Transcript for SS #51: Unschool to ClassiCOOL (with Amanda Gauthier-Parker!)
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Brandy: You’re listening to Scholé Sisters, episode number 51.
Welcome to Scholé Sisters, the podcast for the classical homeschooling mama who seeks to learn and grow while she’s helping her children learn and grow. Scholé Sisters is a casual conversation about topics that matter to those of us in the trenches of classical homeschooling who yearn for something more than just checking boxes and getting it all done. I’m your host, Brandy Vencel. You can find me at Afterthoughts, that’s my main blog, and also Teaching Reading with Bob Books, which is where I keep my line of printable phonics lessons. You can hear more from me on my other podcast, AfterCast. My co-host today is Pam Barnhill. Pam is a speaker, podcaster, blogger at PamBarnhill.com, and author of two fabulous books, Better Together and the newly released, Plan Your Year. Our guest on the show today is Amanda Gauthier-Parker. Amanda is a Christian, a wife, a mother, and a homeschooler. Her journey from John Holt’s unschooling to Charlotte Mason and classical education has taken its twists and turns while always chasing truth, goodness, and beauty, and the path God has set before her. This spring she will graduate her first of five children and will still have fifteen more years of homeschooling ahead in which to keep learning and growing. She posts on Instagram as @truthgoodnessandbeauty.
This episode is sponsored by The Literary Life Conference. Cindy Rollins and Angelina Stanford are veteran homeschool moms and experienced teachers who share a passion for books and a life shaped by books. They also have a heart for homeschool moms! In response to hearing moms express disappointment that they can never travel to hear them speak, Cindy and Angelina decided to bring the conference to the moms!
Join Angelina and Cindy for an Online Conference exploring the Literary Life. Watch the conference from the convenience of your own home! Sessions are recorded and available to everyone who registers, so you can watch anytime — even during naptime! At only $29, you will be encouraged and inspired to cultivate a literary life for yourself and your family.
The conference includes a talk from Cindy and a talk from Angelina and caps off with a discussion, where both speakers will respond to each other’s talks and develop ideas further. Essentially, you’ll get to listen in on the conversations that Cindy and Angelina have at conferences behind the scenes. Angelina says, “I always thought that the best part of a conference was when we can build on each other’s talks and make new connections, but no one ever got to hear those moments. We decided in this conference to share that conversation with you.”
Visit AngelinaStanford.com for more information and to register. Today’s conversation is a little different from what we normally do but we think you’re going to really enjoy hearing about classical education as a philosophical and life journey. How did our guest Amanda Gauthier-Parker move from unschooling to classical and Charlotte Mason? Listen in to find out. Without further ado, let’s get to it.
[00:03:26] Scholé Everyday
Brandy: Alright. So, let’s start off with our Scholé Everyday. And, who wants to go first?
Pam: I’ll go first.
Pam: So our poor guest doesn’t have to go first. Do we ever make the guests go first? I don’t know. Okay, so, you know, it’s funny. I always have multiple books going at one time and that’s why it takes me forever to read a book. So, I was thinking about what am I going to use, because I’ve already talked about most of them? But, I’m finding that Bible study is another place where you could really get multiple streams going at once whether you mean to or not. This is called Rooted in Hope and it is a Catholic Bible study by Take Up and Read and it’s an advent Bible study.
Brandy: Why does that some familiar? Take Up and Read?
Pam: It’s Elizabeth Foss.
Brandy: Okay. That’s why.
Pam: Everybody knows Elizabeth. She’s been around for a long, long time. Well, not to make that sound like she’s so old (Elizabeth, I’m so sorry!) … she has been blogging for a long time. She’s one of those bloggers who just, to me, started the home school movement, and honestly, had a lot to do with my taking a look at the Catholic Church a long time ago. So what’s cool about this is it’s based on Lectio Divina—the study is. So that’s one of the things why I really, really like it. It has your Bible reading right here in the book (which I really love), and it has extra commentary, and some little devotional pieces by moms who have written, and then it breaks each day study down. It gives you a place for the lectio, meditatio, oratio—you know, all of that stuff—contemplatio, (which I’m sure I murdered), and all of that.
Brandy: Keep going, these are great in an Alabama accent.
Pam: Latin’s always really good in a southern accent. So I got that (that’s for advent), and then I also have their Ponder study, which is about the rosary. And I got the kids version of that one and so at some point later I’ve got to fit that in with the kids.
Brandy: Okay, I thought you would admit that you were doing the kids version for yourself.
Pam: I’m not. I’ll only read the kids version …
Brandy: That way you’ll finish it, right?
Pam: But then I also ask for something in one of my liturgical year groups for something scholarly and I was recommended these Catholic Commentary of Sacred Scripture Studies (there’s not one for each book of the Bible yet), but there’s a lot of them that are done. And so, I got the one on the Gospel of Luke because that’s what we’re reading in the lectionary next year. That’s where the readings are going to be coming from—the Gospel readings. And these are quite scholarly. I started reading the introduction to this today and I’m really looking forward to digging into the context and the geographical stuff. And it breaks the sections down and talks about the different words that are used and things like that.
