We did not raise our children in a classroom environment. I conducted my "classes" in the front seat of the pickup or in the cabinet shop. Deb conducted her classes in the kitchen or sitting at the kitchen table enthusiastically discussing points of interest to the children. They chose projects that were interesting to them. They could be found searching the library, collecting rocks, leaves, and bugs or constructing solar systems with foam balls, wire, and paint. The only tests they took were when someone tried to cheat them at a cash register or when they were dividing up earnings from a corporate entrepreneurial endeavor. Have you ever seen three kids, ages four, six, and eight dividing up $5.37? Old fashion suspicion will make a mathematician out of them in a hurry. I am often asked, "But aren’t schools the best way to learn?" Where did you get a ridiculous idea like that?
H.G. Wells, a noted humanist and historian, wrote concerning the schools of Alexandria, Egypt between the second and seventh centuries AD. "Wisdom passed away from Alexandria and left pedantry [pretentious display of knowledge] behind. For the use of books was substituted the worship of books. Very speedily the learned became a specialized queer class with unpleasant characteristics of its own. The Museum had existed for half a dozen generations before Alexandria was familiar with a new type of human being; shy, eccentric, unpracticed, incapable of essentials, strangely fierce upon trivialities of literary detail, as bitterly jealous of the colleague within as of the unlearned without—the Scholarly Man. He was as intolerant as a priest, though he had no cave. For him no method of copying was sufficiently tedious and no rare book sufficiently inaccessible. He was a sort of by-product of the intellectual process of mankind. For many precious generations the new-lit fires of the human intelligence were to be seriously banked down by this by-product."
I have observed the byproduct of America’s modern counterpart to the Alexandrian school. Their frail bodies, white with the tan of florescent lights, shoulders humped, eyes squinted, poor complexion from the junk food consumed between lessons, stumble from their classrooms to stand in line for the next culturally preordained phase of life. Their mentality is that since they have given themselves to the system, the system owes them a good job, good wages, medical coverage, fair play, protection, entertainment, a vacation, retirement, old age convalescence, and a proper burial. God save us from being average. I don’t want to be a part. I don’t want to rear children to be a cog in this wheel.
It is obvious that many homeschooling families are nothing more than reformed public educational systems. A system faulty at the very core of its philosophy doesn’t need reformation. It needs dismissal. The educational system in America doesn’t need a new teacher; it needs a new birth.
Whether in the home, dictated by parents, or in the corporate classroom, John Dewey style education has taken an invasive, destructive course. Intensive, time-consuming mental discipline—out of proportion to working with the hands—is alien to natural humanity and a threat to normal development. It is a perversion to take a five- to twelve-year-old child and enter him in a demanding competition for academic excellence. We would all find fault with an ambitious adult that put his seven-year-old child through a demanding schedule of football training. Is the seven-year-old any better equipped to handle the emotional demands of professional study? How can we justify raping a child’s youth by forced confinement in full time study? Child prodigies are usually abnormal, unfulfilled adults. Head-starters are often late finishers with no desire to continue their education.
Just as the motions of crawling are essential to the development of an infant, and the four-year-old hanging on to his mama’s skirts is essential to a child’s sense of security, so the ten-year-old following his daddy around is an integral part of his psychological development into manhood. Schooling will fill their brains with facts, enabling them to pass tests, but it will not teach them to relate to society. When children should be developing confidence, creativity, individuality, strong bodies, and work ethics, instead they are made to cease independent decision making and march (or rather sit) in formation to the drum beat of a lifeless curriculum. If you have wondered where the real men went, they disappeared into textbooks and went through puberty with books in their laps rather than tools in their hands.
Let us not go through another upper class Alexandrian Dark Age. There is no ignorance as great as book ignorance—not ignorance OF books, ignorance IN books. Just so you understand my perspective: I am a college graduate. I write this while sitting in a room with thousands of books lining all available wall space from the floor to ceiling. I have read a meaningful portion of most of them. My children all read for enjoyment and as research to satisfy curiosity or to fill a need. Rebekah, our only child who thus far has found it needful to go to college, earned a four-point average. My present purpose is not to brag on my kids. I am willing enough to do that, but I want you to understand that book education is shallow without a larger education in real life. When book education becomes predominate, the student is no longer living in the real world.
I know that there comes a time when a mature adult may need to immerse himself in studies, shutting out the real world, but this should be the burden of a mature adult who has a goal that can only be realized through the weariness of much study. A child who is yet growing and developing a personality and character should not spend long periods of time withdrawn in study.
What horrors, to see a small child quivering under the condemnation of his mother because he can’t keep his mind on a dead book lying in front of him! Long hours of boredom and pretended study stunts the intellectual growth of young children. Yes, we want our children to be educationally equipped to enter into any field or discipline they may choose, but mind-set is more important than mind content. It is far more important for a child to grow into personal confidence, creativity and vision than to rush into academic excellence. The reality is that most homeschooling parents are following the current pop philosophy, sacrificing the humanity of their children for the promise of academic security.
