For me the question at the heart of the decision to home school is, “Who or what should be trusted?” Should my child be trusted? Should Nature be trusted? Should I be trusted? Or should the institution of conventional education be trusted? I write “or” because it seems to me that when a child does not fit in conventional education, it’s an “either/or” proposition. If you put your trust in conventional education, you bend the child to it, making him fit through coercion or drugs. If put your trust in the child and opt out of the institution, you are trusting in his natural curiosity and desire for mastery. You also must trust yourselves as his parents to facilitate his education at home.
As a childbirth educator and life coach, I help my clients learn to trust themselves and Nature’s design for birth. Now my son has forced me to consider extending that trust to his education. Once I stopped resisting, my heart was easily won over. Here are the reasons my head needed:
Nature is trustworthy. Nature drives processes so complex and beautiful that even the best scientific minds are humbled by it. Looking at the development of a child, Nature conceives, nurtures and births with very little conscious participation by the parents. It directs the child’s early, astonishing development – of gross and fine motor skills, of language and abstract thought. Nature plants in the child an insatiable curiosity to understand his world and to master his environment. Is this same Nature sufficient to prepare an adult in the modern world? Honestly I cannot be certain; the pace of change is dizzying. But I have no evidence that it cannot. And I have more faith in Nature’s processes of curiosity and play to adapt to novelty than I do in those of institutions.
My child is trustworthy. There is no argument to make; it is an article of faith. From my first days as a mother, the voices – be they found in books or in conversation – that resonated with me were the ones who encouraged me to trust my child. If he cries, you can trust that something is upsetting him, and it’s your job to find out what. He isn’t crying to manipulate; he cries from a need that he cannot meet alone. Bonnie Harris, my favorite parenting coach, lists as her first two Principles of Confident Parenting: “My Child Wants to Be Successful” and “Behavior Is My Clue.” The most that can be said as argument is – as I said of Nature – that I have no evidence that he is not. In fact, when I manage to remember and apply these principles when he and I disagree, I find that our disagreements dissolve. This is as close as I believe we can get to “proof.”
I am trustworthy. This is the piece I have struggled with! Can what I offer him be at least equal to what conventional education offers him? I think the answer is “yes,” and it isn’t because I was a classroom teacher before becoming a mother. It is because I am curious, open-minded and I love to learn. The best compliment I ever received in the classroom from one of my students was, “Mrs. Evans, you’re such a geek!” He was responding to my enthusiasm for our subject. I am conventionally educated, but I am also mostly self-taught in my chosen professional field of birth and life coaching. My educational philosophy is simple: read what interests you; ask questions; write about it or practice it; modify as experience and new information lead you. When the subject is difficult, break into smaller chunks and get advice. Experience tells me this is the only way to assimilate new information, it is the only way it “sticks.” Classroom teachers have a lot of skills and tricks, but they’re for marching a large group of children through a prescribed curriculum. (and by the way, how much of that do you actually remember?) Learning at home can be more simple and more reliably interesting.
Conventional education is . . . okay. How well it works depends upon the child, the parents and the school. It works well for my daughter, for example. When she was four and her brother was two, I put her in a Montessori nursery school. She was a challenging child at that age, and I felt stretched thin by the demands of early childhood. My husband worked away from home all day, and I was desperate to share more of the responsibility for raising her. When I visited the Montessori preschool near our home, I was certain it would be a better place than home for my daughter to spend the day. And it was! She thrived, and I got the good help I needed. Our relationship improved and so did our home life. It was the right school for the right girl for the right parents. She has remained in school and it continues to work well for her by every measure.
But her brother has had a very different experience. He is an intelligent, imaginative and easy-going child, but he has never thrived in any of the schools he has attended. Instead, school seems to make him smaller, more anxious, less sure of himself. He has endured school as a sad reality of life, but for the past year his stoic resignation has crumbled. It has forced me to look critically at conventional education and ask, “What is its real value?” In other words, what is he really learning there and what could he learn outside of it?
There is ample criticism of conventional education, produced by people more knowledgeable than I, so I won’t rehash those arguments here. Suffice it to say that I am convinced that the emotional content of conventional education is not beneficial for my son. As for me, I have grown in confidence as a mother as my children have grown. They are now eight and ten: independent, capable, and able to read and write. We have all changed since the day we decided that school was the best thing for everyone. I know that now I can provide a more suitable emotional environment for him to learn in.
In conclusion, we are going for it! Hearts and heads aligned, his last day of school will be later this month. (I actually suggested an earlier date, but he wanted to finish a project his class is doing.) I am nervous about the unknown, but excited, too. He, in contrast, is serenely joyful. He has responded to our trust in him by being more responsible, cooperative and cheerful – in a word, more trustworthy. I freely admit this is an experiment, but I like the odds.