Friday, November 21, 2014

The Power of Home


It's said that homeschooling changes everything. Most obviously, we homeschoolers experience a stunning paradigm-shift in how we think about learning and what it means to be educated. 

But homeschooling also changes how we think about home.

I have contemplated at various times throughout the life of this blog changing the title from "homeschooling" to "unschooling" or "learning" because we are not school-at-homers. But each time I have thought this I resist. Because even though so much of our learning comes from the people, places, and things in our community, home is the linchpin. Home holds everything together.

Our homes are powerful places. They nurture and nourish our families. They grow our dreams and "protect our dreamers." They cultivate creativity and invention. They warm us, shelter us, and gather us together.

At this time of year, as the indoor days of late-fall and winter take hold, I take comfort in home and grow increasingly awed at what we are able to produce, to accomplish, within these walls, as a family. Our homes can be extraordinary places of production. We can transform flour into bread, yarn into clothing, paper into masterpieces.

At times I can find myself growing overwhelmed by bellies that are always hungry, laundry that always piles up, floors that always get messy. I can feel pulled in many directions, as someone wants me to read a book, while someone else needs help spelling a word, and someone else wants a sliced apple, and someone else needs a fresh diaper. "You should be a squid," my five-year-old says to me, acknowledging that it would take 10 limbs to meet all these needs.

It's at these times that I try--as best I can--to take a deep breath, pause, and remind myself that this is all important work. The most important work. For in our homes, we are caring and tending, nourishing and nesting, creating and guiding. We are turning our homes into places of production, and not merely consumption. We are raising children, building a family, making a home.

In our homes, we are protecting dreams and dreamers.

The most important work.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Celebrate Eight


My oldest turned eight today. Eight! How did that happen?

I was thinking about how she is the trendsetter, in every aspect of the word. When she was merely two-years-old and most of her same-age friends were heading off to the city's private preschools, it never seemed right to me. She was only two after all. As I would field questions throughout that fall, at the playground or in the market, about where she went to school, I simply replied that she was two and home with me. "Oh, so you're homeschooling," was a common response. "No, she's just two," I would say.

As absurd as these exchanges seem to me now, I was grateful for them. They led me to revisit the research on homeschooling and education alternatives that I did while in college and graduate school, and, more importantly, led me to join some local homeschooling message boards. I saw a notice for a nearby weekly "young homeschooler park day," and contacted the organizer directly so that I might know someone when I showed up with my daughter and her baby brother. I still remember that first park day. Some of the friends we met that day continue to be our dearest, as our children grow up together.

In those early days, as we connected with friends and I read everything I could about homeschooling and natural learning, I knew with certainty that this was the right education choice for our children, for our family. It seemed the natural extension of our Attachment Parenting philosophy, and the best way to allow our children the freedom to learn in their own way, following their own interests.

I still wasn't sure about that whole "unschooling" idea back then. Truthfully, that seemed a bit outrageous to me. I felt sure that we would be following some type of curriculum as the children aged. But then I saw my daughter teach herself to read without any direct instruction. I saw her work through the complexities of mathematics and fall in love with math, to the point that today she had her second annual "math birthday" with her beloved math instructor and math friends. I saw her learn things, try things, discover things, become passionate about things that I would never have thought to teach her--and that perhaps if I had taught her would not have resulted in the same level of enthusiasm and mastery. 

I saw, through the fascinating lens of parenthood, my child learning, doing, growing, flourishing by following her innate curiosity and her instinctual drive to discover her world. I saw that my role was really to provide the time and space--the freedom and opportunity--for her learning to occur naturally, without coercion, without adult-driven expectations. I saw the extraordinary power of natural learning--something so regrettably rare nowadays that we almost can't imagine it to be so. 

This newly-minted eight-year-old proves it to be true each and every day, along with her brothers and sister who eagerly follow in her natural learning footsteps, each on his or her own distinct path.

What may have seemed outrageous to me back when she was two seems only ordinary to me now. Children learn. That's what they do. 

We simply watch, and guide, and marvel. And celebrate.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Bad Days Happen

photo

I've been getting a lot of emails lately from blog readers curious about all sorts of things. It's been a delight to connect more closely with homeschoolers and those interested in homeschooling. It makes me realize that as I sit here at this little box something I say may actually help or inspire someone somewhere. Talk about gratifying.

