We’re excited about sharing our January-February issue with you––another great one with stories of challenge, inspiration, growth and change.
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January-February 2015 Table of Contents
Frozen by Freedom, by Jessica Allen
When our son was two years old we began to consider homeschooling. He was curious and bright. He had an amazing vocabulary and an equally impressive imagination. How might we preserve his unique personality and capabilities? I began to research alternatives to public school. By the time he was four, we had visited two cyber charter school orientations. Cybers were just catching on here in Pennsylvania, and we were intrigued. Just as quickly, cybers were under attack. Right around that time I discovered Charlotte Mason. Hmmm? Nature study and short, interesting lessons. Sounds like something we might enjoy. Oh, but wait! There was also Well-Trained Mind and Steiner and Montessori. What about project-based homeschooling? Or, Core Knowledge? By summer of 2009 I had so many methods and philosophies swimming around in my head, choosing one seemed impossible. A choice was made for me. I was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer. And so, homeschooling was replaced with doctor appointments, chemo treatments, bi-weekly injections, multiple surgeries, reconstruction and recovery. In other words, survival.
College Prep Unschooling, by Suki Wessling
When people find out that I unschool my teenager, their questions tend to fall into predictable groups. What about socialization? and Aren’t you afraid of the gaps in learning? are two of the major ones. These are relatively easy questions to answer: Since when is sitting in a classroom with 32 kids the same age socially appropriate? And as for those gaps, in our house we welcome them and fall into them deliciously when we feel ready!
One question, however, comes from parents of academically focused students and deserves deeper consideration. How can unschoolers who are looking forward to applying to competitive universities adequately prepare themselves? And even more importantly for us parents, how can we make sure that we’re not actually placing a huge handicap on our kids when we decide to homeschool them through high school?
Guiding a student who hopes to study Math at MIT, Political Science at Harvard, or attend Stanford Medical School is a process that requires thinking about how others will view our students’ achievements from the outside–anathema to most homeschoolers who focus on their children’s well-being first and foremost. Although this is still child-led learning–it is our students, after all, who are setting the goal of getting into these universities–it leads to different sorts of decision-making.
Take Care! Self-Care Strategies for Busy, Broke Unschooling Parents, by Molly Westerman
At the risk of stating the obvious: parents (even unschooling parents!) are human beings. Accordingly, we need and deserve to take care of ourselves.
But if you ask a parent “What do you do for self-care?” you’re likely to receive an eye roll or reproachful laughter in response. Every family I know is up to the adults’ eyeballs in children’s needs, household tasks, paid work, job searches, extended family obligations, and the Herculean task of coordinating these complicated lives. Do we really have to come up with the money and time for yoga classes, too?
It doesn’t help that we receive such mixed messages about self-care from our culture. Parents–especially mothers–are supposed to feel guilty for indulging ourselves, since our lives and hearts are supposed to revolve around our children 24/7. On the other hand, we are required to be the happy, healthy parents our children deserve, and to be skinny, well-groomed, and energetic for our partners. Mothers and fathers alike are told to do the impossible, to remain unchanged from our pre-parenthood selves and also turn ourselves inside-out and upside-down for our children. Neither of these are actually a decent way to live, never mind trying to do both simultaneously
Coming Home, by Krystel Justice
It is almost spring. My son and I sit together, sharing an ice cream at the shopping center food court. He is five years old and tall for his age. His shaggy blonde curls frame his freckled little boy face. We trade knock-knock jokes, laughing and enjoying our ice cream. “We should do this more often,” he tells me. I agree. It has been a long time since we could just be. We do not spend much time together now that he is in school. The time we do have is dominated by his schedule. I rush him through his meals, I rush him through his routines, and I rush him in and out of the door. “Life does not have to be so hurried,” I think to myself. We can change this.
“I do not understand why center time is so easy for my friends and so hard for me,” Carter says. He tells me that things are “easy peasy” for his classmates, but not for him. He feels slow and clumsy. It makes me sad to hear him compare his “performance” to the other children in his class. I want him to know that he has so many gifts of his own and that weighing multi-colored plastic teddy bears is just about the least important thing in the world.
Living Authentically, by Michelle VanDoren
Sometimes change comes quickly, sometimes more slowly. The past ten years have brought constant changes for me and my family. The death of my parents, divorce, a new marriage, a new baby, big moves, and some pretty radical lifestyle changes. Through it all, homeschooling has been the first step in living authentically.
