The process whereby a child learns to read continues to fascinate me. Three months ago, Noah, who had just turned seven, demonstrated great progress in learning to read. But he was not yet a reader. Back then, he did a good job of making his way through his simplified, beginning readers. But just now he read to me Curious George Gets a Medal, with its much more advanced vocabulary and structure, and he read fluently, nearly effortlessly, and with great expression.
Similarly, in the time between two years, four months and two years, seven months, Joy's language abilities have exploded. In that time she has made the transition from two-word phrases to full, mostly clear communication, including correct use of pronouns. Amazing.
There are advantages and disadvantages to large families, but surely one of the greatest is the example of older siblings. I'm certain Joy has no idea that her youth should hinder her keeping up with her big brothers and sister. Her size, maybe: Jonathan executed a neat vault over the porch railing, and Joy announced that she was not going to follow suit because she would get hurt. Quite fearless, as a rule, she knows the difference between courage and foolishness.
Quote of the Day, from Noah: "Grandma, I think you're old enough to wear tie shoes now." To which I responded, "I'm old enough now to choose to wear Velcro shoes because I like them better."
Bedtime. It's been a long but fun day.
Better Than School by Nancy Wallace (Larson Publications, 1983)
Child's Work: Taking Children's Choices Seriously by Nancy Wallace (Holt Associates, 1990)
These stories of the education of Ishmael and Vita Wallace have been high on my list of favorite books since our own homeschooling days. Recently I re-read them both, confirming my suspicions that the Wallaces—flying by the seat of their pants in an era when homeschooling was almost unheard of, and often illegal—discovered many of the principles now refined in Project-Based Homeschooling.
The last time I read about the Wallaces' struggles with onerous regulations and imperious school boards, I noted how blessedly out of date it was, for although there are still those in the United States who would make homeschooling illegal again if they could, for the most part homeschoolers here can rest in the knowledge that the right to direct the education of our own children is recognized in all fifty states. This time, however, I read those parts of the books with renewed interest, since Switzerland, while much more advanced than the U.S. in some areas, is woefully behind us in this. Some of the Wallaces' experiences and arguments may turn out to be relevant, or at least to give inspiration.
Don't you just hate it when you read an inspiring story from the past and have no idea what happened to the characters in subsequent years? With Vita and Ishmael, at least, that question can be answered by visiting their Orpheo Duo website.
Here are a few, somewhat random, quotations. You really need to read the books to get a good sense of the story, however.
Walking into the meeting knowing that we had a majority [of the school board] on our side was a lot better than not knowing what to expect, but I guess I really wanted more than that. I wanted the whole board to admit that we were doing a terrific job with our kids and to be interested in our approach to education. After all, there was a lot the public schools could have learned from us. What disturbed me the most was that not only were two of the board members completely uninterested in what we were doing but they seemed to want the kids to go to school no matter what. When I wrote about this to John Holt, he responded with some very insightful remarks that I'll never forget. "One of the saddest things I've learned in my life," he said, "one of the things I least wanted to believe and resisted believing for as long as I could, was that people in chains don't want to get them off, but want to get them on everyone else. 'Where are your chains?' they want to know. 'How come you're not wearing chains? Do you think you are too good to wear them? What makes you think you're so special?'" (BTS, 114-115)
Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners by Lori Pickert (independently published at CreateSpace, 2012)
Janet's enthusiasm over Project-Based Homeschooling led me to be sure I read the book while I had access to it in Switzerland. I had to get over some misconceptions, and I found the ideas intimidating, but I agree: it's a must-read for homeschoolers, and in truth important for all parents. Maybe for everybody.
The Misconception Way back when, in our homeschooling days, a popular approach was called Unit Studies. Here's an essay on unit studies as they relate to what's now called Classical Education; it give a pretty good idea of what they are about. Basically, you pick a topic you hope your child will be interested in, and integrate the teaching of all subjects into a study of that topic. At the time, I found the method too structured, too school-at-home, and too much work. I assumed project-based homeschooling was a re-working of unit studies.
