As the season winds down, we start getting bookish around here. Even though the to-do list is still too long, I see school buses out on the roads and start thinking that we ought to do our own version of that. That. That school-thing.
I know I wrote a piece, sometime last year, about homeschooling/unschooling. I probably talked about how we don’t believe in coercive education here and the process of getting comfortable with that step outside, or even against, the mainstream current.
When I look at my beautiful eight year old daughter, sometimes it’s as if I can feel what it’s like to be living inside her body. I suspect that this is not uncommon with some parents and children. When she runs and jumps and plays outside, I can watch her and feel in myself what it means to move like that, to have that intense kinetic energy, to be eight years old.
And so, when we sit down together to look at some basic mathematical concepts and she breaks into tears and screams in frustration, I take it pretty hard.
But I don’t stop. I might change tact, or order some different material. Sometimes I have to walk away for a few minutes. Sometimes I have to sit right next to her while she makes loud protests about the quality of my parenting, but I won’t stop now.
It’s a biodynamic principle that guides me here.
From Lecture Two of Rudolf Steiner’s Agriculture Course:
“From the perspective of an ideal farm, any fertilizers and so forth that are brought in from outside would indeed have to be regarded as remedies for a sickened farm. A healthy farm would be one that could produce everything it needs from within itself.”
Of course, there’s not a perfect analogy between a farm and a family, but to me, it’s a concept worthy of consideration.
Most of the land in our part of the country has been logged more than once and/or crop-farmed continually for many years. We didn’t get glaciated in the last ice age, so the land wasn’t rich to begin with. A few generations of plow pan and hard use leaves some rough, rocky, clayey, worn out soil. Most of us, from the get-go, are farming “a sickened farm”.
When we first turned ground in our little bottom field, it was full of sedges. There were giant thick muddy puddles in many places when it rained. The soil was hard to the touch, and hard to hoe. A strange slimy fungus-y stuff grew on the turned soil surface. It didn’t seem to be doing damage, but it was weird. With help from some nice compost, we were able to grow a good enough garden. Year after year, we feed the soil. We monitor with tests and observation the progress and continuing imbalances. And yes, we have brought in manure, to compost, and minerals to spread. The scrappy little bottom field has come a long way, and we’re not done with treatment yet.
We must look at the whole of our land, and determine how much and what kind of farm medicine is necessary, not just once, but continually throughout the season and over the years, and not just to grow enough food (animal, grain, or vegetable) to make the mortgage, but enough to mend the land and eventually restore its health.
And it’s part of our job as parents.
When I take on the responsibility of homeschooling our children, I am forging a deeper commitment to the individualized entity of our family. I am vouching that we have the resources to shepherd our children’s intellectual development (as well as their physical and emotional growth). It probably wouldn’t be hard to argue that our families and communities have taken a similar abuse as our soils. If we are wise, we will carefully discern our personal weak spots, be they academic, physical, or emotional, and take remedial action, in whatever way best suits the situation.
Our daughter is not sick. But as I gently observed her over-all academic growth this season, I could sense a thin spot, a place where seeds of thought weren’t germinating as well as they could. And so, our attention will go there, more than usual. This season, it’s math.
Some unschooling advocates might say that she will catch up when she’s developmentally ready. I just have to watch and wait and seize the day. Maybe they are right, too. But I’m feeling a different force at work on me right now. I’m looking at a bigger picture.
I know my daughter, the way a good gardener knows her soil. I know what she’s capable of, and have a glimmer of an insight into the possibilities of her future. It’s part of my job to see to it that she has the tools she needs to proceed into that future with confidence, and that she will not be held back by any intellectual deficit, real or perceived. She’s a mighty person, and I take it as part of my job to see that she meet the world with all her strength intact.
Have you ever resisted growth? I think most of us have in some way, sometime. It can be scary, and frustrating, to transcend our previous understandings. But just like so many mothers in labor at some point declare that they “can’t do it” just when they really ARE doing it, we break through, and grow anyway.
She does, and will continue to, resist my efforts sometimes. We will have to be creative and flexible and observant to proceed correctly. There might be workbooks involved (oh well). We may have to step outside our own box to find out what works, but that’s ok. It seems to be one of the job descriptions of parenting, of teaching, of growing, of living.
At the end of a “school session” that has been particularly challenging to us both, we go do our things. Sometimes my nerves are frazzled. I am grateful to go outside and grab a hoe or push a mower for awhile. But there’s something right about it in my heart. I know I am serving her the right medicine.