‘Unless your children go to school they will be NOTHING’… said The Wood man.

wood

After the wood man had dropped the wood, when I was paying him, he quizzed me about our kids schooling. As they all skipped around the van he was curious as to why they were not in school. After I told him what we do, he went on to do mental Kung Fu on my psyche. If his words were a gun, he first shot my knee, then went on to my arm, he did not let his gun drop and I stood there and I took it.

He asked me if I was a qualified teacher and if not what on earth do I know. His final shot was to the heart and it went like this… ‘I am sorry but unless your children go to school they will be nothing, nothing, sorry to tell you that but it is true’. And he left.

I do not blame the wood man. I blame myself. At what point did I let him in? At what point did I blurt out our lives to him. Why did I do it? Why didn’t I say, here is your money Mr Wood man and there is the exit. Don’t bang your van in to the gate as you leave…

It is a conversation that will follow us everywhere. There are many Mr Woodmen around. I get it. What we are doing is not normal, it is the road less travelled and who am I to think that I can explain our lives and philosophies on education in 5 minutes, when it has taken me years to understand why we are doing this.

So I thank you Mr Woodman. For reminding me to know when to close the conversation, to know when to not get sucked in to another person’s fear for what we are doing with regards to our children’s education. I thank you for trashing me in an instant and for the learning you gave me as we carry on stepping out in to the road less travelled and we watch our children blossom. I thank you for teaching me that it is enough that we know what we are doing and it is fine even when others don’t.

Mr Wood man. I love you.

About the Author

Lehla is an illustrator and an author of books, she has written for The Guardian. She trained as an actress at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She wrote The South African Illustrated Cookbook, The Lovely Book for Wonderful Women and she illustrated a kid’s book by M.J. Amani called ‘Excuse Me, I’m Trying to Read’ and also ‘I am Me, You, Us and We’ by Caroline Trowbridge. Above all she is a mother to three fast growing kids, she juggles her time between them and working on new books and projects. She has recently co authored with Anthony ‘Jump’, Fall, Fly – from schooling, to homeschooling, to unschooling’ Her art work can be seen at http://lehlaeldridge.wix.com/lehla-

26 Enlightened Replies

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  1. VAMama says:

    We’ve been doing this for 25 years, and it’s really difficult to just stand there with the words falling all over us. Sometimes I just want to say, “So, I guess you have firsthand experience of that?” but I don’t. We just smile and say, “It worked for Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein. Thanks so much for your concern, but we’ll be fine. And we’ll be looking for another source for wood.”

  2. Hi VAmama, Yes that is great. You are right, I had to say it in Italian and my brain couldn’t catch up quick enough with my mouth, in fact my brain went in to a kind of calm shock. So I did stand there and take it. But I do know it is not about me. And yes, Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein and hooray that you have been doing this for 25 years!!

  3. Luke Bakker says:

    There are too many Woodmen around, but unfortunately they don’t know any better.

  4. DarcelDarcel says:

    I tell people ‘we homeschool!’ with a big smile. That usually stops them from saying anything negative to me. Next time someone starts to verbally vomit on you, smile really big, say “that’s interesting” and walk off.
    They will be left standing there shocked!

  5. Luke Bakker says:

    Another thing to remember is that you are doing the RIGHT thing and that the ‘conflict’ or ‘opposition’ you have I like to think of as a training to make you a better debater.

  6. Yes Darcel. Thanks for that, a big smile, Yes. I am totally confident in what we are doing so it is fine. It was the trashing bit that was not nice. But I also get it. It is fear and judgement speaking, knowing when to close the door on a conversation is the thing I am learning. ‘That’s intersting’ I like that.

  7. Yes Luke. And knowing when to debate and when not to debate and actually I also question whether debating is worth it in the long run, if you know deep in your heart what you are doing then there is nothing to debate. For me am learning how to politely close the door on a conversation. So yes the wood man is making me better. Oh thank you Wood man!

  8. I find that sometimes your positive action (such as home ed) is taken as a negative comment by some people (on their lives) even when you haven’t said a word. People seem to jump to a defence of school education even if you haven’t attacked it. Poor wood man, he was clearly threatened by your choice! x

  9. victoria delgado-scott says:

    The woodman is fearful of the unknown. I am sorry to tell you this but he will amount to nothing. We unschoolers embrace the unknown…that is the difference. He is right we could amount to nothing, on the other hand we might amount to something.Nobody knows. Either way we will be sure to have fun on the journey 🙂

  10. Nobody knows and what does it really mean to amount to something I wonder… ‘Fun on the way’ yes, that is lovely!

  11. He was Lisa and I understand that.

  12. Hi Lehla,
    That’s a very interesting discussion. I think the woodman’s reaction says a lot about him and his mental world but nothing at all about you – because actually he doesn’t know anything about you. His reaction illustrates how a human being can encase themselves in armour of dogma and fear. When a person’s mind gets very narrow then it is all the more threatening to come across someone who offers the possibility of freedom. Maybe that’s why he was so dismissive and rude. Maybe deep down he was feeling envy because he closed down the possibility of freedom in his own life long ago … but it is still calling him
    Simon x

  13. Yes, I am sure it was fear talking, offering up a different perspective on life obviously really threw him. x

  14. Ros Barber says:

    Hi Lehla, I met a friend of yours on Sunday, told him we home-schooled our daughter, and he pointed me this way. In fact, she is the third of our homeschooling experiments, and though we have no idea of her particular outcome, two of her older brothers, now in their twenties, are the method by which I shut down any potential Woodmen in my own life. Though when we were still in the thick of it, we met opposition like your Woodman pretty often.