I was wrong. There are similarities: a child working on a project is integrating many disciplines and skills together. But project-based homeschooling is an excellent example of why unschooling, well done, is absolutely not the "let the kid play video games all day" approach its detractors think it is.
Projects of this sort are the child's idea and the child's responsibility. That doesn't mean, however, that the parents are off the hook. It seems to me that the work involved in observing and coaching a project is much harder than following a curriculum. Which leads me to ...
The Intimidation I love the ideas. I really do. But even as a do-it-yourself, lone wolf kind of homeschooler, this is out-of-my-comfort-zone thinking. Probably because if Earth is my comfort zone, art projects are somewhere around Neptune, and so much of the examples here involve using art materials. The author seems to think it natural to work through one's ideas by making a painting or modelling in clay. I don't believe I've ever in my life even thought about doing that—and I've live a lot of years—so the idea of coaching a child to do so leaves me queasy. Fortunately, Lori Pickert was kind enough to explain, in a comment on Janet's review, that "if drawing and painting make you nervous, there’s still building, writing, designing t-shirts and websites, putting on skits, making brochures and posters, etc. etc. etc.—it’s more about helping kids figure out a way to help others learn and along the way that reinforces what they know/don’t know and how you collaborate, share, etc."
Also, she's careful to give the neophyte a break:
Surprisingly often, people will champion self-directed learning for children but not allow those children's parents the same freedom and respect. It's their way or the highway, and you had better start doing it the right way (their way) right away. Your kids should learn at their own pace, follow their interests, and you should trust that they'll eventually learn everything they need to know. You, on the other hand, should get with the program, right now, 100%, or else. You don't need to have your own opinions or ideas; ours will suffice. There's no time to experiment and see if these ideas work for you; take it on faith or you're part of the problem.
If your child deserves to learn at his own pace and have his own ideas, so do you. Whatever you champion for your child, make sure you also give to yourself: the right to follow your own path, work at your own pace, follow your own interests, make mistakes, and try again. Whatever you want for your children, you are far more likely to help them achieve it if you live it yourself.
It's hard to do justice to the project-based homeschooling concept without taking a lot more time and effort than I'm willing to put forth at the moment—not to mention that I'd need the book, which presently is some 4500 miles away. However, I do have some excerpts, which I copied down before relinquishing the book. (More)
While I've been here for Daniel's birth, I've had the privilege of joining the family for their noontime and evening family times. They begin with a general picking up of toys, followed by the meal. Family devotions, based on those in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, come immediately after lunch, and again in the evening after bedtime preparations and some play time (if the former haven't taken too long).
Two of the most amazing parts of the procedure are individual prayers with the children—Joseph spontaneously started praying for Daniel as he is prayed for by the adults—and singing time. The latter has been a growth opportunity for me despite all my choir training, because it's done a cappella. Normally I don't find singing the alto line of hymns to be difficult, but singing without accompaniment is much more of a challenge. Nonetheless, it's been awesome. Even our three-part harmony is lovely, and it was really great when Porter was here to add the tenor part to our soprano, alto, and bass. The kids don't sing with us—yet—but are taking it all in. Joseph has memorized several of the hymns and can occasionally be heard singing parts of them as he goes about his daily activities. (We have another grandson who sings or whistles a lot, too. Recently he was overheard moving seamlessly between Funniculi, Funnicula and Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.)
With all due respect to Sunday School/Children's Church, Vacation Bible School, and the many and varied children's music programs available, I think this integrated family prayer and singing time is an unbeatable foundation for a strong spiritual and musical education.
Not to mention a whole lot of fun.
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Vivienne's post is overdue, but it's long, and getting written in bits and snatches. So today I'll record a Joseph story before I forget it.
Early this morning, Joseph awoke and went into the bathroom to get dressed. He seemed to be spending an inordinate amount of time in there, so I peeked in (the door was open) to discover him sitting naked, counting the holes in the laundry hamper. In French. I backed out and left him alone, though I made a point of listening. He counted 115 with no trouble, which was impressive, given how squirrelly French counting gets past 69.