Right now there is a great discussion on the blog's Facebook page prompted by an email I received from a blog reader out west who is struggling with homeschool loneliness and is wondering how to connect more deeply with the homeschooling community. It turns out, based on the thoughtful online discussion, that she is far from alone in feeling this way. Finding or creating community, whether through one's homeschooling network or through neighborhood or interest-based connections, is so vital to personal and family well-being and is not always easy or straightforward. It's been nice to see this small example of how social media can connect and comfort.

Another email I got this week also stands out. "So yesterday was so dreary and horrible…." it begins. The reader goes on to say that it was the first day since she started homeschooling this fall that the day felt forced and unbalanced: too much curriculum, not a lot of enthusiasm, loneliness, malaise.

I was going to reply to her directly but thought it was important to write about this here.

Because you know what?

Bad days happen.

A lot.

There will be "those days" when nothing seems to go right and everyone is cranky and it's rainy and cold and it all just stinks.

And you know what else?

We would have those bad days whether we homeschool or not. It's par for the parenting course.

I certainly have my fair share of those bad days. I try as much as possible to pull us out of them if I can. We go outside. I light some candles. I turn on some dance music. We have tea. We bake something chocolatey. We call some friends to play. We go to the library or the bookstore or the cafe for a change of scenery and a connection with others.

But sometimes I just let the day be what it will be and know that tomorrow will be better. The rain will stop. The sun will shine. We'll get our rhythm back. We'll delight in our friendships and seek new ways to build community and connection.

And we'll give ourselves a break.

Because we all have bad days.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Lose the Curriculum

My 5-year-old taking apart a computer this weekend at Parts and Crafts

Whenever I hear stories of parents choosing to send their children to school after homeschooling for a time, or struggling to find the joy in a homeschooling lifestyle, or having difficulty managing the needs of their older children while their younger children (especially those tricky toddlers) get in the way, inevitably I find that these parents are the ones doing school-at-home.

Following a curriculum, they have a set of predetermined-from-somewhere-else expectations for content to be covered, material to be taught, and skills to be mastered at a certain time in a certain way. There is still the belief that children must be taught, instead of the understanding that children simply learn.

As Boston College psychology professor, Peter Gray, writes:
"Through their own efforts, children learn to walk, run, jump and climb. They learn from scratch their native language, and with that, they learn to assert their will, argue, amuse, annoy, befriend, charm and ask questions. Through questioning and exploring, they acquire an enormous amount of knowledge about the physical and social world around them, and in their play, they practice skills that promote their physical, intellectual, social and emotional development. They do all this before anyone, in any systematic way, tries to teach them anything. This amazing drive and capacity to learn does not turn itself off when children turn 5 or 6. We turn it off with our coercive system of schooling. The biggest, most enduring lesson of our system of schooling is that learning is work, to be avoided when possible."

School-at-home approaches can similarly turn learning into work, frustrating both parents and their children and, all too often, leading families to school: either for younger siblings while their older ones are taught at home, or for all children as mom or dad becomes overwhelmed and burnt-out.

The answer is not school. In fact, the answer is to move as far away from schooling as possible: to embrace a different--a natural--way of learning and living. Lose the curriculum, let go of arbitrary expectations of skills and knowledge, and recognize that children learn as naturally and effortlessly as they breathe. They are innately designed to be curious, to explore and wonder about the world around them. This curiosity can be dulled if they become conditioned to be passive learners instead of the active learners they are born to be.

By granting our children the gift of self-directed learning we allow their natural curiosity to flourish. We trust that they will learn the important tools of their culture in their own way and in their own time, when surrounded by the full resources of their community and the loving guidance of their family.

Learning should be fun. Learning together--as a family--should be even more fun. If you're not having fun, it may be time to take a critical look at your days, at your expectations for what your children should know and do. Ask yourself where these expectations are coming from and why they matter. If the answer is that a textbook or teacher told you, it may be time to lose the curriculum, and start listening to your child. Your child will tell you, will show you.

You will be amazed. Once that curriculum goes away, once that coercion is replaced with trust in a child's own capacity to learn and do in his own way and in his own time, you will be amazed at what you see. Your child will regain full command over his own learning and will guide you where to go. You watch, you notice, and you connect your child with resources important to his learning and his interests: everything from pen and paper, to libraries and museums and community organizations, to mentors and online tools.

You become a facilitator of your child's self-directed learning. You watch as learning becomes seamlessly integrated into your day, into your everyday living and being, and not segregated to certain times and certain places with certain materials or certain people. You discover the joy of living and learning together as a family.

