We began the homeschooling journey not as a committed long-term education decision but as a transition. Our choice for our elder child had been for a Montessori education and we determined that homeschooling provided a perfect transition to a more traditional classroom environment. This allowed us the ability to continue to move him ahead in his areas of strength while shoring up his lesser developed areas. As we traversed that first year of curriculum, we learned that homeschooling suited us. He thrived in his studies, participated in extra-curricular activities, some geared towards homeschoolers, and made friends with other homeschooling families. I enjoyed the lesson planning process, creating an eclectic mix of best-practice curricula that was tailored to his learning style. We created an environment of learning, together.
Maria Montessori notes that two essential components for successful formation of the child are the Prepared Adult and the Prepared Environment. The prepared Adult, for Montessori, is not prepared in the way we often think of teachers today. Much like Socrates in his institution of the Socratic Method, the Prepared Adult in Montessori’s classroom is an adult prepared to guide the child in his or her own exploration of the world. Indeed, the word “education” itself comes from the Greek root educare which means to lead out, to lead out into the vast world of knowledge, to guide through the exciting journey of discovery of the sciences from the grandest events of the universe to the tiniest inner workings of atoms and sub-atomic particles, of the history of human civilizations which tell us where we have come from and give us an idea of where we might be going next, of the mathematical principles that provide unique insight into the workings and order of the world around us, of the nuances of language, our own and that of others, living and long-dead, that help us to communicate thoughts, feelings, ideas, facts, and imaginative dreams of what the world could be, of art and music, nutrition and health As the Prepared Adult in our homeschool, I laid a framework that allowed this exploration to happen, that guided it, sometimes to areas that might not have been otherwise discovered. I prepared an environment where learning could foment, where connections were made, connections to daily life, connections among subjects. It was, and is, an environment that helped to reveal these connections, the foundations of the relationships that naturally exist among all things. Robert Frost writes of his neighbor across the wall, “Good fences make good neighbors,” and yet, Frost asks, what is to be walled in or out? It is truly the same with education. “Something there is that does not love a wall.” The Prepared Environment recognizes the flow of education across boundaries. No longer is there “school” and “home.” When we realize that science does not exist as separate from historical context or mathematical principles, or that history is necessarily bound up with music and art and architecture, or that mathematics is a human construct, the language of accountants, statisticians, chefs, and physicists, or that poetry has given humanity the words to describe every imaginable subject with rhyme and meter and imagery, with allusions that once again bind together those seemingly disconnected life experiences, then education is not simply what we do, it is who we are. Maybe homeschooling is a misnomer. Maybe what we “homeschoolers” do should really be called “world-educating,” as we prepared adults lead our children out into the vast world of knowledge and hypotheses and relationships to stew and steep, to take it all in and to react and act upon it.
The success of our first year seemed to naturally tumble forward into the succession of homeschooling years that followed. What began as a short bridge to a traditional school environment has become simply the first step on a much longer journey. We are now well into our eighth year of home education and have entered the “high school years.” This year has, thus far, been a test of our philosophy and, in some ways, I feel we are utterly failing. So I have decided to do what I always do when I can’t make sense of things. I’m going to write about it. And I’m going to invite you to peek into the process of discovery as we try to find a way to mesh the sticky subjects of school accreditation, transcripts, Advanced Placement requirements and college admissions with an educational philosophy that abhors regurgitation and “teaching for the test.” For the first three months of this “high school” experiment, we have not so much wandered in wonder as we have blindly strained against the bonds of random expectations. As a wise country music singer once crooned, “You’ve got to stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything.” We have found ourselves in a position where we must communicate and assert our values in education. Then we can decide if the bonds against which we strain are those that are holding down Frankenstein’s monster or if they are simply the cocoon that has enveloped us in our larval state, ushering us into metamorphosis and allowing us to emerge as newly created beauty.