    One home-educated son is a chef in Oblix, at the top of the Shard, only 20, but with three trainees under him already, because all he ever wanted to do was cook, so cook he did, all day long, and watched cooking programmes, and collected recipes, and by 16, going for a pot-washer job at a local restaurant, he so impressed the owner with his interest in cooking that the owner *invented* an chef’s apprenticeship for him on the spot. Not a GCSE to his name, but within four years he has the world (quite literally) at his feet.

    A second home-educated son is about to start a BA in Costume Design (for theatre, film, TV). He’s enormously talented, mature beyond his years, and loving what he does. His holiday job last Christmas was backstage at the Brighton Centre, as a dresser for Tommy Steele’s ‘Scrooge’. He got a Starred Distinction on the first year of his BTEC in Production Arts, he’s confident and funny, and his tutors love him. Again, no GCSEs. But he’s definitely going to be ‘something’.

    So when I meet Woodmen I tell them straight away, I took my boys out of school at 11 and 13 and they’re doing very well, thank you for your interest. They’re doing fascinating, useful, creative things that make them happy. And though there’s nothing wrong with this, if this is your choice, they’re not delivering wood.

  15. Hi Ros,

    Your words are very inspiring and very heart warming. It sounds like your children are having a great time in life and that is for me the most important thing, that they follow their dreams, desires and passions. I congratulate you for holding strong in the face of the woodmen. Your message makes me feel very excited and inspired, thank you for sharing your story with us. I wonder who you met? Who did you meet? Am very glad that who ever it was pointed you our way!

  16. Ros Barber says:

    Hi Lehla,

    I met Greg Thompson. We had lunch together.

    Ah, you spotted it, inspiring is my business! Be inspired indeed, and hold strong in the face of Woodmen, who are only frightened. Your children will amaze you, and be all the happier for finding their own interests, in their own way, in their own time.

  17. Yes Ros, all you words are true, they do amaze me and I will hold strong!

  18. Jessica Civiero says:

    Hi Lehla,

    It’s funny that I looked at Twitter tonight, it’s been a while so though I’ve been following you for a bit this was the first time I saw a tweet. I think I started following you because we spend a lot of time in Italy (evicted by the L’Aquila earthquake in 2009) and home ed is so unusual there. All Italians I’ve talked to about home ed, never mind unschooling, think that I’m mad. Our daughter is currently at a Steiner kindergarten, she’s nearly five, so we’re not getting into arguments any more but I don’t need to. In my case the woodman is alive and well and living rent free in my own head. We have had periods when LR didn’t go to kindergarten and our dearest chums are all home edders, but still the woodman just won’t shut up. Though I try to believe that success can take many forms, I find I still want my daughter to have the more commonly recognised kind. I’ve been very thoroughly conditioned. I found Ros’s comment very inspiring and I’m not sure it was for the right reasons. Though maybe it’s not so bad to want your kids to have that kind of recognition. (Amazing though, Ros, really wonderful!) You see, I cannot decide what I think. And I think about all this A LOT.

    Anyway, I could waffle on for hours (and frequently do) and really get into all the reasons why we should or shouldn’t follow your path, but my woodman will always have the last word. Having said that, it is inspiring that someone can unschool in Italy and I had to just write to say that I admire you all immensely. And I’m terribly envious. 🙂

  19. Hi Jessica,

    Thanks so much for your comments, really nice to hear from you and that you are or were, not sure about this one, in Italy? It is interesting what you say about Italy and I guess my thoughts are that for me, the hardest country to conquer (unless of course it is illegal like in Germany) is the country that resides in my head. So whether you are in Italy or a small town in the UK or London or where ever, it is the woodman of the mind can be the most challenging. For me the more I see our kids blossom the more that woodman is quiet and often time not even there as I watch the kids blossom and as people they are happy. For me the story from Ros is inpsiring and her kids sound happy. I believe happiness is the main thing as once they are relaxed and happy they just learn what they need to learn, it is as if the world opens up. Thanks for your kind comments, and if you are in Italy, would be great to meet you! All the best Lehla

