Learning free

Note:  I read this post earlier this week and left it feeling so very sad.  And so, I redoubled my efforts over here and wanted to share my thoughts.

Every year for so many years now, I am faced with this same question:  how do we do this homeschooling thing the right way?  There are so many ways to approach it, and although we tend to fall somewhere in the middle, trying to balance the freedom to be yourself with the reality of responsibilities and the status quo, there are always some struggles.  And with each struggle I ask myself, why?  Why do we have to study this particular thing or that particular thing?  And I am amazed at the layers of conditioning that keep falling away each year  as it becomes clear to me that we don’t have to always, and that we shouldn’t have to, always.

Because the realization I always come back to is this, there is a general lack of freedom for children to be the designers of their own lives.

No, I’m not talking about turning in the parenting card here.  Things like helping out in the home, or learning how to behave with kindness and compassion to the rest of the human race, these are important. But these are the things that kind of come naturally.  When those boundaries are pushed, these are things we do need to reinforce.

But what about in education? What does an education really need to be?  What should it be? Do we use what comes naturally to each child as our guide in this case?

I see adults the world wide, historically and through the present, attempting to make children over in their image.  But why?  If we look around us, we see that the world is  made up of a myriad of different people, all with different loves and passions, capabilities and crafts.  If we can acknowledge that other adults can be happy doing any number of things, why do we fret so about what our children might want to do.  How can we expect them to be just like us?

Before I had children, I imagined them all needing to read the same books I did, the ones that opened my eyes, honed my thinking skills, gave me such insight into life.  Shakespeare, Plato, Camus.  It was going to be brilliant.  They were going to be brilliant–by my definition of brilliant.

Then enters the farmer.  The love of my life.

He doesn’t ever really read books, he never really did.  And yet, his critical thinking skills are great, his understanding of the human condition well developed, his love of the good and need to do good, superb.  Clearly, he can read. He is particularly fond of dystopian works, and a few of those classic dystopian novels from his younger years were powerful enough to remain his steadfast friends to this day.   There is no denying the fact that well written literature and philosophy are great sources for an education.  Luckily, no matter how much or how little you get in, they tend to stick.  Such wonderful teachers.

But in the end, my education full of them and his with but a few,  netted the same result.   We are equally happy, equally fulfilled, equally liberated–skills that we didn’t learn from our elementary through high school instruction anyways.  Like Albert Einstein has said, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school”.   Meaning, there is so much more to learn about being alive and being human and being truly happy than we could ever learn in a traditional school setting.

So, why wouldn’t I want my children to develop freely?  Even though we are not tempted to convince them that they need a well paying job to be happy, it is just as hard for us (me) to not think they should adopt my line of thinking about the world.  How often do tiny remarks slip out of my mouth that devalue the moment of their thought because I respond like I know more than they do.

Of course, I have learned more than they have by sheer volume of years on this planet.  But that doesn’t mean I can blanket them with the weight of my findings.  They were hard earned.  That is the beauty of this life, the learning.  And when I look around me to the adults I spend time with, it is clear that we didn’t all get a chance to learn a lot about ourselves in our younger years.  Between school and our parents, trying to balance a happy childhood with so many expectations around us, it is hard to feel free to be yourself, to remain true to those thoughts of yours, to feel adequate with so many people to please.

And so, in our home, expectations are low.

I know this sounds so counter intuitive, but what I mean to say is that although our expectations of kindness and respect and communication are high, and that if the value of personal hygiene and purposeful work and taking care of yours and others belongins aren’t operating at an optimal level, we will definitely set some expectations, what we don’t do our kids to be anything other than their wonderful, unique selves.

In short, I try not to lay it on thick, my ideas.  What, you don’t love poetry, bah?!  No!  I try to control myself,  because you know, my husband doesn’t even like poetry and I think he is pretty great.

We don’t expect them to be laid back artists and farmers like we are, nor rocket scientists or lawyers or whatever else.  We even try to remain calm at the thought of them in a suit and tie.  Because,  it never feels good to feel unloved because of who you are, and don’t children feel that a little when we don’t encourage them to follow their own lead and keep encouraging them to take ours?

However, in our home we do chug away at math everyday.  That is easy since I can point out to them all the times in our days that these skills really do come in handy.  We do learn to read, that is a given, but we practice together.  When they get there, I really try not to make judgements about the books they want to read on their own or comment if they are not reading any books in their own time. Instead, I just read to them, incessantly.

In the reading I do, I try to get in all the books that I find meaning in, the ones I think will touch and tend their growing souls.  I try to give them the story of history in a way that interests them so that they can one day develop perspective.  I try, when they are interested in something I have never learned well, to learn alongside them. 

But I also try to bite my tongue when it seems like it is going to sound like a bull siren singing the praise of one way to live, one way to think, a certain writer they must like, or a classic song they must love, that math is so perfect, beautiful and reassuring and they should love it, or that a certain period of history if over the top fascinating and they should find it all just so too.

Because they can or they can’t, they are all wildly different small people.  It isn’t ever a should or they shouldn’t.

I want them to grow up knowing, above all, that they are worthy and perfect just as they are, with the inner light they came here with to guide them.  I don’t want to be a shadow on that light.  What I want, instead, is to let that beam shine and lead them where they were meant to go.  A place that I can’t know for them.

And this is a gift we can all give our children, home schooled or not.  The gift to be free.  Impenetrably, free.


“All I am saying can be summed up in two words: Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.” – John Holt