Homeschool Issues

Let’s say this. I see a need in my neighborhood and I decide to invest some of my money and rally people together to voluntarily help provide that need. It’s going well. We tweak it here and there and end up having a fairly successful thing going. In comes a mean man with a lot of money. He says, “I’ll give you a bunch of money to keep providing your thing.” It’ll be great because with his money involved, you won’t need to charge as much for the service and more of the poorer members of the neighborhood can use it. But, you know that guy and he’s a pretty mean dude. He may ask you to do something with your thing you’re not happy about and then threaten to take his money elsewhere if you don’t let him. So you decide to decline the money and be independent of this guy and his requests. How is that any different when the government is the one with the money?

My son says this is too cryptic. I’m talking about government-funded charter schools that offer money to vendors to supply services that private homeschoolers have been able to provide for themselves until now.

My Sons Race Motocross

My sons race motocross. Those words seem to strike terror in the heart of other mothers almost as much as if I said “My son is a drug dealer.” It’s so strange to me and it’s not because it doesn’t scare me when they are out there on the track, as if I’m oblivious of the risks involved. If I said, my teenage son plays football or drives to work every day, no one would ask my why I let them do that. And those activities are just as risky, if not more so because people don’t see them as a risk. People take risks. They just do. Hopefully they are calculated risks that have the potential to bring them happiness but that isn’t always the case. Teenagers are more inclined to take risks, not because they enjoy being difficult but because it is part of the growing up process. If they didn’t take risks, they’d never fully mature into adults. As people mature (not always as they get older) they stop taking as many risks. It’s just life. Everyone has the thing that makes them happy. Finding it is the key. For my sons, it’s motocross and not just riding but racing. Lucky for us, both the boys love the same sport and there is no conflict of time, energy, and funds. I think I’ll describe a bit of what they do so that you may get the feeling of why they love it and why we support their efforts.

A few years ago, my Dad and Step-Mom got the boys a small mini-bike. It wasn’t a dirt bike. It was more like a bike built around a lawnmower engine. It had a pull start and wide tires. The boys rode it to death and within a few months were eager to get a “real” dirt bike. Living in the desert on five acres, there was no reason not to comply with that request. They began to scour the internet for a small bike they could ride around the neighborhood or out camping. And they found one right away. The man that sold it to us is still a friend today and hired the boys to do some work around his house so that they could afford to fix up another bike they bought.

So now we were the proud owners of two dirt bikes, then three, and then five. The boys were growing, in size and riding skill, so they were fixing up and outgrowing bikes pretty quickly. They learned a lot fixing up those bikes. Some of them were pretty big projects. One bike needed a “top-end rebuild” and a “resurfaced piston”. And one bike we bought wouldn’t start at all and the guy said he was riding it and it just stopped running. That engine needed to be completely rebuilt. The boys did all this work themselves with little oversight from Dad who works from home and was able to come out and lend a hand when things got tough. My husband is not a motorcycle mechanic but he does know a thing or two about engines. The internet is an amazing thing!

When they finally settled in on a couple of bikes, they really wanted to try out riding at a motocross track. How did they come across this information, I may never know! They found tracks, read about riding there, the rules, the gear they’d need, etc. They practiced riding around the house and the same guy that sold us our first bike came over with a tractor and dug them a track on our property to practice on! They are relentless when they want to do something, so eventually they wore me down with all their information about riding and I told them I’d take them when they could load and unload the truck without help. I’m not strong enough to push bikes up ramps! Of course, they went outside and did it the minute I said it and we began planning a ride day for the next week.

I took the boys on my own to the track during the week because we figured it would be much less crowded than a weekend. I’ve never been so nervous to go somewhere. I asked the guy at the gate what to expect, explaining that we had never ridden at a track before. He was the nicest person I’ve ever met in motocross! He gave us the run down, looked at the boys bikes and gear, and talked to them a bit. He said they’d be fine and to look forward to racing because everyone that tries a track wants to race. Great.

After that first day, we went to the track many times. I found a friend that used to race a bit and he met us there on a Saturday and gave the boys some pointers. That’s when the requests to race started to come up. The idea terrified me and not because I was afraid of them getting hurt. I was afraid for other riders! Most of these guys have been racing since they were four years old. They all work very hard to get on that track and mine had just started riding dirt bikes. What if they did something that got someone else very hurt? Don’t you need training to do this? Where do you even start? The boys knew, of course! Everything they read, watch, and talk about is about racing! We decided to start with hiring a trainer for a day to see if they even had the skills to give it a try. She said they were definitely ready. Sigh.

