Natural Learners

As long as I have homeschooling on the brain lately, I want to quickly share some things I had saved in my drafts folder. This will most likely be my last homeschooling post for a while and I’ll return to my usual topics!

Quite some time ago (pre-children), I wrote the following in response to a 2001 Time magazine article about homeschooling that bemoaned both that homeschooled children were “not allowed to have a childhood”  (forced to be miniature adults and grow up too soon) and that they somehow also “miss out on learning ‘real world’ skills” (in school) such as conflict resolution that will benefit them in adulthood. In the article, a strong statement was made that I’ve never forgotten that riding the school bus is a valuable and important part of growing up and imparts irreplaceable life lessons summarily denied to poor, deprived homeschoolers. (Luckily for my social and personal development as a complete human being, I did get to ride a school bus to our local Vacation Bible School each year for a number of years.)

Truly, is there anything inherently valuable about things like riding the school bus? I lived my childhood and it was rich and full in a way that is impossible to create when you spend 8-9 hours per day institutionalized. Why is sitting at a desk, artificially grouped with children all your own age, being spoonfed information, and restricted from developing your own personality and preferences (i.e. everyone must learn algebra), what childhood “should” be? Why do so many adults go through crises as adults that involve having to “find themselves” and develop their “true selves”? I would hypothesize that is because they never got to explore themselves and their identities in childhood, which is actually the ideal time for such growth and development. Government schooling is somehow seen as the better way for children to spend childhood instead of letting children develop, grow, and learn in the actual world in which they will live as adults.

I also had saved a quote about natural learners from the book, Providence, by Daniel Quinn. Quinn is the author best known for his philosophical novel Ishmael, which I read as a young teenager. I remember considering it to be a life changing and fascinating read, but it has been a LONG time since I read it—my primary memory of it is how he challenges the very human conception that we are the “end” result of evolution. That’s it, evolution has finished, we’re here now. Anyway, Providence was less illuminating/interesting. It was primarily an autobiography with an emphasis on how the author developed Ishmael (which went through more than 6 versions over a period of like 13 years) as well as an exploration of his religious development (which includes some time spent in a monastery and ends with animism).

While he was writing his book, he worked in educational publishing and I appreciated his remarks about education:

One of the great, persistent myths of education in our culture is that children become reluctant learners as they grow older. In fact, what they become reluctant about it going to school, where they’re bullied, regimented, bored silly, and very effectively prevented from learning…We know what works for children up to the age where we ship them off to school: Let them be around you, pay attention to them, talk to them, give them access to as much as you can, let them try things, and that’s it. They take care of the rest. You don’t have to strap small children down and teach them to speak, all you have to do is talk to them. You don’t have to give them crawling lessons or walking lessons or running lessons. You don’t have to spend an hour a day showing them how to bang two pots together; they’ll figure that out all by themselves–if you give them access to the pots. Nothing magical happens at the age of five to render this process obsolete or invalid.

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