Learning doesn't require a curriculum. In fact, it can be far better without one.

Friday, November 14, 2014

From Policy To Practice

Photo courtesy of my 3-yr-old










I have been filling this blog with a lot of education policy discussion this past week and have been delighted with the conversation it has sparked -- and continues to spark! Thank you all for being so genuinely thoughtful and engaging in your comments.

I thought it was time to take the blog back down to earth for a bit, and reconnect with the dailyness that is our life of learning in and from the city.

We spent most of yesterday morning finishing the book, My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George--one of my favorite books about a young boy who runs away to the Catskill Mountains to live off the land for a year. It's a true gem and we lingered at home for most of the morning as the two older kids begged me to finish it.

After lunch (homemade black bean tortillas requested by my five-year-old), we walked to the neighborhood sewing shop to get some fabric for a pair of matching skirts that my seven-year-old wants to make for herself and her sister. My five-year-old spotted a small measuring tape at the shop and spent the rest of the afternoon measuring everything he could find.

Next we went to the nearby bicycle shop to add air to the deflated tires of our very well-loved and well-worn double stroller that rivals our car in mileage per year. Old and rickety, it needed a quick tune-up inside and we spent some time chatting with the shopkeepers.

We meandered slowly home, stopping at a playground, then lingering in a field with freshly-fallen leaves and plentiful sticks for the bigger children to play with while the baby napped in the stroller. While I made dinner (meatloaf, roasted vegetables, green beans), my oldest set-up the sewing machine and began planning her skirt pattern with her sister, while Daddy (taking a break between client conference calls), followed my five-year-old in his measuring spree. After dinner, it was bath, books (we're re-visiting the Magic Tree House series, as my middles are now enthralled with the stories that my oldest once loved), and bed.

A perfectly ordinary day of living and learning together.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Sustainable Homeschooling



Today's story for At Liberty To Learn comes from Nina Litovsky, a homeschooling mom and a small business owner, living with her husband and three young children in Newton, Massachusetts.

Most families in America have cars and houses, because we value independence and autonomy and want to have control over our lifestyle, rather than depend on public transportation and housing. We know that if we want to eat healthy, we cannot count on supermarkets and big brands selling mass produced food, and that’s why many people resort to buying from small local farms and markets or producing food at home. Some homeowners install their own solar panels and wells, because they like to stay in control over their water and energy supply. We all lock our cars and houses and try to be careful with matches, because we know that we cannot expect public police and fire services to watch our homes and our property for us at all times. All in all, it's in the American blood to be self-sufficient rather than depend on public or government services. Regardless of their political orientation, Americans don't expect the government to attend to their every need. We take proactive steps to provide for ourselves and our families, because we know that no one will take care of us better than ourselves.

Yet it’s ironic that, when it comes to raising their own kids, most people willingly give up control and parental influence and gladly defer to the outside authority to raise their kids in institutions that bear almost no accountability and no consideration for parental opinion.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Next Step: At Liberty To Learn



You may have heard of the fascinating work of Marshall Ganz, lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School and pioneer in developing successful strategies that create a true movement, that ignite change.

Ganz explains that to create change, to move forward with ideas and visions, those ideas and visions need to be decentralized. There needs to be many voices, many stories, coming together to educate and inspire and propel action.

This blog is simply a personal reflection of my own ideas and a snapshot of my family's own lifestyle of learning without schooling.

But the vision of a society without coercive schooling is so big, so monumental, it needs many voices and many ideas. It needs optimists and skeptics, futurists and pragmatists, thinkers and doers. It needs parents and educators, businesspeople and social activists, politicians and concerned citizens, young people and old people and lots of people in between from a variety of socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds representing the stunning diversity of this nation.

So my friend Rachel and I have created a new website -- At Liberty To Learn -- that we hope will serve as a decentralized platform to bring many writers' voices together under one common and critical mission:


If this mission resonates with you--if you believe in children's freedom, family empowerment, and natural, non-coercive learning--please visit us at www.atlibertytolearn.com and drop us a note saying that you would like to add your voice--your story--to this important conversation.

We can't wait to hear from you!

"Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Society Without School: A Vision




Maybe you're with me so far. Maybe you have thought a bit more lately about the origins of our current industrial schooling system. Maybe you're starting to question whether schooling really creates equality and opportunity, or if instead it perpetuates and accentuates inequities and divisions. Maybe you're beginning to wonder if we need those compulsory schooling laws: coercive relics of a Victorian age when fear of a truly diverse, pluralistic society -- driven by new immigrants, new cultural perspectives, new ideas -- led to laws calling for conformity and standardization.

Maybe you're with me. At least partly.

But you wonder: So what would American life look like without compulsory schooling?

The possibilities are endless.

Some already exist. For families who currently choose to live without schooling, they participate in vast homeschooling networks and community programming created just for them. (Check out the Boston Museum of Fine Arts Homeschooling Programs, as one example.) Many families take advantage of community resource centers that allow children to be dropped-off at self-directed learning hubs so that parents can go to work or get a break.

My vision in a world without school is for learning spaces to become truly public. Just like public parks, public libraries, public playgrounds, public museums. These public learning hubs would be abundant in every community and open and accessible to everyone: people of all ages and stages, beliefs and backgrounds. There would be no sorting by age or ability. Young and old would learn together--from each other even. We would come and go as we please, without coercion, without bells and buzzers. We would learn from gifted facilitators, similar to librarians and museum docents, who would be there to help and suggest, guide and inspire. These facilitators would offer workshops or discussions on various topics that we could choose to attend or not (similar to the library story-times that most public libraries offer, and the demonstrations held daily at popular museums). We would follow our interests, develop our passions, reveal our true gifts and innate abilities. We would learn the important tools of our culture--like literacy and numeracy--by being surrounded by these tools, just as our hunter-gatherer predecessors learned the tools of their culture, not by coercion or lecture but by living and doing.

A recent article highlighted a massive public library that just opened in Texas. Retrofitting an abandoned Walmart, public taxpayer dollars purchased and renovated the beautiful space, which includes 16 public meeting spaces, 14 public study rooms, 64 public computer labs, 10 children's computer labs, a cafe, a used bookstore, and an auditorium. (Check out the article. The images are amazing!) Imagine these in every community in America.

Public. Without coercion. Celebrating the true diversity and pluralism of our society. Allowing self-directed learning to flourish, with public resources and talented facilitators to allow everyone to learn in our own way, in our own time, following our own interests. No grades. No tests. No "core competencies." Just living and learning. Together as a community.

Public learning.

Imagine that.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Is Compulsory Schooling Over?


My dream is to see that title on the cover of a major national publication within the next decade.

Too lofty? Maybe.

But I think we can do it. I think we parents (both schooling and unschooling ones) are increasingly frustrated by the top-down, coercive, standardized nature of compulsory schooling. I think we are ready to take back control of our children's learning with more choices and fewer one-size-fits-all policies. I think we are ready to see some of that nearly $600 billion A YEAR in taxpayer money for government schooling redistributed to parents, to families, to give us real choice in how and where and what our children learn. I think we are ready to reject the less-than-altruistic origins of America's compulsory schooling system and realize that a factory model for education is not at all appropriate for the challenges we humans face in this millennium. Our children are not widgets.

As former New York State Teacher of the Year and author, John Taylor Gatto, writes in his compelling book, The Underground History of American Education: "Government schooling is the most radical adventure in history. It kills the family by monopolizing the best times of childhood and by teaching disrespect for home and parents….Good schools don’t need more money or a longer year; they need real free-market choices, variety that speaks to every need and runs risks. We don’t need a national curriculum or national testing either. Both initiatives arise from ignorance of how people learn or deliberate indifference to it." 

By eliminating compulsion in our country's education system, we eliminate the lifeblood of industrial schooling. Compulsory schooling laws -- each state's established expectation for number of hours of instruction a child must have each year -- are the laws that fuel the education system, granting government leaders increasing monopolistic control over what, when, and how children learn.

As I discussed last week, these laws were passed in the nineteenth century based on the Prussian model with the explicit intent to impose conformity and compulsion on the "unruly" immigrants to our country. As Harvard professor, Paul Peterson, writes in his book, Saving Schools: From Horace Mann to Virtual Learning: Massachusetts Secretary of the Board of Education, and the proclaimed "father of America's public education system," Horace Mann, "traveled to several European countries to inspect their school systems. Ignoring the locally controlled Scottish and English systems that had been the model for colonial schools, he made careful note of the skill with which the Prussians were using public schools to unify the German people. Centralized institutions, a state-directed curriculum, statistical information, and professional cadres were being mobilized…" (p. 27) It seems that with Common Core and high-stakes testing at ever earlier ages, our country is attempting to fully realize Mann's dream of a centralized schooling system.