But this hamper might have been designed just for Joseph, because the air vents are not just holes, but shaped into circles, triangles, and rectangles. After the first enumeration, Joseph began again, this time counting the triangles....
There's never a dull moment around here; it's time to write them up that's scarce.
The question of the day is, why have I been writing mundane book reviews when I could be telling more grandchild stories?
This one is again about Joseph. I wish I could have recorded the moment, but there's no more certain way to break a mood than to bring out a camera.
While Vivienne naps, Joseph takes a rest in which he doesn't need to sleep, but must play quietly by himself for two hours. This is a lovely, creative period for him and he has no trouble filling the time with activity. When quiet time is over, especially if Vivienne is still asleep, Janet usually goes in and they enjoy some one-on-one time together. Joseph particularly enjoys working on the blackboard that was his "gift from Vivienne" when she was born, and that's what they were doing when I walked in on them yesterday.
The room was (no surprise) a mess, and Janet was helping Joseph pick up. She would write on the blackboard, "Please bring me the sheep"; Joseph would read the sentence, go get the sheep and put it where it belonged, then wait for Janet to change the sentence: "...the other sheep" or "...the boy and the dog" or "...two hens." Not a very efficient way of picking up toys, but totally delightful to Joseph—and to Grandma, who never tires of watching this barely-three-year-old blow her socks off.
(All our grandchildren blow my socks off. This is why I am usually barefoot.)
The next time I came into the room they were writing numbers. Janet would write, say, 3,725,304 and Joseph would read the number. (He crowed with delight at 111,111.) Then it would be Joseph's turn to write. After a while, the game morphed into Roman numerals. At one point, Joseph wrote vii, and I explained that that was the lower case version, whereas VII was uppercase. But when Janet wrote VII, she drew the top and bottom lines all the way across, as I was taught in school. The game then transitioned into Greek letters, and Joseph wrote an alpha, added lines above and below, and announced it was an upper case alpha.
I did not overtly correct him, but exclaimed over his logical thought processes. Janet, however, noticed that he was quite aware from my reaction that he had done something "wrong." He didn't fuss about it (though sometimes he does when corrected), but grew quiet and tentative for a while as they continued writing the Greek alphabet. No wonder she and Stephan prefer not to correct him, but to let him adjust his own model of the world over time.
After the journey from reading to large numbers to Roman numerals to Greek letters, it was back to cleaning up, then playing with/fighting over the Brio train set with his sister. Which event is "normal"? Around here, both of them.
Oh, one more quiet time story. Joseph had been disobedient and surly over some issue, so Janet told him I would not be able to help him pick up after quiet time. When cleanup time came, he was distressed, and kept begging, "Count in French!" (When I'm helping, I count each piece of the train set, or the Legos, or puzzle, as he and Vivienne put them away. Depending on his mood and mine, I count in English, French, or High German. We all miss Dad-o, who would count in Dutch for them.) Finally, I took pity on him, and told him, "Joseph, I can't count in French for you today, because you disobeyed and had a bad attitude. But, you know, you can count in French." At which revelation he picked up all the toys, cheerfully counting past 50 in that language.
I'm not sure, now, whether Hooker and Company... is a favorite picture of Joseph's or just a favorite name. He seems to have a preference for long phrases, or at least he practices them more. During today's naptime I overheard him repeatedly reciting (while playing with trains) the Albert Anker title, Heinrich Pestalozzi and the Orphans in Stans.
One thing I forgot to mention in my previous post is how absolutely clear and distinct is Joseph's diction, which I find usual for someone just a month past his third birthday. It makes me feel guilty for my own sloppy speech!
I also catch myself using unnecessary "child speech"—not baby talk, but the simple way adults usually talk to beginning speakers, such as, "say 'please.'" Like any three-year-old, Joseph needs to be reminded to ask politely, but it appears to be just as easy for him to say, "Please, Grandma, may I have some more milk?" as simply, "please." And now that he has caught on to that, the reminder, "what do you say"—or a pause, or similar actions that parents use to get their children to say please—will often evoke the whole sentence, with "milk" swapped out for the appropriate word.
