I was censored recently. Did a video interview on why it’s best to keep the boundary between home education and other forms of non-formal schooling clearly delineated, and those two groups separately represented. The post went up and got taken down, faster than the proverbial utterance of Mr Robinson’s name. Giggle.
I would love to be able to say that it was totally unexpected. Unfortunately, though, it is more often my experience – and I believe that of many others, too – that this is one big area where homeschooling communities still have much growing to do: the tolerance of, let alone the embracing or analysis of, outlier opinions and arguments. It is something that I consciously make an effort to keep from becoming a blindspot in my own approach to home education: the active development of perspective in my children’s thought-lives.
It’s just too easy, even as we delight in providing our sons and daughters with a learning environment in which their sensibilities do not constantly have to be assaulted by what we consider inappropriate, to neglect the duty to teach them to walk in other shoes – many pairs. The personal devastation of the school playground is well-avoided. Yet the ideas, the ideologies, the stories providing the context, should never be. Our kids should be able to observe and draw on experiences other than their own, to formulate genuine insight into how and why issues have more than one angle, and eventually, to be able to make well-considered arguments about why they hold particular opinions, themselves.
I recall a particularly satisfying week of homeschool science lessons with one of my sons. I had leapt, shakily, into the unknown and started to teach, at a somewhat tender age, natural selection and evolution. Biblical and Darwinian theories of origins were placed gently, but firmly on the same table. My opinion was provided in strong, but non-coercive terms, together with the observation that such big and important ideas require much information-gathering, reflection and time. I casually sought comment from my student as we neared the end of a session, and held my breath as he announced with confidence that he had not made up his mind, and was still going to think about it. That was a successful day.
Helping our children to appreciate what it takes to form opinions worthy of them, is not always easy. Fortunately, there is a subject which lends itself to this process naturally. In her magnum opus*, author and homeschool mom, Susan Wise Bauer, writes about filmmaker Ken Burns, who said, “History is the study of everything that has happened until now. Unless you plan to live entirely in the present moment, the study of history is inevitable. History, in other words, is not a subject. History is the subject. It is the record of human experience, both personal and communal. It is the story of the unfolding of human achievement in every area – science, literature, art, music and politics. A grasp of historical facts is essential to the rest of the classical curriculum.”
History often forms the backbone of a good home ed curriculum. It certainly has in my home. The whole subject is about the ideologies of men, and the results of what they did with them. The family discussions which have emanated from our studies on the story of mankind in the world, have been exhilarating. The opportunity for moral instruction, vast. Encouragement to voice an opinion has been as great as the admonition to reflect on poor reasoning. And many different pairs of shoes have been tried on.
My favourite high school English teacher had a quote scribbled in chalk on the right-hand side of the blackboard: “If a million people believe in a stupid idea, it’s still a stupid idea.” As a home educator, I hope to continue to be able to assist my young ones to do justice to the evaluation of all the ideas; and then to stand for the good ones.
*Wise Bauer, S, “The Well-Trained Mind”, 2004, New York, W.W. Norton and Co.