Looking back on those early years, homeschooling looked a lot like school at home. Our local public library was full of “What Your First Grader Needs to Know” style books, and I made lists of subjects to cover. It was overwhelming, uninspiring, and quite tedious, to be perfectly honest. But it appealed to my strong goal-oriented, list-making style, to be sure. Anxiety arose when I considered we might not check everything off the list for the year.
What I did get right (I think), was looking for the everyday opportunities for learning. Hours spent at the pond, watching the tiny tadpoles transform into frogs and toads, participating fully in the changing seasons, and making books and reading a consistent part of our lives.
Unfortunately this homeschool lifestyle ended abruptly with my divorce and becoming a single mom.
During the years away from homeschooling, despite the challenges of balancing motherhood with two jobs, sharing in my children’s education was still a priority for me. I continued to emphasize life experiences, books, and long conversations in my parenting. There was always time for reading, walks in the rain, catching fireflies in the summer, and baking in the winter. The challenges of those years make the memories all the more precious.
One Dad’s Self-Directed Learning Journey, by Mark Tuggle
I’d like to think that my wife and I are relatively well-adjusted, successful people. We are both college graduates, have had professional careers, and participate in civic organizations. We are both products of public schools. It worked for us, so why wouldn’t it work for our children? That was my perspective as our first child arrived on the scene. Penny is a teacher, both by profession and passion. She enjoyed teaching our son from birth. We soon realized he was quite intelligent. His reading, reasoning, and math skills were well above “grade-level.” Penny began reading about homeschooling and gifted education. Soon she was convinced we needed to homeschool our son. Although I was skeptical, I was confident in her ability to provide a good education for him, and she continued to educate me about homeschooling. As Penny read authors such as John Gatto, John Holt, and Grace Llewellyn, she became convinced that institutional education was built on numerous flawed premises and practices that largely prevented children from reaching their maximum potential.
Dissecting the Value of Praise, by Mark Hegener
I knew that I had the capacity to “train” my child in any way I wanted to, as I knew there were unlimited sources of praise, bribes, rewards and punishments. In this moment, I knew that ethically I could not allow myself to do this–this training. What I wanted for my child was to create a loving, nurturing home that would maximize his freedoms to explore, experiment, trust and grow in his own self-designed thoughts and skills as a human being. I believed that with loving support and not training my child would naturally learn to love himself and others. Yes, I knew that in such an environment he would likely be different, perhaps very different, from me. Yet, it seemed like the ethical thing to do.
Hometown Tragedy, by Seres Kyrie
I was first told of the news when I popped into our local school one Thursday morning. I occasionally substitute teach and have a good relationship with the community there. As I walked through the halls, I immediately sensed something was wrong. Teachers huddled together and students mingled in the hallways, crying. The dark stillness that accompanies fresh grief was present.
Sidetracked from my original errand, an acquaintance asked me if I had yet heard. “Heard what?” There had a been a tragedy overnight, in which a home was burnt to the ground, also perishing three sleeping children within. The mother had managed to save the youngest child but was badly burnt and lost the fetus she was pregnant with. The father was unscathed, but, allegedly, beside himself.
Though we did not know the family personally very well, in a small town of 800, we did, of course, know of them. The children, ages three, five, and seven, were of peer age with our own children and had co-mingled at the playground, library events, and swimming lessons. The children, along with their cousins who live a few doors down, were town staples, frequently seen riding over-sized bikes from the gas station for popsicles to the ballfield where they congregated. Their presence was ever-present.
Nine unexamined assumptions about forced schooling, and 21 little-known facts, by John Taylor Gatto
Challenge Every Assumption! we were ordered, including the assumption that school–even this one–is a good thing and the additional Assumption, implied, that no better use could be made of the time. Schools exist, we were told, because nine assumptions are believed by most of the ordinary public, assumptions put there by special interests that benefited directly from the existence of an institution of legally compulsory schooling. Think hard about each of these assumptions–examine them–and decide for yourselves which, if any, can be defended best before a panel of judges, and which have the least credibility. HERE ARE THE NINE:
1. Social togetherness (cohesion) is promoted best by confinement of all social classes together in schoolrooms for years before adulthood.
2. Without schooling, the young would find one another intolerable.
3. The safest adult companions for children are government-licensed experts; children must be constantly protected from unauthorized contacts.
4. Compelling children to replace behavioral, cultural, and religious norms learned at home with diluted substitutes imposed at school has no adverse effect on intellectual or character development.
