For as long as I can remember, Patrick Farenga has been a good friend and ally, not only to we at Home Education Magazine, but to homeschoolers and unschoolers everywhere. So it was with great dismay that I read the essay this morning at his website, PatFarenga.com. Pat wrote, in part: “It has come to my attention that there are some concerns about my credibility as a speaker, stemming from questions about my childrenâ€™s school attendance and our approach to homeschooling.”
Pat doesn’t elaborate, but anyone who follows homeschooling discussion groups will recognize the source of this contention. It’s not important, and I’m not interested in furthering the perpetrator’s notoriety. Suffice it to say we too have had difficulties with them over the years.
What is important and worth noting is Pat’s measured response. Like everything I’ve read from him, it’s sensible, forthright, and compelling: “I have always believed in and been excited by the stories of freedom, choice, flexibility, support, real-world activities, and above all trust and respect for children and families that John Holt wrote about and that hundreds of parents and children described in the pages of Growing Without Schooling for so many years. The possibility that the term, or the idea of, unschooling could come to mean something so rigid, so codified, that a family could be measured against it and found wanting would have baffled any of us in those days of publishing GWS magazine. It baffles me today.”
It baffles me as well. No, more than that, it disappoints me and leaves me feeling like something vital and valuable has been lost. I’ve been accused of pining for the past, yearning for those long-gone days when all homeschoolers and unschoolers were united in their new-found freedom from the traditional models of education. Yeah, actually, I am guilty. Those were golden years and I doubt that anyone who wasn’t there would understand why those times were so special. We were like little kids on the first day of summer, turned loose and joyful in the world, unfettered, free at last – and we knew our children would always be free. It was a heady, exciting, enriching time, and it will never be again.
But back to Pat’s dilemma. On the one hand he’s never going to make everyone happy – not that he should even try. We’ve had some heated exchanges – okay, flame wars – on our discussion lists over the years about this business of who is and is not a homeschooler or an unschooler. We’ve taken a lot of heat for our firm stand against public school charter programs masquerading as homeschooling, and at the same time we’ve been accused of ‘watering down’ the definition of homeschooling. Reminds me of the old Ricky Nelson lyrics, “You can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.”
Pat doesn’t try to please everyone, and he doesn’t pull any punches with his last paragraph – as indeed he shouldn’t. Pat takes a principled stand against unreasonable behavior. His no-nonsense statement, “…I wonâ€™t talk about my children in a way that seeks to measure their lives against othersâ€™ standards, assumptions, or definitions…,” is heartening and encouraging to this old war horse.Â