There was a race series starting in the next couple weeks, so we decided to go as a spectator and see how the whole thing worked. We arrived just after the sun came up and found a parking space. We walked around and talked to people. We watched the races and saw fast and slow riders, big and mini-bikes. The boys talked to the race people and they told them which class they should probably start in and we watched that race. It all seemed pretty do-able, much like Little League but on dirt bikes.

We signed up for the next series and have been going ever since. The boys rarely win but they have a blast every time. We’ve been soaked to the skin in rain and mud, stood there sweating in the 110 degree heat, listened to loud generators all night, and sat in Emergency rooms for hours. But they keep wanting to go back. We spend almost all our extra money on racing and it’s accouterments. The boys train every day. They ride mountain bikes for ten miles. The run a mile a day. They have changed their diet. They joined a crossfit gym and an indoor rock climbing gym. The pay for half of all their bike stuff and gas. They do all their own repairs. We eat, breathe, and sleep motocross.

And through all of it our family is stronger. We spend our weekends together at the track or in the garage. We spend our weekdays together training. They even got me up off the couch! We play cards and guitars after practice, camped out in a parking lot for the next days race. We grocery shop and cook together, trying to eat better and get stronger. They read articles and watch videos about how to ride better and faster. And they challenge themselves at the track. It’s not about winning to them. It’s about being there, a part of something exciting, and getting better every time. We’ve made friends along the way and really enjoy being at the track with them. I can’t imagine our lives without it.

What I wonder is where they will go with all of this? Will they become the next Chad Reed? It’s not likely. But they will be a part of a pretty fun community of people. And I’m sure they will share this love with their families when they are older. I know I’ll love going to the track and watching my grandkids race!

The risk, the pain, the injury’s, the sweat, the tears, the effort; it’s all worth it. It’s worth it to see my sons put their heart and soul into something that makes them so happy and fulfilled. It’s worth it to see the pride in their eyes when they clear that jump or pass that guy. It’s worth it to see their dirty hands in my kitchen sink after a days work of fixing something few 14 year olds even know exist. It’s worth it to see their independence and confidence grow and watch them mature into young men instead of just bored teenagers. My heart hurts for them when they are in pain from an injury, but it soars with them when they get back on that bike and sit in that gate, poised and ready for it to drop.

Why do I “let” my sons race motocross? That’s like asking me why I let them live, love, and breathe.

What To Write

I’m debating whether or not to write more about our lifestyle on my blog. Our lives are very different from most other people’s. When I talk to some people I feel like they cannot grasp what it is we do. Even closer family members reveal, in some small ways, that they really don’t “get” us. But should I post to try to bring to people our peaceful and happy way of life? I guess what I really want is for someone out there to see what we really are and there probably is no way of doing that besides living here. Or should I post about our lifestyle to give people a glimpse of another way of living an “American” life? Families are so different and really don’t think any one way has a monopoly on being right, but my children seem well adjusted and happy and it’s not because they are special minds, or that we were very strict and trained them up right. I’d really love my version of a happy family life to be out there for people to see.

Final Notes on “Free to Learn” by Peter Gray

Page 167 “By doing what they want to do, which is to play with other children, children learn to compromise and not do exactly what they want to do.” And it works all so naturally, without any control by others. Children who naturally aren’t very social don’t need to be forced to socialize and play. With the support of loving, uncontrolling adults in their lives, children will learn what their real needs are and how work in the world to get those needs satisfied.

Page 170 Kids work through trauma (real and imagined) through role playing and pretend. It’s strange to me that therapists will use this same idea in an office to help people work through things but most adults see no value in children doing it. Kids play at “cops and robbers” to experience danger and create their own positive ending. It’s healing and learning.

Page 171 “The Value of ‘Dangerous’ Play” “…suggested that a major evolutionary purpose of play is to help the young learn how to cope with emergencies.” They are learning new skills. We all had the chance to learn as children and now it’s our kids turn. They won’t learn our lessons. They need to learn their own through safe “dangerous” play.

Page 172 “…human children, like other young mammals, deliberately put themselves into fear-inducing, vulnerable positions in their play.” I’ve watched my boys do this throughout their lives. They constantly seek the edge of things. They search out an older/bigger boy to play fight with. They consistently push their boundaries, and then come back to Mom for reassurance when things get out of control. I’m always there to wipe the tears but not reprimand them for doing what children need to do to grow.

Page 175 “Play is nature’s way of teaching children how to solve their own problems, control their impulses, modulate their emotions, see from others’ perspectives, negotiate differences, and get along with others as equals. There is no substitute for play as a means of learning these skills. They can’t be taught in school. For life in the real world, these lessons of personal responsibility, self-control, and sociability are far more important than any lessons that can be taught in school.” And every year we take more and more of that away from our children and force them to focus on “STEM” skills in a formal academic environment. Then we wonder why each generation gets more and more angry, violent, and anti-social.

