By the Roots

August 1, 2012 § 6 Comments

We were up early this morning, with chores completed and breakfast finished by 7. As such, I offered the boys a round of target practice; we’d borrowed a .223 from a neighbor and they were eager to give it a shot. Heh. So to speak.

We spent half an hour in the woods with the guns, blasting at a paper target and a couple of unfortunate stumps. I was not raised with guns, which probably helps explain my initial aversion to them, but having shot a couple thousand rounds over the past year or two, I now find that a rifle feels quite natural in my hands. The boys hope to be deer hunting within the next year or so; we’ll take a hunter safety course this fall and see where things stand.

In any event, the three of us came out of the forest with rifles in hand and spent shells clattering in our pockets to find a young woman on our lawn, conversing with Penny. If she was alarmed or merely surprised at the sight of two gun-wielding children (to say nothing of their father), she hid it well. She explained that she had come to show us “learning materials” and hinted that we might wish to purchase some, to which I said “you’ve got a tough sell, here,” and disappeared into the house. I did not intend to be short, although it may have come off that way. I simply didn’t want to waste her time. Actually, to be entirely honest, I was more concerned with wasting my time. But since that doesn’t sound very nice, that’s not what I said.

I do not wish to educate my children according to a curriculum engineered by someone else. Because the truth is, no matter how well intended, no matter how well engineered, no matter how flat out smart the designer of said curriculum might be, he or she does not know my kids. He or she knows only some aggregate average of children, which is then wedded to a particular educational philosophy (which I may or may not agree with) to create “learning materials.” Needless to say, there is an inherent standardization that cannot fully respect and honor the individual. Of course, nowhere is this more true than in formal educational institutions (aka “schools”) which suffer the added burdens of maintaining some semblance of order amidst the teeming mass of youth, as they attempt to meet the imposed expectations of state, federal, and cultural entities.

The world is full of committed and well-meaning teachers and other actors in the educational arena. Of this, I have no doubt. But they suffer the same fate as the committed and well-meaning politicians who must do their bidding within the context of a diseased system (although I’m pretty sure there are far fewer well-meaning politicians, than teachers). Some children seem to thrive in this system, although of course it’s impossible to say how they might respond to an alternative, because for most, there are no other options; the financial realities of contemporary America do not encourage a different track, because most families simply can’t afford to consider other options. And to me it seems as if our culture’s messaging, as steered by the steady hand of corporate media, suggests that youth is something to be endured, rather than celebrated. In other words, to live separate from our children, to do our best to ensure that they disrupt our busy lives as little as possible.

Now, it could be said that I do not know what my children need most. At times, I am sure this is true, and like most parents, we suffer from bouts of self-doubt and general uncertainty. But having committed ourselves to this path long ago, and having seen how many of our specific anxieties have been banished by the maturation of the boys in their own time, at their own pace, as the natural outgrowth of their true interests and passions, these bouts come less often and are less acute, and I can see how they are the result of fears that have been seeded into me.

And that the best thing I can do is pull the damn things up by the roots and let my boys learn.



§ 6 Responses to By the Roots

  • Nancy Settel says:

    oh trust me Ben you never know what children need most, your life will aways be filled with self doubt. I think this is the def. of parenthood. Even though my children are grown I still can wake up in the middle of the night and wonder did I do this wrong should I have done this instead? And the funny thing is they all turned out great but still I wonder.Please tell me this is natural and I am not nuts. The thing is you care about your children you are not giving them up for someone else to shape and raise and this is a remarkable thing in this day and age when everyone has to be equal, every one get a trophy and everyone gets a ribbon. You want to show them to be proud with something they did that is outstand not just ordinary, you want them to expect more from themselves and be proud when they accomplish that. You are on the right path. nancy settel

  • jennifer fisk says:

    You are doing so well by your kids. I have one who pretty much still refuses, at 33, to submit to institutional learning. He learns anything he wants to know by his own research and I have to admit is far more informed than many “educated” people.

