Home Education Magazine
January-February 2002 - Articles and Columns
Publisher's Notes - Helen Hegener
Hold the center
The house is uncommonly quiet. I miss my kids. I walk outside and sit on the porch step and three dogs run up hopefully, tails wagging, eyes asking if a walk through the falling snow is perhaps imminent. No? Okay. They settle for a scratch behind the ears. They miss the kids too.
Our youngest son, Michael, is off working with friends, earning money for this winter's snowboarding adventures. Michael is the rascal, the party dude, the one voted most likely to show up in a snowboarding commercial. He talks about the possibility of exploring new mountains this winter, travelling further afield in search of more challenging slopes. Oregon, Utah, maybe beyond. But he quickly adds that most of his snowboarding will still be done close to home, with his buddies, on the familiar terrain where he first learned to do impressive jumps and tricks.
Michael's older brother Jim, the electrician, has taken a job 250 miles south of here, and his wife Mary and their two little girls, Lilly and Jesse, went with him, leaving an empty house next door. At least once a day I find myself looking wistfully down the trail that winds around the cattail pond and past the huge cottonwood tree, anticipating two little smiling faces running over to Grandma's house...
Our other three kids are in Alaska: John, the oldest, also with a wife and two little girls, Nikki and Aly, and a baby due in June. Christopher, who just turned 21, is helping his brother build a log home this winter while enjoying snowboarding Alaska's steep terrains once again. And then there's Jody Ellen, our seeker of truths, our wayfaring wanderer who might be here one day, gone the next, calling to say hello from Seattle or Lahaina or Anchorage... wherever there's warm sunshine or good powder. She's seeing to it Chris actually gets out there on those Alaskan slopes...
The kids are all healthy and happy and getting on with their lives, as they should. I think about the things we did together, the time we spent when they were younger, and I miss the sweet seeming endlessness of it all. But I know that the years ahead will bring happy homecomings, still more proud new parent moments, laughing grandchildren discovering berry-picking, and long lazy days of sailing or riding our horses through the mountains together, exploring and sharing and remembering when.
Life is good, and I wouldn't change much about it even if I could. But I still miss them when they're not here. I wonder what each of them is doing, how they're getting along. I guess all parents do at some point, and that seems like the way things should be.
Somewhere along the line in this country we were sold a bill of goods by the powers that be. We were led to believe that kids couldn't be trusted to learn; they needed to be forced. Families certainly couldn't be trusted to see that kids were forced to learn (they might let them go off snowboarding instead), therefore, schools would do the forcing. This pervasive and wrongheaded approach didn't leave room for children to dawdle, to daydream, to explore options and chase dead ends until they were satisfied with the results. This system demanded that children choose, on its timetable, what they would be and what they would do, or it would be chosen for them.
Then, in the 1980's, parents started saying -Enough! No More! We can trust our children to learn, and we can be trusted to help them determine what's worth learning.? Homeschooling blossomed and grew into a dynamic national movement, and is still growing 20 years later.
But there's change in the air. With homeschooling more of a comfortable option now, no longer such a fringe element, today's parents are pooh-poohing the trust involved and are keying on other factors, like preparing their kids for the economic merry-go-round. I worry about how these parents will deal with increasing standardization through national education goals, school-to-work programs, and a renewed emphasis on testing and assessment. The parental reaction today seems to be toward buying back into the system - changing the face of homeschooling in the process.
A look at the educational reforms of the 1980's will show that homeschoolers were clearly at cross-purposes to the vision policy-makers had for the lives of our youth. While the experts and professionals were scrambling to convince the public that they had the answers to all of our social problems, we stood fast, loudly and clearly proclaiming -No thanks, homeschooling works for us.?
In stark contrast, too many of today's homeschoolers want to be part of the reform movement. In the past few years they have worked to help the public schools embrace homeschoolers, to lure them back into the fold with their own language, with a smoothly orchestrated series of steps. First offer access to the educational resources, then create the hybrid public school/homeschool programs, then simply segue back to business as usual. Boiling frogs, as it were.
Today more and more homeschoolers consider this great progress: -Look how successfully we're working with the schools!? But I hear doomed frogs croaking, Come on in - the water's fine!?
The first questions we hear when people start asking about homeschooling is -But how will my kids get into college, or how will my kids find a good job?? These are the overriding concerns today. We rarely hear people ask -Will homeschooling make my kids nice people??
Nice people. What a concept. But isn't that what this tired old world really needs more than anything else? Nice people? We live with a mind-numbing combination of social confusion and cynicism. Movies and television, mirrors of our society, reinforce all the mindless stereotypes. Generations poke fun at each other, each insisting that the other just doesn't understand. But how can they understand? The underlying basis for mutual understanding - simply spending time with each other - has been schooled right out of this society.
Homeschooling offers a way to hold the center, by encouraging families to simply spend time together. Agemates, social peers, fellow workers and just plain friends are important, of course, but central to everything we do is our family, the mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and grandmas and grandpas who love us, no matter what we do, no matter where we go, no matter how long between visits or phone calls. If we can't hold our families together what makes us think we can hold a viable society together?
As homeschoolers we need to defend and protect the right to nurture and educate our children as we see fit. We need to resist increasing overtures from the experts and professionals who would assure us that they can do it all much more effectively, much more efficiently. We need to hold the center for those who follow.
© 2002 Helen Hegener
January-February 2002 - Articles and Columns
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