Brandy: Very cool.
Pam: So yes, it’s entirely true that you could get multiple Bible studies going at once, too…
Brandy: Because we don’t have enough books.
Pam: Never. Never enough books.
Brandy: Amanda, how about you? What’ve you got?
Amanda: Sure. Okay, so I have the same issue where I’m halfway into a dozen books, but I picked up this one at the library a few weeks ago. It’s called Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr. He’s the Franciscan priest. He’s written so many books on spirituality, but the first one I read by him was about the Enneagram.
Amanda: Yes. I read that a long time ago. And so, I’m not even sure how I stumbled on this one unless maybe it was on the list at the library and I am when I was looking for his Enneagram book again because I gave it away. And now of course everybody’s asking me, “What Enneagram book do you like?”.
Amanda: Oh, no, as you know, Brandy, I’m obsessed with personality.
Brandy: She’s like Mystie junior, when it comes to personality, Pam.
Pam: Oh okay.
Amanda: Way junior because she actually does something with it, and I just study it and talk about it. Anyway, so, this is about the maturation process because I feel like I’m getting to that age, maybe.
Brandy: I was just going to say, “Are we there?” Are we there that we’re reading books on getting older?
Amanda: It’s so good though. He talks about what’s necessary in the first half of life in order to truly mature and reach the end goal; just assumptions that we have in our culture, about what the journey is supposed to look like, and how we go on the journey and then we hit roadblocks and we think, ‘Oh no, we’ve done something wrong,” but he talks about the roadblocks are there as part of the journey, and they’re necessary, so we have to find our way over them and not resist them. There’s so much good stuff in here. I did write something down in my little my commonplace, which is really my bullet Journal full of all kinds of all kinds of stuff. I’ll real rip out the bad stuff and keep my quote.
Brandy: That’s an interesting technique.
Pam: I love spiral bound.
Amanda: And this kind of relates to our topic today as well, which I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, this is perfect for what we’ve been thinking about.’
“The ego cannot be allowed to be totally in charge throughout our early years or it takes over. The entirely open field leaves us the victim of too many options, and the options themselves soon push us around and take control. Law and structure, as fallible as they often are, put up some kind of limits to our infantile grandiosity and prepare us for helpful relationships with the outer world which has rights, too.” So I love that.
Brandy: I might need to read this.
Amanda: It’s really good.
Brandy: In 10 years when I’m old enough to read this. Just kidding.
Amanda: Give it time, Brandy, give it time. Anyhow, that was one little bit because he’s talking about the structure and order and foundation that really has to be laid in the first half of life, in order for us to find freedom in maturity and grace and to really understand the Gospel.
Brandy: So it sounds like it would have been worth reading 10 years ago actually,
but there’s no time like the present. Well mine, I feel like I’m cheating, but this is my scholé everyday, even though Pam has used it. And Mystie has used it. And I’m actually reading it because Pam said I had to, but it’s The Lonesome Gods.
Pam: Oh, Louis L’Amour!
Brandy: Yes, which I finished yesterday because I had some sort of stomach bug and so I was on the couch all day instead of doing what I was planning on doing and so that did give me reading time. I wasn’t so sick that I couldn’t read. (That’s always the worst when you can’t sleep and you can’t read.)
Brandy: So I did finish it. It was so fun to read. It really was. I feel like I need to say something different than what everybody else has already said about this book because the plot was great and all of his observations on becoming a man, and being educated, and all those things were also great. But as someone who lives here, it was so fun. Like he goes through the Tehachapi Mountains and comes down into the San Joaquin Valley and (Amanda lives in the same town as me) so this is our valley and he comes in, and we’re told like, “Whenever you go to some local Museum or a natural history museum, or whatever, they always tell you about how there were these herds of elk roaming around that had even up to 10,000 animals in the herds. I mean, they were just humongous and he talks about that and they come in and they can just see animals. It’s like what you imagined Africa like today, you know what I mean? Like just these herds the stretch for a mile or something. I was just crazy. Anyway, it was just so fun and they the book starts where L.A. is about 2,000 people (I think), and it’s interesting because I feel like as the boy grows up L.A. is growing up, too, and so by the end, it’s a small town. It’s 16,000 people. It actually has a main street. They actually live near each other instead of all spread out and it was just it was fun. And I can see now, Pam, why you thought it would be good for kids to do, as an adjunct to Californian history. So I read it all the way through just out of curiosity because I was like, is it to mature basically for my 10 and 11 year olds, and I decided it’s fine. It’s fine. Yeah, it would’ve been too mature when my oldest was that age because I always feel like unless the oldest children are around older children a lot they’re less ready to handle things. They’re a little less mature, but I think they’ll be fine with it. And I think my 16 and 13 year olds were really enjoy it. So I just put it on our TBR for read-alouds pile and it’ll be so fun.
Pam: That is awesome, because I have to tell you, a couple weeks ago you were talking about books that had been recommended to you that had turned out to be duds. And I was really, really afraid because I’ve been pushing you for a couple of years to read this book.
Brandy: That’s true.
