Schooling versus education

17 Feb
Schooling versus education

Within minutes of telling my son JP to go ahead and get some fresh air before starting his math speed drill, I switch the plan and let him record some spontaneous rhythmic poetry he’s making up. Then at his reaction to being interrupted during his recording, I’m disciplining him for insubordination. It won’t work if he isn’t respectful to parents, I tell him, as he frowns and sets his jaw, and I know it’s not just for me I’m trying to help him master this one–he will need this skill to succeed. I give him some time to consider; likewise myself. Yes, I believe it, but I think the timing was poor, and the job of enforcer fits me ill.

I started homeschooling partly because I don’t believe in a coercive education system. Yes, my first year teaching was largely a struggle to take up my authority as a teacher, and probably nothing else would have worked under the circumstances. An inexperienced teacher with thirty students at a time, students conditioned for ten years to expect a boss–what chance did we have? I dream of something different, to be an empowering teacher, a facilitator, a midwife of student self-education and self-government. Like a homeschool parent ought to be.

My parents weren’t authoritarian–why would they be? I went to school, and they knew I was made to do things I didn’t want to all day by the authorities there, and peer pressure, and needed some freedom at home to pursue my own interests, projects and friendships, in my own timing. There was discipline, though. I remember a few times my dad spanked me, for example–it was for willful dishonesty, I think, or extreme sass, and I do believe I deserved it. But, knowing him, he must have been thinking, “Shit, why do I have to resort to this? This is stupid–can’t we just all be reasonable?” It was so uncomfortable for us both–nothing to do with physical pain, either, because when I have my back up, I can take it. Just humiliating enough, awkward enough, to try to avoid in the future.

Coercion had no part in my parents’ approach to learning. That was a school thing, though I hope that all the same, my best teachers were also thinking, “Shit–why do I have to make them do this for grades, and not let them learn what they want to? Can’t we just all be reasonable?” Fortunately, at home, in those days, there was time at home to run and play, make stuff, catch frogs, read lots of books and do crafts. At least for me there was, but that might have been because I tended to leave my “homework” to the last minute so I could do something more interesting. And as I said, my parents never asked if my homework was done. Should they have? Or might that have given me the impression that it was more important than it really was?

My two homeschooling kids, the younger of four, have little in the way of externally imposed deadlines, grades, and peer competition. Up to about age nine, all four children had lots of freedom, with frequent library visits, no television, little access to computers, and opportunities to serve and work in and out of the house. I was bolstered in that approach by research that showed that for children from non-deprived families, there was no discernible advantage to formal schooling before age nine, and some disadvantages. But now the younger two are expected to be ready for school at any moment (can’t make long term plans these days), and so I try to keep up with the state curriculum, which has a set scope and sequence and is more testable. I try to be  structured, try to make things more like school, while my mind is muttering, “Shit, I can’t do it this way–can’t we just all be reasonable? No, I’d better be tougher–it’s for their own good.” No time for Latin anymore, or long days hanging out in the woods or at the beach.

My two public high schooling children get their homework done, with some urging at times, and are quickly learning to make the grade despite no formal schooling until ages thirteen and eleven–and that was in a second language, with few academic expectations. But I grieve that they hardly ever read outside their lists, hardly have time to do anything but school stuff, and their one sport a season, with careful organization and weekends to catch up. The only free and personal stuff they can wedge in is staring at their web-enabled personal devices, and I’m even trying to limit that. What can I expect? Thank God for summer vacation, but of course they have to earn some money for college, get volunteer experience, do leadership training, fill our their resumes, so not much time to find their own flow, reclaim their love for reading again, let alone writing. Meanwhile, I bought a copy of The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn and leave it lying around…


Posted by on February 17, 2013 in Education, Parenting & Family


Tags: , ,

6 responses to “Schooling versus education

  1. LeRoy Pick

    September 2, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    “…to do things I didn’t want to all day by the authorities there, and peer pressure…”

    I didn’t think going to school with us was all *that* bad, was it?

    Well, except for the bullies that masqueraded as teachers. Oh, and of course the bullies who masqueraded as other students. Plus maybe the requirement to learn things that, to this day, I have yet to find of any use, so, well, okay I guess it wasn’t a picnic, unless you count the ones overrun by ants.

    I lack the personal discipline and organization to home-school. I prefer(ed) to let them go to school and let the system have a go at them, and then I fix them when they get home.

    • toesinthedirt

      September 2, 2014 at 5:05 pm

      Thanks for reading, LeRoy. And are you, by any chance, LeRoy Pick from Truro, NS? Can’t be too many with your name… If so, you might be surprised on whose blog you commented.

  2. LeRoy Pick

    September 25, 2014 at 8:55 am

    I know exactly whose blog I commented on. That’s precisely why I was lurking here, althugh I don’t do it often.

    So, yes, it’s “me”. Other than having a near-identical twin that one of my more well-travelled friends has encountered, and a name-twin somewhere else (of a completely different ethnic group) who otherwise (mis)spells the name with a small ‘r’, I was and remain pretty much one-of-a-kind.

    I used my real name when I posted a comment rather than hide behind one of my internet personas because it somehow didn’t seem fair that I knew who you were if the reverse wasn’t true.

    You were always one of the more interesting individuals in school out of the short list of folks I considered friends. In fact, you were one of the two people I shared the most classes with, which is one of those little mental problems I worked out while out cycling sometime ago. A bit like a dog with a bone, I chew through a topic until there’s nothing left.