  • ncfarmchick says:

    I am so glad to read this post! I am the mother of two boys, aged 13 months and 3 months, whom my husband and I plan to homeschool. Actually, I feel we began their education the day they were born experiencing life with us and on our farm. We already are preparing ourselves for the comments we anticipate from others who think institutional schooling is the only option. The best answer we can come up with is that we care more about our children’s learning than anyone else so we want it to be a family affair. Fortunately, my in-laws are very supportive but I’m not so sure about my parents (there are a lot of teachers on that side of the family.) The more I read about families such as yours, the more emboldened I feel. Thank you!

  • Melissa R says:

    I FINALLY finished reading my copy of Taproot. I hoped, after I read your article, that I could find “stuff” from you. I clicked on your blog and discovered that you homeschool and as I read this sentence “I do not wish to educate my children according to a curriculum engineered by someone else” I knew I would love your blog. My heart is singing with that sentence in my mind. How many times I have tried to tell people this. Moms in angst because their child isn’t “getting” what is in Chapter X of Grade X math book by Publishers X. I wish I could give them this exact info in a way that they would instantly understand and believe in. The time wasted, the family relationships damaged, the parents questioning themselves. None of that has to be. It’s the BOOK. Chapter X, Grade X, Publisher X. They are the time wasters, the ones damaging the family unit. Throw it away if it doesn’t work! Find something else. Create something else. The book doesn’t know your child. The publisher and authors don’t know your child. Why do we give such control over to publishers?
    I always tell parents that if you or the child is crying over school work, then throw it out, find another way. Learning shouldn’t be painful or harmful.
    So, now I go delving further into your blog and hope that more gems pop out. Looking forward to it.
    (I am a mom of a 9-year-old boy who is lovingly homeschooled.)

  • Doug W. says:

    The whole education thing is so nuanced. The latin roots are edu care “to draw out what is potentially there”. The concern is that current mass education puts in a lot of stuff that needn’t be there. It is also important to remember that our children have their own destinies, and it may well include not living as we do. That is certainly the case with our own children, and those in the homesteading community where we live. Yesterday the local intentional community had a going away party for two of its young members who are headed to college in the fall. Will they come back at some point? We’ll see. Even with public education, rural life has often produced a certain kind of person, someone who is capable of “succeeding” in varied circumstances. There is much to be said for both homeschooling and alternative schools. Young people who are homeschooled and not being socialized on the bus are hardworking and able to think for themselves. The contrast between them and most of their public educated peers is often remarkable. Perhaps we need a balanced approach, one that ensures that our children speak the language well, can spell correctly, and write well along with being able skin a deer, can vegetables, and know the names of the birds and trees.That way they will be prepared– whether their destiny takes them to a farm down the road, or to some place across the country.

  • jsiegel115 says:

    The poor interns recruited by that company –whichever it is–make their way around these parts, too. Once every two years or so. I’ve turned them away twice, as I’ve met them twice. I always feel bad for the kids that they have brainwashed into selling those books for college credit. I don’t like the way they drop the names of neighbors who’ve bought the program they’re selling–like I should be jumping on the bandwagon to be “normal”. Nothing turns me off faster.

    I tell them that they’re wasting their time on me. The conversations never last long.

    We do send our kids to public school here, and I am a part time teacher. But I will tell you that the curriculum is sadly lacking and the system doesn’t work. Did you know that curriculum decisions are made in Texas by a panel? I live in New York. It seems that all Texans know about NY is that we have apples. I could vomit to see how many apples and apple references are in the textbooks here.

    As to my own family, I work with my kids to broaden their education and fill in the blanks that it leaves. They know more about things than most kids do because of it, and homesteading is a gigantic part of that. But it is an ongoing work, and not something we can cease with. So yes, when the little girl or boy comes around with those books and quotes names of neighbors at me, I just smile and escort them off my land. More books are not the answer. Parents actively participating in their childrens’ lives are.

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