Pam: I was really afraid that that was one of them—that you had decided it was a dud, but I’m so glad because yes, I mean, I just thought it was a great living book about California history.
Brandy: Oh totally.
Pam: Along with everything else that was in the book.
Amanda: Well, I guess I’m next because we haven’t exactly done California history. Don’t tell the state.
Brandy: You mean you haven’t built your California mission out of sugar cubes yet? The painstaking labor. Oh my gosh. That’s what I remember about fourth grade—stacking sugar cubes and then some mean child pushing mine over and I was devastated. All that work. The other interesting thing, I realized that my mental history timeline of California history is a little off because I thought of the missions still being active when L.A. was at that stage, but he specifically makes the comments that the Padres had left. And so, I don’t know if that was true up and down the whole state but it was just really interesting to me. There is that sense of there’s no authority. People are killing each other in the streets because it’s very wild west feeling. And there’s really no mention of religion, which I found strange, but it wasn’t till about the end of the book that he says the Padres have left. So I was like, there’s really no religious influence there at all. And so there’s just the the Vaqueros going wild and then going into town and killing people because they don’t like them. It sounds almost like gang violence really.
Amanda: In L.A.?
[00:16:18] Topical Discussion:
Unschool to ClassiCool
Brandy: Yeah, shocking—we have come full circle. Anyway, with that said, we probably should get onto our topical discussion, which—I’m so proud of this title—it may even be an eye roller, but I’m still proud nonetheless. But I called it Unschool to ClassiCOOL [laughter] because you’re so cool, Amanda.
Amanda: Love it.
Brandy: I’ve thought about this for quite a long time. I’ve wanted to have you in because your story is so fascinating to me. When I met you (I’m trying to think—we live in the same town and I first saw you on our local Facebook group).
Amanda: That’s not what where we met. That’s not it. That happened long after because I started that group.
Brandy: Okay, but I thought I saw you there first?
Amanda: The “park day group.”
Brandy: The “park day group” – that’s what it was. So there was this Facebook thing and so I had seen your name, but then I feel like the first time I really met you in person was actually at the Home Education Conference that we were both at. Was that right?
Amanda: The one that you put on?
Brandy: Yes, and you were pregnant with your older daughter.
Brandy: Yeah. I feel like that. Am I wrong?
Amanda: I think we met long before that.
Amanda: Maybe we didn’t meet. No, you’re right. That probably was the first time we saw each other in person.
Brandy: In person.
Amanda: I’ve been reading your blog for 10 years.
Brandy: But I think I didn’t realize you were local.
Brandy: At first. It took me awhile to realize who you were. I didn’t realize you were local. Okay, so how old is she now?
Amanda: She’s only six.
Brandy: She’s only six. I’m pretty sure that that’s when we met in person … unless it was the year before. So anyway, I just remember talking to you and you saying—I think at the time you were a former unschooler that was … had you already become the CC Director or were you just moving that direction?
Amanda: I started CC when she was like ten months old, a year old.
Brandy: So, you were probably when we were talking at the specific conference that I’m remembering, you were making that transition and moving in that direction.
Amanda: It was happening that summer. I think I was like nine months pregnant at that conference.
Brandy: Oh you were because we were all joking about who was going to deliver your baby.
Pam: This is what you do when you’re nine months pregnant. You say, “Oh, I’ll start a CC Community.”
Brandy: Nesting gone wild.
Amanda: Some of my crazy ideas: life is too chaotic, let’s start something brand new and totally crazy.
Brandy: I really want to go back way further than that, to before I met you. So you have a big gap between your two girls and your three boys because you’re I know your oldest is a year older than mine and about to graduate this year, right?
Brandy: Not that we’re going to cry about it live here on the air, but you unschooled the boys for many years. And so I really wanted to go back to that and ask you where did that come from, and how did you become an unschooler? And, of course, we need to know what books you read?
Amanda: Of course, of course. Oh if I can see well enough they’re on my shelf. So I knew when I was pregnant, I think, that I wanted to homeschool. So I started reading and, of course, I was mostly reading about home birth at first because I had met Lamonica, the midwife, when I was a newspaper reporter and interviewed her and did a story on it. So I knew I wanted to go that route and then I’m not really sure how I went from there to homeschooling except of course, it’s all over the same blogs and there weren’t that many blogs back then.
Brandy: There were three blogs.
Amanda: It was the Yahoo group (the group that you’re remembering) and I knew that I wanted to make friends with people who weren’t going to be putting their kids in kindergarten in just a few years then they were going to disappear, and so I joined a homeschool playgroup when I was pregnant with my second one, I think, and it had been formed by a Christian mom who was in a Charter school, and a non-Christian mom who was unschooling, and they were friends and they didn’t fit into the other two groups in town because the Christian group didn’t allow Charter Schoolers and I don’t know what the other one was. But anyway, they formed a new group that was inclusive and that’s the one I stumbled upon, and so I think I started learning about unschooling probably from them initially. Of course, I read John Holt and David Albert and there were a couple others. Well, of course, we were listening to Sandra Dodd. Sandra Dodd probably had a website at that point, that’s probably how we found her. And she actually came to town; she’s actually from L.A. so another mom in the group invited her up.