But remember what I said last week? Yep. Horace Mann was a homeschooling dad with no intention of sending his three children to the public schools he was advocating.

Compulsory schooling laws are laden with hypocrisy and paternalism and allow for increasing centralization and standardization at the expense of children and family rights. As my colleague, Don McFadden at ForcedSchool.com states in his latest must-read blog post: "The Supreme Court has, on more than one occasion, affirmed that parents have the right “to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control” (e.g. Troxel vs Granville , 2000). Yet we have compulsory schooling laws in every state that regulate education and impose serious limitations on the exercise of that illusory right.  For citizens who don’t have the financial means to pay for both public schools (through taxation) and private alternatives, it is clear who is in total control of their child’s education (and it isn’t mom and pop). Even if you have the money to use other alternatives, the state is ultimately still in control through their education statutes."

Let's advocate for the elimination of coercion in the education of children. This effort will reduce government monopoly of parents' education choices, enable more real choices to become available to families, and send a powerful message that coercive education is not compatible with children's rights.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Dangers of Education Policy


Back when I was a graduate student in education policy at Harvard at the turn of the millennium, I was frequently surprised by what constituted “research” and “findings,” and by how data often did little to inform public policy.

For example, this country’s Head Start program has long been deemed an abject failure, and yet it was and is fiercely defended by educationists. Even the Obama administration admitted in a comprehensive 2010 report that Head Start, a program created in 1965 to target disadvantaged 3- and 4-year-olds in an effort to close the achievement gap, doesn’t work. But instead of eliminating the program, the President and his advisers declared the need to boost funding to make it a success. Ah yes, more money fixes everything.

It seems that we can sometimes be so blindly ideological that we ignore or reject data that show that a program doesn’t work. So when the administration announced its plan last month to enroll six million more children in government preschool, I was baffled. Proponents argue that research shows that children who are in “high-quality” preschool programming are better off when they reach kindergarten age than their peers in lower-quality or (eek!) no preschool. But these “findings” are suspect to me. Certainly if you drill young children on letters and numbers when they are three and four, they will most likely be able to write those letters and numbers when they are five. That is what this “research” is indicating and leveraging to inform public policy. But the broader questions that no one seems to want to ask or answer are: “Does it really matter if four-year-olds can write their name?” And the follow-up: “Is there potential harm in teaching a child to do something before he or she is developmentally ready?”

Back in the 1970s, my mother was one of only two moms in my hometown who declined to place my older brother in preschool at age four. When he got to kindergarten the next year, the children who went to preschool could all write their letters. He was just learning and quickly became proficient. But what the kindergarten teacher noticed and shared with my mom was how well-mannered my brother was, how compassionate and thoughtful, how articulate and confident and self-sufficient.

See, the point is that by focusing narrowly on drilling very young children on literacy and numeracy – important tools of our culture that they will learn on their own, in their own time, when immersed in a community that values and offers these tools –we don’t know (a) what other very (perhaps more?) important, developmentally-appropriate skills and attributes (like empathy) we are ignoring or rejecting; and (b) what harm we may be doing in teaching skills like reading to young children before they are developmentally ready.  

Boston College psychology professor, Dr. Peter Gray, conducted research on children and reading and found that “attempts to push reading can backfire” when a child is not developmentally ready and motivated to read. An additional hazard to teaching a skill to children too early is the fact that when they inevitably struggle and push-back and become frustrated and defeated, they are then labeled as “struggling,” internalize the belief that they are not competent in reading or writing, and carry this burden with them throughout their schooling years. So really in an effort to stamp out inequality, programs like universal government preschool may, in fact, accentuate them. Children from low-income and disadvantaged backgrounds who may not have as much access in their homes to natural literacy and numeracy will likely show more evidence of “struggling” at an even earlier age, be labeled earlier, and internalize the belief that they are failures even earlier. Three-year-old failures. Oh my!

