parented in fear. We felt a fear of failure, fear of our children making wrong choices, fear of the opinions of others. Having a lot of children turns the eyes of people on you and we were determined to look like the perfect Christian homeschool family. Legalism ruled in our home. That year we began to reap what we had sown. The harvest was just what we were trying to avoid—rebellion, anger, and deception.

It was during that year, that we realized that what we had been doing was not working. We began to question everything, and we cried out to the Lord for His guidance. God began an amazing work in our lives. He began to teach my husband and me about grace and mercy. We were heartbroken but determined to rebuild the relationships with our children. I can testify to His faithfulness in restoring relationships. His grace and mercy are abundant!

In March of 2001, while I was still pondering what all of this meant, I went to a homeschool conference. I was saddened to see that almost every speaker advocated a strict school-at-home program and encouraged a very legalistic parenting philosophy. All that had brought us was sorrow. While standing in the booth of Lifetime Books and Gifts, near tears, I was approached by Tina Farewell, the owner of Lifetime. She asked if she could help me, and I answered in tears that I just didn't know. She spent quite a while talking to me. I don't remember a lot of what she said but one thing stuck with me and started me onto the path of unschooling. She revealed that her eighteen-year-old daughter had not taken algebra. She said, "I determined that my relationship with Elizabeth was more important than algebra. She can take algebra anytime but if I ruin our relationship now, it may never be restored."Wow! I was stunned! For the first time, I realized that I had to step out of the box.

You know what the box is: the box that says each of our children has to take subjects A, B, C, D, etc., and they have only twelve years to complete those subjects. I realized that the only reason that algebra was an issue was that someone in an office somewhere decided that to be well educated children should take algebra in the ninth grade. (Feel free to substitute any subject for algebra). The fact is that that person did not know my child at all, but the Creator of the universe knows my children! He created my children for a unique purpose, and He has equipped them for that purpose. I realized that I had to step into agreement with the Lord about the destiny of my children.

When I came home from that conference, guess what Amber was doing? ALGEBRA! I asked her why she was doing it, and she replied, "Because you said that I had to." I told her then that I was lifting that requirement. If algebra were a part of the plan for her life, God would let us know.

I was scared to death! This was really radical. My heart was leading me and telling me that this was the right thing, but I had to convince my mind.

I spent many months researching unschooling and the history of our education system. To make a long story short, after finding out what the purposes of our education system are, I knew that I could not replicate that in our home any longer. It was a long time before I would publicly admit that I was an unschooler. My previous misconceptions and judgments limited my ability to do that. But I stand proudly today to say that we are Christian Unschoolers, living a life totally devoted to the will of God and His purposes for our life.

It has been a remarkable journey. It's amazing that when we started out, the plan was to teach our children. We have ended up being taught many things. I am grateful for God's love, grace and mercy that travel with us. The best part? We haven't arrived yet—the journey continues.

Copyright 2002 to Cyndi Clack

Cindy Clack, a mother living and learning with her children, formerly lived in North Carolina, but currently resides in South Carolina.

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