Monday, March 07, 2005

Our Last Great Hope

The greatest fighters for freedom today are homeschooling parents. They are the best hope for the future of America, perhaps even the last hope as we continue this slow, terrible slide into collectivism and banality. Though the term has been overused almost to the point of meaninglessness, I call these parents my heroes. The most heroic of this movement are the parents who fought in court for legal protection of homeschooling (mostly in the 1970s and 1980s, but today as well) and a terrific group called the HomeSchool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA).

If you really want to know what America should be, you need look no further than homeschoolers. These families are amazing. The parents are so dedicated to growing their children's minds and nurturing their innate abilities and curiosity. The children are so confident and positive and energetic. You can tell within a few moments of conversation that they are individuals with their own goals and dreams and directions. I have never met an obnoxious or anti-social homeschooled child (and I have met plenty over the years). They are comfortable around all ages, conversing as easily with adults as with toddlers - gentle, sweet, genuine. These are real kids, neat kids, the kinds of kids you always want to be around - comfortable in their own skin, becoming who they are.

It takes a lot of courage to homeschool your children, especially for the parents who really defined and modernized the movement 20-30 years ago, but, to some extent, even today. American society got sold the bill of goods on compulsory public education about 100 years ago, and most folks still cling to it like some sort of talisman of societal virtue or golden idol of democratic ideals. You can convince otherwise sane people that stupid ideas and misbegotten policies will miraculously work if they are implemented through the "gov'ment schools."

Somewhere along the line, a bunch of authoritarian meddlers decided that children should be made to go into a building (no matter what the weather was like outside) with 30 other kids their age (no matter what learning level they were currently at) and sit at tiny desks (no matter what their size or comfort level) and not talk or move around much for hours on end (no matter how much they wanted to exercise young bodies full of energy or young minds longing to interact) and stare at a chalkboard while listening to a droning voice and copy things over and over again as a group (no matter whether they understood the material an hour earlier or weren't yet ready for the material at all). This group-think kills - it kills innovation, curiosity, ingenuity, motivation, excitement, and imagination - it kills minds. Can you believe we do this to children starting at age six? I can think of no worse way to inspire a life-long love of learning in children.

Homeschooling parents know what other parents have forgotten - learning is as natural for children as breathing. There is nothing in the world more beautiful than guiding, facilitating, encouraging children to learn, to experience, to grow. "Homeschooling" is not a very good term for the miracle that occurs in almost 2 million households across America on a daily basis - not much of what goes on in these homes resembles anything like "school." There is no conformity, there is no collectivism, there are no hours of idleness, boredom and tedium. This is not to say that homeschooling is a bed of petunias or a gliding ride over calm waters - it's a tough, gutsy, sometimes rocky path, but the rewards (according to every homeschooling parent and child I've talked to) far, far outweigh the moments of frustration, exhaustion, doubt, and societal hostility.

And there still is quite a bit of hostility out there toward homeschoolers. Many folks of a statist bent have a vested interest in molding their idea of what a "good citizen" should be through the convenience of public school indoctrination, and they resent immensely anyone bucking their well-plotted system by raising children as thinking individuals. They've infiltrated most private schools with their daffy schemes and petty rules, and so they are content to leave them be. But homeschoolers are a very stubborn mule of a different color - rejecting the paternal state in all its "wisdom" and creating a vivid world of enrichment and stimulation for their children against which pea-green institutional walls, chalkboard dust, urine-scented public restrooms and asphalt-covered playgrounds can never compete.

What chaps their hides the most is how far the homeschoolers outshine publicos in any sort of scholarly test, proving, of course, these gov'ment experts' obsolescence and general insignificance. Nobody likes to be discarded as irrevelant, least of all would-be educational messiahs who dispense their theories and practices to the unwashed masses with great condescension and smugness. They want you to believe that you cannot teach your children - that they will be deprived of an education that only a "professional" can provide - that they will grow up to be emotionally maladjusted - that they will never get into a good college with only a "homeschooled diploma" - that they will be miserable introverts who will never make it in this scary world. Don't you believe them!! Anyone with common sense, a nurturing heart, a natural curiosity, a true commitment to their children's development as individuals, and a whole lot of gumption can teach their children. Heck, those qualifications alone make you a better "teacher" than 90% of those with degrees in education!

As a future homeschooling mom, I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the brave and dedicated parents who paved the way to bring homeschooling out of the shadows and into the light as a viable (and truly preferable) educational alternative. I will have it so easy, compared to my predecessors. Most of them have only their own consciences and (at least one hopes) their children to say, "Good job!" and "Thank you!" and "You have really made a difference," and "You've made the world a better place." Because, they have made the world a better place. Children who grow up to be critical thinkers, strong individuals, well-grounded in their sense of themselves and their ties to their families and communities, forever curious and confident and optimistic - those are the children who are going to be the hope of the future - perhaps our last great hope.

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