Page 195 “Children must feel safe and cared for in order to devote themselves fully to exploring and learning, and children learn best from those with whom they have caring, trusting relationships.” This is what gets me. So many people push their young children away thinking that they must be forced out of the nest to gain competence. Children WANT to grow up and be independent. You can’t force them to BE independent. As young children they need spent that time to fully trust you, that you will be there when they fall. They won’t get that if you drop them off at Sunday school screaming and crying. They won’t get it if when they scrape their knee you tell them to quit crying because it’s only a scratch. They need to be “babied” when they are babies. The shiest, timid child will eventually walk away from you and join a friend in climbing a tree eventually. You can’t speed the process up.

Page 210 “Trustful parents are not negligent parents. They provide not just freedom, but also the sustenance, love, respect, moral examples, and environmental conditions required for healthy development. They support, rather than try to direct, children’s development, by helping children achieve their own goals when such help is requested.”

He uses the example of “direct-domineering parenting” as one that developed suddenly in response to an agricultural and then capitalistic society. I don’t agree with his negative assessment of the style. I believe that a change in society demanded a change in parenting that served that society well. But, as everything else in this world, things are changing again and our parenting styles need to evolve as well, not remain stoic in an attempt to keep the world as it was.

Page 226 “The nuclear family is a fine thing as a home base for raising children, but for healthy development, children need to explore beyond it, even when they are little.” And our school system is never a healthy place to do that, but that is where most people would turn right now when they believe their neighborhood is not a safe place for their kids. To me, it’s a reason to promote/organize and attend regularly a good park day, or playgroup when kids are able to play together uninterrupted by adults who are nearby in case of emergencies. This is really lacking in our area and I’ve tried so hard to get people to come but they just don’t see the value in it and don’t make the time in their lives for it.

Page 233 “…a system of voluntary, noncoercive schools…where children could play, explore, and learn in an environment conducive to healthy intellectual, physical, and moral development.” Government schools, by nature, cannot be this. Government is non-voluntary and coercive in nature. It cannot promote and force people to pay taxes to support, a program that let’s people do as they please and grow to govern themselves. It’s like working yourself out of a job.

This book has some amazing insight and ideas, put into words that really strike home. I’d love everyone in my family to read it and understand what it is we are doing in our home. We’ve followed our instincts and created a home and lifestyle that I believe promotes peace and love. My husband and I are still very much in love with each other and enjoy each others company. Our children are teenagers now and are happy, well-adjusted young men that enjoy being around their family and friend and find the love of life everywhere they go. My clingy and timid child that my family said was spoiling because I didn’t force him to do things he didn’t want to do, is now a young man looking out to the world to make his way. This lifestyle does work in our world, the one that is developing right before us.

Notes on “Free to Learn” by Peter Gray – Part 3

The more we turn the screws of obedience and schooling, the more uneducated and violent our children become. It’s a natural reaction to external control over humans. We aren’t wired for this.

Page 67 “Children don’t like school because, like all human beings, they crave freedom, and in school they are not free.” School is a prison sentence. Even if you come to the school already full of the knowledge they say they will give you, you HAVE to be there every day. How anyone does not see this is a mystery to me.

Page 70 “An implicit and sometimes explicit message of our forced schooling system is this: ‘If you do what you are told to do in school, everything will work out well for you.’ Children who buy into this message stop taking responsibility for their own education.” Some do. I’ve heard many adults state that the only reason that things didn’t work well for them was somehow they didn’t work hard enough at doing what the schools told them to do. And now they send their children to the same school and tighten down on them more than their parents did to get them to do what the school says to do so that things will go well for them. After several generations of this, we pretty much all believe it even though it rarely works and our children seem less and less capable of taking care of themselves as adults, and become more and more violent against themselves and others.

Page 75 He’s talking about cheating on tests. It benefits everyone. All that matters is the score on the paper, not that you’ve actually learned anything or that you are capable of being an adult citizen. The teachers look good on paper. The students look good on paper. The parents look good because their children are passing the tests. This is why people get angry when I tell them to just make up grades on a report card from a home school. It really doesn’t mean anything. When you go to get a job or apply at a university, they file those papers away because now their bureaucratic paperwork checklist is filled and then they look at the real person in front of them.

