An Interview with Mary Griffith, Part 3

Adrienne: One of the many things that has interested me in Holt’s writings is what he describes as his continual struggle to turn off his “teacher brain,” and I would think that would be such a challenge. I would imagine that letting go would be even more of a struggle when you’re talking about your own kids….

Mary: I think I spent a lot of time consciously trying not to be teacher-y, though I can remember driving around in the car, I’d see something interesting and say, “Ooh, look at that!” often enough to drive the girls nuts. One of my internal rules, though, was never to try to get them interested in something I wasn’t interested in myself. I used to see an awful lot of families doing that, and it never worked to do anything except make the whole family miserable. That’s not to say that I wasn’t willing to be a bit bored in order to help them with something they were interested in – I was always willing for them to have and indulge interests that none of the rest of us shared.

Pedagogically, I’m definitely a constructivist. I loved that my kids were curious creatures, but I also always thought they needed to do things at their own pace, with breaks and plateaus as needed, and that it was important to allow them to piece things together for themselves. It often meant their knowledge was a weird hole-y patchwork, and that they learned weird things at weird ages. Kate went on a mythology bender as a 6-year-old, the sort of stuff I had in junior high – one of my favorite memories is of her scorn when some adults not only failed to recognize her costume with the googly-eyed pipecleaner headdress as Medusa, but didn’t even recognize the name. We learned a lot of history, from biographies and genealogy and historical novels and movies and living history events, but hardly ever chronologically. We’d sometimes talk about what order things happened in, but mostly we let them figure out for themselves how things fit together. Science was haphazard in the same way, except that we had the live-in science guy to supplement Bill Nye.

As they got older, we sometimes got more formal. Kate was very much a liberal arts type, skewed severely to the literature and history, so mostly she just read more and more on her own through her teens. Knowing that what she needed for the acting schools she was interested in was only a GED and a decent audition, she never did much that could be called formal coursework. Christie knew she wanted to fence in college, so she went a bit more formally with the math and other high school courses. She probably wouldn’t have had much trouble getting into college as a less formal unschooler, but the NCAA is currently inflexible enough that we decided we’d have more luck adapting to the NCAA than forcing it to adapt to our way of doing things. So she did a few high school topics more formally, often using textbooks, but using them at her own pace, doing just enough problems to be sure she understood a concept rather than entire pages of problem sets.

One of the aspects of kids’ lives today that we (parents and kids both) constantly noticed and commented on, was the whole process of resume-building. So many kids and their parents, even before the high school grades, seem to spend so much time doing activities and taking courses because they think they need to in order to have the appropriately loaded permanent record to get into that college, so they can get into this graduate program, so they can have the important and successful career. When are they ever supposed to get the chance to figure out their likes and dislikes and just enjoy what they do for its own pleasure?

That’s one of the things I’m proudest of about how we raised our kids – they had a minimum of drudgery-boredom. When they were bored – and they were – there was always enough around to do that if they were bored, it was their problem and not mine; it was that they couldn’t decide what they felt like doing or hadn’t found their Next Cool Thing.

Explore posts in the same categories: Interviews, Unschooling

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