5. For the good of the student, parental influence is best diluted and transferred to strangers called schoolteachers.
6. Children who escape state oversight will become immoral.
7. The political state has primary sovereignty for intellectual development, moral training, and tolerable beliefs.
8. Children who deviate from official norms must be forced to conform.
9. Coercion in the interest of standardizing a population is a valid use of state power.
Living in the Question, by Michelle Conaway
I once wondered if I was unintentionally misguiding my kids. I was a loving mom, right? I encouraged their interests–when it made sense to me. I gave them things and experiences. I made sure they did what they were “supposed” to do. I hugged, never spanked. I loved them. Wasn’t that enough?
But the nagging feeling that something under the surface was fundamentally off just wouldn’t leave me. Would my own hidden internal unrest somehow rub off on them? Would the paradigms I embraced become their springboards into life? Were the beliefs I lived by even right? Could I teach them to be whole when I felt incomplete? Could I teach them at all?
My life as a young child was chaotic and unpredictable. The drama permeated my daily life and continued into adulthood. Although the adults in my life did the best they could, what would have been better? If they had had the capability, what could they have done to cultivate my highest self, my authenticity, my courage?
I longed to create something better for my kids. I longed to see them live happy, joyful and creative lives. I questioned whether I could actually cultivate and nurture this with my kids, help them build the life of their dreams rather than live by default as I had for so long. If I were confused, would I raise confused kids? Would they grow up feeling as though they didn’t fit in the world? Could they learn to listen to their own internal knowing when I was shoving mine down at every turn?
John Holt On Legal Advice, Einstein, and Violence Against Children, by Patrick Farenga
In the 50s and 60s, supposedly for most people a more hopeful and happy time than today, I drove alone many times from the East coast to Colorado and New Mexico, going either to the school in Colorado where I taught for four years, or to New Mexico or Colorado to visit my sister and her family. It was summertime, and the highway restaurants where I stopped for gas and a bite to eat were full of the kinds of young families Anne Fleming writes about, on their way to and from national parks or visits with grandparents or whatever–anyway, on vacation, supposedly having a good time. I was appalled to see how harsh, angry, and violent many of them were with their children, shouting at them, threatening them, giving them peremptory orders (they would not have talked to their dog in such a tone of voice), pulling them this way and that and even striking them, for the most trivial of offenses or in many cases no offense at all that I could see. Even allowing for the fact that long automobile trips with children can be wearing, and may not show families at their best, the amount of anger and violence that I saw was surprising and distressing. It put into my mind the thought, which many years of further observation have only strongly confirmed, that large numbers of Americans do not like children, including, or perhaps especially, their own.
The Meaning of Life? Having Fun., by Kate Fridkis
Most kids have goofy, free time memories. But ours are exceptional–we got to play all day. We got to be Troll and Creature for a whole week. And they didn’t speak, by the way. Especially Creature. He just growled. For us, childhood wasn’t a test we had to pass to get to the next phase of life. It didn’t teach us how to sit still and take notes. It was rowdy and messy and constant and flexible. We got to make our own plans. We got to try them out. And yeah, we got mad at our parents and each other. We got frustrated and had fights. We sulked sometimes. We got odd jobs and later more serious jobs, and we saved money. We pretended to do the math lessons in the occasional textbook. There were the things people expect. But those things were served on the side. The main course was delicious.
I’ve never understood the people who think childhood should be boot camp for a tough, exhausting adulthood. Of course, some lives are tough at every turn, but I’ve always assumed that given the choice, everyone would pick something more enjoyable.
The problem, I’m beginning to notice, is that people confuse arbitrary difficulties, like the ones adults are in the habit of manufacturing for children, with the kind of challenges that build grit and determination. Learning how to tackle a problem is essential for pursuing a satisfying life. Developing confidence through overcoming failures is critical for later success. But kids learn these things naturally.
HEM interviews Ben Hewitt, author of Home Grown901, by Ben Hewitt
The opportunity to raise children who are able to think critically is one of the foremost reasons we’ve chosen this educational path. Critical thinking––which I often think of as discernment––is sadly lacking from the institutionalized educational system. For one, there’s very little in the common curriculum that foments critical thinking. For another––and I speak from extensive personal experience on this one––being in the company of critical thinking children can be pretty inconvenient. I remember complaining to my wife Penny a few years ago about how our kids sometimes didn’t (and still don’t) just take what we say at face value. She said, “Yes, isn’t that great?” That was sort of a wake up call for me, because if they’re willing and able to question me, hopefully they’ll be willing and able to question others. Hopefully they’ll be able to discern for themselves what makes sense and what doesn’t, using whatever resources necessary to make their determination.