Page 80 “Students who allowed themselves to pursue a love of some subject would risk failing all the others. To succeed, students must acquire the limited information and shallow understanding needed to perform well on the tests.” I know so many people that think this is necessary and normal. Well, yes it would be nice if Johnny could pursue history to his hearts content and really be able to converse about it in the real world, but you know, he has to pass his exams on algebra and literature at a basic level. It’s ridiculous.

Page 85 “…students taking physics or history seemed motivated to get the highest grades they could while learning the least possible amount of the subject matter.” Tom was amazed when he found this out on his language learning program. It’s free and voluntary. You’d think people would be on there because they wanted to learn the language to the best of their ability. But they are there to get a “high score” like a video game. It doesn’t matter if you made it through the level if you don’t have the high score, right?

Page 87 Learning about democracy and self-government in a totalitarian system where you have no choice whether or not to be there, let alone what goes on there and how you spend your time. The irony fantastic and I’m beside myself with wonder that so few people can see that this is having a huge effect on how we govern ourselves and how much we’ve given over to “authority”.

Page 88 Talking about having “democratic schools” for public education instead of our current system. Why does it have to be schools? Can’t it be a family or group of families? If we only stopped making school “mandatory” we would improve the situation quite a bit. It can’t be a democratic school if you are there by force.

Page 130 “Curiosity, playfulness, and meaningful conversation are all thwarted in school, because they require freedom.” The minute you take away the freedom all the opportunity to learn is lost. If it weren’t, people would learn quickly that they are not free and demand their freedom. It’s a catch 22 thing.

Page 146 “All sorts of play can be ruined when the rewards are made to appear to be the main reason for engaging in the activity.” And the reward can be as simple as stay here and “learn” until I let you go home and do what you want to do. The school becomes work instead of play and work is not for learning new things.

Page 153 “From an evolutionary perspective, negative emotions, especially fear and anger, arose to deal with emergencies, and emergencies are not the proper occasions for trying out new ways of thinking and behaving.” You have children going through 12 years of negative emotions to get through school and into life. Then they are fully trained in that negative mindset, they never want to “learn” again. Much like Pavlov’s Dog, they are conditioned to equate negative feelings with learning. I’ve recently (in the past year) began learning to meditate to remain calm. That calm follows me throughout the day and I can easily get back to that feeling so that I am ready to learn new things. It’s been revolutionary for me!

Notes on “Free to Learn” by Peter Gray – Part 3

Page 33 “Hunter-gatherer children learn about plant-based foods in the same general way they learn to hunt. They hear stories. They join their mothers and other adults on gathering trips.” Just like going to the grocery store! My children weren’t shut away in a classroom. They were with me in the world, experiencing it, with adults nearby to answer questions and help.

All of their play is in age-mixed groups, of children ranging from about four on up to mid-teens.” Much like the park days we participated in when the kids were younger. The more mixed the ages, the better they all seemed to get along.

Page 34 “Social play (that is, all play that involves more than one player) is, by its very nature, a continuous exercise in cooperation, attention to one another’s needs, and consensual decision-making. Play is not something one has to do; players are always free to quit. In social play, each player know that anyone who feel unhappy will quit, and if too many quit, the game ends.” This is what is missing and it best served by homeschool park days. I wish more people would see it though. There are very few people that understand this and make the effort to come to the park once a week. They don’t prioritize it and get to it if they can. They use it as a reward for kids if they’ve completed school work. And then if they do come, they feel compelled to jump in and direct anything the kids are doing. Instead of bringing a ball and leaving it for kids to play with, they organize a game of baseball and make sure that all the kids are allowed (or forced) to play.

Page 37 “To be a successful adult hunter-gatherer (really an adult anywhere, anytime),one must not only be able to share and cooperate with others, but also be able to assert one’s own needs and wishes effectively, without antagonizing others. Practice at such self-assertion occurs in social play everywhere, as players negotiate the rules and decide who get to play what part.” I see this at our homeschool activity club on a small scale and it’s pretty awesome. I’ve also found that children that are respected and not forced to share and “get along” until they are ready, are more respectful and generous with others. It’s as if they have to have their bucket of self full before they can share with others. When they are younger (the under five set) that bucket is quickly filled. The older they get and the more they are forced to share and get along, the slower the bucket is filled and they become nastier as they grow older. It’s really kind of sad. Most people will force a baby to share and play nice with others thinking that if they don’t they will spoil the child and make them fierce, when in reality the opposite is true.

