July-August 2010 Selected Content
Publishers' Note - Helen Hegener
What should be the end result of homeschooling? What great goal, what worthy purpose do we seek in educating our children? What do we know of our journey's eventual destination, what do we hope for and dream of for our children as they approach or move into adulthood?
Close to thirty years of homeschooling have left me right back where I started: With more questions than answers. These are different questions than the usual "How can I teach my kids about complicated subjects like science?" or "Will they really learn to read on their own?"
My questions now address larger issues such as "Do they have a good enough understanding of how the world really works?" or "Will they find work they enjoy doing, and opportunities to spend time among people they enjoy being with?"
In my own life, I've been fortunate to find work I enjoy doing, communicating with words and ideas, and to work with people I like, who are primarily other homeschooling parents. It feels good to know the work we all do together with this magazine makes a difference in the world.
But what of my children? Have I done as much as possible to help them prepare to take their places in the world, in this rapidly changing, ever-more confusing and perplexing world? And even now, with all of my children grown and making their respective ways in the world, is there more I could be doing to help change things, change society, for the better?
In his book, Free Schools, Free People, Education and Democracy after the 1960s (SUNY Press, 2002), alternative education advocate Ron Miller shares some interesting observations from author John Holt. Writing about Holt's interest in the cultural context of human development, Miller includes this quote:
"Perhaps my deepest interest could be described as 'How can we adults work to create a more decent, humane, conserving, peaceful, just, etc. community, nation, world, and how can we make it possible for children to join us in this work...?' Except insofar as we find answers to those questions, there is very little we can do under the name of 'education' to help young people grow up into whole, intelligent, sensitive, resourceful, competent, etc. human beings."
It seems to me the best approach to finding these answers is simply to model the change we seek, to go about doing those things which will, in our estimation, make the world a better place. As we "walk our talk," so to speak, we create a reality which speaks louder than words, and we create a pattern, an example for our children to follow if they choose.
Ron Miller points out that Holt also described another worthwhile goal: "The most urgent social task of our time is to rebuild... communities where people feel, 'I belong; this is my place; I have something to say about what happens; I can count on others to help me; I can do something to make this a better place to live.'"
Ours is a mobile, transient society, in which now-grown children, driven by economic, social and other factors, are more likely to roam far from their parents' hometown than to settle nearby. The simple fact of distance between us makes it harder to keep in touch, harder to maintain close ties with each other after our kids are grown. The shaping of opinion, of character - of their very beings- is then molded by strangers, strange ideas, strange circumstances. Whatever foundations we were able to build when our children were babies, toddlers, youngsters, and teenagers is what will serve them now as they search for their own place in the world, and as they raise another generation.
So did we get it right? Did we build a strong enough foundation? Only time will tell, but I believe most homeschooled kids grow up with a perspective more valuable than all the lessons they supposedly missed in school. I believe most homeschooled kids grow up knowing their parents cared enough to provide them with something different, something tangible and valuable: The opportunity to make sense of the world on their own terms, in their own way, instead of having it neatly interpreted and predigested and delivered to them in lesson plans.
A closely related question appears in Linda Dobson's classic Homeschooling Book of Answers (Prima Publishing, 1998, 2002): "How will my children develop their own world view if I'm teacher as well as parent?" Longtime homeschool veteran Mary McCarthy answers this question with another question:
"Isn't it a parent's responsibility to instill basic values in our children before the world influences them?"
I think so. For that same book we penned these lines in response to a question about what homeschooling parents have learned:
"Homeschooling encourages the development of a loving relationship based on caring and trust between parent and child, and this is the best possible environment for real learning to take place. Real learning such as how to talk to other people about minor and major things, how to determine what needs doing and the best way in which to get it done, how to find one's rightful place in a confusing and complex world, how to truly live a life filled with goodness and worthiness and love."
We've tried to model a life filled with goodness and worthiness and love for our children, and we've seen them all grow into young adults, and young parents, for whom these qualities are important. But we've also seen them take paths we wouldn't have taken, make decisions we wouldn't have made. In her own reply to the question about what homeschooling parents have learned, author Linda Dobson points out: "An education that starts with self-determination will finish with self-determination."
A child given ample opportunity to think for himself will grow into an adult comfortable with thinking for himself, able to assess new situations with an open mind and a willing heart. I truly believe the best we can do as parents is to provide a bedrock-solid foundation of unconditional love and acceptance, upon which they can build lives of goodness, worthiness, and love.
© 2010, Helen Hegener