Curiosity has always been one of my main traits, so, naturally, when I was little I always asked a lot of questions. I still do, but of course now that I'm an adult I know when it's best to keep my mouth shut. Instead, I research and read a lot. When I do ask, I still do it mainly for one reason: because I'm genuinely interested in the information I'm asking for. Never to find out whether the other person knows something that I already know. I wouldn't like it if people were constantly checking on what I know and don't know. I think it's condescending, so I don't do it.
And because children are people too, I don't do it to them either. In other words, I don't test them. So, in general, I don't know how much they are learning every day, even though I have no doubt whatsoever that they are constantly learning. They let me know without me asking. Only yesterday Alex was telling me about the sleeping habits of wolves. 'Where did you get that from? How do you know?' This is the sort of question that I've been posing a lot in the last couple of years. It amazes me that they are able to gather so much information when they can't even read, or so they say. 'That's because we've seen them at the zoo,' Dave chipped in.
A few days ago we were reading a new book, which was meant to be educational but turned out to be pretty crap, in my opinion. It was about a boy who didn't want to go to school and his mum said, 'If you don't pay attention, you won't learn anything.' The boy said he didn't care and, just as his mother had predicted, he didn't learn anything. He was not interested in his classmates and his mum said, 'If you don't make friends, nobody will love you or care about you.' And that's what happened. He didn't want to play sports twice a week like the rest of his classmates and his mum said, 'If you don't do exercise, you will get fat and ill and all the other kids will laugh at you.' He said he didn't care and that's exactly what happened.
'I don't like this book,' Dave interrupted. 'You don't have to push anyone to learn. Look at us, we play all day, but are still learning.'
'That's right!' I exclaimed, amazed. He'd probably heard me say that to someone else, but I couldn't remember.
'We learn slowly,' contributed Alex.
'We can't learn everything at once!' Dave went on.
I was gobsmacked. This is how I find out what all of us know: they are sponges, they take it all in, especially when it's not shoved into them. They are even aware of their own cognitive process! And there is no need to check if it's in those precious little brains. It's a lot more fun, pressure-free and illuminating when the feedback comes out spontaneously, like this.
That book was horrible but I was curious to find out what the moral of it was. This is what happened: the boy grew up to be a fat, friendless and jobless bastard. Nevertheless, a good-hearted and very beautiful girl fell in love with him. He rejected her and his parents told him, 'If you don't marry this girl, you will always be alone. Nobody will love you. And you won't have any children, so you will miss out on one of the most wonderful things life has to offer. And when you're old nobody will take care of you.' And so the man never experienced what it is to raise children and enjoy life with them, and he remained alone and nobody took care of him. He was put in a nursing home, but he was nasty to the other inmates, so he was thrown out and died on the street.
The message is clear: if you want people to love you, you must do as you're told. It is pretty shocking that books like this keep coming out, but they give us an opportunity to discuss and try to understand other ways of parenting and why different people do it differently.
With regard to testing, I see other parents do it to their kids all the time, and of course it's what's done at schools as well, to make sure they're all keeping up. For example, a friend of mine is constantly asking her son to read the signs on the streets to check if he knows his letters. I must admit that on these occasions I'm tempted to ask Dave whether he knows what the signs read. But I refrain myself because I don't want to put him on the spot, and especially not in front of his friends. Besides, I know what the sign reads. What I do is read them out loud myself, for example, the 'push' and 'pull' ones on doors. Dave and Alex look at the signs, hear what I'm saying and process the information, much in the same way as they do when I read books to them.
Other family members and friends who want to 'help' with Dave and Alex's 'schooling', as they keep on calling it, totally shocked by my unschooling approach, have tried testing their knowledge.
'What is two plus two?' asks the well-meaning adult. Dave or Alex give him a puzzled look. They're thinking, 'You're an adult and you still don't know what two plus two is?' But they say nothing, maybe it's a trick question. The adult thinks, 'Gee, they don't even know what two plus two is... My God, this mum, what the hell is she doing!' I try not to chuckle. Sometimes I pretend I can't hear, or leave the place so I can't really hear. Other times, after a long silence, I say, 'Four.' The adult looks at me as if to say, 'I knew that!' I shrug my shoulders and give him an innocent why-did-you-ask-then-I-thought-you-didn't-know look.
I have observed that Dave and Alex never answer this sort of questions. They are puzzled by them. And if they do, they play stupid. They laugh and say 'Five!' They really think it must be a game in which roles are reversed and the adult is pretending not to know the math question as if he were the kid.
I realise that due to this lack of exposure to testing, if they were put in the school system right now they would fail miserably. Some people will argue that life is full of tests and they will have to get tested at some point. Well, yes, they will have to for their driver's licence as there's no other way around it. Or if they decide to go to high school (I hope not) or university. But for now, there is no need to be tested for them to function perfectly well in society. I like it this way, without the pressure, and I'm sure it's a lot healthier for their intellectual and emotional development.