Once you let go of the idea of a traditional education, it’s amazing how quickly the walls start to fall down around you.
I grew up in a great school district and by all counts, was a very successful student. I felt at the time like I was thriving. What I didn’t understand was that the end goal had been defined for me in a completely unnecessary way. Each step was supposed to prepare me for the following forgone conclusion: “Make sure you indent properly! They’ll never let you get away with such poor composition in 4th grade!” and “Show all your work! When you get to high school they won’t even care if you get the right answer if you can’t show how you got there!”. On and on it went, a giant pyramid of empty threats, robbing me and my classmates of our intrinsic motivation with each passing year. School became something to get through, and nobody thought that was weird, because everyone else was doing it too. You see, I’m a Gen X-er (barely) – one of the last kids to survive high school and college without the Internet. In college we still had dial-up modems. I’ve used both a card catalog and microfilm. My school years were spent in a very disconnected world, where aspirations were defined by the degree of your exposure to life outside your zip code. College was definitely the answer, because as far as anyone could see, it was the only way to get a ‘good job’ – surely the key to a ‘good life’. Right?
The problem with this whole song and dance it that it presupposes your value system. It defines a ‘good life’ as ‘disposable income’ and ‘steady career’. It assumes that victory in navigating the pitfalls of institutional schooling can be directly translated to success in the workplace, or in life in general. I wonder how and when that transition was supposed to happen – when were we supposed to stop ‘getting through’ one gauntlet of tasks after another – high school, SAT’s, college – and start embracing our lives? What had prepared us for that? Where had we been encouraged first and foremost to lead fulfilling lives, doing hard work that was meaningful to us in balance with family, friends, community, and joy?
Home educators know that learning is a part of life, and that they aren’t raising tiny academics – they are raising human beings. The best way to prepare for a bountiful life as an adult is to embrace the full bounty of childhood, without inhibition! Steep tiny humans in the good things so that they will appreciate them as adults. This doesn’t mean eschewing traditional teaching or skills education. The satisfaction of having finally mastered a hard-fought skill, whether it’s long division, or balancing chemical reactions, can fill the heart in just the same way as an afternoon of netting fish in the river or a successful play rehearsal. Let them feel the satisfaction of their own accomplishments – genuine accomplishments, not participation medals – won through hard work and dedication over time. These moments will nourish their desire for future success and fulfillment, and pave the way for a happy life in all its glorious dimension.
Students who learn to embrace hard work and find satisfaction in their real accomplishments will always be successful in the end. Free from the pressure of others’ expectations and driven by their own desire to be extraordinary, they’re ready for college, work, family, friends, community – wherever they choose to excel.