So the Wide Sky Days conference was a massive fail as far as I’m concerned. I went to the first panel, “Unschooling Basics” and found the talk interesting (though there were a number of things about it I disliked); but when I asked a question at the end, the speaker told me point-blank that she “doubted” what I was telling her about what PK wanted to learn, math-wise.
My question, from memory:
I’m new to home/unschooling, and I’m trying to figure out a way to help my son learn the math he wants to learn. He is great at mathematical reasoning and really loves math, but after a bad experience last year in middle school, he is adamant about not wanting an algorithmic approach. So I’m wondering if you have any suggestions for how to take a more conceptual approach to higher math, from algebra up?
Phrases from her answer, which I wrote down as she said them because I was so surprised and frankly pissed off at what I was hearing, so they’re accurate:
- Maybe he doesn’t need or want that
- I doubt you
- There’s nothing wrong with him not achieving his potential
Now, I get where she was coming from: here’s a parent, admittedly new to unschooling, who is maybe imposing what she wants her kid to be learning onto the kid. And not everyone is super-elegant at phrasing all the time.
But. The speaker here is first of all, a math professor–which is why I differentiated between “algorithmic” and conceptual math–and she doubts that someone can love math even if they’ve had a terrible experience with algorithmic-based math education? (I mean for god’s sake, she wrote this–which was the kind of answer I was looking for.) And second of all, and most importantly, she’s apparently kind of a bigwig in California home/unschooling circles, and she’s telling a new homeschooler straight up and to her face that she, the speaker, knows better than I do about what my kid’s educational desires and needs are even though she’s never met my kid?
So, as it became increasingly clear that she just didn’t have an answer for me, I sat back down and, once she started answering the next question, gathered my stuff and left. I went to find PK, who was minecrafting in the game room, and, when he saw me, said, “I’m bored here and this room is too noisy for me to really think and the other kids are bugging the shit out of me by coming over here and looking over my shoulder and interrupting me. Can we go home?”
I asked him if we could have lunch while I thought about it. Normally I would have told him to hang in there for a while because there was a talk later about video game-based learning that was actually the talk I most wanted to hear. And because we had just gotten there, really (I walked into the first talk late), and I hadn’t had a chance yet to look around or talk to other folks.
Instead, we talked about why he wanted to go and I told him a little bit about what I’d heard (his response: “really? She said that to you?”). And I realized that what I really wanted was to go ask for my money back and leave, and that though I am too much of a rule-follower to do the first part, I could do the second part–and that doing so would be reassuring to PK that if he is willing to try these jaunts with me, I am willing to let us leave if he ends up not enjoying them.
So we drove home.
(I have more thoughts and reflections on the experience, which I will post later.)