There must be a balance. Rather than the imbalance of six hours of study and one hour of recess, for the six- to ten-year-old let there be one hour of study, five hours of recess, and two hours of work. Balance the ten- to fourteen-year-old with two hours of play, one hour of study, and five hours of work. Balance the fifteen- to sixteen-year-old with seven hours of work, one hour of study, and let him find time to play. Following a natural course as I have described, the seventeen- to eighteen-year-old won’t need your balancing; he will be a man in every sense of the word. The seventeen-year-old girl will be a lady of poise and confidence, ready to meet whatever challenges await her.
Over the last 40 years I have observed many families who believed the greater the education the greater the success in life. Many of those college graduates have never provided adequate support for their own families. Opportunity existed, but they were not able to do anything other than sit at a desk on a weekly salary. If the economy were to collapse, they would not know how to survive.
I know that what I have said is radical. A little light in a great darkness is always radical. I have not advocated ignorance. Quite the contrary. It is isolated book learning that is ignorance, ignorance of real life. College professors don’t make better spouses and parents than do farmers. Corporate executives can be terribly ignorant in human relationships. Engineers can be insecure wimps who are paralyzed with fear at the thought of being cast upon their own bare resources. Politicians can negotiate a peace treaty with a foreign power but not have the power to negotiate a peace with their own teenagers. Computer programmers can solve the most complex problems but not be able to deal with the complexities of marital relationships.
The profession with the lowest divorce rate and the lowest suicide rate is that of farmer. Again, I am not advocating avoidance of the higher trained professions. I am just aware that children and young people should not be pushed by anxious parents who feel that their children’s happiness depends on cramming them full of book knowledge as early as possible. When they are old enough to send themselves through college, they can make that decision to become a professional student. The self-confidence and working skills learned in their youth will better equip them for higher education than will the long hours of wimpish study in youth.
In your heart you know that the present public system is anti-human as well as anti-God. Homeschoolers have eliminated the anti-God aspect, but most of them have retained the anti-human elements in their schooling.
Children need a mother who has the time and energy to mother them, not be a teacher who has neither the time nor the patience to appreciate them as people. Lay down your stern professor’s mantle and pick up your apron. Next time you meet eyes with your child make sure it is with approval and not with academic disappointment. I never did like the teachers that gave out achievement tests, nor the ones who handed out the scores. In your desire to see your children "educated," don’t stop being a mama or a daddy. Relax and give them time to develop emotionally. Allow them to be three years behind the normally accepted standard in academic achievement, and by the time they are sixteen they will be three years ahead. Twelve to fifteen is a very good age for "catching up." The twelve-year-old who has not developed a disposition against schooling will learn more in six months than most kids know when they graduate. A child who is confident and secure will learn with ease. Fear of failure and rejection will close the mind up worse than retardation. Many children fear learning because they associate it with painful boredom and/or rejection.
Children are all different. The beauty of homeschooling is that we can adapt to the needs of the child. Our oldest daughter Rebekah loved books, writing, music, art, etc. She was reading by the time she was four, but she couldn’t add the change in her pocket until she was baking bread. Our next son, Gabriel, could count money before he could speak plainly. At eight-years-old he amused himself and impressed others with his simple calculations. It was nothing unusual for the average third grader, but with an older sister like he had, he thought he was pretty smart. We assured him that he was. At eight years old he could use a tape measure and help me in the shop, but he couldn’t read or write at all. He just had no interest. We didn’t push, but after the way Rebekah learned we were beginning to wonder if he would ever learn to read. She was writing poetry at eight years old. At eight he couldn’t write his name in the mud he left on the floor.
The day finally came when he walked up to Deb and said, "I want to learn to read the Bible like Daddy." She sat down with him and opened a King James Bible—since it’s the easiest one to read. Earlier he had refused phonics, seeing it had no immediate practical purpose, so she started him reading by route from Genesis 1:1. In two weeks, one hour a day, he had learned the basics of reading. Within six months, he could read on his own, with comprehension.
Less than a year from the time he started learning to read, the State of Tennessee forced us to have the children tested. Our children had never taken a test and never been in a classroom. I had to explain to Gabriel how to conduct himself as part of an indoor society. He had to leave his throwing knives at home along with his shotgun. I explained to him that he was supposed to sit in the desks and not wander around the room examining things and asking what they were. And above all, don’t speak unless spoken to. It didn’t make any sense to him, but he was as game as that time he jumped off the diving board with his feet tied together and his hands tied behind his back. This was a new challenge and he loved challenges.
They arrived at the school to find stern faces greeting them. The teachers were not at all sympathetic with us and made it as hard as possible. I must say, I was nervous. I stayed home like an expectant father who didn’t have the guts to go to the hospital. I had no idea how they would do. I was just hoping they could come up to their grade level. Nine-year-old Gabriel scored several years ahead of his supposed level, and eleven-year-old Rebekah scored in the upper high school to college level.
You would expect them to come home weary and emotionally drained. Mama was. But they hurriedly changed clothes and jumped in the pond. All was forgotten. While other children were still laboring through their last hours of confinement, our children were lost in the wonders of tadpoles, frogs, and flips off the diving board into the muddy water.
You can have the computer geeks and the pale faced, thin shouldered, soft bellied, bookworms. Give me a little man who can swing an ax, fix a bicycle or car, build a house, read with comprehension, and compute all the money he is making from the labor of his own strong hands.