Brandy: Oh wow.
Amanda: So there were several unschoolers in that group and we were all reading the same books and talking about things. So that’s kind of how that began.
Pam: Did you look at any other method at that time or was it just that you had stumbled into these people and you really kind of went the unschooling route without looking around a whole lot?
Amanda: All that I knew of, at that point, was probably the Abeka—all the people in the Christian homeschooling group were still using Abeka and Bob Jones. Our reason for wanting to homeschool wasn’t necessarily the same as maybe some of your traditional Christian homeschoolers. So for me, it was more about the philosophy of learning and tailoring an education to your child’s needs, and my husband and I both felt a little bit like oddballs and figured our kids would be too. So, we wanted to make sure that we weren’t trying to squeeze them into those boxes. And so, for me, we’d both done fine in school. It wasn’t that there was something particularly wrong with school, but I had always wanted more time to follow my own rabbit trails (of which there are always many) and so I had been a big reader early on and then, of course, the more intense school gets in high school, and you have so much homework, and you have to read what they tell you to read, and I felt like to some extent I lost some of my love for reading and literature because I couldn’t just take it in and enjoy it, I was having to now produce something from it. So now it’s a chore, now it’s a task. So for me that was a big motivator for why I looked at home schooling at all.
Brandy: So, unschooling really resonated with you then when you found it because that your [inaudible] was crying unschooling,
Amanda: Right. I almost got pulled out of school to homeschool. As a young adult that sounded very appealing. Let’s make it Saturday every day. Chase all the rabbit trails and keep learning and I was never worried about, ‘Oh my goodness, what if my kid can’t do math?’ or leaving giant gaps which so many people I know worry about that. That was just never a concern for me. I figured we’d figure it out and they would learn it. I was fortunate and my husband, too, we didn’t have learning struggles in that way. He teaches math, he teaches chemistry.
Brandy: So you had a math curriculum in your husband?
Amanda: Yeah, no. We didn’t buy a math curriculum until fourth grade, because pretty much, everything up until that point you can learn by doing. Obviously, he played counting games with them when they were four. Franklin, he’s my oldest, when he was five he counted to 600 to get himself to sleep. We’re a little nerdy. So, that wasn’t really the concern, it was more the development of the child and not crushing that natural love for learning. So that all fit in.
Brandy: We weren’t as good at teaching that organically and so I remember the day I realized my youngest could only count to 15 because that was how long we told him to wash his hands. He had to count to 15 because he was just always coming out with hands that were still dirty. And so he had no idea what came after 15.
Amanda: So he wasn’t playing Hide-and-Seek with big kids?
Brandy: No, he was not.
Amanda: My two-year-old can count to 20.
Brandy: I’m sure.
Amanda: Because he’s playing Hide-and-Seek.
Brandy: It’s one of those homeschool humiliation moments.
Amanda: My oldest was, of course, the easiest child ever to homeschool—in the way that we were doing it. If I’d been trying to make him sit down and use a pencil that wouldn’t have gone over as well. He had some sensory/tactile issues and it took a while to get to the point where that worked, but he was a natural learner. He was all into exploration and wanting to be read to and taking everything in and actually remembering it. So it worked very, very well for him. And he has continued in that love of learning now. When he was maybe third grade he wanted to do more. And it’s funny because you know now he’s writing college essays and he’s telling stories that I’ve never really heard him express to me about his thoughts of his childhood and his homeschooling experience, and it’s quite enlightening, but he wrote a little bit about how he had no direction until 7th grade. And I’m like, “What?”
Amanda: No direction? Because I obviously was … the unschooling idea is strewing and it’s like the Charlotte Mason spreading a feast. So I was reading about Charlotte Mason at the same time I was reading about unschooling and I was reading Susan Wise Bauer, so it’s not that that I was only reading unschooling, but he didn’t recognize that I was laying things out for him to discover and experience and explore and he didn’t see that as school because it didn’t feel like school so he was learning it, he was getting it, but he never saw it as me teaching. He actually has said you never taught me anything, mom.
Brandy: Oh gosh, heart-breaker.
Pam: Well, this is really interesting, and I think this is an important distinction to make for our people who are listening. When we’re talking about Amanda’s style of unschooling, you were very actively involved in your children’s education on a day-to-day basis. You are constantly doing your own learning. You’re reading about these educational philosophies, getting your hands dirty, laying things out that you wanted to introduce to them and guiding their education, so when we talk about the kind of unschooling you were doing we’re not talking about any kind of hands off, you know, oh, we’re just going to let anybody do whatever they wanted to do, you were involved.
Amanda: Yes. Now, it was an evolution of sorts because I began as a radical unschooler reading those books and no bedtimes and don’t control what they’re eating and that whole big picture but it was early enough in the whole process that there wasn’t school time anyway, so by the time they were five or six it had developed into something more purposeful because what I noticed in some of the older unschoolers was that that hands-off thing led to just a lot of television watching, and cartoons and so on, and I’m like, wait a minute, okay, so you’re hands-off on academic learning but the so-called feast that you’re spreading or the strewing is just this porthole into modern pop culture. Okay, but where’s the value in that? And we as parents don’t we have a responsibility to also choose good things and introduce our children to the whole wide world of wonderful things to learn not just this tiny little, ‘Well, they’ll regulate themselves and they’ll learn what they need to learn.’ Well, yeah, the learning is happening, but what are they learning? All the names of the Pokemon characters. Well, that’s fun.
