homeschooling, homemaking, homesteading...home.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Thoughts on learning

Who doesn't like a good quote about homeschooling? Or unschooling? Or, really, just learning--need we label it? From time to time, I come across little bits o' wisdom that resonate with my journey and developing philosophy. Whether or not these folks actually share the same views as me, I cannot claim. All I can say is that I found it worth noting.

Today's quote is from the recently much-lauded Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. It touches on the question: what should we learn?

[agricultural] knowledge has vanished from our culture. We have also largely convinced ourselves it wasn't too important. Consider how Americans might respond to a proposal that agriculture was to become a mandatory subject in all schools, alongside reading and mathematics. A fair number of parents would get hot under the collar to see their kids' attention being pulled away from the essentials of grammar, the all-important trigonometry, to make room for down-on-the-farm stuff. The baby boom psyche embraces a powerful presumption that education is a key to moving *away* from manual labor, and dirt--two undeniable ingredients of farming. It's good enough for us that somebody, somewhere, knows food production well enough to serve the rest of us with all we need to eat, each day of our lives.

If that is true, why isn't it good enough for someone else to know multiplication and the contents of the Bill of Rights? Is the story of bread, from tilled ground to our table, less relevant to our lives than the history of the thirteen colonies? Couldn't one make a case for the relevance of a subject that informs choices we make *daily*--as in, "What's for dinner?
This speaks to me for several reasons.

First, one of my reasons for choosing alternative education is that, although I learned a lot academically during my schooling, I was very shocked to reach my adult years and realize that I didn't really know how to take care of myself. All of those years that I sat in my Advanced Placement ivory tower and scoffed at the "dumb" kids taking classes in home ec. and consumer math...and here I was with a degree and a good salary and I couldn't make myself dinner or balance my checkbook. In many ways, I was unprepared for life. What a slap in the face that was, after all of the conventional wisdom and propaganda. I did was I was supposed to...I focused on academics. And at the end of the day, sometimes I wish I had skipped that double-period of physics lab and read up on gardening instead.

Also, I want to provide my kids with that golden prize: context. Knowledge in a vacuum is just facts. I want my kids to have experience, context, and understanding...especially regarding the natural world. I hate that I have to really think to figure out whether the crescent moon is waxing or waning. I hate that I can only identify a few birdsongs out of the cacophony of voices in my backyard every morning. I hate that I only recently figured out why my broccoli never does well (I'm planting it WAY too late for our region).

I'd like for my kids to have a more familiar understanding of the world around them. I think it's especially important for them to know the origins (and destinations) of the things that they consume. Ignorance of these things makes for selfish consumers, and my dearest wish for them (besides happiness and health, naturally) is that they live ethically and responsibly...not because of any unquestioned law or social or religious guideline, but because they understand and respect their environment.

On an unrelated side note: check out my new widgety thingy, courtesy of LibraryThing! I've kept lists of the books I've read for years. Now I can show off publicly. (Or perhaps meet up with others who are reading the same titles and actually get to discuss them?!) Anyhoo, I started with the month of August and will build from there. Neat. You'll see that I read a pretty wide range of stuff, although from time to time some themes will emerge.

Heh. I remember a while back when everyone was all up in arms, worried about Big Brother tracking their library activity. My local librarians always know what I'm up to, because I'll check out a glut of knitting books or pattern drafting books or--gasp!--prenatal books. I'll never forget the day I picked up a half-dozen pregnancy books and the librarian stammered, "Um, forgive me for prying, but..." LOL. Yeah, I'm an open book.

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