"Good artists are people who can stick things together so that they stay stuck. They know how to gather things into formal arrangements that are intelligible, memorable, and lasting. Good forms confer health upon the things that they gather together. Farms, families, and communities are forms of art just as are poems, paintings, and symphonies. None of these things would exist if we did not make them. We can make them either well or poorly; this choice is another thing we make."
-Wendell Berry, Life is a Miracle
I never realized how lucky I was to grow up surrounded by people that intrinsically knew this. My family, friends and community were artists daily. The people of Youngstown are still there creating a beautiful life that is perfectly tangible. Every time we go home, I feel that community, that hope, that peace that comes from the familiar, that comes from what is known, that comes from a sense of place. The people in Farmington are doing all those things, too. I just can't feel it... yet.
If you know us at all in real life or read my blog, then you know that we have homeschooled our kids since my oldest was in preschool. It became clear to us very early that traditional school was not a good fit for our family. I didn't necessarily know the "why" of it at first, only that it felt very wrong for us.
We follow a "Classical" model of education at home. It's based on the classical pattern of the trivium, a three-part process for training the mind. You can read more about it here if you're interested. We spend the first four years in the "grammar" stage, learning the building blocks for all subjects. In fifth grade, we'll begin the "logic" stage where memorization and fact-finding is replaced by more analytical thinking. Then, in ninth grade, we'll begin the "rhetoric" stage where we'll attempt to apply the logic practices from stage two to the information from stage one and form our own conclusions expressed through language. Right now, we are just absorbing all the language that came before us: fiction, histories, criticism, poetry. That is what I see missing in public education. I don't want my children reading some mediocre writer's interpretation of what someone great once said or did. I want them to have access to the first hand account. Classical education does that beautifully.
I am not an enemy of public school or compulsory schooling in general. For most people it works fine. I am, however, adamantly opposed to current education standards, or "the common core". This is not because the math is "hard". In fact, we use Singapore Math already. It's not because I'm afraid that the government is recording my child's key strokes and filing them away in some vault, though I have no doubt they are, and they are already thinking that we spend way too much time watching Russians evaluate new kitchen gadgets on Youtube. It's not because there is too much testing that tests nothing at all, even though there is... way too much.
My issue is with the great devaluing of all that is beautiful and mysterious in the world. I can't understand how one size fits all is ever a good thing. We are who we are because of our community. Every community is different and has different needs. Setting up schools as systems of production makes for poor schools and unhappy populations. Teaching what is only necessary for one person's definition of "success" is a recipe for disaster. I just finished reading a great book by Wendell Berry in which he states that, "We should banish from our speech and writing any use of the word 'machine' as an explanation or definition of anything that is not a machine. Our understanding of creatures and our use of them are not improved by calling them machines." Public schools in Prussia and then the U.S. were built on the idea that they were there to homogenize a population and produce workers. And yet, even the public school of a hundred years ago would be appalled at what we feel is unimportant for students to learn today.
It makes me sad when I see people devaluing any way of looking at the world that isn't scientific. My husband has listened to me go on and on many times about how much I dislike Bill Nye, the Science Guy... and I'm probably the only one who feels this way. But to me, his snark at all things "less than science" that people have used to learn about their world from the beginning of time has spilled over into pop culture. Anyone who looks at the world with a view that is anything other than scientific is fair game for ridicule. Science isn't the only way to "know" something. The idea that learning about the world scientifically as an end game is a losing proposition.
Nonfiction isn't the only way to learn about the world. The lack of time and access that students, especially high school students, have to classical literature, poetry, music and art is a great failing in our time. No matter what your child grows up to be, portrait painter or house painter, they deserve access to the very best humanity has ever produced. We shouldn't be the ones deciding what they need to know and what is irrelevant. All the knowledge in the world without the ability to DO something with it, create something with it, or just think about it, is useless.
I am proud to think of all of my friends that are scientists and all that are artists. The ones I look up to the most are both. When it comes time to "save the world" that's who I'm putting my money on. I don't think science will save us from global catastrophe. I don't think our own ideas about religion will save us from cultural genocide. I think the well-read, humble people with a vast knowledge of where they came from and who they came from, will be the ones to bring about lasting social change and environmental protection. So I will take my kids to science museums and art museums, maker fairs and medieval faires, catholic churches and muslim mosques.
And while I lack faith in our current school system, I put my trust in our community. I have seen many homeschoolers toss around the phrase, "I've seen the village and I don't want it raising my children." And I couldn't possibly disagree more with that sentiment. I love the village. The hope for my children lies in the village. All of you: the artists, the scientists, factory workers, police officers, accountants, stay-at-home moms and dad, engineers, painters, dancers, actors, grocery checkers, scout leaders, drag queens, historians and everyone else who will look my children in the eye, answer their questions, forgive their occasional impertinence and teach them that the world is immeasurably large and at the same time as tiny and intimate as they could imagine.