Pam: We know though, how much fun … don’t dis the Pokemon.
Amanda: But to me it felt more limiting to say you can’t spread school on the table you can only watch television.
Brandy: Honestly, that was why I didn’t read John Holt until this past year, was because that’s who I met. I met the people whose kids’ brains were empty of anything other than pop culture. And then reading John Holt I was like, oh wow, he has a lot of great things to say that I wish I would have known when my kids were younger, but I just had such a negative association because of who I had met and whose kids I had observed. It kind of reminds me of what Martin Cothran said in his episode when he was talking about Harry Potter because it’s like it’s not that there’s anything wrong with knowing the Pokemon characters. It was that when he talked about Harry Potter, he said the problem was that they hadn’t read anything else. It becomes an obsession because of the lack of wide reading and I kind of felt that way with the television thing. It’s not that there was anything necessarily wrong with what they were watching, it wasn’t like they were, you know, on HBO all day or something, but the problem was there was nothing else and they seemed funny, they seemed full of all the pop culture and so empty at the same time.
Pam: We were talking about gluttony and temperance this morning in Morning Time. And that’s basically what it boils down to is, you know, you have to be temperate in your choices and it has to be a little bit of everything. So we’re talking about spreading the feast but we’re not talking about being gluttonous in any one area of it.
Amanda: It’s not a feast of cupcakes.
Pam: Well, cupcakes don’t make a feast.
Brandy: That’s a good point though
Pam: Okay, so you did this for a while. So you were satisfied with what you were doing, right? How did it work out for you? Apparently the fact that you had this child even though he didn’t recognize that you were teaching him, he was still getting along great and you had another boy, as well, correct?
Amanda: So I had Franklin and Grant was a year and a half younger. So it was the two of them. And then I had another baby three and a half years after that. And so, I was in the home school group with the three boys—park days and field trips and everything—and then we (speaking of Harry Potter) started our Hogwarts homeschooling journey. So I had the child with the tactile issues who didn’t want to use a pencil but I did teach him modern runes with a wand in the air and then he had to transfer it to a muggle wand on paper.
Brandy: Oh my gosh.
Amanda: That was possibly a journey. So you get creative and you don’t make it feel like school, but they’re still learning. So he was asking … we had friends that we were doing this with and things change and people move and so we had these friends and then those friends and then suddenly we were kind of without anybody to do our … it was basically homeschool co-op of lots and lots of Hogwarts science and fun stuff. So he was ready. We had neighbors across the street who were (I forget what the curriculum is), but they were using a more traditional workbook, Christian popular curriculum, and of course, we’re very blessed to have friends across the street who were also homeschooling, but he would see what they were doing and go, “Mom. I want to do school like them. Why don’t I have any workbooks?” And, I’m like, oh my heart. And so of course, I’d been reading Susan Wise Bauer and I forget what was the Latin-based curriculum?
Brandy/Pam: The Latin-Centered Curriculum.
Amanda: That one. And so, I felt like the one subject in school that I never really got in any way that stuck with me and made sense was history. And so, I thought, ‘Well, let’s start with ancient history. How much fun would that be? And we’ll do Latin and see how you like that.’ So, I found Lively Latin, and so we dove into that. So, we were getting a little Plutarch and we were getting history and he really enjoyed that. Both boys were doing it. So that was like 4th and 3rd grade and that was our transition. I don’t really remember now, any of the details. I think I was aiming for Charlotte Mason honestly. I mean, I would have been perfectly happy sitting on the couch every day and reading all the books on Ambleside, but I couldn’t get my boys to sit still. And now, of course, I know yes, it’s okay for them to bounce around the living room while you’re reading aloud. But to me, it was just so distracting.
Brandy: Sometimes it’s hard on mom.
Amanda: I had a hard time making that happen in those larger chunks. Obviously, we were still reading aloud all the time. We did a lot of audiobooks because we were traveling to friends for co-ops and that kind of thing. But anyway, it kind of all just mushed together at that point and then there was seventh grade, and the new baby, and thinking about high school, and oh my goodness, I think I need help with this. I had already heard of Classical Conversations. I knew that there was the beginnings of one somewhere in town, and it had not appealed to me, we had enough going on and but at that point I saw an announcement I think on Facebook of somebody who was hosting a meeting about it, and I thought I’m just going to go and find out more. And so I went to this meeting and it was me and a friend of mine (who happened to also show up) and it was a woman who was from here, but had moved out of town, had a CC somewhere in L.A. and had come back to host this meeting while visiting family to see if she could get one to get going here because the one that was happening then at that time had two families and it wasn’t publicized at all. And I think it had just ended, maybe that was why, it had just ended because one of the families had quit, so I was looking at the catalog and their lovely schedule of the three year cycle and the art and the history and the timeline and it just sounded like fun and it sounded like something that I wouldn’t have to create from scratch because I had done a lot of creating from scratch for our other co-ops and I just felt at that point with baby number four this would give me something to start with that would also have that accountability and community aspect that I was missing at that point. And would give my oldest, he would be in the Challenge Program and the Challenge Program just sounded so amazing. It was that integration of learning because I had never had trouble recognizing that learning it comes from everywhere and that all subjects are connected, so I loved that part of the philosophy of the group and that I would have help. I would some have somebody who would be making sure he’s getting all of this good stuff, every week, and doing something with it, and developing the writing skills that we hadn’t really approached yet.
