I’m reading two homeschooling books at the moment. One is certainly a seminal work, the other might be too, if it stands the test of time. The seminal work, presently beside my bed, is John Holt’s ‘Teach Your Own’ which is the second Holt book I’ve read, the other was ‘How Children Learn’. It’s keeping me up until midnight when I really should be asleep! It’s a great read. The book I’m reading concurrently with Holt’s is one I mentioned recently, ‘Leadership Education’ by the DeMilles about a ‘Thomas Jefferson Education’ (which I’d love to hear feedback about from other readers). It’s very interesting but not written to be quite such an easy read. It’s a bit more like a textbook.
It’s a bit confusing reading two homeschooling books at the same time because when you’re thinking about them at other times of the day you really have to concentrate to remember which thought to attribute to which writer! I was recently struck by how they both define and discuss ‘leadership’. Holt writes a chapter about homeschooling/unschooling and social change. Holt has a fun term for the kind of social change he feels homeschooling is bringing about; ‘nickel-and-dime’ change. He feels that homeschoolers may be presently few in number but will eventually have significant influence on society, “…important and lasting social change always comes slowly, and only when people change their lives, not just their political beliefs or parties or forms of government. Real social change is a process that takes place over time, usually quite a long time. At any given moment in history, 99 percent of society may think and act one way on a certain matter, and only 1 percent think and act very differently. In time, that 1 percent may become 2 percent, then 5 percent, then 10, 20, 30 percent, until finally it becomes the dominant majority, and social change has taken place. When did this social change take place? When did it begin? There is no clear answer, except perhaps that any given social change begins the first time any one person thinks of it.”
I have always thought of myself as a mould-breaker (and suffered the consequences of doing so) and now I feel like myself and other homeschoolers, perhaps especially those who aren’t the ‘school-at-home’ brigade, unschoolers, are iconoclasts. Love that word! From Wikipedia, “…”iconoclasts”, a term that has come to be applied figuratively to any person who challenges established dogma or conventions.” This is especially the case if you see homeschooling as a political statement. Again from Holt’s ‘Teach Your Own’, “But are these kind of small-scale personal changes political, that is, do they or could they help to bring about change in society as a whole? It depends. Are the things these people are doing things that many others, not rich nor powerful nor otherwise unusual, COULD do if they wanted, without undue risk or sacrifice? And are these people, as they change their lives, telling others about what they are doing and how they might also do it? Private action, however radical and satisfying, only becomes political when it is made known. In other words, private or small-group actions are political if they have the power to MULTIPLY.”
Those homeschoolers who are open to talking about how we’re educating our children, even if we risk bringing opprobrium upon ourselves, those homeschoolers who blog about it, can certainly call ourselves iconoclasts. You can’t challenge ‘established dogma and convention’, you can’t influence society, help others to change (and Holt says this primarily means helping others who want to, rather than trying to influence the entrenched), without being political. I have always been very comfortable with being political, even if this causes ructions, so Holt’s writing resonated with me and a lot of other homeschoolers I think.
But even if you aren’t an inconoclast, or political, because you aren’t broadcasting your homeschooling decision, you are a leader by Holt’s definition, especially if you can live your homeschooling decision without constantly second guessing it (even if you second guess the style of homeschooling you use or how it works in practice). Anyone, even those with modest backgrounds and educations, are leaders as Holt defines leadership because, “Leaders are not what many people think – people with huge crowds following them. Leaders are people who go their own way without caring, or even looking to see whether ANYONE is following them. “Leadership qualities” are not the qualities that enable people to attract followers, but those that enable them to do without them. They include, at the very least, courage, endurance, patience, humor, flexibility, resourcefulness, determination, a keen sense of reality, and the ability to keep a cool and clear head even when things are going badly. This is the opposite of “charisma” that we hear so much about. Charismatic leaders make us think, “Oh, if only I could do that, be like that.” True leaders make us think, “If they can do that, then by golly I can too.” They do not make people into followers, but into new leaders. The homeschooling movement is full of such people, “ordinary” people doing things that they never would have thought they could do…This is why it may be a little misleading to speak of the homeschooling “movement”. Most people think of a movement as something like an army, a few generals and a great many buck privates. In the movement for homeschooling, everyone is a general.”
