A year ago, Guy invited me to write about my educational philosophy-in-progress and said he would post it on Nature Bats Last. I have been thinking about this invitation and dithering ever since (until now). The invitation gave me much to chew on: how exactly would I go about articulating such a complex thing? Why ARE we homeschooling? The dithering has happened, no doubt, out of fear of judgment and my own perfectionist tendencies.
I had the great pleasure of meeting Guy in person at the Village Church in Cummington, Massachusetts, where he gave a talk. It was bracing to go through the facts, once again, of our collective predicament (climate-wise, energy-wise, killing-the-planet-wise), and to circle around again to the same conclusions: We denizens of Civilization are in for a rough ride in short order. And those of other species, or humans not living in the heart of Empire, have already paid far too great a price for the depredations of Civilization’s greedy hands.
However, what struck me with particular force was not so much the content of Guy’s talk. It was his courage. In the face of being branded with all sorts of unpalatable names, he is willing to take a strong moral stand on behalf of his convictions and throw down a challenge to his readers and listeners: What will you do? How will you respond? How will you not respond?
I decided that the least I could do was make a firm commitment to writing about why we are homeschooling, in the hope that it might provide a speck of inspiration or assumption-questioning to others.
The more I think about why we’re homeschooling, the more I realize it’s tied to why we do anything at all. Underlying values and motivations are threaded through every realm of our lives, not just how one “schools” one’s children, so I hope that those who are not parents or whose children go to school will still have something to glean from this.
A brief caveat: I recognize that there are many different circumstances and beliefs that people are grappling with, and that questioning the architecture of how lives are organized tends to be a hot button issue. My intent is not to sit in judgment, but describe my own process of determining values, assessing our family’s circumstances, and acting accordingly.
I hope that this will be the first essay of several that I write on the topic.
Reason #1 I’m Homeschooling: Time with my kid.
When my daughter was born in 2007, I was a couple years past my “End of Suburbia” moment (as Rob Hopkins has put it) (also known as the crisis period of realizing, holy crap, peak oil is happening, climate catastrophe is happening, we are all screwed, head for the hills, etc.). I have had occasions to grapple with my own mortality, not only during full-on TEOTWAWKI freak-outs, but at various periods in my life. On top of that, my baby’s birth was terrifying and there was concern that she would not be born alive, so I was given a head-start on grappling with her mortality as well. The reality, of course, is that we all end up dead, and we often don’t know how much life we have left. So let’s just plunge into this topic with an existential crisis, shall we?
I believe that this degree of mortality consciousness can be a double-edged sword; in its darkest aspects, it can be wholly debilitating and lead straight to catatonic depression. On the other hand, it can be a huge gift, this knowing that death is coming: We had better make the most of the life we have.
So what does this have to do with homeschooling? A lot, in our family.
While I’m alive, what kind of person do I want to be? What kind of person do I want to encourage my child to be? I want us to be connected. I want us to give and receive love. I want us to show kindness and compassion. I want us to be curious, creative, resilient beings. There is so much I want for both of us.
Most of all, I want us to enjoy each other’s company, while we’re alive. We don’t know how long we have. If I’m attempting to be realistic, based on all the reading and critical thinking I’ve done, I know that the likelihood of us living “long” lives is low. I don’t even know how to define a “long” life at this point. How long is long enough? We don’t get to choose. We especially don’t get to choose when there are so many lethal forces that are out of our control. We can try to prepare durable living arrangements (to use Guy’s words) as much as possible, and we’re certainly in the midst of doing that. I hope we live long, happy lives. But my pragmatic self still insists, “Make life as good as possible, right now, because it could be short.” This doesn’t preclude preparing for a longer life, but it does maintain a constant awareness of mortality.
Enjoying each other’s company, while we’re alive, necessarily means spending time together. I don’t think I have to spend every waking moment with my child; in fact, I think having some space to be alone or with other people is very important. It’s a matter of degree. But the fact remains that if we want to enjoy our relationship, time is an essential ingredient. I’m not sure I really buy the concept of “quality time” — that is, that it’s only the quality of the time spent together, rather than the amount, that counts. That feels like a justification of the manic pace of industrial culture, an excuse on the part of the institutional overlords. I think quantity of time still counts, as well as quality. I don’t intend this to demean people who are enmeshed in the voracious demands of the current economy and culture, who might like to have more time with their kids but feel that they have little choice in the matter. Almost everyone I know is enmeshed in those demands.
By not sending my child to school, there is a lot more time for us to be together. There’s also a lot more opportunity for us to engage with one another and with friends and the community at large. There is time to go outside. There is time to cook together. There is plenty of time to focus on things we both love, like music and reading. There is time to go to the library. We still have ample time with friends of all ages. We have time to learn at a pace that feels comfortable. I get to witness all of this astonishing growth in my child. I feel so lucky that I get to be on this life adventure with one of my favorite people in the world. I feel lucky that in the face of a dire future, my daughter and I are solidifying our bond through shared learning and daily joy.
There is so much more to say on this topic, but I will end here for now.
• Jennifer Hartley is a homeschooling mother, radical homemaker, permaculturally-inspired gardener, and local food activist. She was a founding board member of the non-profit Grow Food Northampton, and lives on a budding, quarter-acre homestead with her family in western Massachusetts. She is also a former reference librarian and still gets excited about connecting people with resources and ideas, helping people evaluate information, and collecting scads of books. These days she and her daughter can be found biking around town, harvesting violets and sprinkling them on salads, reading like mad, inventing songs, attending skillshares at Owl and Raven, studying chicken coop designs, and finding learning opportunities under every rock (literally)..