Circles

Love is perhaps the strongest of human emotions. It transcends barriers of language and culture, leaps through time and space, affects everyone from the youngest and most helpless babies to the oldest and most careworn cynics. Love is magical and mysterious and all-powerful; it has the power to transform lives.

We homeschool our children because we love them. Can anything be more basic? We love our children and we want to be with them, to share our interests with them and to learn about new things together, to cuddle them and kiss them and play games and teach them about the world, and that doesn’t arbitrarily end when they reach the state-decreed age of compulsory attendance.

Madison Avenue copywriters have created award-winning commercials capitalizing on the familiar scene of a teary-eyed toddler being urged aboard a big yellow bus by his obviously loving and equally teary-eyed mother. It’s become a seasonal rite of passage, accepted as the norm, encouraged without regard to how this wrenching separation at a tender age might actually affect a young child – or his mother.

Popular wisdom would have us believe that parting children and parents at a young age is normal, natural, and beneficial to both, giving the parent freedom to pursue personal goals and allowing the child to somehow develop independence and autonomy. Parents who keep their children at home are indicted as overprotective, unwilling to loosen the apron strings, selfishly damaging their child’s ability to reach his true potential.

Experts who’ve made a profession of child development and education relentlessly warn us that parents need to break the ties that bind, that children need socialization through the company of their peers, that trained teachers are necessary to develop a child’s skills in the proper order. Do these experts base their claims on living with young children for years and observing what they need first hand? Of course not. Their mandates are based on questionable research findings and unquestioned allegiance to their alma maters and the educational bureaucracy. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle: Encourage parents to send their children to school so they can become experts with credentials and eventually author research which will encourage other parents to send their children to school. A neatly closed circle ensuring the continuation of the bureaucracy; the children merely cogs in the wheel.

Most people don’t think very much about how this system works to perpetuate itself. They’re too busy working and earning a living, so having their kids in school makes sense and is incredibly convenient. To question the educational system from which they themselves graduated would be somehow akin to questioning their own self-worth and the choices which got them to where they are in life. It often takes some kind of crisis, such as a child diagnosed with a learning disorder or just not getting along well in school before a parent takes to questioning the way things supposedly work.

Love seems like the best of all reasons for homeschooling. Not the only reason, of course – there are as many different reasons as there are children to be homeschooled – but the love a parent feels for his children ensures a desire to keep those children from harm’s way, to protect and defend them from any perceived dangers, whether physical, emotional, or bureaucratic. The experts might not understand it, and might in fact even disagree, but parents have the right – indeed, they have the responsibility – to intervene when their children need help, protection, or assistance in finding another way.

Thousands of parents have started down the path toward homeschooling by doing nothing more than acting on their love for their children. Mark has often said all you need to homeschool successfully is love and a library card, and the library card is optional. Listen to your heart and trust yourself, and trust your children.

When my children were small I remember sometimes sitting and just watching them be children, playing or scuffling or reading or sleeping, and my heart would just ache to see how quickly they were growing up, mastering the mechanics of life, racing through childhood to take their own place as parents. I watch our sons now with their own young children and I see that same light of love, that bittersweet knowledge that the days of childhood are so special, so altogether fleeting and short.

Babies grow so quickly into toddlers, and toddlers grow into young children, who will be stretching into teenagers before you know it. The hours and days and years we’re given to spend with them are so few, so very small a piece of one’s lifetime. And yet schooling easily consumes the bulk of childhood: Five to six hours per day or more, five days a week, for three-quarters of each year, for twelve long years. So much of a child’s time; so much of a parent’s rightful joy.

My daughter Jody, 23, told me this evening that the best thing about having been homeschooled was simply the time it gave her to think about her life and what she wanted to do with it. She’s told me many times that being free of schoolish demands and expectations has given her a unique perspective, a way of looking at what is and seeing what can be that her many schooled friends just don’t seem to have.

I wonder about that sometimes, as I wonder about award-winning teacher John Taylor Gatto’s well-known claim that schools are designed to purposefully “dumb us down” to ensure a tractable workforce and thereby better grease the wheels of commerce. On the bald face of it this seems like an outrage – and John says it is, indeed. But apparently not enough parents consider it enough of an outrage to keep their children out of the schools. For many, this “dumbing down” probably makes as much sense as sending a five-year-old off on a school bus, or filling the hours of a child’s day with busywork and lessons, or demanding that a child leave his home and family and simply accept it as just the way things have always been done.

For me, for my children, and for thousands of homeschooling families, that’s no longer a valid reason.

© 2003 Helen Hegener, Home Education Magazine

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