I love the way that John Holt sees homeschooling as so democratic. What could be better than being part of something that helps see anyone as being a potential general? When we talk about leadership, it’s always with a view to being number 1. Edward and I have just been reading about Julius Caesar in Susan Wise Bauer’s, ‘The Story of the World’. He bullied his way to being King, because being less than number one was not enough, and he alienated his colleagues and friends to such an extent they murdered him. This is not the kind of leadership I want my kids to learn! So, what kind of leadership does DeMilles’ leadership education model advocate? I was relieved to read on p2 that although the DeMilles say greatness is an indispensable trait of leadership, which Julius Caesar wouldn’t disagree with, it’s not the first indispensable trait. They say that the first indispensable trait of leadership is goodness, which Julius wouldn’t have bothered with at all (unless it was being good in terms of treating his troops well, feeding and paying them well, but this was for a Machiavellian reason; as a way to gain loyalty in order to seize power, not out of the kindness of his unkind heart!)
The DeMilles put a lot of emphasis on “moral development” as well as intellectual learning and I think this is great. The leaders they want us to cultivate have “…vision, capacity, tenacity and involvement (that) inspire and motivate others to worthwhile purposes that elevate society”. I don’t think warmongering or indeed weapon development or even work in financial systems that persuaded people to take out subprime mortgages (see here for an amusing discussion about the immorality of this) or even just working in a ‘conveyor belt of life’ mindless kind of job qualifies as inspiring or motivating others “to worthwhile purposes that elevate society” so I think my kids are safe if I adopt the DeMille homeschooling model! I think the DeMilles’ version of leadership is not so dissimilar to Holt’s. Again, it’s very democratic in that it considers that “every person is a genius – literally. Each and every person, not merely a pre-determined upper echelon, was born with the natural talents, passions, desires, interests and abilities to fully accomplish his or her mission” although I do think charisma comes into the DeMilles’s definition of leadership more than in Holt’s.
All homeschoolers, whatever style we adopt, are leaders and want our children to be too, in the sense I’ve discussed. We have decided that success in life isn’t about fitting into big institutions, pleasing the “expert-rulers who run them” and we don’t see the need to justify or seek permission to be different. We have decided that despite the best efforts of our own education and society generally, we will not feel inadequate; we believe we can take on possibly one of the greatest challenges of our lives, educating our own children. We do not need to depend on ‘experts’ to do this i.e. teachers. And what’s amazing, when you feel empowered in this area of your life, you feel so much less dependent on ‘experts’ for many other areas, hence the numbers of homeschoolers who use alternative medicine or grow your own food or are self-employed.
An amusing last word… the amount of times, during Edward’s introduction to ancient history, that he’s made connections between the new and often difficult concepts he’s being introduced to and ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Harry Potter’ is amazing. But they are valid connections. For instance, he correctly saw that the Senators of Ancient Rome were like the Senators in ‘Star Wars’. When I googled ‘Star Wars senators’ to learn a bit more about them (since I don’t concentrate quite as closely as Edward does when ‘Star Wars’ is playing) I found this website with the great name ‘Wookieepedia, The Star Wars Wiki’. Their entry about Star Wars Senators starts with a quote by Obi Wan Kenobi, “It’s been my experience that Senators are only focused on pleasing those who fund their campaigns and they are more than willing to forget the niceties of democracy to get those funds.” If Edward is picking up this kind of subtlety from ‘Star Wars’ we can all stop worrying about our children ‘wasting time’ in front of such popular kids entertainment, considering some of it operates on so many levels – and I can feel comfortable that as a result of his viewing, Edward’s going to be a great democratic leader, in the best senses of the word, one day!
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IF YOU’RE NEW TO HOMESCHOOLINGMIDDLEEAST, welcome! I highly recommend that you start reading from ‘Day 1’. The fastest way to access this is to look for ‘Archives’ on the right hand side of the home page, click on ‘February 2012’ and scroll down to the bottom of the page that opens. If you want a quick first visit, you could type a term e.g. ‘socialization’ or ‘university’, into the ‘Search’ box or of course you could just read my latest posts without doing anything!
Why I recommend starting at Day 1 is because this is an adventure into homeschooling that is not yet 3 months old and the journey has been a rollercoaster – philosophically and emotionally, catalogued daily for the first couple of months. For you to get the full intellectual and dramatic impact, it’s best to start at the beginning. You might be contemplating home educating and wonder what those early nail-biting days feel like or you might enjoy reading somebody else’s take on an experience you share with me, or you might be more generally interested in my thoughts and feelings on education and parenting. Whatever the reason you’re reading, I’m really humbled that you’re taking your valuable time to do so and I really hope I can be some kind of hope or inspiration for you. Thank you!