Friday, June 24, 2005

What Might Happen when I Break Away from the Mainstream?

Challenges are what make life interesting;
overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.
Josha J. Marine

Why do we choose home based learning? It isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do. For a start, it requires that we break away from the mainstream. It means breaking away from traditions. It means threatening extended family and friends by doing the un-usual. It means challenging our very own thoughts and actions. Some people are even afraid to take their children to town or to let them play outside before 3.00p.m. on a weekday for fear of attracting negative attention. Home based learning means being a single income family because one of the parents has to stay home with the children. What about single parent families choosing home based learning? How is it for them?

As well as those who happily make home based learning their first choice, some of us choose home based learning because our children are having problems at school—either with bullying, unhappy with the teacher, the school or whatever—and the only alternative is to withdraw from the school environment. What a relief to know that there are numerous alternatives. You can follow so many different philosophies and avenues, such as Charlotte Mason, Steiner, Glasser, John Holt and—good old common sense. You can set up your own little classroom at home and use a correspondence program. You don’t have to stay in the system if it doesn’t suit you.

It is becoming obvious to an increasing number of people that schools as we know them are no longer able to cater for the variety of needs of our children and families. Times are changing—fast. Schools being what they are, are slow to make the changes. I congratulate any teachers who are able to set up happy and supportive classroom environments because it’s a hard thing to do nowadays.

As the world is in a state of rapid change, everywhere I look I see things are unsettled. My guess is that a common thread underlying the changes is an increasing awareness of how humans relate—with each other, and their environment. Thus, society no longer needs an education system that focuses on academic education to prepare its people for careers, but rather, society needs an education system that focuses on developing emotional intelligence. This means understanding what makes us, and our environment, tick. For example, it is more common knowledge that music and colour—vibrations in general– have a powerful effect on how humans, animals and plants behave. Stress management is a growing awareness too—there is an increasing awareness of the need for meditation—in its many forms- in the workplace and at home.

My projection is that the school syllabus will turn towards a focus on developing emotional intelligence. This will best be done when class sizes are reduced to a ratio of 8-10 children per teacher so that human relationships and learning in general can develop in a safe, flexible place where they will be protected from criticism or ridicule. [It means that many teachers will have to rethink how/what and why they are teaching.] In this type of environment learners (the teacher and students) will take chances with new ideas and processes. Not much different from what’s already happening in the pioneering homes of home based learners.

My head spins when I consider the degree of changes that must take place before this ideal is a reality. For a start, we need to be able to elect world leaders who appreciate the value of emotional intelligence. There is a lot of weight in this possibility alone. It seems that within small clusters of people, communities, emotional intelligence is valued but lost when we move into the world community. Why is this so? What I do know for certain is that we are evolving and I have faith that we will do it in this lifetime. There is a bright and light future for our children. I’m focusing on it.

Meanwhile, those who choose home based learning are not waiting for approval or action from the current education authorities. We have common sense. We are in touch with each other, in our small communities, and know what we need to raise the standards of our world. It isn’t actually the people in the street who are reluctant to accept what we are doing. Most people we meet are impressed to learn that we have chosen to carry the responsibility of education on our own shoulders. They’re curious to know how we’ll get around the milestones , such as getting jobs and getting into university, but generally speaking the greatest wonder is to know how we can handle spending so much time with our children! Yet most people who choose home based learning do so for that very reason—they see it as a way to strengthen family bonds and values. Once these are in place then any wonder can be achieved. The difficulty is in convincing the ‘education authorities’ that there’s more than one way to ‘get an education’.

We must value ourselves and understand that we have grown up in a society that focussed on productivity, where the end result is what matters most. We must be able to measure the results of our labours, if there’s not a scientific explanation to back up our actions, then we must be just bluffing and ultimately, wrong! That’s why politicians, education departments and economists—those who have severed ties with the commoners because they are too busy in their bureaucratic duties to be able to hear their own common sense- -have so much trouble accepting home based learning in general and natural learning in particular, as a way of educating our children. You can’t plan a curriculum months in advance. You have to let it unfold and pounce on the opportunities as they arise. Just because we say that it doesn't matter that a child isn’t reading by the time they’re 7, doesn’t mean we don’t care. It simply means that we are prepared to let the child’s growth follow its own path. Faith is the gift here—faith that everything we believe to be possible will be.

Ask yourself, what do you want out of life? What quality of life do you value? Is it to be a slave to the ways of a society that has come to revere goods, possessions and results based on a single performance? How do you nourish your heart? By mindlessly following the way that things have always been done? Or by identifying what is important to you and walking your talk? The most important things in life are immeasurable. I know without doubt that there is more than one way to live. More than ever before it is glaringly obvious that there is more than one way to ‘get an education’. I’m not even going to try to back that up with data because I’m not going to buy into the game of justifying what I believe to be true. I know that home based learning is right for me. With natural learning, not only is our learning home based, but it is child centred. It makes my heart sing. When I’m happy, my family’s happy. When my family’s happy, the people we come in contact with are happy. People being true to themselves and not judging others will make for a peaceful and happy community.

That’s not to say that all home based learners think the same. Some of my biggest face slaps have come from home based learners whose agenda is different from my own. However, I keep in mind that any sort of confrontation, whether it be with a friend, a shopkeeper, a person in the education department, a stubborn animal, a persistent weed—anything—is a chance for growth. How so? Well, gauge your responses to the confrontation. What feelings rise to the surface? What do you say about the situation? What do you do about it? What are you feeling about yourself? Answers and insights don’t always materialize immediately—the dawning can take years!

Home based learning frees the individuals of my family to think outside the circle. God knows I put enough limits on my life with my own agenda. I need the space that home based learning provides to help me break away from the extra forces that would limit my thinking and actions. When I’m breaking away form the mainstream of education, I’m also breaking away from the mainstream of consumerism and life as we know it. I’m being conscious of what radio shows we listen to, what TV shows and movies we watch and what kind of novels we are reading. It is not only food that nourishes me. Everything I see, hear, and experience through any of my senses, will shape my body and my actions. Understanding myself is a full time job if I want to harness my energy to the best of my ability. There is no time to be distracted by such trifling concerns as what the neighbours will think, or what might I miss out on. I’m concentrating on discovering who I am and how best to live a peaceful, joyous, life without being pretentious. The end result, I imagine, is that I will be light, that I will laugh easily, yet be mind-ful and heart-felt in all of my life.

My message could best be summed up by something that Joshua J. Marine is quoted as saying “Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.”

Other news that excites me is the community school being started in Cairns. Yet again, this is an example of people acting on their values—they’re not waiting for someone to hand them their dreams on a silver platter. They’re even designing the platter! There are lots of good things happening constantly. This kind of news doesn’t come to me in a crystal ball—I need you to bring these events into my focus. I’d love to know about community schools across Australia and New Zealand. I love to present triumphs and downfalls. Communicating with each other helps each of us to find what we’re looking for in our own way. Let’s keep in touch with each other, thus strengthening the support network for people who dare to be different before their time. If you’re just starting out on the home based learning journey, don’t be afraid of being out of the mainstream, instead, focus on the fact that you are forging yet another tributary on which the river bed of lifestyles can flow.

by Grace Chapman ©