Brandy: So this is kind of funny to me because you said I would have somebody to make sure but I remember you being completely in charge of this program. So what happened here?
Amanda: Well, okay, so I wasn’t the Challenge Director.
Amanda: I directed the Foundation and Essentials, so I loved that our whole family would be in the same place. We would not just be sending him away to some … because we have the charter in town that has great weekly enrichment programs, but I didn’t want to send him away. I wanted a place where we were all part of the same community and making things together. This allowed us to stay together but meet his needs where he was and still be fun for the rest of us.
Pam: Okay, I want to talk about a couple things. So, first of all, it’s really funny to me that your move into classical … so I was expecting some big philosophical shift at the heart of it. You know, when Brandy is like, “Come with me and talk to Amanda about going from unschooling to classical,” but honestly, your kid chose this. He was the one who wanted to, even if he didn’t come in and say, “Mom, I want to do classical education.”
Pam: He was the one who came in and asked for more formal schooling and this was what you knew and so this was kind of the direction that you went in. So, in a way, you’re move to classical education was somewhat child-lead.
Amanda: Right. Which is really kind of funny. A little ironic.
Pam: And then you mentioned, at one point in re-telling us this story, that you were looking for accountability. So, what made you decide that you needed accountability, all of a sudden, when for years and years you didn’t? Was it because he was going into junior high and high school?
Amanda: Well, there’s some of that. I mean for me, it’s not the external person accountability, I didn’t want the state involved. But it was the time accountability that I wasn’t in charge of maintaining the clock—which is not my strength.
Pam: So is this something you needed for you or did you feel like that your relationship with him had reached a point where he needed somebody else too?
Amanda: Right. It was accountability for him. I knew that he wanted the structure. He needed it. I knew that I wanted to offer him more than I could physically manage in a day, and this was a way to have the structure sort of provided for us and we just had to keep up with it. It was a challenging year.
Brandy: I don’t know this is your motivation, but I could see how then it doesn’t have to be any sort of power struggle between you and him, because even when a child says they want to do this or that like, let’s say piano as another example, when it comes to the time where Mom says, “Well, now you have to practice,” it’s just an interesting barrier. So then for you to go from basically that but for all of school or most of school, I could see how having a third party would help make that transition because I feel like this with my kids that they want to please their other teachers.
Pam: Oh, yeah.
Amanda: Even just the peer accountability because for both of my boys, my second one got to do that for a year as well, they were a little bit terrified by the Challenge Director. I’m like, oh is she gonna listen to this? She might—Hi Angela, love you. She was really perfect for that role because she got all these kids who had barely done school (some of them) and she was on it, but even more so, was just that, ‘Oh, I’m going to have to present this stuff to my friends, I don’t want to sound like a dummy.’ So that was probably the bigger part of it and why I think that particular age was appropriate because now we’re using the natural inclination to peer influence for a positive peer accountability, where they’re being held accountable to knowing and learning good things. And so, it was a good fit at the right time.
Pam: Well, you could have just dropped him off though.
Amanda: Well, that’s true.
Pam: In challenge you could have just dropped him off. And so you did choose to take the entire family this route by becoming the Foundations and Essentials Director.
Amanda: I couldn’t [**inaudible**]
Pam: I was gonna say what made you decide to buy into the whole thing, the whole kit and caboodle because you could’ve continued unschooling your younger children, you know, and just letting this one kid who was expressing this desire be the one to go do this?
Amanda: Personality issues. My own inability to just let go and send off. No, I want to be part of the game, too. I think we all needed something new at that point. And I really still wanted it to feel like homeschooling in the sense that we’re still one, we’re still together, because we were together on the same campus every week making the same friends and there’s always the money factor, but I think it was more just it sounded fun. I wanted to participate. I’d envisioned that, eventually, I would be a Challenge Director as well, when the girls were older (I only had one then), when I had more time, because Challenge, too, sounded especially lovely—British literature. I would say that I did not just take on the philosophy as a whole and the methodology all at once in one big bite. I think that I definitely struggled a bit internally with some of the contradictions of what I believed and knew, Charlotte Mason’s principles and things like that that I did have to wrestle with along the way, but overall I felt like I was able to make it what I needed it to be for my family and I didn’t bump into those issues very often. And that was the other thing, as the Director, it was my job to present our own community’s interpretation of the philosophy and to hold space for that. So that was a way of having a little bit more control and creating the atmosphere that still matched my values and what I believed about learning. Every community is a little bit different and I had a couple families who had been in CC before from other communities and by the end of the first year, they wanted to move on and create their own that fit the format and the way they interpreted it, and so there was room for that, and that left the people who liked my interpretation that we could have the freedom to do that. And so, that lasted a few years at least.
