Real Life School

Great-Grandma's one room schoolhouse bell - ca. 1920

Next week is my final week of summer vacation.  That means it’s time to buckle down and actually prepare for school.  It will take me several completely uninterrupted days of In-Service time to figure everything out and plan my implementation.

And then I find myself humming Pink Floyd.

We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!

This song comes complete with fond memories of good times with friends, and I have laughed at my adoption of it as unofficial theme song for our school.  Am I against education?  Hardly.  I just really don’t like how teaching is done in most organized schools.  Something about all the bells and drills and structure reminds me of what I’ve read of socialist regimes.  The minute that sort of structure is applied, all interest in learning disappears from my head.  It seems this happens in many children, too, usually in the first few years, and I didn’t want mine to be the next casualties.  Instilling a love of learning is part of the fuel mix driving me to teach my own.

Ewwww!!! -Just Vaseline, but it felt disgusting!

In choosing a career, however, I’d rather fold endless loads of socks and underwear or scoop the catbox than teach.   Add in the fact that every day, every child is unique and needs a different emphasis to meet his full potential, and planning is difficult at best.  The best days are the ones where we’re all together:  two kids are reading on the couch with little ones coloring or building on the floor below them, while a teen studies science on the computer in the corner.   I’m shooting for a routine and a rhythm, where the varied levels of sundry topics flow together to make an atmosphere of learning, Montessori-style, with me merely overseeing and tutoring individually as needed.

I have always been inspired by the old homeschool story – I forget the family’s name now – about the child who could not grasp anything mathematical, but when he wanted his own room, Dad said, “Then build it on that end of the house.  Make sure you get all inspections and it’s legal.”  They let him run with it, and he not only had a certified home addition when he was done, but an acceptance letter to  Harvard.

I just don’t intend to remodel this year, and I do have specific goals to achieve.  So I need to keep in mind that I’m working in real life, where juice gets spilled across the community desk and student illness requires the teacher’s absence.  Plans should be flexible.   The language arts are the very air I breathe, but I haven’t been able to impart those skills with standard curricula.  So I’m going to focus on them with the highly recommended “literature approach” this year.  The idea is to read classic literature from or about a historical period in a predetermined sequence, write compositions (which obviously incorporate good penmanship and grammar) about them, and tie it all together with biographies of those who impacted the era so that the student’s thoughts are working cohesively on many facets of one basic topic.  The children can interact with the stories on their own levels and discuss them together at dinner.  Math, as part of the 3R’s, is also addressed, but since it doesn’t lend itself to literature so well, we do it separately.

This makes a lot of sense to me, along with being fairly cost-effective.  Part of the reason I burned out last spring was due to running between children of different ages to answer textbook questions on wildly different topics for over half the day, every day.  I was striving to meet goals that weren’t mine and definitely didn’t fit our style.   “Flow” never occurred, and nobody was cheerful by dinnertime when Dad arrived.   I wanted to simplify the schedule and encourage family cohesiveness while accomplishing more.

Not that other years haven’t accomplished much;  they just haven’t been fun.  Plumbing 101, Elementary BarnRaising, and Goat Health and Maintenance, while real life lessons, aren’t your standard transcript entries. My plan is to take all that real life experience, add some thought and great literature, and produce some truly well rounded educations –  er, students.

It’s not that I feel that school is a good idea gone wrong, but a wrong idea from the word go. It’s a nutty notion that we can have a place where nothing but learning happens, cut off from the rest of life. -John Holt

And that pretty much says it for me.  My schoolroom is also my kitchen, and the phone has been known to ring unexpectedly.  Life still happens, regardless of my designation that this is a classroom.  Two entire weeks were completely turned upside down last year by a small plane crash across the street during our school day.  We were surrounded by media, FAA inspectors, and miles of yellow tape around the neighborhood.  I didn’t even try to study in the midst of that.

But that was one more lesson that school, and work afterward, are not separate entities from real life.  We learn for and from it all.  My biggest goal is to avoid the mindsets that I see around me.  School is a drudgery to be endured and the mind is too often shut off the minute students leave campus.  Adults transfer this habit into their careers, falling into whatever 9 to 5 rut that pays the bills  and then shutting down in front of the idiot box every night.

My children have little use for TV; they’ve read about the Donner Party and biographies from the Civil War, and find the scripted reality-TV drivel to be ludicrous.  And that’s exactly what I want.  Those who’ve gone before are not so different from us, and their ideas are still useful for making a difference in this world.  Sharing ideas with the movers and shakers of the world, whether in person or through books, is the key to success.

And really, isn’t that what we see in the Bible?  Discipleship.  Storytelling while walking through life.  As I talk about what I read, tell stories of my experiences that illustrate those thoughts, and fill my home with high caliber books of all sorts, I fill their minds with ideas to explore.  They then toss those ideas back and forth within their own social network to get other perspectives.

And it’s working.  Last week, the younger children were all running around with spiky hair being creative because Grandma brought them a load of Calvin & Hobbes books.  This week, they built a stagecoach out of dining chairs, blankets, and dual leashes on two sleeping dogs, while they played Western Frontier.  The middle two plowed through 90 books this summer, mostly Hardy Boys and the like.  The two oldest earned their PE credits while honing job skills, along with a summer school class and volunteering some serious community service time on weekends and evenings.   I was astounded at what they all had to show for the time I’d spent taking a break.  They’re doing what I’d hoped:  learning and living in real life.   And school doesn’t start for another week.


2 thoughts on “Real Life School

  1. Sweet! Quoting Pink Floyd and referring to the Bible in the same post. You are correct in your assertions regarding learning. Relevance and relationships are important. Your children are blessed to have two caring and educated parents with a mind set that inter-disciplinary learning is valuable. I only wish that was a universal finding.
    As a principal of an elementary school, I think home schooling has an important role to play in education. However, I also think there are too many critics of a public education system that has too many chefs. Get the Feds involved with anything and there are bound to be some problems. Public schools are free and educate everyone who shows up regardless of socio-economic background or language ability. We may not be the best, but free, public education is the only equalizer in a capitalist system which has a history of neglecting the poor and disenfranchised. While the poor may always be with us, I intend to do my best to eradicate the injustice of institutionalized ignorance.

    • I wholeheartedly agree with you. I won’t put my kids in the system, but I know for many people, that’s the best option. I’ve said it before, but homeschooling is definitely not for the faint of heart. Hallelujah there are still people in the system who want to make a difference in children’s lives.

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