November-December 2010 Selected Content
Publisher's Notes - Helen Hegener
I took my granddaughter Ally to the circus last week. I'd have taken all my grandkids, but it was a working assignment; I was photographing and videotaping the event, and Ally has proven herself a reliable assistant when I'm in the field. We got to go backstage and meet the performers, and we stayed through the entire breaking down of the circus ring, the trapeze set-up and everything. Ally went with us when I played taxicab for some of the aerialists who wanted to make a run to the local store, and she got to hear wonderful stories of their world tour and what it's like to be part of such an amazing company. Wide-eyed and taking it all in, she was learning first-hand in a way that no schoolkid could hope to learn. She was homeschooling.
Last month my father passed away, and the entire family came together in a project so exceptional and unique that it became a feature story in the local newspaper. A local museum had a 1954 Cadillac Hearse which had seen better days, and because Dad always loved those classic old Cadillacs we decided that his final journey should be in one of them. Our sons own an automotive restoration shop which specializes in classic cars, so we had the wherewithal, but what we didn't have was time. Funeral arrangements which included a formal military burial with honors had already been scheduled, family had flown in from out of state, we had three days.
Three generations worked around the clock on Grandpa's Last Cadillac, and his youngest great-grandkids listened to many stories of his life as they helped disassemble parts, scrape paint, sand the car, polish chrome, fix meals, create memorial albums and displays, and much, much more. They were learning in ways no schoolkids would ever learn. They were homeschooling.
These are, admittedly, unique examples, but there is no reasonable excuse for separating learning from simply living from day to day. Three of my grandkids bounced into the room as I was writing this and excitedly told me they were heading out into the woods with their dads to gather firewood; they know the joys of sitting before a glowing fire on a cold winter's evening. They also told me about seeing a moose when they were out there yesterday, describing how it nibbled the branches near them, unafraid, and how big it's feet were. What an exceptional science lesson! They were homeschooling.
Homeschooling doesn't just happen at the kitchen table with workbooks or lesson plans. It's not made up of assignments, reading directives, worksheets or other schoolish tools. Homeschooling, for my grandkids and for hundreds of thousands of other kids, takes place all the time, everywhere, whatever they're doing. It's the only path to learning that really makes sense.
In The Homeschool Reader 1984-1994 (HEM Books, 2010), Kathleen McCurdy shares an observation from her long years as a homeschooling parent and advocate:
"The real homeschoolers, the ones who are here to stay, are the ones who have come to understand the meaning of parenting. These parents have learned to resist the urge to 'teach' their children (as in 'teacher'). They have grown accustomed to expect that their children will learn because there is something to learn. Whatever it is that parents do in the course of their daily living that makes them successful and fulfilled human beings is what their children will learn. These parents will help, encourage, answer questions, share in the discoveries, and maybe even learn with their children. And they wouldn't give up this privilege for anything in the world!"
Anyone who has studied the history of education knows that convincing parents to "give up this privilege" is a main component of modern schooling practices. John Taylor Gatto has written extensively and witheringly of this in his many books and essays, such as this excerpt from The Public School Nightmare:
"Bertrand Russell once observed that American schooling was among the most radical experiments in human history, that America was deliberately denying its children the tools of critical thinking. When you want to teach children to think, you begin by treating them seriously when they are little, giving them responsibilities, talking to them candidly, providing privacy and solitude for them, and making them readers and thinkers of significant thoughts from the beginning. That's if you want to teach them to think.
"There is no evidence that this has been a State purpose since the start of compulsion schooling. When Frederich Froebel, the inventor of kindergarten in 19th-century Germany, fashioned his idea he did not have a "garden for children" in mind, but a metaphor of teachers as gardeners and children as the vegetables. Kindergarten was created to be a way to break the influence of mothers on their children."
As homeschooling has grown and become an accepted part of American life, and life in many other countries around the globe, this concept of state schooling as a path to social control has fallen by the wayside, deemed as just another failed social experiment. But the premise of schooling in general, the idea that experts and professionals in education somehow have the inside track to learning, is still pervasive and can be paralyzing to a new homeschooling parent.
For 27 years our goal with this magazine has been to showcase the truth, that parents can and do take full responsibility for their childrens' learning, and those children can and do thrive and even excel. In many cases the parents simply help their children assume their own control over education, and again, those children show how easy and sensible it can be to determine the path of one's own learning.
One of my favorite homeschooling quotes is by an old friend and ex-HEM columnist, Earl Gary Stevens:
"Homeschooling is an act of liberation and an act of passion. It is an occasion to walk away from institutional images of life and to embrace a vision that is filled with personal meaning and unmistakable truths for our families. The quality of awareness that comes from the heart is more dependable... Homeschooling... is about helping make it possible for children to reach maturity with healthy, curious, fully conscious minds."
© 2010, Helen Hegener