Perspective: Use it or Lose it


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, 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 children’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 won’t talk about my children in a way that seeks to measure their lives against others’ standards, assumptions, or definitions…,” is heartening and encouraging to this old war horse. 

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3 Responses to Perspective: Use it or Lose it

  1. Susan on April 11, 2008 at 4:53 am

    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.

    If it heartens you at all, I remember that feeling the very day we took our kids out of school and were on our own schedule with our very own life. I’ve listened as other new homeschool families still feel that same exhilaration. That heady time is still within the family. Which is fundamental. Which is reflected in Pat Farenga’s article concerning his family.

    Some (too many) take homeschooling autonomy for granted, or twist it into their own agenda of hegemony. Controlling comes in all styles, that’s for certain.

  2. Helen on April 11, 2008 at 11:37 am

    You’re right of course, Susan. I know many, many families who feel that way – and rightly so. But these days the feeling is generally found only within families, occasionally within extended family members or communites. Imagine a nationwide network of people taking that kind of joy in what was happening – the feeling was so much larger than just our own families that it developed a life of it’s own and drew us all together into a huge community of friendship and camaraderie and support. Times were different then. People were different then.

  3. Marsha on April 12, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    Things definitely were very different even when we started homeschooling in 1989. My husband and I met Pat at the first Clonlara Conference we attended, in OH, and he was warm and welcoming. He has done wonderful work with the Holt materials, in keeping them available to homeschoolers. I have learned so much from a variety of materials and from homeschoolers of various philosophical persuasions. It is sad to see the homeschooling community so fragmented with the “homeschoolier-than-thou” and “unschooler-than-thou” attitude cropping up so frequently. Living in a small town in a rural area, we have reached into the public schools for some enrichment which is not available elsewhere. This has been minimal, because obviously that is not our first choice from the “educational opportunities” smorgasbord of life, but two of our boys attended the technology center in our intermediate school district for career-technical training and our daughter has been in orchestra for six years at the public school, as well as taking 4 years of art training at the high school. Because of that, I too have incurred the wrath of the “homeschoolier-than-thou” crowd, and been flamed and mocked on some lists. So be it. It is more important to me that I find the resources that my kids need when they need them, so when Automotive Technology and state certifications became important to my son as a career choice, we did what we had to do. It wouldn’t have been our first choice but in actuality, short of waiting for college, it was our only choice. He was able to get some very valuable experience, and later went back to teach there. So it has been key in his career ever since. I, too, really appreciated Pat’s wisdom in answering as he did.

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