Posted by: scintillatingspeck | February 1, 2013

Dismantling the barriers: Homeschooling made visible.

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
~ Rumi

I’ve been reminded, lately, that often it’s hugely challenging to see the choices that are right in front of our noses.  How might it be possible to expand our awareness of the options that lie before us?  How can we ferret out the barriers in ourselves, the blind spots that blot out love, possibility, expansiveness, behaviors that keep us in alignment with our sense of “doing the right thing”?

I am my own harshest critic.  Although I’ve tried to temper the worst of the internal, disciplinarian shouting, the judgmental voice remains: not as overtly vicious as before, but surly nevertheless.  I’m not sure I’ll ever be rid of it, despite my efforts to cease listening.  Occasionally, I receive opportunities to listen, instead, to the voices of compassion and joy.  These voices recognize, first, that just making it through another day in the culture of alienation is a major achievement, and second, that there are achievements that go above and beyond mere survival, that deserve a bit of jig-dancing.  Today I am choosing to dwell on one beautiful, continuing action in my life: my efforts to homeschool my child.

It’s not a given, for most people, to ponder the option of homeschooling.  When I was in school, I’m not sure I even knew it existed as a concept, other than in Ye Olde Days of Yore (certainly not in modern, “enlightened” times).  Even as an adult, as homeschooling increased in popularity in the U.S., it skirted around the edges of my awareness.  It rested comfortably in a blind spot, for me, all throughout the process of deciding to have a baby, throughout pregnancy, and after the baby was born.  Every once in a while I’d get reminders that I would need to start thinking about the child’s Education, whether it was through references to squirreling away money for college (an idea I’ve rejected) or outright exhortations to start getting my infant daughter’s name down on waiting lists for the “best” preschools (another idea that got tossed right out the window).  By that time, I had heard of homeschooling, but I had a hard time dedicating more than a few seconds of thought to it at a time, mostly because the mere thought of it made me feel that much more overwhelmed in my sleep-deprived, shell-shocked-by-new-motherhood state.

How did I come to see that homeschooling was not only an option, but that it was feasible, and desirable, and I could take steps to make it happen?  What keys unlocked that door?  How did I see that there was a door in the first place?

This is where I can recognize that groundwork had been laid for many years prior to realizing that homeschooling would be a good choice for us.  First, there were many previous choices I had made in my life to take leaps into unknown territory, either out of an intuitive sense that that would be best, or out of conviction that the less-trodden path was the better choice.  I almost never regretted those leaps.  The more “alternative” or “radical” my thinking and actions became, the more I felt I was on to something.  Pursuing intentional community was one of those leaps, along with moving to this beautiful region in western Massachusetts.  It wasn’t long after we had moved when my long-standing environmentalism was vastly deepened through learning about peak oil and its intersections with climate change.  I started to become much more interested and active in community resilience, particularly local food resilience, which eventually led me to becoming part of the core group that launched Grow Food Northampton and the successful campaign to create a community farm and community garden.  In closely examining my relationships to other entrenched, institutional structures (such as industrial agriculture; or the nuclear-family model; or academia; or “the economy” or “the government), it surely helped me to question the received wisdom of compulsory schooling.  In addition, I started noticing bumper stickers on area vehicles that read, “Learning is natural.  School is optional.  North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens.”  School is optional.  It was out there, just like that, waiting for the light to change on Route 9, wondering continuously how we could dodge the rat race and behave like kind, compassionate, strong, resilient humans rather than maniacal rats on wheels.  Of course.  We should opt out of training for that race.  And another message received via Dmitry Orlov’s blog, on a day when I felt especially primed to receive it: “You don’t have to go to school.”

This is not the only route to homeschooling, of course; in speaking with a few other homeschooling parents earlier today, for example, I learned that they had each started out with their children in school, only to be disappointed, and often horrified, by the attitudes they encountered from teachers and administrators towards their children.  If there was a unifying theme, it was this: the expectation was that children should conform to fairly rigid expectations.  They must “get with the program.”  They must not be overly imaginative.  They must not indulge in “too much” fantasy play.  They must not express frustration for very long.  They must do what the rest of the class is doing, even if they are extremely bored.  They must not waver out of line even slightly, or the demands for psychological testing and consequent labeling would be imposed in a flash.  They must not be themselves.  (And here I will insert my general caveat, which is that of course, not every teacher or administrator is like this.  However, I would still maintain that the systemic thrust of compulsory schooling is oriented around these principles, serving the needs of the Almighty Economy rather than the needs of humans and the whole of the community of life.  The most forward-thinking, well-intentioned teacher is still caught up in a system that I find profoundly disturbing.  And I long to liberate my beloved teacher friends from the system that frustrates them so, along with the school-children who wish so hard for things to be different, along with their parents who wish they had more time to spend with their children and be less beholden to economic necessity… ad infinitum.)

I’m grateful for the confluence of events that led me, and others in my circle, to see homeschooling as an option, and for the ability to pursue it.  But it reminds me: what blind spots remain, what barriers?  There are many I’ve tried to identify and overcome, and the task is far from over.  And this seeking- I must not fall into the trap of imagining that it is “success” or “achievement” that is the goal.  No, it is just as Rumi stated: it is the barriers to love that must be sought.  Not love itself, and certainly not some inevitably inadequate definition of success.   If we could find and dismantle the barriers to love, what a torrent of beauty would flow, what doors would become visible and thrown open, what sunlight would illuminate every dark corner.

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