Brandy: I always told people if they wanted to join a group, I was like, “Go to Amanda’s, you won’t run into some of the philosophical issues that you’re struggling with if you go there,” because I could see your unschool and Charlotte Mason coming out in just the stories I was hearing from people who were in your group.
Pam: So do you still direct at all?
Amanda: No. During our third year two of us got pregnant (one of the Challenge Directors) and another Challenger Director, her husband got transferred to Texas, so we were losing three of our four Directors at that point and the other one her husband was like, I think you need to take a break. So there was one other community in town and it was getting going but we didn’t have enough bodies basically, who were able and willing to step up and fill those big gaps. And I know people direct while they’re pregnant, but in our circumstances, we were both 40 and having kids in the whole spread of the curriculum, and it was just more than we were willing to take on that point. I had somebody step up and take over Foundations and Essentials, but we couldn’t keep Challenge going, so we stayed in it one more year, but I was having to branch out and fill in for my older kids, and eventually, we just decided to do something different.
Pam: So what do you do now?
Amanda: Well, this year is totally different. I ended up starting another co-op (because that’s what I do)…
Brandy: Compulsive co-op-er.
Pam: Amanda, what is your personality type?
Amanda: That’s a good question. So, MBTI: ENFP, ENTP, but see there’s another branch that says you can jump, so technically, NEFE, as opposed to NEFI or NETI, so that’s the current consensus.
Pam: I just rarely find people who need to feel in charge as much as I do. [laughter]
Amanda: Yes, I’ve always related quite a bit to you, Pam!
Pam: Okay, so you started another co-op…
Amanda: Because I’m like, well, what about this, we could do this or that, and they’re like, yes do it. So instead of being every week, it’s once a month plus field trips and nature study. So, it’s a smaller time commitment, and we rotate teaching so that we’re only teaching one or two days out of the year. It was some of the tutors who were a little burned out and just wanted something smaller scale. So we still do science and art and nature study and we have a hymn we learn.
Brandy: Oh my goodness, you almost sound Charlotte Mason.
Pam: I know.
Pam: It’s amazing how those classical and Charlotte Mason things overlap so much.
Brandy: So, are you going to try textbooks before you finish homeschooling? We’ve hit every other philosophy.
Amanda: We’ve done that apologia science. Our high school has been all over the place. I’ve got one at Bakersfield College now and the other ended up joining the Charter this year.
Brandy: Are both of your boys in the great books class with my son?
Brandy: Okay, that’s what I thought. I just want to make sure I was right since they all drive now, I don’t actually know who’s in what class or what’s going on.
Amanda: We can’t wave in the parking lot anymore.
Brandy: I know. It’s very sad.
Amanda: It is.
Brandy: So that, Pam, covers it’s a once-a-week class, but they’re given an extensive reading list, so it covers Bible, philosophy, literature, and history, I think.
Pam: Okay, and so what about the rest of your kids? So you’re not doing Foundations and Essentials any more, so what are you doing at home with them? Does it look more classical or does it look more unschool-y, or is it somewhat of a combination?
Amanda: Let’s see. My seventh grader this year is doing the Good and the Beautiful English, which it’s kind of a review of some things that he had already done in Essentials, but he’s really been enjoying that. I am really good at making a grand classical plan in the summertime and then realizing that I’m still trying to do laundry and nurse a toddler. And I got a little bit more realistic this year, also knowing that my oldest was going to be out of the house a lot and I was I going to be devoting a lot of time and energy to the college application process because we didn’t get on it super early. So, my first grader and my seventh grader using the Good and the Beautiful for English and phonics and then I’m using Beautiful Feet for history and we’re finishing Story of the World IV, and Math Mammoth for math. I’ve always loved Math Mammoth.
Pam: No, a lot of schooling, but more structured.
Amanda: It is. It is more structure. They still have a lot of time to do other things.
Brandy: My question for you, because I’ve seen you come and blossom into, a sort, of classical Charlotte Mason approach that you’re comfortable with, and your kids all seem to be thriving, what I’m wondering, either what you kept from unschooling or what you think that unschooling contributes, in a good sense, to this idea of the great conversation, because I know when I was reading John Holt I was like, ‘Oh this is important,’—some of the things he’s saying are important and you can debate how that could even possibly be pulled off in our modern world or whatever, but I mean at the same time, I feel like principle-wise he was saying some important things. I’m just wondering for you, what did you keep or what do you think other classical, more Charlotte Mason people, would benefit from hearing? What are the principles you’ve kept?
