Reading about homeschooling
In spite of one of the most difficult weeks we’ve had in recent memory (or is it because of it?), I’ve been immersed in three of my favorite things — reading, writing, and crafting.
I’ll share more soon about the kind of week we had, but for now, my brain is bursting from all the great stuff I’ve been reading. Writing about it right now is, quite honestly, probably more for me than for any reader out there. I process by writing, so I’m compelled to grab my 21st century quill (aka, MacBook) whenever I must get something out of my head and into some coherent thought.
So. I tend to read about five books at a time, rotating them based on my mood and energy level. One I haven’t put down since I got it in the mail four days ago, though, is John Taylor Gatto’s Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling.
I kept hearing about that book from homeschooling mamas I admire, so I decided to go ahead and just read it. It’s a short book, and it’s written by one of the most brilliant minds regarding modern-day education. Gatto was a schoolteacher in the New York City public school system for 30 years; in 1990, he was named NYC teacher of the year, and in ’91 he was named New York State teacher of the year. Most of these chapters are a collection of his speeches given in thanks to his awards.
Oh. My. Goodness. What a book. It’s shocking, it’s brash, and it’s brilliant. I keep highlighting so many quotes of his, I could honestly write out every poignant word of his and leave you with not much left to read.
In essence, his point is that we don’t need to reform schools, because they already do brilliantly what they were created to do during the Industrial Revolution. Compulsory schooling is a new phenomenon, compared to the history of humanity. And it didn’t make headway in the U.S. until the late 19th century, in Massachusetts, when corporations were needing average-educated boys and girls to have a more general education (instead of a specialized one in just a few particular fields), so that they could fill their slots in the factory line, either literally or in spirit.
From that time, formal schooling was made compulsory, and that period of history — when our focus was on creating more, speeding along the fast track of modernization, and separating the classes so that the wealthy could get wealthier with their ideas crafted from the hands of middle-class workers — created the school system we know today. It’s not a bad period in history, mind you, and definitely one that made America what it is now. But its worldview is what created compulsory schooling, and it’s pretty much the same school system we have today.
Before mandatory schooling, it’s noted that in the 13 colonies during the Revolution, we had a 99% literacy rate. Almost everybody could read, write, and do arithmetic. Some of the most brilliant American minds in history did not go to school as children — they were educated, mind you, but it wasn’t in a separate building full of kids their same age. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Abigail Adams… absolutely brilliant minds, these were.
(I should stop and say that I’m not mad or anti-school. I was public schooled K-12, and I had a great experience. It’s probable that our kids may one day be public schooled, should we ever move back to the U.S. But I love — and I love even more the more I learn about it — the idea of homeschooling. Homeschooling well. Especially in the early years. The foundational years. So that’s why I’m so immersed in educating myself about it right now — we’re in the sunrise of those early years with our kids.)
Anyway. So Gatto’s point is that we don’t need to bother reforming schools, because they already do perfectly what they’re created to do — create generations of average-minded citizens, ready to fill the slots in the work force. What he says we need to do is rethink the entire point of education from the beginning. Completely change our philosophy of education altogether. If we were to do this as an entire nation, it would require, essentially, a tearing down of the entire school system, and starting from scratch.
That is not likely to happen, so in his writing and speaking, Gatto advocates parents taking back the power and decision to decide what education means for them. The family is the most important entity in a child’s life, and it’s a parent’s God-given responsibility to raise them in a glorifying way. It should stand to argue, then, that a parent should assume it is their job to think through what education is for their family. Not to just assume public school is the answer, and only consider other options if the particular neighborhood school is gang-ridden and graffittied.
I could go on and on, and I probably will, as I further sculpt our family’s educational philosophy. I’m so passionate about giving our children a whole-hearted, whole-minded, whole body experience in their upbringing. To not dichotomize their learning about life.
I’ve recently enjoyed reading through the blog Homeschool. Style. Bytes. It’s a blog that simply highlights a different homeschooling family, and where each shares their homeschool recipe. It’s mostly full of — well, let’s face it — just cool families that I admire. I love almost all of their recipes. It’s encouraging and inspiring.
I’ll end with just a few of the quotes I’m noshing on from Dumbing Us Down:
“…It appears to me as a schoolteacher that schools are already a major cause of weak families and weak communities. They separate parents and children from vital interaction with each other and from true curiosity about each other’s lives. Schools stifle family originality by appropriating the critical time needed for any sound idea of family to develop — then they blame the family for its failure to be a family. It’s like a malicious person lifting a photograph from the developing chemicals too early, and then pronouncing the photographer incompetent.” -pg. 66-67
“Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist; it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to tackle the big challenges; it should allow you to find values which will be your road map through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing, wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important: how to live and how to die. What’s gotten in the way of education in the United States is a theory of social engineering that says there is one right way to proceed with growing up.” -pg. 67-68
“No one believes anymore that scientists are trained in science classes or politicians in civics classes or poets in English classes. The truth is that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders. This is a great mystery to me because thousands of humane, caring people work in schools as teachers and aides and administrators, but the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their individual contributions. Although teachers do care and do work very, very hard, the institution is psychopathic — it has no conscience. It rings a bell and the young man in the middle of writing a poem must close his notebook and move to a different cell where he must memorize that humans and monkeys derive from a common ancestor.” -pg. 22
“I don’t think we’ll get rid of schools anytime soon, …we need to realize that the school institution “schools” very well, though it does not “educate” — that’s inherent in the design of the thing. It’s not the fault of bad teachers or too little money spent. It’s just impossible for education and schooling ever to be the same thing.” -pg. 23
“Some form of free-market system in public schooling is the likeliest place to look for answers, a free market where family schools and small entrepreneurial schools and religious schools and crafts schools and farm schools exist in profusion to compete with government education. I’m trying to describe a free market in schooling exactly like the country had until the Civil War, one in which students volunteer for the kind of education that suits them even if that means self-education. It didn’t hurt Benjamin Franklin that I can see.” -pg. 18
For our family, the idea of homeschooling is not a moral issue. It’s an educational issue. I have absolutely no issue with families that conscientiously choose the public school route. As I said, I don’t believe it’s a moral issue. But I do think it’s a parents’ right to freely pursue the best form of education for each of their kids. And that’s what I’m doing.