None of this can be good for helping to close the so-called achievement gap. Government schooling at ever earlier ages contributes to internalizing and perpetuating feelings of failure and inadequacy in children who are not yet developmentally ready to learn certain skills, and, at the same time, fails to identify and support the individual gifts and innate talents of each child. In the must-read book, The Twelve-Year Sentence, (edited by William Rickenbacker), H. George Resch writes: “Compulsory schooling not only fails to achieve its egalitarian goal, but by subjecting all to the same studies in lockstep fashion effectively denies them any real opportunity at all.” (p.42)

Instead of expanding compulsory schooling under the guise of "equality" and "opportunity" and "research," we should be more discerning with the data we already have, more open to contrary ideas and perspectives, and more willing to abandon an institution whose time has passed.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Hypocrisy of Compulsory Schooling


While the drive for national economic growth and equal opportunity may be leading factors in current government policies aimed at expanding and standardizing American schooling, let's not ignore the other, more subtle and sinister message:

Many of our government leaders and their advisers don't trust parents to raise and teach their own children.

They let us. We are fortunate to be a country where homeschooling is legal in all 50 states and where our ranks grow precipitously each year.

But they don't like it.

For those who think that the origins of universal compulsory schooling were entirely magnanimous, think again. The earliest models date back to the Protestant Reformation, when it was very clearly stated that compulsory education was necessary to indoctrinate children into the government's prevailing religious dogma. Our American model of compulsory schooling was modeled after the Prussian system, which was explicitly designed to train children to become obedient factory workers.

Let's talk about Horace Mann, Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education, who lobbied hard to pass this country's first compulsory schooling attendance law in this state in 1852. While he is widely considered the "father of American public education," and numerous schools throughout this country are named in honor of him, his intentions in creating universal government schooling were not all about "equal opportunity." In fact, he argued that "universal public education was the best way to turn the nation's unruly children into disciplined, judicious republic citizens." Many of those "unruly" children were the Irish immigrants who settled in Boston in the early- to mid-nineteenth century.

And while Mann preached the ideals of universal compulsory schooling, guess what?  His wife taught their three children at home. Yes, Horace Mann was a homeschooling parent. Oh, the hypocrisy! As Mann's biographer, Jonathan Messerli, writes in Horace Mann: A Biography (New York: Knopf, 1972):
"From a hundred platforms, Mann had lectured that the need for better schools was predicated upon the assumption that parents could no longer be entrusted to perform their traditional roles in moral training and that a more systematic approach within the public school was necessary. Now as a father, he fell back on the educational responsibilities of the family, hoping to make the fireside achieve for his own son what he wanted the schools to accomplish for others." (p. 429)
So this disturbing history of compulsory schooling and government-run education is why I continue to be skeptical when I hear proclamations for more schooling, more preschooling, more standardization--all of which are painted as essential for equal opportunity, particularly for the poor and disadvantaged. But beneath all of that rhetoric is the underlying message: Parents cannot be trusted to raise and teach their own children. The State must do it for them.

I hear this tone in presidential speeches. I hear this tone in Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) podcasts, proclaiming the necessity of universal government preschool because "age 5 is getting late." I heard it while attending HGSE over a dozen years ago and growing increasingly disillusioned by the group-think around the unchallenged merits of universal government schooling. The discussion is always focused around reforming American schooling, but not around seeking and creating many more Alternatives To School.

If the father of America's public education system didn't think it was good enough for his kids, then why on earth should we?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Give Mothers A Real Choice


I have a friend named Fabiana. I have known her for nearly a decade. She is a single mom who doesn't make a lot of money but supports her son, who just turned four. I asked her today about what she thought of President Obama's declaration to enroll six million more children in universal government preschool by the end of the decade. She said: "It's good. I have to work. He needs to go to school so I can work."

But as I probed a bit further, I realized that when the choice is apples to apples--paying for preschool versus public preschool--the natural response for low-income families would be to support public preschool. But if the choice is a real choice--to send a child to preschool or to stay home and raise one's child--many parents would jump at the opportunity to stay home.

When I asked Fabiana if instead of subsidizing government preschool some of that money were to go to her instead--to demonstrate how we as a country value families and children at least as much as we value economic vitality--her response was immediate: "I would happily not send him to school. I want nothing more than to stay at home with my son."

Apples to oranges.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, in the 2004-2005 school year total taxpayer expenditure on K-12 education was estimated to be $536 billion. That's with a B. Per year. If even a fraction of those taxpayer dollars were re-routed to individual families--to mothers--then women would have real choices. Vouchers, subsidies, tax breaks: we can debate the best methods for family choice, but the key is to provide real choice. Not just apples.

