Thursday, May 13, 2010

The "Aha!" Moment

Yesterday I was kind of bored with the music on my iPod, so I decided to dust off some old CDs I burned when I was 17. One of those CDs contained a song that is inextricably linked to one of my favorite unschooling moments, and since I'm on a roll with history and big connections lately, I thought it would be fitting to share that story here.

When I was in my late teens, I happened to watch a documentary on TV about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Now, I should say that even though I'd been to school for about ten years, I had only the faintest idea who these people were. I think I'd heard of Eleanor on The Simpsons one time, and I knew who Teddy Roosevelt was because of teddy bears, but I'm fairly sure I had no idea who FDR was at all. I still really didn't care for history at this stage of my life, and the only reason I got interested in this show was because they mentioned straight away that FDR was paralyzed from polio*. I'd always been interested in disabilities and diseases, and I'd once had a math teacher who'd had polio as a girl, so if school can be thanked for any part of this story, that's it.

So I watched this show, and it was mostly not about Roosevelt's presidency, but about his personal life and his relationship with Eleanor. I was surprised at how engaged I was by this show - it was history, true, but it was about people's lives and vulnerabilities and relationships. That made it interesting for me. Being a young girl, I mostly came away from it feeling really angry at FDR for cheating on Eleanor and breaking her heart after he promised never to see his mistress again, and after she supported his presidency and supported him physically on top of that. I kinda just saw him as this big jerk in a wheelchair and had no real idea of why he was important.

But not long after I saw that show, I was listening to the radio and heard a country song I'd known all my life, called "Song of the South" (which has no connection to the infamous Disney movie of the same name). I'd always thought this song was stupid and complained loudly whenever it came on, because the chorus just keeps talking about sweet potato pie or something. But this time, I paid attention to the whole song, because this part jumped out at me:

Well somebody told us Wall Street fell
But we were so poor that we couldn't tell
Cotton was short and the weeds were tall
But Mr. Roosevelt gonna save us all

All of a sudden, I GOT it. Just hearing that one little verse made everything suddenly click for me - I literally felt like a lightbulb had come on in my mind. Suddenly I not only understood why Roosevelt mattered, but also what the Depression was *about*. I knew what a stock market crash was. I knew why my grandmother wouldn't let us throw out expired milk. That song and that documentary were the final pieces in a puzzle I'd been building all my life, from comments my grandparents made and song lyrics and things on TV (and, okay, maybe a thing or two from school as well).

I was SO EXCITED when those pieces fell into place. What I felt was no less than the kind of joy one gets from discovering a new favorite hobby or making a new friend. From then on, I adored that song. From then on, I loved hearing anything about FDR or the Depression. From then on, I paid close attention to song lyrics, especially ones that sounded like they might be about real life. This was one of the first times I could recall being excited about any kind of history before the 1960s (a more accessible time, thanks to sitcoms and rock music). That kind of "aha!" moment, when bits of information gathered from here and there finally snap together, is really what makes unschooling work, and it happens all the time. This was just one of many, many examples from my life. Learning this way is always exciting, because it involves a spark and a surprise - and no strain or struggle at all.

*It's now widely believed to be more likely that Roosevelt had Guillain-Barré, but at the time of this show, his disease was still accepted as polio.

No comments: