Friday, August 13, 2010

milking from the POV of a stranger and the story of Anastasia

We entertained unexpected guests last week, unexpected to me at least. Let us just say that the newness of their eyes looking upon our doings gave me the gift of some fresh perspective.

We'd been sitting in the kitchen for some time, sharing some food and tea. The boys were in the living room immersed in their common interest and the rest of us were just trying to pass the time politely if a little stiffly. But finally it came time to milk. There is no getting past that.

"Ok, let's milk," I said to the gang. "You all come on and watch," I encouraged her and her daughter. And then I saw with what fluency we did so. Four of us go milking together, and each of us has a job, and each of us knows what the other jobs are and how to fill in if need be. We check what is going on with each other in undetectable ways, silently, with looks or code words or body language. I go in the field to get the cows and the other people are posted where they will be needed. Then everything moves over to the milking stand. And then we milk.

The most interesting thing about milking is the conversations we can have. Mostly it is silence; everyone sort of in his or her own thoughts, but we'll also talk about stuff. I couldn't really tell you what, but I do know it is this sort of time when things really get shared, when the temperature gets taken, when you have some real idea of what is really going on inside others. Real intimacy. It is quantity time plus having constructive endeavors wherein we rely upon each other.

And then, rather suddenly, milking is over and one child takes the milk and the rest of us fall into places for putting the animals up for the night, and the milk disappears into the house and the animals are put up and given hay and water, and that flows into getting the goats and feeding the horse, and then the milking stuff gets washed.

My point is, I guess, that my kids know how to do all this stuff, and that we also know how to work together to get it done, and that such knowledge is an unusual, even a remarkable thing. And yet even this visitor, who watched us do this, quizzed us about the whole homeschooling thing.

It isn't that I mind. The quizzings don't, by and large, come from a place of suspicion but of honest curiosity. And honest concern too when people find out we don't do formal music or algebra or anything else. What about holes? The conventionally schooling don't always know to put it in so few words, but almost always one of their concerns (once you get past socialization) is what if they (our kids) don't learn all the stuff everyone else does.

Of course, my first external, verbalized response to that is that everyone else doesn't learn it either! I mean, really, how many people do you know who don't know who Odysseus is, or where Japan is, or how to solve a quadratic equation? I was surprised at how many people I knew who didn't know these things, people who have been to college or sent kids to college.

My first internal, never verbalized, response is, 'Did you notice that your kid doesn't know how to milk a cow? Now that's a hole?' But I don't say that, of course. I'm comfortable that our kids could raise a garden, care for animals, manage to get food from both those things, build a passable shelter, and stay warm in the winter without much infrastructure, if it came to that. May it never come to that.

But this time, this time when asked about holes, I had a story to tell. The kids recently saw a nondescript animated version of the story of Anastasia. It wasn't well done in any sense of the word. And yet.

And yet it started a discussion that, yes, indeed, there had been a real Anastasia, and when I was a child myself, there were still old women in the world claiming to have been her. It led to discussions of Russian history, intermarriage in the Courts, and hemophilia. And so many other things (how did people live, what views did they have of their world, why was Rasputin loved . . . and hated?).

One of the things that occurs to me when I think about this is how our children gain perspective with facts. What I remember most about school, all school, was regurgitating facts for tests without having any real perspective about it or what it all meant. And I had very involved parents. But I had, basically, no perspective and I rather hope that my kids do.

And since perspective is the place where you look from, I'm thinking the place of milking and gardening provides a really useful view.


Anonymous said...


Alecto said...

I want to be there in the milking shed.

CG said...

Thank you both. I wondered if this piece had in any way "come together" which is how I usually feel when writing about either unschooling or the kids. And then too, I like to protect the kids, not exploit them. So mostly I don't write about either one of those things a lot.

clairesgarden said...

'formal' education creates more holes than it fills.

Wendy said...

I think this is an amazing testament to how unschooling really works.

When I've been asked this or similar questions, my response has been "What is it you think they need to know that they don't know?"