When did "different" come to require a diagnosis?
The child who once was an energetic boy now has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The shy kid who likes math and science more than his classmates do is "on the autism spectrum." We have conflated normal-defined-as-average with normal-defined-as-free-from-disease, and view with suspicion anyone who strays too far—in any direction—from the common herd. It's a very contemporary diagnosis, too: today's hyperactive child would likely have been an admired leader in Viking society.
We are learning, possibly too late, of the dangers of narrowing the once-vast diversity of life on our planet, especially in agriculture, where nearly every Thanksgiving dinner is dependent on a single breed of turkey—turkeys so stupid as to be unable to reproduce without human intervention—and where one variety-specific disease could wipe out nearly every existing banana plant. I believe we have a similar problem in the human population, where for all we talk about the importance of diversity, we are identifying more and more people as abnormal—people who would in an earlier day have been considered merely quirky, or even honored for their differences. We then attempt to "cure" them by squashing them into standardized boxes, the most common of which is school.
I officially gave up on the psychiatric profession's labels when I discovered hyperlexia: "the precocious ability to read words without prior training in learning to read typically before the age of five." If children aren't reading by the end of first grade, schools and parents begin to worry, and yet reading before kindergarten is a problem? What's with that?
The proximate inspiration for this post was observing grandson Joseph, age three, as he is learning to speak. His speech is much more echolalic than I am accustomed to, and because that is yet another psychiatric diagnosis, I was wondering if I should be concerned—though it's difficult even to think of a child who speaks two languages as being "behind" in speech.
Now that I'm where I can observe Joseph directly and interact with him I can laugh at any concerns, though I doubt that would stop the psychiatrists from labelling him. His speech is definitely different from that of the average child his age, and so is the way he is figuring out language patterns. But it's not bad; it's just different. And fascinating.
Instead of repeating words and short phrases that he hears from other people, then gradually putting them together into longer and longer verbalizations, Joseph remembers, and repeats, entire sentences and long passages, such as the name of one of one of his favorite Frederic Church paintings: Hooker and Company Journeying through the Wilderness from Plymouth to Hartford in 1636. Really. With such things as these as his basic language building blocks, it's not surprising that his approach to speech is unusual. Instead of creating phrases of increasing complexity by a more additive method, he starts with a long sentence, takes it apart, and puts it back together.
Recently he and I were watching the people walk up and down a main street in Zermatt; more precisely, we were observing their dogs. "Here comes a dog," I said, and Joseph repeated, "Here comes a dog." Then he expanded with, "Here comes a white dog." Later, he proclaimed, "Here comes another dog," and still later, "Here comes a little, white dog." Same pattern, expanded from the inside out.
It is my totally unverifiable theory that Joseph started out thinking in large chunks of language. For example, "put your shoes on" is associated, as an entire sentence, with the act of putting on his shoes. Thus, whether describing his actions or asking for help, "put your shoes on" has been the phrase of choice (sometimes modified to "no put your shoes on"). Gradually, however, he is dissecting these chunks and discovering the recombinant possibilities.
It's fascinating to observe. It's different. It's not normal-defined-as-average. But it's certainly not a disease.
This quotation from an interview with Anne Fine set me to thinking. (H/T Stephan)
[I] hate the way that we have weeded out the things that I remember made my heart lift in primary school, and were transforming in my secondary education. I mean, we did so much singing when I was at school – folk songs, hymns, we sang everything. But now that seems to have gone, along with the language of the Book of Common Prayer and so much classic poetry. And school days are horrifically long if pretty well everything you are doing lacks colour and style, just for the sake of 'relevance' and 'accessibility'".