Page 44 “The hunter-gatherer way of life was knowledge-intensive and skill-intensive, but not labor-intensive.” He paints pre-agricultural life and idyllic, as if ever thing was much better back then. If it were, why would anything have changed? Farming is more reliable for food than hunting and gathering. More people were fed. More people lived. More people were safe. It’s a natural evolution of society. We’ve moved on from agriculture now but people refuse to see it. They want to go back to each family working their own land from dawn to dusk. Or wandering the land looking for food. Why not look forward and see what we have now can evolve into a lifestyle that emulates the hunter-gatherer way of life but in a much more peaceful and secure way? I see us using new technologies to evolve society into something that is the best of both worlds and something new; the peaceful, respectful life of hunter-gatherers and the food security and safety of agricultural society.

Page 49 “they found that the more violent a society was overall, the more likely it was that parents used corporal punishment.” I really don’t see how people don’t see this.

Mainstream society sees children as something to raise up and train in the way they should go, but we don’t. I see them as fully formed masters of their own individual lives. As parents, we are to give them the soil to grow in. We are there to support them in growing into what they are destined to become of their own accord.

While I agree with his ideas about parenting and society, I really don’t see the evolution of society as such a negative thing, more like a natural progression. It seems he condemns the very thing (agriculture and capitalism) that has brought us to the technological age that we are in. I see it as a new evolution, a way to become something even greater than we were in the past. I don’t look back longingly on primitive societies. I look forward to a new age born out of the old.

I’m also not a fan of the way he treats religion as a scourge on the earth. I agree that men who wish to rule others have used religion to those ends, but I do not believe that is the nature of God.

Page 61 On Prussian education. “The principal theme of the German curriculum was nationalism.” “Schooling came to seen as a state function that was essential for national security, not unlike the army.” When I read about the Prussian education system all I see is our own. It terrifies me because people don’t see it in our system today at all. It’s as if we are brain washed not to see it. Our system isn’t about “education” at all. It’s about control. And it’s become the new state religion along with nationalism.

Notes on “Free to Learn” by Peter Gray – Part 2

Page 12 “The rise in psychological disorders in young people” “Here in NYC, the kids start Kindergarten at 4…About 2 weeks into the school year, he was getting letters home from the teacher that he was ‘falling behind academically’” And now kids are placed in pre-school programs at 3 years old. And then we wonder why so many teenagers are having problems!

Page 16 “One thing we know for sure about anxiety and depression is that they correlate strongly with people’s sense of control or lack of control over their own lives.” Some people have less of a problem with a lack of control than others, that’s why not everyone goes crazy under our education system and parenting practices. But the majority of people do. The more we direct and control children’s lives, the more problems we see. And the answer to most of those problems right now is a medical diagnosis and drugs to make them fit into the molds we’ve made, and those molds aren’t even producing the citizens any of us would like to see in the world but we keep on creating them. It’s mind boggling.

Page 19 “In the name of education, we have increasingly deprived children of the time and freedom they need to educate themselves through their own means.” And that would have some positive to it if the outcome of that education had anything positive about it.

Page 21 Then he gets into how great “hunter-gatherer” societies are and that’s where I disagree. He goes on about their stability and progress for thousands of years. That may be so, but we’ve moved on from there. The ship has sailed. Many people read this and come to the conclusion that we need to go back to that lifestyle and I’m terrified by it. That lifestyle can only support a few people in small groups, not the billions we have today. We invented agriculture and then industry. Life is markedly better, longer, safer, cleaner, than it was then. In my opinion, we don’t need to go back to hunter-gather lives, we need to move forward out of the industrial age. We need to create a new lifestyle for this information age and beyond.

Page 24 “Education, by my definition, is cultural transmission.” Yes! Much of what he describes as hunter-gather society is very much a family lifestyle. Like communism, it works on very small family scale. Families should share and support each other. And a society that is made up of families like this can become very positive and productive places. But you can’t put that lifestyle on a large society scale. It doesn’t work without the relationship between individuals. I cannot be expected to share and trust another human being 1000 miles away as I do those that live in my own house.

Page 26 The difference is “trustful” parenting which some would call indulgent. It creates confident and competent adults. My problem with being a trustful parent is that I wasn’t raised that way. It’s infinitely more difficult to trust your children’s instincts to grow up and mature, when I don’t trust my own. It’s an obstacle I’ve had to climb at every stage of my children’s lives. I’m glad I had the internet to read about other people’s families as they emerged from the stage before mine!

Page 29 This describes my sons’ childhood. “They allow children to watch and participate in essentially all adult activities, as they please. Children often crowd around adults, and young ones climb into adults’ laps, to watch or ‘help’ them cook, or play musical instruments, or make hunting weapons or other tools, and the adults rarely shoo them away.” Children in our age need more chances to be around working adults, not closeted away with other children their own age. This is the biggest problem with our parenting and education system today.