  20. Jessica Civiero says:

    Hi Lehla,
    I’ve been waiting for the right moment, when no-one expects anything of me and when my brain is still functioning. I’m not certain this is it as it’s late and I’m definitely a morning person, but I feel bad that I didn’t respond earlier.
    There are many reasons why I often think of why I’d like to take my daughter out of school and one was put in sharp relief this week. Her best ‘friend’ and she had a fall out. This isn’t unusual, but the friend uses classic bullying techniques (ignoring, you’re not my friend, I’m not going to invite you to my party etc.) and we worry. This is probably us projecting our own issues (I was bullied as a child), but the worry is still there. They are likely to be at school together until they are 18. She might wind up damaged by it like me. So often it’s the blossoming you talk about that sounds so attractive to me. Nothing could sound more attractive than blossoming. What more can you ask for? Ros’s kids do sound amazing. I wish I had enough faith in myself to believe that hanging out with me could help my daughter be that amazing, but I don’t. If we (me and him) were both around all the time, that might be different. We have very different talents and we might have quite a few bases covered, but on my own… Not sure. Also I would love to be spending more time with my daughter. I’m an older mother (a much older mother!) and I want to get as much as I can of this amazing person. But I’m a grumpy old cow sometimes and I’m not easy to be around. Actually she can be pretty grumpy too and when it’s both of us it’s not pretty! My husband can out-grump both of us. That’s quite something to see. Maybe all this is normal. I have an idea that other people are much better at it. A kind of picture book perfect home ed family life where everyone is reading, writing poetry, baking, building dens, walking in the hills etc. etc. Not shouting and stomping out of the room.
    There are so many reasons for and against that sometimes I feel totally bewildered. I’m sure that if she wasn’t at school I’d be constantly turning that decision over in my mind. I really could waffle on for hours and use up loads of space on your blog! I’m in a particularly waffly frame of mind tonight, I think. Sorry!
    Are you in Umbria? I’m sure I read that somewhere. Some of Umbria is not far from us. Our visits to Italy are pretty short these days. We used to spend about three months in the summer, but now what with work… Maybe we will once our house is finished and we can move back in. It would really be great to meet. In the meantime, I’m going to try to extract as much inspiration and courage from your blog as I can. 🙂
    Jessica

  21. Hi Jessica,

    It is lovely that you get inspiration and courage from the blog! That is wonderful. I think it is normal to be grumpy and we are by no means constantly hopping around reading poetry and baking cakes, that made me laugh! As I think that like anything it is so easy to imagine that there should be a ‘way to be’ if you are a home schooling, or unschooling family, and it doesn’t exist! We are all just normal trying our best I think. And believe me there are days when we all go pear shaped. And then I wonder how do ther families do it…
    Yes, we are in Umbria!
    Good luck with what ever you decide.
    Lehla

  22. The wood man came back this morning…he swiftly delivered the wood and left. All is good.

  23. Thank you for this post. I’m having a hard time dealing with, not the woodman in my mind but the approval seeker, people pleaser that wants support for my impending decision. Each post read here shows me exactly why i want to take back control of my son’s education from the US public school system. I’m a black woman, Co parenting with someone who is against the idea. Fortunately, i am the sole legal custodian and i don’t need his agreement to make this decision but i don’t want am avoidable conflict. I’m torn. I feel if I involve him in the building of the curriculum, he will undermine my efforts but i feel wrong leaving him out. Do you have any advice for when the parents don’t agree and the only thing holding one back is the desire to be in agreement?

  24. Thank you for writing, I have looked at your comment and I am always wary of giving advice as I always think that the person asking always has the answers within themselves, it is just a question of getting there, so you probably have all the answers with in you already. I can speak from my perspective, initially I wasn’t sure that I could do this and actually the idea for me, of unschooling and homeschooling the kids and of doing something that seemed so radical was much worse than actually just doing it! Once we came out of the system and started this process it all became pretty clear and fun and after a while easy and straight forward. And I do think that also you can try it and see how it works for you all, I would imagine you will easily see if it will be a fit for you and your son and also your partner. I also over the years have done alot of reading and there is wonderful positive research out there so maybe it is good for you to look at what is actually out there around homeschooling. We don’t use a curriculum, we follow them and what they want to do and support as best we can their passions. But good luck with it, I am glad some of these posts inspire you!!

    My husband is chipping in, he says, he really does understand the importance of having supportive relationships around you when you start making a transition from the widely accepted traditional system to either homeschooling or unschooling, usually resistance in a partner comes from a place of anxiety and usually once the anxiety is understood a working resolution can be found. What can seem very obvious to one parent can seem highly scary to another. If you are pretty sure that you want to make this transition it can be really worth while taking your time and investing in getting the right relationships around you. If you are unable to get your partner to support your plans you might want to consider what the impact of what this is going to be on you and your child, usually with a careful coaching approach these kinds of tensions can actually be resolved quite easily. I am going write a blog excerpt from our book about this over the next few days, so please look out for it and I hope it helps!

  25. Thanks for your response Lehla! I’m just going to have to jump in and make my case, you are absolutely right! I’ll do my best to communicate my plans so anxiety can be managed, that sounds like exactly what i need to make this work.

  26. Great!! Good luck with it all!

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