Music was a big part of my own elementary school, though not being British we missed out on the BCP. Music lessons started in grade four (of six) for strings and in fifth for band instruments. Chorus started at about the same time, and in two of the three schools I experienced, we were singing three-part harmony. (Occasionally four, as in one school we had a set of older boy twins whose voices had mostly changed.) These musical activities were optional, but what stands out most in my mind in contrast to today is that nearly every classroom had a piano, and many of the teachers could play it. (So could some of the students, and we were allowed to use it some ourselves outside of class.) We sang patriotic songs, folk songs, hymns, Negro spirituals, and children's songs. And most of these we read out of music books. Not that we were specifically taught much in the way of reading music, but we were expected to absorb basic skills simply by observing the relationship between the printed notes and what we sang.
I should note that these were not "music magnet schools" but ordinary public elementary schools in a small village/rural school district in the late 1950's and early 60's.
Our own children had a fantastic music teacher in elementary school, there's no doubt about that, and their musical education outside of school was far greater than mine, with the availability of private music lessons, youth orchestras, and excellent church choirs. And being in the South, their high school chorus still sang the great Western choral music, which had already been all but banned in the schools we'd left behind in the North because it is largely church music. So I'm not complaining about that.
But something great has been lost in general education if there's no longer daily singing in the classroom, children graduate knowing nothing of the music of the past and without the most basic music-reading skills, and adults would rather attend a concert or plug into an iPod than raise their own voices in song.
I don't think, based on the interview, that I would like Anne Fine's books. But she's spot on in the quote. "Relevance" and "accessibility" are two of the dirtiest words in the educationist's vocabulary.
What were your musical experiences in the early school years? How have they affected your adult life?
Is College Worth It? by William J. Bennett and David Wilezol (Thomas Nelson, 2013)
It is the best of times and the worst of times for education. From preschool through higher education, there has been a steady decline in the quality of public education in at least the half-century I’ve been observing it. If my father is to be believed—and he was always a very reliable source—it’s been declining for a lot longer than that. He was frequently appalled at my generation’s ignorance of basic history, geography, and literature. (He’d have said the same thing about basic arithmetic, but he was surrounded by engineers.) It doesn’t take much observation to realize that today the average American’s grasp of those subjects makes me look brilliant.
At the same time—and my father would concur—in some fields, for some people, knowledge and ability has soared. As a science fair judge, he was blown away by the scope and quality of the research done by high school students. His own high school had offered no math beyond trigonometry, and it was rare among high schools to offer even that. My high school offered only one Advanced Placement course—and that for seniors—whereas our children had at least a dozen to choose from, beginning as freshmen. And yet only a few students were actually prepared to take advantage of the generous offerings: back in fifth grade, I would have said the expectations of their teachers were well below those of my own, and far below those of my father’s.
Despite the best efforts of educators to mush us all into a sameness at any level—better all low than some higher than others—there has always been an upper class and a lower class when it comes to education, and there always will be. What I’ve been noticing is that the highs are getting higher, the lows are getting lower, and the middle class is rapidly descending—much as is happening with economic measures.
I’m hoping the economic situation does not lead to revolution, but there’s a crisis and a revolution coming in education and I say, bring it on! (More)
For the sake of all else I have to do, I took the Front Porch Republic off my feed reader, but I still get, and read, their weekly updates. Which means that sometimes ... often ... I get caught. This time it was a piece by Anthony Esolen, who turns out to be the author of Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, a book highly recommended to me but which I still haven't read, though I have requested that our library order it. I hope they acquiesce, because reading just one of Esolen's essays made me long for more. Hence less was accomplished this day than intended....
What I read in this week's FPR update was Play and No Play, which is but the latest in a series entitled Life Under Compulsion. Of course I then had to read the whole series:
2012-10-08 Life Under Compulsion
2012-10-22 From Schoolhouse to School Bus
2012-11-06 The Billows Teaching Machine
2012-11-19 If Teachers Were Plumbers
2012-12-17 Curricular Mire
2012-12-31 Bad Universality
2013-01-21 The Dehumanities
2013-02-11 The Itch
2013-03-11 Music and the Itch
2013-06-10 Play and No Play
It's not as if I want to suck up all your time, too—but it wouldn't be time wasted. You can always quit after the first one....
