Addressing Homeschoolers on Two Continents

In addition to traveling to speak about homeschooling in Ireland and New York over the last few weeks I’ve been working hard to bring GWS V.1 into print and digital media. I’m happy to say that the print, Kindle, and PDF versions of Growing Without Schooling, Volume 1, are available for sale now, as you can see from the home page and this page I created for the book. I’ll be writing more about this book soon, but today I am reflecting on my recent travels.

In the course of 4 weeks I got to address homeschoolers on two continents and I am struck by our similarities: lots of frustration with inflexible school officials and peoples’ opinions about how children can only learn in school settings. I think it is how school captures and diminishes our imaginations by forcing us to focus on school-determined subjects rather than the subjects that matter to us in the here and now that is at the nub of these frustrations. John Holt responded to a great letter in GWS 4 (“From L”) with this observation:

. . . I have so often been asked by defenders of compulsory learning and compulsory schooling: “How can a child know what he needs to learn?” I have always said, but never with an example as eloquent and persuasive as this (PF—“From L”), that though the child may not know what he may need to know in ten years, he knows, and much better than anyone else, what he wants and needs to know next, in short, what his mind is ready and hungry for. If we help him, or just allow him, to learn that, he will remember it, use it, build on it. If we try to make him learn something else, that we think is more important, the odds are good that he won’t learn it, or will learn very little of it, that he will soon forget most of what he learned, and what is worst of all, will soon lose most of his appetite for learning anything.

Most people would agree with John’s observation that most of us soon forget what we learned in school yet they can’t admit the time was wasted; their bad experiences are somehow made better by thinking the bad experience made them stronger in some way rather than diminished them. It’s hard to imagine new possibilities for children to live and grow in society other than trudging through another school year when you internalize this attitude.

So what really excited me in Ireland and New York was the turnout of people seeking not to duplicate school but to provide their children with something different. Experienced homeschoolers were well represented at the events, as were newcomers (I guess about a third of the audience in each place), but the presence of second-generation homeschoolers who came with their families and told me that they were unschooled/homeschooled as children was striking to me. I have met second-generation homeschoolers since the 1990s, and I know of a few third- and fourth-generation homeschoolers, but it was most unusual for me to meet, in the course of a few weeks, so many adults who were homeschooled who now plan to homeschool their own children. Thanks to all who came to the conferences and especially to the conference organizers.

I wrote this article, “Awakening Ourselves to New Possibilities in Education,” for the Irish Unschooling Conference to help promote the conference and I think it makes a nice supplement to this blog post.