Fabiana fondly remembers growing up on a farm in Brazil where her mom stayed home and where formal schooling didn't begin until age 7. She told me that she looks at my children and the time we spend together and it reminds her of her own happy childhood. She told me she wishes she had the ability to do what I do: to stay home and homeschool her son, to allow him to learn naturally, to become immersed in the local homeschooling network, to have him outside, in the community, and not in a building all day.

So if we as a nation really care about fairness and equal opportunity and families, then we need to start finding more oranges. We need to create more opportunities, to debate more strategies for offering real choices to women, to mothers.

Because this is a choice that we want Americans to make.

Monday, November 3, 2014

100 Reasons To Homeschool Your Kids

  1. Connect more deeply as a family
  2. Embrace self-directed learning
  3. Provide abundant time and space for natural learning
  4. Prioritize play
  5. Celebrate an unhurried lifestyle
  6. Value unstructured time
  7. Take advantage of the full resources of your community
  8. Enjoy the library early and often
  9. Follow your children’s own interests
  10. Reveal their passions
  11. Identify people, places, and things that support those passions
  12. Tailor learning to the needs of each child
  13. Gather frequently with friends to play and learn
  14. Encourage authentic social development
  15. Position family as the center of a child’s life and learning
  16. Celebrate the power of home
  17. Get lost in books together
  18. Be inspired by your child
  19. Become inspired to learn new things
  20. Be awed by your child’s gifts
  21. Value abundant time for running, jumping, climbing, twirling
  22. Explore new things together
  23. Wonder together why the sky is blue
  24. Value family togetherness
  25. Spend lots of time outside
  26. Prioritize nature
  27. Celebrate the changing seasons together
  28. Appreciate the everyday
  29. Trust your child
  30. Read, read, and read some more
  31. Protect creativity and imagination
  32. Accept natural human variation
  33. Believe in your child’s own unique path
  34. Choose originality over standardization
  35. Value personal fulfillment
  36. Be amazed by what your children teach you
  37. Learn from them
  38. Find peace in your days together
  39. Recognize that all children are gifted
  40. Nurture your child’s innate love of learning
  41. Discover the enormous resources of your community
  42. Become regulars at museums, libraries, bookstores, farms and nature centers
  43. Integrate your children into your daily life
  44. Be in charge of your own schedule
  45. Enjoy long walks and talks together
  46. Embrace a new paradigm of learning
  47. Form lasting friendships with like-minded families
  48. Recognize technology as a tool and not a distraction
  49. Enjoy slower days
  50. Watch skills emerge and talents flourish
  51. Prioritize music and art and other “extra-curriculars”
  52. Recognize the power of learning without a curriculum
  53. Embrace unrushed mornings and calm afternoons
  54. Live peacefully with your children
  55. Welcome the support and assistance of friends and family members
  56. Learn from neighbors
  57. See the world as your classroom
  58. See the diverse people throughout your community as your teachers
  59. Prioritize safety, health, and personal growth
  60. Encourage ingenuity
  61. Think differently
  62. Embrace new ideas and innovation
  63. Involve children in real, meaningful work
  64. See living and learning as inseparable
  65. Preserve childhood
  66. Be together more than apart
  67. Adjust learning to family circumstances and needs
  68. Cultivate dreams
  69. Protect the dreamer
  70. Value a diverse, age-integrated community of learners and teachers
  71. Challenge assumptions
  72. Value individuality over conformity
  73. Celebrate diversity
  74. Nurture little spirits
  75. Find meaning and reward in your days
  76. Respect parenthood
  77. Foster strong sibling attachment
  78. Ignite curiosity
  79. Explore the answers to big questions together
  80. Let your children show you the way
  81. Discover more joy than conflict
  82. Abandon antiquated ideas of learning and knowing
  83. Chart a new path
  84. Trust your powerful parental instincts
  85. Value active movement over passive staying
  86. Watch how children teach themselves
  87. Be amazed at what they can learn all on their own
  88. Value intrinsic fulfillment over extrinsic rewards
  89. Foster independence
  90. Encourage creative thinking
  91. Build leaders
  92. Instill a sense of active community involvement and service
  93. Find a peaceful rhythm in your days
  94. Allow inspiration to flourish without interruption
  95. Believe that you know your child better than anyone else
  96. Believe that you know what is best for your child
  97. Believe in a child’s innate drive to learn and do
  98. Believe in your children
  99. Believe in yourself
  100. Choose freedom

What would you add to the list?