Home Education Magazine
November-December 1997 - Columns
Talk About Learning - Earl Gary Stevens
Time for a New Journey
This is my final "Talk About Learning" column. I have enjoyed your company so much. When friends part they may say, "See you later," instead of "Goodbye," and then after a hug and a smile go about their business pretty sure they'll bump into each other again sometime soon. I've been happy here for many years, but it has come time for me to go about my business. I will hope to bump into you again sometime soon.
I'm also going to be less of a volunteer and more of a visitor in the Southern Maine Home Education Support Network which Eileen Yoder and I founded so many years ago. Many of you know about our activities. I have written about our Family Baseball games, contradances, craft fairs, variety shows, evening discussions and more. Our group is a harmonious free market of ideas and energy which requires neither consensus nor authority to find expression, and this concept of group dynamics has sparked lots of mail from readers.
Over the years my column and my thinking about home education and family life have been inspired by the families in our support group and by many conversations with Eileen, whose cheerful wisdom has touched all of us. I'm thankful to her family and to many other SMHESN families for what I have experienced and learned, and to Mark and Helen for inviting me to share it with you in the pages of Home Education Magazine.
I am retiring from my column and from support group responsibilities because I have been engaged in both for such a long time, and now I feel a need to refresh my spirit and to seek new horizons. When my son Jamie was little and I was first reading John Holt I didn't have an inkling that I would become a perennial volunteer and spend more than a decade speaking and writing about my experiences. It has been a long journey, and along the way I have learned so much from others, especially from children, especially from my own child.
I began as a former high school teacher with the impression that home education was about me being the teacher and my child being the student. But I soon learned that those roles didn't apply to us. The world abounds in knowledge, and all one need do is reach for it and feast along the way, without fuss or anxiety. For me the adventure turned out to be my relationship with my child and my discovery that the truly important qualities for leading the good life could not be taught, only respected and nurtured.
As I watch Jamie and the other older kids in our support group grow into adulthood they seem free of the anxiety and turmoil and angst typical of their years. Just as younger kids in our group sometimes forget their own ages because age is rarely a limitation for them, likewise the age of 18 is not a crisis point for those who are already in charge of their own lives and are fully engaged in the world around them. I hope to always keep in touch with these delightful young men and women.
Meanwhile our support network continues to be renewed through the needs and energies of new participants. As usual this fall many families have arrived among us seeking information and support. They are so grateful for the old-timers who attend evening discussions to share stories about family life and to offer encouragement. Part of the reward for them and for me is in seeing that light come on when a mother says to herself, "I can do this." I'll always be available to help spark that light in anyone who looks to me for it.
In Maine we are sometimes referred to as "the unschooling group" because many of our most active volunteers practice an independent learning philosophy at one level or another. But our members engage in a wide range of approaches to home education. Some families among us follow the school model and use an academic curriculum; others plot a course somewhere in the middle. There is never any debate around this because we come together to work at things and to play and to enjoy each other, not to quibble about how we spend our time or what we believe in.
However, there is tremendous social pressure for people to conform to the practices of conventional schooling even while engaged in home education, so I think it is extremely important to help parents learn about alternatives. While the schooling approach may work for some families it is counterproductive, to say the least, for others, and parents should know that after escaping the school they may also leave the schooling behind as well. It is possible and desirable for children to grow up chasing knowledge instead of being chased by it, and I have worked happily for many years delivering that message.
Now I'm going to take time out to reflect and to do some thinking and writing about topics still unchosen. While I'm at it I may look to see if there are some stories and poems inside me too. In between fixing and painting around the house I'm going to reread some of those great books that I hurried through in my youth and see what I think about them now.
I'll miss you. Send a postcard when you can, and let me know how you're doing. I'll be back to say hello and chat when I'm in the neighborhood.
© 1997 Earl Gary Stevens
[Editors' Note: Earl has been writing this column almost as long as we've been publishing this magazine, and we'll sorely miss his thoughtful wisdom and warm humor. We wish him boundless good fishing and freedom from pesky deadlines.]
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