    • toesinthedirt

      September 25, 2014 at 8:50 pm

      A pleasure to reconnect with you! Yes, I enjoyed knowing you as a friend too–conversations with you, Carla, Craig, and a few others, outside Mrs. MacLean’s biology class, etc. Took me a few years to feel comfortable in that big school, so those friendships from Cobequid were really important.
      I hear the LeRoy I know in the voice of your writing–precise, wry, intelligent. Do you write/blog?

      • LeRoy Pick

        September 26, 2014 at 10:29 am

        Do I write? In my job to some extent, mostly in the form of buckets of e-mail every day. Within my circle of co-workers, I frequently end up with the majority of the documentation and presentation duties when infomation needs to be distributed to a wider audience. It’s as much a case that they don’t want to do those functions as it is my being any good at it, kind of like being voted off the island, but the fact is that I do it infrequently enough that I enjoy the role and I expend the effort to do it as well as I can. Other than work, though, I only write my weekly e-mails to family. I wrap a little bit of myself in everything I write, so, if you like the source, then you’ll connect with the product.

        Any thoughts of actually being an author were wiped out by Guy Gavriel Kay. I’ve read plenty of books where, when I finished, I felt that I could probably write a book like that, and thought on more than one occasion that maybe I might try. Then I read Kay (“Sailing to Santium”/”Lord of Emperors”). His attention to detail, and proper use of that detail, is just otherwordly and is something that overplublished bums like Stephen King could learn from. I couldn’t possibly do that, and anything I wrote would look so pathetic compared to someone of his calibre that I’d embarrass myself just by attempting it. I’ve been embarrassed often enough in this life that I don’t actively pursue opportunities to repeat the experience.

        Do I blog? No. I find the vast majority of blogs out there of limited value. On top of that, there’s the eternal question of why anybody out there would give a flying fig about what I have to say about a given topic. There’s too much noise out there that people pass off as truth that’s really just opinion, and in many cases those opinions are pretty scary to consider, and that other people present as truth to try to win arguments or validate their own narrow interpretations of the world. Other than posting the odd letter to the editorials in the paper, a behaviour that is apparently a long-standing family tradition, I generally hide out of public view.

        As I’ve preached to my kids for years: just because it’s written down, doesn’t make it true. Similarly, the guy who yells the loudest, a behaviour of which I’m frequently guilty, isn’t necessarily the right one. It’s dismaying how often that I read some published material – newspapers, web, TV, wherever – about which I may actually have knowledge, and the “truth” is rife with errors and fallicies. It makes it hard to believe anything I learn second hand.

        Regarding this blog, I know the source, and can apply the appropriate filter. I “hear” the person I knew in the writings and, although I’m sure your life’s experiences have changed you, it’s still “sounds” like you. A little deeper, a little more reflective perhaps, but still you. I was willing to listen before, and I am still.

        I find reflections of my own life in some of the things you’ve written here, so I check back now and again to see how things’re progressing, and to see if there are any tidbits of wisdom or silliness I can use. We’re at about the same stages of life (I have 3 kids, all girls, ages 19, 18, and 16, and each of them presents their own set of challenges) and we do some similar things: we live “away”, and we head “home” periodically to reconnect with our Nova Scotia “selves”, and to try to include our families in that connection. My wife frequently comments that when I’m with my father for an hour, my accent and use of language shift very distinctly.

        That said, you’ve also had the courage to do some of the things I didn’t. You lived in another country for a few years (I had the chance, and backed away to stay with what was familiar and comfortable). You’ve home-schooled your kids, something I would not have considered myself capable of doing adequately even if I wasn’t immersed in the role of family wage-slave. I don’t regret the choices I’ve made, in most cases I can state with certaint,y even if not a provable fact, that some of the paths not taken would have had very harsh endings, but it is impossible not to wonder at the what-if’s. In some respects, reading your blog lets me live a little vicariously and pursue directions that I didn’t take.

        In school, I was often the outsider, and as a result much of it was filled with unfortunate experiences. Mrs. Fancy made it plain I wasn’t welcome. Skipping a grade and being 1-2 years younger than everyone else certainly didn’t help as my maturity level was obviously that much less and I covered up my insecurities and limitations with outbursts of bluster and bombast. Although it started with Brookfield, by the time we reached CEC, our small group from Cobequid had been shuffled around enough that I had finally become one of the “us” rather than on the outside looking in. So, in that respect, I was actually more comfortable there than anywhere else because we were all the same – a small group awash in the big unknown – and I was one of that group in ways I never was at Cobequid.

        Well, so much for a quick answer! In for a penny, in for a pound, I guess. As I said at the top, I put a little of myself in all my writing. Brevity was never one of my afflictions!

      • toesinthedirt

        September 26, 2014 at 11:21 am

        A few thoughts–clarity and substance are more important than brevity. You have those. And you have not given any good reasons for not sharing your talent for writing with a wider sudience. Being a rational, logical person, you know that, don’t you? You haven’t given up on parenting, or speaking, just because many folks do it poorly. G.K. Chesterton said, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” Though please absorb the subtleties there, not a simple fact. Though I agree that there’s a lot of twaddle out there. Still, each writer starts somewhere, and as long as the goal is not merely to sell something (even there, maybe it’s a good product) or do some verbal belching, I say let them start somewhere, and get to the stage of doing the hard work. And one really does have to realize it’s hard work, which is why I write just as often as when I started, but labor more and produce less material I’d want to put out there. Also, I take a particular delight in reading material by people I know and respect, or at least find interesting. Blogging is not exactly like writing letters, but it’s more than posting flyers, too.
        That said, a better reason might be that you pour lots of effort into your other priorities–work, family, writing substantive emails and refreshingly well written work related text. I just happen to have a little opening in my life that I can work at this. Thank you for reading.


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