My neighbors, intrepidly homeschooling since the arrival of COVID, came to my door the other day and dropped off a craft they made as part of their studies on a certain mammal. Given the subject of the craft, it was clear they were exploring things their children were interested in, asking questions about, and seeking and finding answers about the world in which they live.
This curiosity and thirst for learning is what makes homeschooling so valuable, writes Allison Robicelli in The Washington Post. She admits that while she never wanted to be a homeschool parent, she and her sons have grown to love homeschooling because it teaches them to love learning:
I quickly came to realize that everything I had assumed about homeschool was entirely wrong; it’s not about gathering around the table with workbooks, or trying to replicate the in-school experience. It’s about discovering how you like learning, and having the freedom to explore that. It’s seeing how the world isn’t divided into strict, separated disciplines, but how everything is connected. It’s learning to ask questions about everything, following your curiosities and realizing that your education never ends.
When it comes to questions, Robicelli appears to have mastered the art of asking and answering them with her children. She goes on to show how she uses an everyday experience like cooking to get kids thinking and exploring the real world. Making a pavlova recipe with her children, for example, leads to scientific questions and learning about eggs and what makes them healthy, the process of making sugar, and the difference between direct and indirect heat.
In other words, Robicelli is teaching her children to investigate beyond the four walls of a classroom or the pages of a workbook.
Isn’t this what life is all about? Exploring and experiencing the world and learning about our place in it? Yet learning in the last hundred years or so has largely been confined to the boxes we know as schools, structures “engineered to serve a concealed command economy and a deliberately re-stratified social order,” according to former teacher and author John Taylor Gatto.
Gatto contests the notion that traditional classroom work is the necessary ingredient for a successful life, saying, “Work in classrooms isn’t significant work; it fails to satisfy real needs pressing on the individual; it doesn’t answer real questions experience raises in the young mind; it doesn’t contribute to solving any problem encountered in actual life.”
Children forced into such a box of alleged learning have their natural curiosity squelched and become “listless,” Gatto says. Boredom sets in and schoolchildren lose their zest for life, becoming “like trapped rats [which] need close management.”
By contrast, Gatto notes that “Growth and mastery come only to those who vigorously self-direct. Initiating, creating, doing, reflecting, freely associating, enjoying privacy—these are precisely what the structures of schooling are set up to prevent, on one pretext or another.”
We’ve sensed the listless nature Gatto describes in the bulk of our nation’s children for years. Many are diagnosed with attention deficit disorders, others exhibit violent behavior, and still others grow up not knowing how to function in the adult world. If, as Gatto implies, such behavior is a direct result of the type of education children have been subjected to, then what will happen as more of these children continue to be pulled from the public school system and are forced into a homeschooling situation? Are we about to see the return of vibrant, creative, and inquisitive children?
If so, then perhaps there is hope for the future, for a child eager to learn and ready to ask questions will be much more difficult to dupe into accepting any line of thinking sold to him by the government, media, or society in general. It is just this type of independent thinkers which first made our country great.