By Win and Bill Sweet
Jeff told us he was stunned when his family cheerfully announced that they would like to do homeschooling. Questions came pouring into his mind, beginning with “What’s that?” His wife and children age six and nine answered his questions with enthusiasm and the assumption that, of course, he would love the idea. Not wanting to be an ogre, he finally gave his support with a knot in his stomach. His discomfort continued as he returned home each evening and asked the children, “Well, what did you do today?” The answer always seemed to be some variation of, “We found all the wall receptacles that are controlled by switches. Wow! there are lots of them.” or “I got dressed up in my rainbow silk cape and skirt and made up a play. I just can’t wait to show it to you, Daddy” or “We practiced cursive writing by making the letters into little people. It was fun.” or “I made up a wonderful piece on the piano. Listen, Daddy.” And remarkably, his wife was always smiling.
Jeff was in torment. How would his children ever make a living as adults? How could his wife condone so much wasted time? Were the children’s minds sinking into quicksand?
Doing the right thing for one’s children weighs heavily on Dads. Traditionally not the primary caregivers, but at the same time, feeling primarily responsible that the children turn out okay, Dads often begin to quiver when Moms bring up homeschooling. There’s something so, well so untraditional and downright scary about it. What are the guarantees that the children will, indeed, turn out okay? Many Dads need and crave some real understanding and solid justification for abandoning what most parents have accepted without question-traditional schooling.
Let’s look at the historical criteria for child-okayness. In our culture, the best child is the one who responds as told. Delving into the history of child rearing, we discovered Alice Miller, a Swiss psychiatrist. She researched child rearing dogma of the western world from the last three centuries and found that most ideas were spawned by German clergy and doctors. Spanking, beating, and emotional humiliation were inflicted on children to stamp out their individuality, spontaneity, and creativity. Literally, children were to be seen and not heard. The most valued quality was blind obedience.
John Taylor Gatto has done a brilliant work in researching the origins of the American school system and reveals that our present school system was imported into the United States from, guess where? Yes, Germany. We have talked with many senior citizens who relate the common theme in their school experience of suffering switches across backs and hands, wearing dunce caps, and similar treatment that we consider cruel today. Even though the extremes have dropped off over time, there is still a tendency in the culture toward admiration of blind obedience, “not getting out of line,” and scholastic achievement according to the adults’ agenda.
With these guidelines so deeply ingrained in consciousness as right, it is no wonder that Dads, who are expected to keep the family on track, are squeamish embarking on a way that sounds so irresponsible. Maybe homeschooling would abort the children’s chance for a good life!
When Jeff discovered the origins and intentions of the historically accepted child-rearing methods practiced in our country, he realized that just doing what is normal in the culture may not, in fact, provide the best avenues for his children to reach their full potential. The next step for Jeff came with new understanding of the true nature and development of children. He was shocked to learn that the culture pushes children into reading and other academics far sooner than their brains and eyes are ready. Furthermore, children naturally learn best in an atmosphere of play, body movement, and fun; however, academics are not generally presented in this kind of environment, rather, in an environment of stress.
The puzzle was taking shape for Jeff as he realized that most job opportunities in the future will be very different from those of the past. Earning a living in the future will not be guaranteed when the applicant demonstrates only an assembly line mentality and training. As they enter their adult world, today’s children will need the ability to think creatively “out of the box,” and to be energetic partners, not blind followers. Jeff pondered the family’s independent routine and realized the children were using their imagination, inventiveness, and creativity and were, in fact, developing strong skills that would serve them well in tomorrow’s world. Then Jeff put the last piece of the puzzle in place: the homeschooling lifestyle perfectly supports the freedom and individual expression that are essential as his children prepare for their adult lives. Now Jeff has found his comfort zone.
Win and Bill Sweet, who are parents and grandparents, started homeschooling their children in 1968 and have carried the tradition to include the grandchildren. They are authors of the award-winning book, Living Joyfully with Children, published by Acropolis Books. The Education Source chose the book for their 1998 “Top Ten Books” for parents list and Joseph Chilton Pearce, world-renowned author and lecturer, endorses the book as, “a gem in every respect.” For over twenty years Win and Bill have conducted parenting and relationship workshops and have served as mentors to many families. They can be contacted through their website: www.sweetjoy.com.