Life of Fred: Apples (and a whole lot more) by Stanley Schmidt (Polka Dot Publishing, 2012)
Grandparents like to buy presents for their grandchildren.
Grandparents especially like to buy books as presents for their grandchildren.
Grandparents love to give books about subjects that their grandchildren love.
Now it gets complicated: What books do you give a grandson whose number one passion is numbers?
There are any number of counting books written for toddlers. And he still enjoys them. But then what?
You could buy Dots: Zero to One Hundred, but he already has a copy; his daddy wrote it.
You could be as smart as his great aunt and get him Count to a Million ... but she already did.
So you ask, and you search, and you discover ... the many volumes of Life of Fred. The story of little Fred Gauss, the five-year-old math professor at KITTENS University in Kansas, twists and turns through mathematics from basic addition through fractions, algebra, calculus, and more—along with an incredible assortment of other facts about science, history, behavior, and almost anything else Stanley F. Schmidt's somewhat quirky mind can think of. It's not intended for preschoolers, but it's a story with a lot of math in it, so there's hope. What's more, it's a story about a small child who thinks about numbers a lot—and children like to see themselves in a book.
So far I've read the first two Elementary books (Apples and Butterflies), all three Intermediate books (Kidneys, Liver, and Mineshaft), and also Fractions, the first of the fifth-grade books. (Elementary and Intermediate takes the student through fourth grade, if you follow the suggested timetable. Not that we trouble ourselves with things like that.) I confess that I did not stop and do the math, but skipped the problems for the sake of getting through all six books in a day and a half. If you really want to learn the math, you must do the problems and not just read the stories. (It isn't that much work: one of the features of LoF is its avoidance of drill-and-kill.) If I ever get LoF: Statistics, I'll be sure to work all the problems, because I never did understand statistics, despite getting a B in my college course.
I'll say this: I like math, and I was a math major in college, but never until now have I read a math textbook at any level that I would be happy to re-read. Which is good, because that's the way preschoolers like their books.
There are only two things that get on my nerves a bit about LoF: (1) Schmidt makes no attempt to keep his opinions about life out of the books. There's nothing either unusual or wrong about this; all stories and many textbooks have the same feature. But some parents are bound to disagree in places, and should be prepared to discuss the issues. Which would be a good idea, anyway. For example, some parents have objected to Dogs (volume 4 of the Elementary series) because of the implication that some dogs die at the end of the story. (2) Despite Schmidt's insistence on good grammar and use of language in the books, e.g. pointing out that "alot" and "alright" are not acceptable words, I've noted more than one occurence of "different than" instead of "different from," "associate to" instead of "associate with," and the use of "their" as a singular pronoun. I know he's a math teacher, not an English teacher, but he could use an editor. It's an opportunity to diverge into your own grammar lessons—but it's yet another reason to make sure you know what it is your child is learning.
What will a three-year-old think of Fred? Will he enjoy the math story? Will he learn anything from it? Will our other grandchildren, who are old enough to do the problems woven into Fred's adventures, learn the math as well as the author advertises? They already have a great math curriculum, but mathematics, like history, deserves to be learned from several angles.
Time will tell. All can say at this point is that I certainly hope our grandchildren find Life of Fred to be valuable, because then I'll be able to read the rest of the stories myself.
The Romeikes have lost the latest round in their fight to keep from being sent back to Germany, where homeschooling is considered a sufficient reason to take custody of children away from their parents. The ruling is being appealed.
On the bright side, the court did rule that "parents do have a right to direct the education and upbringing of their children." However, they also said,
“Congress might have written the immigration laws to grant a safe haven to people living elsewhere in the world who face government strictures the United States Constitution prohibits,” the court ruled. “But it did not.”
[Attorney Michael] Farris said he finds great irony that the Obama administration is releasing thousands of illegal aliens—yet wants to send a family seeking political asylum back to Germany.