Amanda: I think that, first off, the child as a person, and as a child of God, their innate value as a person and that we need to respect that; we’re not trying to shape them, we’re trying to nourish them to grow up into whatever plan God has laid out, and whatever idea He has of them. So, from an unschooling perspective, you know, not trying to crush the child spirit and from Charlotte Mason perspective, the first principle. But you are also going to want to nourish that child with good things, with the true and the good and the beautiful, not whatever is on Cartoon Network. And, we watched our fair share of cartoons. That particular principle carried through all the way and just respecting how we approach when we’re requiring. I didn’t talk I think about the leadership education, Thomas Jefferson education. So that was another thing that carried through the idea of the stages of development of the stages of learning of what the focus should be when they’re little and giving them a moral foundation, teaching them good from bad, right from wrong, what to love, and then spreading that feast in elementary school and introducing them to all amazing things there are to learn about creation. And how numbers work in math, and how science connects to that, how you can see the principles of mathematics all over the world. And then, to when they are really at that maturation point of being ready, not just to take in, but to begin to produce and to respond to what they are seeing and hearing and learning and what they see in the world. To me that just all fit together. It didn’t necessarily even look like different things. Am I answering your question?
Brandy: Yeah, you are. I like this idea that you’re finding truth wherever you are. Seems to be your approach and I really like that. In fact, Sertillanges would say (I’m going to write a blog post on this soon—maybe it’ll be out by the time this is out) but he would say that that’s the true sign of a great reader, really. So, congratulations you passed his test. [Laughter]
Amanda: Well, that is what I’ve always done—is I’ve just looked for those things.
Brandy: So, what did classical education bring to the table for you that you think was missing philosophically in unschooling? If anything?
Amanda: Well, the true, the good, and the beautiful.
Amanda: Essentially, just that there are things that are worth learning. That poetry isn’t just something you do to put with your drawing in third grade; that there’s meaning in everything that we learn and that we need to look for those things that are meaningful. I think there’s more contrasts with traditional schooling than even with unschooling, because the idea that you’re checking off boxes and that this subject Is over here and this subject is over here, that’s really what never made sense to me. So to me, classical didn’t really seem that much of a stretch from where I was coming from because the emphasis wasn’t on checking boxes. It was just that you’re not going to limit yourself to what’s right in front of you, that you’re going to look to the past and you’re going to look at what has held true for a long period of time and what has worked across cultures and millennia as far as how we learn and what is important and valuable to learn. So I think it was more the contrast just with your traditional homeschooling than even with unschooling because to me unschooling was really ultimately about respecting the child as a person. But now, of course, authority is the other big issue, because as a parent where does our authority come from and how do we use our authority wisely? So I think that that was lacking in the early years in the radical unschooling end of things and I think that that is really important—the child doesn’t know what’s important to learn and the child doesn’t want to feel responsible for everything and I think we can give too much responsibility to the child. So, I think that was probably the greater transition in my thoughts was more about responsibility of the parent versus the child, and the place of authority even then in how you school and what you’re learning. That was a much greater thing and just that the child needs that sense of security, they need to know that you’re trustworthy and trust is big in unschooling for sure. You want to have the trust of the child. That doesn’t mean you just let the child do anything; there still has to be guidance. So it’s just that balance between those things of not squelching them because it’s important that they do their math, but to see the joy in math, to see how numbers are fascinating, and how it can be applied in real life, and why is it important, and talking about those things instead of just setting it in front of them. So, you know more about attitude and approach. To me, that that was sort of the guiding idea.
Brandy: I love that. And that’s interesting because it kind of bears out what I’ve seen in my Charlotte Mason Boot Camp when I have unschoolers join. It’s not even a judgment I’m making, it’s what they tell me—is that they feel like they’re super strong on the first principle, which is children are born persons, but that authority is what falls apart for them and they aren’t comfortable or don’t know how exactly to exercise their authority in a healthy way.
Amanda: It’s something you have to learn if that doesn’t come naturally, and I think that’s where personality comes in, where you’re coming from one direction or the other, and everybody has to learn that balance.
Brandy: For sure. Well, any more questions, Pam?
Pam: I don’t think so. This was a great conversation.
Brandy, I know, it was interesting, Amanda. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing your story with us. I don’t think we’ve ever done an episode quite like this before but every time I talk to you, I’m like, I really need to get this whole story. Let’s do it publicly!
Amanda: I hope I didn’t leave out anything important.
Brandy: I think we hit the important stuff. Well, thank you.
Amanda: Thank you for having me, Pam. It was so lovely to meet you.
Pam: It was nice to meet you, too.
Amanda: Thank you Brandy. It’s always a joy.
Brandy: Thank you.
That’s it for today. Thank you so much for listening and being a part of the sisterhood of the podcast. Don’t forget you can register for the Literary Life Conference with Angelina and Cindy by visiting AngelinaStanford.com. Next episode, Mystie and I will be chatting with Eric Hall. We had rave reviews when Eric appeared in episode 29 called, “I’m Not the Holy Spirit.” You all wanted to hear more from him and so he’ll be back talking philosophy shop with us. Not only that, eh’s going to be leading this year’s Scholé Sisters Spring Training Event which we’ll have him tell you all about. Until then, we want to remind you once again, that homeschooling is a marathon you needn’t run alone, so open up your eyes and look around you, find your sisters.