I read in the paper this week of the closing of a local private school that incorporated many of the practices that appeal to me about homeschooling. Classes were not determined/segregated according to age, but consisted of multi-age groups. The curriculum was interdisciplinary. Students worked at their own pace. In all these ways the educational approach reflected respect for the students’ personhood.
My life right now could be viewed as a decisive turn away from industrialized education and industrialized spirituality. Neither minds nor spirits can be “processed” en masse without a sense of violation and damage. Person-shaping is a relational process, not an industrial one. (I recall Wendell Berry’s novel Remembering, in which the narrator loses his hand to a threshing machine–a metaphor for the effect of inserting a machine between ourselves and the rest of the natural world. His hand is what connects him to others, to his work, to the earth–and it’s replaced by an artifical one.)
On New Year’s Sunday, my husband and I heard a sermon entitled “2007: the Year of ?” We were encouraged to fill in the blanks, and later we compared notes. For my husband it promised to be the year of change. After a brief check in with God I entitled mine the year of courage. We didn’t realize how fitting both titles were.
Here’s my state of mind at the beginning of the year:
But as my husband and I have started down a new path–in profession, in schooling for our kids, in the kind of church body we sought–it’s more this kind of a process:
Having brooded over church for the last few entries, I want to ruminate about homeschooling today. Here are some of the things that I’m liking:
1. Mental vigor. My 6-year-old is a zealously creative litttle person. But in public school kindergarten there was not really any room in the day for this. A little one-on-one attention is allowing her to work at her own pace (a pace which differs according to the subject area), and the sense of weariness and frustration that characterized her when she came home at the end of a long schoolday has faded almost completely away. This isn’t to say she loves every minute of our structured lessons. But there is a delight in learning that has been restored.
2. Imagination, not television. In kindergarten her teacher showed movies twice a day for a total of about 80-90 minutes a day. Not only were the movie choices questionable (Night at the Museum isn’t for 5-year-olds), but the ruling power of the image over the word, at a time when children are developing literacy attitudes and skills, was deadly. Both children (3 and 6) are now finding ways to amuse themselves and play together, rather than be passively entertained.
3. Real vs. artificial “socialization.” Public school is essential for socialization, we’re told. I’ve believed it myself, especially as a child of public school teachers. But public school prepares children for public school, nothing more. The skills required to relate to others in life are not acquired by being thrown together with a herd of other children exactly their age in a survival of the fittest environment. The minute they get off the bus, they’re back in the real situation of life: younger (or older) sublings, and much older parents. They have to negotiate all these relationships if they are to live meaningful lives. Now our daughter is spending the bulk of her time in the real-life situation of our multi-age family, as well as extra-curricular experiences with kids of different ages as well. And instead of survival of the fittest, caring for one another weighs in as the dominant value of the social world.
4. Character. Here the domination of media culture in my daughter’s public school experience comes into play again. We send our kids to school to learn academics, but the values education received was a real shock to us. I didn’t realize we were entrusting our daughter to Disney. It’s nice to have her back.
5. World view. Of course we now have the ability to study the whole vast range of a classical curriculum from our Christian perspective. This is not exactly sheltering her. The Bible is as terse and as honest a compendium of fallen humanity as you could ever find.
6. I get to learn too. This doesn’t only apply to the way I can now get a fuller sense of the sweep of history as we study ancient history together. It also means that I can no longer run away from my failings or weaknesses as a parent. She is not turned over to someone else’s care for the majority of her waking life any longer. I get to sense the reflex to quit or withdraw many times a week now, when retreat is not any longer an option. How do I deal with her when she’s angry or bored or lonely? How do I deal with her when she exposes my inadequacies?
This is good for me. The parts of me that are stunted are being forced to grow because I have to engage. This doesn’t very often feel like a blessing in experience, but it is one. In The Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison describes what I believe to be a universal need to be seen: “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me… When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination–indeed, anything and everything except me.”
When people get lost in systems and lose the ability to see individuals, this kind of blindness becomes the norm. But it gives rise to anger–which, it isn’t difficult to see, is on the rise in modern culture. Ellison continues, “It is sometimes advantageous to be unseen, although it is often rather wearing on the nerves. Then too, you’re constantly being bumped against… You often doubt if you really exist… It’s when you feel like this that, out of resentment, you begin to bump people back.”
I hope and believe that by refusing to disengage, by refusing to turn my kids over to the machine of public education, I’m giving them the gift of being truly seen. It’s a gift Jesus gave to people over and over again. Most of us make critical choices about who we become as young children. I hope and believe that the best attempts of a desperately imperfect but loving mother, plus the blessing sought daily from God, will help to empower the kinds of choices that build a strong foundation for humane, purposeful lives.