“Eleven million people are going to be allowed to stay freely—but this one family is going to be shipped back to Germany to be persecuted,” he said. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Actually, it makes plenty of sense—if you consider only political expediency. Immigration "reform" that supports an economy fueled by slave labor is considered a politically savvy move, while offending an important ally—Germany—is not.
I can venture more with Davie than with another: he obeys in a moment.
Thus the tutor in one of George MacDonald's novels explains how he dares take his young pupil on dangerous explorations to the roof of an old, crumbling Scottish castle. Davie was allowed the exciting and perilous adventuring because his tutor knew that when he said, "Stay here until I return," Davie wouldn't go wandering and possibly falling off the edge.
Anyone with even a passing familiarity with Lift Up Your Hearts! knows I am a fan of Free-Range Kids and Lenore Skenazy's movement to restore for today's children some of the freedoms enjoyed by previous generations. Parents are hovering over their children as never before: they're afraid to let them out of sight, to walk to school, to ride bikes with their friends; afraid to let them risk getting hurt, even a little, whether they be infants negotiating stairs, children using knives, or teens travelling to a foreign country. (Yet we expect teens to be sexually active, drive a car, and serve in the military. Go figure.) However, manageable risks and small hurts are necessary to growth. Without them, our children don't learn to tell a reasonable risk from a ridiculous one, and we find that sparing them the lesser pain has made them exceptionally vulnerable to serious, even fatal, wounds.
Why do we bubble-wrap our young people? The reasons are many and complex, but one of the greatest surely is that we no longer trust our children. And why don't we trust our children? Primarily, I would say, because they have not learned to be trustworthy.
They are not trustworthy because we have not given them the opportunity to learn obedience.
Obedience is an unpopular concept these days, perhaps because it conjures up images of harsh punishment, restricted lives, and children who go wild at college when released from their parents' strict rules and constant monitoring. Or of totalitarian societies and blind adherence to evil laws. ("I was only following orders.") But no matter what ugliness it has been deformed into, obedience to a trustworthy and legitimate authority is a beautiful thing. It's what makes society work. From traffic to taxes, from banking to environmental protection—when enough people decide that the rules don't apply to them, disaster is not far off.
The Connecticut Science Center has ruled that children under the age of 16 must be supervised by an accompanying adult at all times during their visit. Why such a ridiculous restriction? You can blame the lawyers, of course, but what it boils down to is that the museum has learned that it cannot trust that demographic to obey the rules of the house, let alone the rules of common courtesy. When that happens, people—and expensive equipment—get hurt.
Similar restrictions have sprung up all over, ostensibly for the safety of the children. I'm not sure I entirely believe that excuse. When our children were young and energetic, people would sometimes tell them not to do such-and-such a thing, explaining, "I'm afraid you'll get hurt." Well, maybe; it was pretty clear to me that what they were really afraid of was that the children would break, not their legs, but some material possession. Be that as it may, young people—at an age when some of their ancestors were supporting themselves, raising their own families, fighting in wars, and even commanding ships—cannot, apparently, be relied on to walk through a museum without damaging something.
Thus the free-range childhood movement has two major fronts on which to fight: (1) Convincing society that our children can and should be trusted to handle themselves at least as well as children did a generation or two ago, and (2) Preparing our children to be worthy of that trust.
As we explored Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii, I noted that there were no age restrictions on the trails; it was up to parents to decide how much to involve their children. The trails themselves were safe enough, but often a sheer drop or a boiling spring was only a few feet away. A child of any age who could be counted on to stay on the trail, and to freeze at a parent's, "Wait for us!" command, would have the freedom to enjoy an unforgettable experience; one who was accustomed to thinking of rules and restrictions as flexible could easily end up dead. Too many of the latter will cause doors to slam shut for the former also.
