HOMESCHOOLING FROM SCRATCH
by Carolyn Forte
On a sunny day in 1982, my neighbor, Susan and I met in Wilderness Park with four other homeschool moms. Thus began the first homeschool support group in the San Gabriel Valley, northeast of Los Angeles, California. I'm not sure that any of us had a very clear idea of what we should be doing. As far as we knew, homeschooling was illegal, or at least not sanctioned by any law we knew of. There were few books on homeschooling at the time, no state homeschooling organization in California, and only one homeschool magazine: Growing Without Schooling, published by John Holt in Massachusetts. All we really had was a dream of raising and educating our children in a different and better way. We were "underground," willfully engaging in civil disobedience for the sake of our children. Textbook publishers would not sell to us, our friends and relatives were horrified if not hostile; yet we knew we could provide something better for our children than hours of drudgery and boredom or worse.
As our little group grew, we compared ideas, books and methods. Our mentors were John Holt, author and founder of Growing Without Schooling, Raymond and Dorothy Moore, authors and founders of the Moore Foundation, and Lawrence and Bonnie Williams, founders of Oak Meadow School. At the time, they were the only published homeschool authors that we knew of. Most of us never even considered "schooling-at-home." Why would we duplicate the system we had rejected? Since, however, "schooling" was the only kind of education any of us had ever known, we really had only a foggy picture of what we wanted to do to educate our children. We met every Monday at the park and discussed ideas for field trips and activities while the children played. Our weekly field trips were usually to a local business which was kind enough to give us a little tour. These trips were almost always free and we had great fun visiting small bakeries, farms and warehouses. Often, our tour guide was a homeschool dad or a friend of the family. Homeschoolers were hungry for associations with other homeschoolers and the children soon became fast friends. We were learning along with our children and it was exciting and fun. We read and shared every article and book that came out on homeschooling, sifting and gleaning for useful tips and information we could use.
Times have changed. Homeschooling is now legal in every state. We get into museums and tourist attractions at "school" prices. State homeschool organizations disseminate information, put on conferences and even publish "how to" books. There are scores of homeschool "experts" to light (or muddy) your path and more curriculum choices than you can shake an affidavit at. Homeschoolers have changed too. While twenty-five years ago, only the most daring (or desperate) would entertain such a radical plan, homeschooling in the 21st century is almost mainstream.
Sadly, school has robbed too many of us of the natural joy of learning we were born with. In the last century or so, education for the vast majority has changed from a fascinating voyage of discovery to a chain gang of drudgery. Since most of us were raised on the "chain gang," we tend to feel guilty indulging in joyful, painless learning experiences. We are constantly plagued by doubts and fears that our children aren't learning enough or we aren't doing enough. Fear is not always a bad thing. It can protect us from real danger or motivate us to try harder, but fear is malignant when it keeps us from growing and exploring. The only way to grow is to risk failure.
Ironically, fear of failure is one of the most prominent lessons of the American education system. Students learn early that failure is not acceptable. The result is devastating to both creativity and exploration. Once a student reaches high school and beyond, he will often refuse to try a course which may challenge him or attempt an area of study in which he perceives even the slightest chance of "failure." Thus, his education becomes stunted just as if he had been forbidden to study that discipline. Children in grade school are not immune either. I once taught a sixth grade class in which several boys and even a couple of girls had already decided that they could not learn. It was clear to me that they were all smart enough to master anything we were doing, but they had been so battered by "failure" that they were not willing to try anymore. These were not children with "learning disabilities" unless you consider fear of failure a learning disability. I have never been able to forget the tragedy of those scared children.
When our daughters were about age three and five, I took them ice skating. Tenaya had skated several times before, and only fell occasionally. When she did, she picked herself up and went right on. Tylene, only three years old, had never been on skates. She was determined nevertheless and marched out onto the ice alone. She refused to take my hand and fell down about every three or four steps. On and on she went: skate, skate, fall, skate, fall, skate, skate, skate, fall, skate. After about fifteen minutes of this, a man skated over to me and asked if those were my daughters. He told me he wanted them on his hockey team! When I expressed shock, he explained, "They aren't afraid to fall; they will make great hockey players." Neither girl ever took up hockey, but the coach's remark is instructive. How many of us are so afraid of failure that we refuse to try something unfamiliar, thus guaranteeing failure.
Martin and I fell in love with homeschooling. We will be eternally grateful for the opportunity to grow and learn with our children and we have tried to encourage homeschoolers in every way we could. We hope this is helpful to you in your homeschool journey.