Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"What we're really talking about is an education."

So, the other day I apparently said, "Actually, what we're really talking about is an education: what that is, what it means, how one acquires such a thing."

The trouble with saying something like that is that it makes me appear to have something to say. It sounds as if I actually have a post planned. It prompts people leave comments such as:

"I for one am looking forward to that next post, still trying to figure out 'what it all means' myself."


"Naturally, waiting impatiently for the next installment... ;)"

I'm grateful Dweej winked. I think she has me figured out (i.e., 87% of the time, I'm just talking, talking, talking ... y'know? I have no plan, no wisdom -- just a lot of words and ideas and caffeine. Or wine. Oh!  The talking is worse when I've had two glasses of cabernet.)


What is an education, and how does one acquire such a thing? My ideas about these things have changed so much over time.

I used to think that "An Education" was a set of objective truths and procedures, but as educations have unfolded over the years (my own education, and those of my children) I have seen how fluid the processes and definitions can be.

I used to think that to acquire an education one had to attend school and then, naturally, college. As my own education has progressed, and as my children have grown, however, I've seen so much autodidacticism that I now believe there's not a simple, single, well-defined way to learn, and that a classroom isn't always necessary for intellectual growth.

For today, I'm going to rerun an old post, from a series I did a couple of years back. Feel free to jump in and discuss -- let's educate ourselves on the nature of education.

(The post below is Part 4 of the series. For links to the previous three parts, see this post, "Joining Michele's Discussion: What is Education?")

from March, 2009:

My ideas about education.


When Anne-with-an-e was born, I had never, ever considered homeschooling.

Oh, I knew about those homeschooling fools. They were the people I'd ridiculed years before when they were fighting for the right to legally educate their kids at home. I'd heard of them (noisy religious fanatics that they were) and forgotten about them.

By 1993, when my first child was born, I didn't have an ounce of interest in homeschooling. I knew that my child would attend whatever public school was nearby, wherever Atticus taught. Because public school was simply what people did.

(I still believe in the ideals of public education -- that a great, solid education should be available to everyone, which is quite different from an education that is compulsory, but that's another post.)

I remember having thoughts about things that would be a part of "Kindergarten and so on" and I therefore didn't worry too much about some of those basics: "Oh ... she'll learn that in school," I would think.

In 1997, when Anne was about three-and-a-half, and I'd been a Catholic for two years, we bought a home from a family who homeschooled. I still remember the first time we went to see the house. As I knocked, I wondered what kind of demented woman would answer the door, and what kind of freaks would her children be, having been shut up in the house all day long, day after wretched, home bound day?

But shortly after that, I began to hear more about homeschooling from various quarters. A close friend was looking into it, though his wife wasn't convinced. At a Bible study I attended, a couple of people were discussing it. I began to find myself strangely intrigued. Oh, I knew we would never do it -- could anyone imagine Atticus, a public school teacher, homeschooling his own children? Preposterous. But, ummm ... tell me more, I found myself saying. Tell me. More.

They told me more. I began to read, and discuss, and explore online, and then read some more. I was drawn to it again and again, despite all my doubts and fears. I remember asking someone on an e-list, "Can I really do it? I'm already tired all the time. How will I teach my kids, on top of everything else I do?"

Those lovely moms assured me that it could happen, it does work, and that it's a process. Kind of like growing into grilled peanut butter.

I decided that if I completely blew it the first year, well, at least my daughter wouldn't be ruined forever. I could still put her in school for the final eleven years of her education, right? Eventually, Atticus was on board, too, and we began.

Now I marvel at how much my mindset has changed.

The idea of waiting for someone else to figure out our path? Or to determine all that my children need to learn? Conforming to others' ideas about what an education is, how it should be accomplished? It sounds like a foreign language now.

And, it all brings home the Church's teachings on the principle of subsidiarity:

The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which "a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good."

-- Catechism of the Catholic Church
We, as parents, are capable of making these choices and carrying out these plans. And, by not depriving ourselves of the most basic responsibility as the primary educators of our children, we have created something -- in the way of education, lifestyle and family relationships -- that we treasure.

In short, my idea of education has changed in this way: I used to think of it as "something they would get in school."

Now, I know it is "something we define, plan and pursue."

"Education" is a wide open space, a vast universe, a wilderness waiting to be explored; it's unconventional and traditional, depending on the day, the book or the topic. It's full of things that are fun and fascinating, not just things that are required to pass the test. It is books, discussion, and knowing when we don't need to talk.

It is our life. As Betsy said in this post, "... let's take years and years and years to learn everything!"

"Education" isn't something that's confined to a desk, from 8 to 3. It's a full-time job, and yes, sometimes it is exhausting to homeschool. But, I'm so glad those noisy, crazy religious fanatics fought for their right to pursue it. For my right. And my privilege, because make no mistake ... no matter how much work it is, defining, planning, and pursuing my kids' education is an enormous privilege, one I'm extraordinarily grateful to have.

On related notes, here are links to a couple of past posts on homeschooling:

Here's one about finding support for homeschooling.

Here's a post from 2006 about "What is 'normal' anyway?"



Kelly said...

Great post, Karen! It's amazing how much our ideas on education can change over the years.

btw, anyone who says, "Or wine. Oh! The talking is worse when I've had two glasses of cabernet.)" is most definitely my kinda gal. Once again I find myself wishing I could take a blogger out for coffee and conversation. :)

Suzie Andres said...

Yes, Karen and Kelly - it is awesome how much our ideas on education can change...

We thought about and planned to homeschool before we even had children, but after the first came along, somewhere near his 4th birthday I thought, "I can't do this! Let's try school." (Kind of the opposite of many who think homeschooling sounds crazy until their child turns 4 or 5, and then think "How could I send this child off to school?")

We tried a school for one year. Then another school for the next year. Then I came to the same conclusion you did, Karen:

"I decided that if I completely blew it the first year, well, at least my daughter [son] wouldn't be ruined forever. I could still put her [him] in school for the final eleven years of her education, right?"

It's now 16 yrs later...that boy and I had a lot of fun at home and in the world together and he did eventually go back to school - but not until after those 12 years. Now he's having adventures of his own (most recently Rome and soon his senior year in college). Meanwhile his little brother keeps me thinking new thoughts about education...

Thanks for the great posts and conversation!

with love,