"The world has changed," is the spell invoked to justify increasing restrictions on young people. By this is mostly meant external changes, such as more sexual predators, more kidnappers, more terrorists. (I'm absolutely convinced that the problem actually is more news coverage of these very rare crimes, but that's another issue.) The world has changed, indeed, but what has changed most is closer to home: our children are no longer growing up knowing and following the rules of proper use of stoves, knives, guns, hammers, saws, ropes, candles, campfires, boats, and other items they used to encounter—and be required to use—in everyday life. Parents are also more reluctant—perhaps in fear of the evils that have become associated with distorted ideas of obedience—to teach their children respect for authority, and the importance of following legitimate rules. If we want our communities to accept that our children are competent and trustworthy, it's up to us to make sure that they are.
(There is, I acknowledge, the opposite failing—teaching our children never to question authority, never to ask if the rules are legitimate. But that is a different issue.)
Political action can pry open society's closed doors for our children, good publicity can pry open parental fingers from a death-grip on their children's leashes, but only deliberate parental effort can prepare those children for freedom.
Why wrestle with how to express this story when thduggie has already done it so well?
Back in 2010, a German family was granted political asylum in Tennessee, because they had been homeschooling their children in a country that prosecutes, fines, and removes children from homeschooling parents. This immigration judge sent a strong message to the world: America is still a country where Liberty is writ large. Today, the same family stands in danger of being deported back to Germany. Whether the appeal stems from a fear of offending an ally, or a fear of having immigration offices overrun (by legal immigrants), the message is the same: “We’re scared of our Liberty.”
The Romeike family's plight should be of concern to every American, because a threat to liberty, even—or maybe especially—on the part of an ally, is a threat to us all. American homeschoolers, even though they currently enjoy educational freedom in every state, should be very concerned: if our courts rule that educating one's own children is not one of the most basic human rights and responsibilities, that precedent could (and probably will) be used to attack our own hard-won liberty.
This is not, however, just a homeschooling issue. If the forced removal of children from stable, loving families is not considered by the United States to be a heinous act, no one dare consider his family safe.
Even Al Jazeera has noticed the case. Their article is actually the best summary I've seen of the situation.
I'm not, in general, a petition signer. But today I registered with whitehouse.gov (a simple process) so that I could sign this petition to allow the Romeikes to remain in the United States, where they can education their children without fear of unthinkable reprisals.
Here is the text of the petition:
We, the undersigned, respectfully request that the Obama Administration grant full and permanent legal status to Uwe and Hannelore Romeike and their children. The Romeikes, a homeschooling family represented by HSLDA, were granted asylum in 2010 because Germany persecutes homeschoolers with fines, criminal prosecution, and forcible removal of children from their families. Every state in the United States of America recognizes the right to homeschool, and the U.S. has the world’s largest and most vibrant homeschool community. Regrettably, this family faces deportation in spite of the persecution they will suffer in Germany. The Romeikes hope for the same freedom our forefathers sought. Please grant the privilege of liberty to the Romeike family.
If 100,000 people sign a petition within 30 days of its creation, the Obama Administration will officially respond. As of today, almost 60,000 more signatures are needed by April 18 in order to reach that threshold.
Please consider signing the petition, writing President Obama and/or your representatives, or otherwise publicizing the Romeikes' dire situation and this opportunity to set a precedent for or against not only our basic educational freedom, but even more, our commitment to Liberty itself.
Update 5 April: Here's a brief chronology (full article) for those who want more information but don't want to sift through the articles. (Emphasis mine.)
German law mandates that children attend a public or state-approved school. The local mayor informed the family that they would face fines and could lose the custody of their children if they did not attend school. The parents also faced potential jail time.
The government fined the family heavily and at one point seized the children to force them to attend school.
After trying to secure an exemption from the law, the Romeikes fled the country and immigrated to Tennessee in 2008. They had been fined well over $10,000 by the time they fled and faced escalating fines if they continued to homeschool their children.
The family applied for asylum in the United States and an immigration judge granted it to them, citing a well-founded fear of persecution if they returned to Germany.
However, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), appealed the ruling to the Board of Immigration Appeals.
The board overturned the original judge’s ruling and ordered the Romeikes deported to Germany. The Romeikes appealed their case to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, where their case will be heard April 23.