Friendly Community-Based Educating

We are a home-based educating family, and the world is our classroom. What does that mean, and how did we get here?

The modern movement of home education, sometimes called home schooling, has many foundations. One might cite cases like Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, or Abraham Lincoln as children who did not fit the mode of public education and were written off as misfits with learning disabilities. One might look to families who hope to instill strong moral character in their children and see the school atmosphere as detrimental. Some families claim the imperative to meet their child’s needs through home schooling, and others point to the vast opportunities that exist outside the walls of a school.

There are many diverse reasons for people to join the home education movement. Friend Debbie Humphries of Waterbury, Connecticut, shares the following queries that influenced her family’s decision to choose an alternative to public schooling:

  • Will our children be well served, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually, by the public school where they would go? How so?
  • What do we see the goals of the school system to be, and how do those fit with our goals for our children, and with our children’s goals?
  • How can we best encourage our children to listen and respect the Light within them?
  • Where can we find a learning environment for our children that incorporates respect for each child’s own knowledge and perspective?

Debbie answers: “At this point we don’t think our children will be well served in the schools available to us. Of course there is the selfish concern that it is easier (and less frustrating) right now to foster the learning environment we want at home than it would be to work within the school system to help to provide that environment at school.”

For many who choose home education, it is impossible to envision an educational system that would reflect a holistic, human-scale form of education: a model that would meet the needs of the unfolding, growing child. Such a system would allow a child exposure to the larger community, rich time spent with a variety of working adults, and diverse opportunities for hands-on experience, not pictures or descriptions from a book. In the current educational atmosphere of the United States, the ability to pass tests has taken precedence over learning and experience that will result in a strong civic-minded citizen and purpose-driven human being.

Throughout history and long before the system of education evolved into schools with separate classes and subjects, children learned how to be adults by being in the community and through mentor-ing experiences. Does our current educational system empower all of our children? Does it meet the needs of all children who enter it? Is higher education a possibility that is available to all?

Beyond these questions it can be a deeper challenge for a family committed to Friends testimonies of peace, nonviolence, simplicity, and meeting that of God in every one to release a child into a system that often blatantly conflicts with these testimonies.

Starting from the assumption that all parents love their children and will try to do the best they can to help them be successful, it holds that the school experience will be different for each family and each child. Many adults have good memories of
their school experience and feel that it adequately prepared them for adult life, but one can observe that many children are either lost or restrained by the school environment. Some find, as Friend Kathy Littman did, that:

We homeschool because [our son] was getting turned off to learning. We feel very lucky that we found ways to homeschool when we saw this happening in the fairly good public school he was in. It’s not OK for any person or institution to discourage anybody from learning happily and contentedly.

It can be a heart-wrenching experience for a parent to watch a curious, confident, sensitive, and compassionate child enter school and become bored, non-cooperative, fearful, and perhaps angry.

David Albert homeschools his two daughters, ages 13 and 10, in Olympia, Washington. His book, And the Skylark Sings with Me: Adventures in Homeschooling and Community-Based Education, chronicles their experiences as well as serving as a resource book for parents and children who find their education rooted in the experience of their communities. David expresses the sentiments of many home-educating parents, Friends and others:

Each child has her own light, her own experience of the Light. It is her birthright. We can nourish it, add fuel to its flame, but we must always remember that it is hers, not ours, and respect it as such. I do not embrace the ideas of original sin or original virtue, but I see that the child’s urge to learn—”original seeking” if you will—is built into her bones or her DNA or her spiritual identity as a human being. It evolves on its own timetable, and this evolution is what makes up her quality of living. Education should never be viewed as “preparation for life,” for the child is already alive and needs to be respected for who she already is, even in the process of becoming. . . .

The end of education, what we must cultivate in our children, is the responsible exercise of freedom, for this exercise is the only absolute prerequisite on the precarious road to meaning and to happiness. And the only way to cultivate this exercise is to provide our children the opportunity to exercise it, knowing that they will make mistakes, and remembering that without freedom (including the freedom to err), there is no such thing as responsibility.

For many who make the decision to home educate, these are the strongest, most self-evident truths. Home education may be the only choice to truly allow each child to become most fully whom God meant them to be; to nurture and empower each child to listen to their inner voice and teacher; to foster in each child compassion, respect, responsibility, and inner purpose guided by the Spirit. The greatest leap involved is that of trust, and this action requires faith in ourselves, our children, and the guidance of the Spirit.

In the past year our eldest child, nine-year-old Emily, has made two big decisions. The first was to enter school. After weighing the choices she entered a public school in the Ann Arbor, Michigan, district. Her experience began as a positive one; as a friendly girl and a fast learner, she adjusted quickly to the school environment. She encountered some challenges that she faced with courage, compassion, and responsibility.

However, it came as no surprise that she has chosen to leave school and facilitate her education from home this year. She is now taking classes part-time at a local private campus, Clonlara School; attends First-day school; and is volunteering at the local Humane Society chapter. Beyond a number of reasons she gives for leaving school, one statement stands out most in my mind: “In school there is no place or time to listen to my inner voice.”

The first thing obvious to children is what is sensible. . . .We press their memory too soon, and puzzle, strain, and load them with words and rules; to know grammar and rhetoric, and a strange tongue or two, that ten to one may never be useful to them; leaving their natural genius to mechanical and physical, or natural, knowledge uncultivated and neglected; which would be of exceeding use and pleasure to them through the whole course of their life. . . .

It were happy if we studied nature more in natural things, and acted according to nature, whose rules are few, plain and most reasonable. Let us begin where she begins, go her pace, and close always where she ends, and we cannot miss being good naturalists. The creation would no longer be a riddle to us: the heavens, Earth, and waters with their respective, various, and numerous inhabitants: their productions, natures, seasons, sympathies, and antipathies; their use, benefit, and pleasure would be better understood by us. And an eternal wisdom, power, majesty, and goodness, very conspicuous to us, through those sensible and passing forms: the world wearing the mark of its Maker, whose stamp is everywhere visible, and the characters very legible to the children of wisdom.

It would go a great way to caution and direct people in their use of the world [if] they were better studied and [knowledgeable of] the creation of it. For how could [humans] find the confidence to abuse it, while they should see the Great Creator stare them in the face, in all and every part thereof?

—William Penn

Sandra Brown

Sandra Brown attends Ann Arbor (Mich.) Meeting and nurtures the education of her four children. Contributors to this article include members of the Quaker Homeschooling Circle (QHC), an e-mail community of Friendly homeschoolers and fellow travelers.