July 7, 2008

I know the director of the Guardian Ad Litem program for our county. She is a fine smart dedicated woman. And at a party this weekend she asked me pointed questions about homeschool. And I am anxious to answer her every question as best I can. I want her to ask and I want her to find solid answers. I ache to offer a confident portrait of success.

At the same time, I've been wrestling with self doubt. I encounter my flaws so often, who can disagree that my children might benefit from less time with me? I can't. But Ah Hah! Parenting and unschooling have, neither one, ever been about dependence in my mind. Quite the opposite. They are all about encouraging independence, while nurturing spark and fire and confidence.

I am so very clear about elementary education. My devotion to the principals of home education for very small people are rock solid and unwavering. I have deep clarity and confidence. But what about when these people get older? What about high school? Should I send my kids off when they get older? I start to fear and waffle. I feel unsteady as the stakes appear to get higher. We are talking about people who will be expected to perform. We are talking about people who will soon look like adults. We are not talking about babies. Who am I to know? I'm having a crisis.

Who am I to know? I'll tell you exactly, I am no one, same as any parent. A sociologist asked me, "do you fear the judgement of school officials (entrance examiners of any stripe)" and I was shocked to hear my answer. Hell no, I do not. I fear my children's assessment of their home life and their early education. If they say, "Mom you were wrong." That will hurt a bit, I'm sure. Who wants to imagine themselves trotting out that tired old sniveling line, "I did the best I could and you children have no idea how it really was."

Actually children tend to know exactly how it is and how it was and how it might be. The implications of which, are partly why it isn't my place to chose my children's future, wish as I might that I could. I know plenty of adults who could benefit from my advice... Oh that I could control the choices of some! But my children aren't really on that list. I am trying to till their feet into a rich loamy expanse of possibility and freedom. It is my job to provide atmosphere, example, and healthy choices. Beyond that, their education and their future is largely up to them. Scary huh? If that statement frightens you, you are likely a well trained graduate of our current educational system. Buck up and consider:

"My own experience had revealed to me what many other teachers must learn along the way, too, yet keep to themselves for fear of reprisal: if we wanted to we could easily and inexpensively jettison the old, stupid structures and help kids take an education rather than merely receive a schooling. We could encourage the best qualities of youthfulness-curiosity, adventure, resilience, the capacity for surprising insight simply by being more flexible about time, texts, and tests, by introducing kids to truly competent adults, and by giving each student what autonomy he or she needs in order to take a risk every now and then.

But we don't do that. And the more I asked why not, and persisted in thinking about the "problem" of schooling as an engineer might, the more I missed the point: What if there is no "problem" with our schools? What if they are the way they are, so expensively flying in the face of common sense and long experience in how children learn things, not because they are doing something wrong but because they are doing something right? Is it possible that George W. Bush accidentally spoke the truth when he said we would "leave no child behind"? Could it be that our schools are designed to make sure not one of them ever really grows up...

Now for the good news. Once you understand the logic behind modern schooling, its tricks and traps are fairly easy to avoid. School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently. Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own to develop an inner life so that they'll never be bored. Urge them to take on the serious material, the grown-up material, in history, literature, philosophy, music, art, economics, theology - all the stuff schoolteachers know well enough to avoid. Challenge your kids with plenty of solitude so that they can learn to enjoy their own company, to conduct inner dialogues. Well-schooled people are conditioned to dread being alone, and they seek constant companionship through the TV, the computer, the cell phone, and through shallow friendships quickly acquired and quickly abandoned. Your children should have a more meaningful life, and they can.

First, though, we must wake up to what our schools really are: laboratories of experimentation on young minds, drill centers for the habits and attitudes that corporate society demands. Mandatory education serves children only incidentally; its real purpose is to turn them into servants. Don't let your own have their childhoods extended, not even for a day. If David Farragut could take command of a captured British warship as a pre-teen, if Thomas Edison could publish a broadsheet at the age of twelve, if Ben Franklin could apprentice himself to a printer at the same age (then put himself through a course of study that would choke a Yale senior today), there's no telling what your own kids could do. After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I've concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress our genius only because we haven't yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves."

God Bless John Taylor Gatto!


Mommylion said...

Holding aloft lighter, rock ballad style...
Your words sing true.

Maria said...

Ah, K...I'm finally catching up on your blog..my Internet connection is still down and out at home, but I missed y ou! What a breath of fresh air..you're words on this post were just what I needed to hear today!

rae said...

"a rich loamy expanse of possibility and freedom"......

I love that! Thanks for this post, especially today. I'm in the classical curriculum/unschooling muck - and trying really hard not to be. Now if someone could just REALLY give me a roadmap for classical unschooling, I think I might just be all set.

Annie said...

Well said!

Our kids don't need us to be perfect and actually our imperfections help round them out into better individuals. They aren't going to be perfect either. It's what we do with our flaws that's important. They shouldn't rule our lives and our children should see that we take responsibility for them and work to do better without feeling ashamed!

You're wonderfully imperfect, Katherine! Muah!