Home Education Magazine
November-December 2004 - Articles and Columns
Publisher's Note - Helen Hegener
My son had some minor car trouble this morning, so I drove him to work just as the sun was rising over the mountains which frame the eastern edge of this broad valley. After dropping him off, because it was promising to be a gorgeous fall day, I took a long, slow, leisurely drive through the golden autumn leaves, through a part of this big valley I rarely visit any more, through an area I lived in many, many years ago, before I knew what homeschooling was, before I even had any kids, when I had only a vague dream that I wanted to write for a living and never imaged that someday I would be an editor or publisher of a national magazine.
As I drove through the falling orange and yellow leaves, down narrow lanes that surprisingly haven't changed much in 30 years, I was mildly startled to come across many indicators that even way back then, so long ago, I was already headed down the path that would lead me toward homeschooling. As I passed the cozy home of an old and dear friend, who happened to be a part-time substitute teacher in the local schools, I remembered standing on her back porch (they've enlarged it and added a roof!) and telling her that I would never send my kids to school, while she patiently assured me that school wasn't such a terrible place and children needed to go to school and she knew I'd eventually see that and send mine when it was time for them to go and they'd be just fine. Ah, Margaret, I should bring those now-grown "kids" by sometime to visit you...
I stopped at a wooden board-rail gate, framed by tall angular-barked cottonwood trees, which opened into a broad grassy field where we once baled hay for our horses. I was delighted to see that it was still a hayfield, and not buried beneath tract houses and paved streets like so much of this valley. I remembered walking along the edge of that field one sunny afternoon with a friend and her two young children, marveling at how much they were learning by simply chasing butterflies and exploring the world around us. They asked a gazillion questions, each of which seemed to lead to still more questions, and their inexhaustible curiosity left me feeling oddly exhilarated, convinced that this was the natural countenance of children and that locking that enthusiasm and exuberance away in a classroom day after day couldn't possibly be desirable or beneficial. I wonder if those youngsters' joy-filled attitudes survived their later schooling...
I turned down a still-dirt road and retraced the path I once rode on my horse, Denali - a curious red fox had trotted at his heels for half a mile that day - and found an old log cabin deteriorating into the ground much as it had been all those years ago. It was the old Fairview School, where homesteaders' children had once gathered to practice their handwriting and learn the names of long-dead English kings. There were signs marking it as private property now, so I didn't trespass, but as I sat there being surprised that it hadn't been bulldozed I recalled a friend and I exploring inside one summer day. We pored over old faded textbooks and quizzed each other about inane facts, and even at the time I wondered why people thought forcing such knowledge on children was necessary. Almost all of us have stories of trivialized learning, which was done only because a teacher demanded it, just as we all have stories of learning that just happened, which took us by surprise because we weren't expecting to learn anything. Academic rigor stifled so much that could have been interesting and engaging if presented in a different light. Now what was the Boer War about again, and what's the correct formula for calculating density?
By the time I'd turned back toward home I was surprised to see large fluffy white snowflakes hitting my windshield. Mother Nature was softly tossing us a reminder that winter was on the way and we should quit dawdling and get ready for it. Winter already? But I'm still enjoying fall... So many things have happened on their own schedule, before I was ready. My babies became toddlers, then too soon they were kids, and before I realized it they were teenagers, and now they're adults and some even have kids of their own. How did that all happen so quickly? When we're not thinking about it time can seem to drag along and we find ourselves thinking something will never end, and then when we do slow down enough for a thoughtful perspective we wonder where in the world the time went, why it all went by so quickly.
Standing in the fall leaves alongside a dirt road, I'd been transported back to a time when teaching and learning and educational concerns were barely registering on my radar, and yet in retrospect now I could see the well-marked path I'd followed. As I drove into the swirling snow, which was already beginning to obscure the road, I wondered if the trail ahead was marked as well. Sometimes it feels so overwhelming, with public school enrollment masquerading as homeschooling, with homeschooling families being profiled as potential child abusers, increasing calls for more standardization and accountability for homeschoolers, and what about people who view homeschooling families as potential terrorists? Headline in our local newspaper last week: "Home-schoolers Need Competent Supervision."
The road ahead of us looks much scarier than the happy path behind us. Where we once worried about our kids learning to read we now worry about homeschooling remaining an option for our grandchildren. Our families' chosen educational approach is being assaulted from many directions, including many well-intentioned homeschoolers themselves. At a time when the freedoms of individuals in this country are increasingly being compromised in the name of "protecting" us, we need to redouble our efforts to protect the rights of families - a fundamental and essential component of society - to inform and educate their own children. Children will flourish and grow best in the kind of atmosphere that is found in a loving and nurturing family, where communication is open, mistakes are tolerated, individual differences are appreciated, and the rules are compassionate and flexible.
© 2004 Helen Hegener
November-December 2004 - Articles and Columns
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