Clara's Clearing

Clara's Clearing

What do we teach?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

This blog is part of Educating My Boy: Chronicles of a Free-Schooler.

Obviously one of the first questions you ask yourself when you decide to homeschool your kid is, What do I teach?

I won’t go into all the different approaches and philosophies people adopt when they ask themselves this question. There are the “Classics” people who have a strict curriculum complete with Greek and Latin, and there are the “unschoolers” who allow the kids to completely follow their own interests – and everything in between. Most people are in between. I've written about my own "philosophy" here.

I myself am the intellectual sort. I used to teach college and I have always believed that most kids are capable of the same kind of intellectual rigor that is (hopefully!) expected of college students. I’m not talking about expecting kids to do college-level research and write term papers. I’m talking about the capacity of children to think. I’m also talking about exposing them to original sources, i.e. important books themselves and not baby versions of them or secondary writing about them. As I have written before, my approach to education is: good books plus math. My approach to homework is: reading assignments plus math practice. In short, I will go by what I remember learning from as a kid. I will not try to include “curriculum” that I found tedious as a kid and a waste of time as an adult.

In these blogs I will record the day to day “lesson plans” I have come up with and the ups and downs of the teaching and learning process. But before I embarked on my present approach I did some soul-searching, as it were, on what I can teach. And my answer to that is this: I can only teach what I love.

What do I love?

There is a quote from Oscar Wilde that has lodged itself in my consciousness since I read it when I was quite young: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

What we love are the stars we lock our gaze on through thick and thin. I want to teach my son to look up at those stars: to see them, and also to get into the habit of returning his gaze to them after being distracted. It is perhaps a kind of meditation I want to teach him, like acknowledging distractions and unpleasant sensations and then returning to the breath. It is a skill to learn. And like all skills the more you practice the better you get at it.

Sometimes I have to grab hold of my son’s face and almost forcefully tilt his head to look up. You know the urgency of the feeling. The gutter runs over with nasty and vicious distractions. Children are bombarded with advertising – for products as well for attitudes and “values.” The temptation to conform and consume blindly is great. “Peer” pressure can crush. Wonderful children can in a few very short years turn into unwell and unhappy adults. I think looking up at the stars is a matter of surviving the gutter.

Beauty, knowledge, freedom, compassion.
These are the “stars” I want my son to see. I want him to get practice in returning his gaze toward them after each distraction. The way I can teach him to always find those stars is through what I love: great books and great art. Luckily, in the history of humanity a good deal of these have been produced. I have loved them and learned from them and I will try to pass on the gift – and the secret about surviving the gutter – to my kid.

So a great deal of my homeschooling effort will consist of splashing around in the gutter with my son, groping to find his chin, and forcing  him to look up. This, I think, is going to be the gist of his middle school education.


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