curriculum, homeschooling

Deschooling Dessert Anyone?

(Deschooling Society, by Illich. Page 57 of book on PDF)

… educational materials have been monopolized by school. Simple educational objects have been expensively packaged by the knowledge industry. They have become specialized tools for professional educators, and their cost has been inflated by forcing them to stimulate either environments or teachers.

It usually happens to me that when I’m immersed in a topic, reading, researching, conversing and exploring something, my whole world starts speaking to me about that. I just think we simply have a radar we can orient to something, and we find those connections and ideas that Charlotte Mason spoke about everywhere, from books to friends, from sermons on Sundays to posts in blogs, articles, conversations, past experiences, quotes, pictures, videos, etc.

As I was thinking about homeschooling, the food simile, and curriculum, I read this in Illich book that couldn’t have stated better what I think about curriculum. Remember he wrote this in 1971, he did not see our era of school and homeschooling curriculum inundation we have to survive nowadays.

The teacher is jealous of the textbook he defines as his professional implement. The student may come to hate the lab because he associates it with schoolwork. The administrator rationalizes his protective attitude toward the library as a defense of costly public equipment against those who would play with it rather than learn. In this atmosphere the student too often uses the map, the lab, the encyclopedia, or the microscope only at the rare moments when the curriculum tells him to do so. Even the great classics become part of “sophomore year” instead of marking a new turn in a person’s life. School removes things from everyday use by labeling them educational tools.
If we are to deschool, both tendencies must be reversed. The general physical environment must be made accessible, and those physical learning resources which have been reduced to teaching instruments must become generally available for self-directed learning. Using things only as part of a curriculum can have an even worse effect than just removing them from the general environment. It can corrupt the attitudes of pupils.

In the post just before this one, I was asking you what kind of homeschooling you were cooking at home, and I made the distinction between gourmet, home made, and junk diet for your children. Since I wrote that junk would be letting them feed themselves whatever they found, I missed an important point made by Heather. She said she has wholesome food around the house and her children feed themselves from whole books and experiences for their intellect as well as healthy snacks for their physical bodies.And as Charlotte Mason would say, a mother is the provider of this nutritional diet, and this feast of ideas, and we also feed their emotional and spiritual needs too, without which a healthy body and a brilliant mind would have no value. Those spiritual needs are not being provided to the children in most of the schools, public schools have it forbidden, and other schools may reach this to some extent, but it’s the role of the family, and it doesn’t mean it’s exclusive to homeschoolers, actually, so many homeschooling families don’t cover this need, they are busy replicating schools in their pursue of academic and/or athletic excellence, they forget the relationship with God, with the world, and with others. And many families who don’t homeschool, take advantage of their time together to provide the children with this, which is, in my opinion, the driving force of not just education, but LIFE. I could care less by being an IGNORANT, or FOOL, actually, if the world finds me to be one, I’d proudly be so. But I’m digressing…

Back to Illich’s excerpt and to curriculum. Homeschooling curriculum and schools curriculum and materials have become despotic masters and materialistic emblems of today’s world. The professionals are the keepers of the tools to learn that were out there before, at anyone’s reach, but that they have repackaged as Illich says and now they are sold to us at a high price. After the quote he goes on to explain how they have taken games out of public domain to put them in the context of a school, and use them to compete, to label, to test. Children can’t play games in the street and make their own learning and findings in a non intrusive and open for all environment. (He comments how a card game played in the streets ignites some children to think about calculus questions and answers, while others can just be as happy watching the game, or free to go do something else, but they are not judged there, no ‘teacher’ is in this street game to put some down, test them all, no child has to feel the ridicule of not getting it, or the “I’m better than you” rubbing it off subliminal comment).

This is one of the reasons I like Charlotte Mason, she pointed out the simplicity of true education, you don’t really need anything other than books, books that are for everyone and that she was sure they were bought, even if she had to budget tightly for those books to be purchased, but not just books, and not books in the early years were much needed, what she advocates you need to engage in with young children are things such as telling stories to children we only need a mother and her voice (this is the ancient oral tradition of passing knowledge which is dying. I have to admit that with how easy and accessible books have become, I don’t tell the girls as many stories from my own as I should) .Another of her principles, walking out in nature to appreciate it, study it, observe it, and enjoy it,  we don’t even need a national park, we can do it by a gas station, as Amy in Peru does, and in any urban environment there are plants, animals, and things to observe and connect with. And what do you tell me about NARRATION, how expensive is that? Dictation doesn’t take much more than paper and pencil and a good book to read from, and math…ah math…all the math we can do with just our voice and some home made manipulatives, and that we forsake for the expensive programs for young children (and even babies!)? I personally better spend that money in a math seminar to change my feelings about math, but in the meantime, I read the mind blowing math blogs that you can find out there.

I’m not saying AT ALL that we should not buy anything….no…but I’m ASSERTING that the proliferation of curriculum, materials, methods, courses, classes, etc for children under 8 or 7 is totally obnoxious, unnecessary, infuriating, and that if we fall for it, shame on us, shame ON ME.

Things, as Illich says, belong to the world. I add that they belong to our life as homeschoolers, use your life to teach, and don’t buy air in a can to breath. If you buy those things that are packaged as curriculum, your pupils attitudes will be corrupted. Don’t be surprised if they reject, fall behind, get competitive, loose interest, or just go through the motions. Think about this, are you giving them a five course meal everyday? A meal so elaborated and costly that it’s leaving the table untouched? Are you trying to stuff them so much they won’t be nurtured, but overweight? Are you offering dessert each day, to the point that they are immune to your offer of an occasional treat? Or do you have so many snacks that you are ruining their appetite for true nutritive meals?

Have your home full of good food, and cook with them, enjoy meals together, don’t force them to eat, but MODEL good habits. This plainly translates to the three meals representing the three R’s, and those snacks or occasional dessert are to me more elaborated projects or other subjects studied by themselves which in the early years they are to a degree unnecessary but that, if done naturally as the opportunity presents, are very powerful. Do we really think that if we don’t offer these extras to our children they’ll have gaps? Is it possible we are so insecure about homeschooling? I thought I was better, but I’m realizing I’m quite sick myself. I need serious application of all I’m reading and writing about. I look at my home and I see a mine of riches I can use to teach my children. What is best, I see many things I don’t need to use and a lot of TIME I don’t use or spend as good as I could. We parents are the CURRICULUM and guidance for our children. So stop buying too many prepacked things that are simply everyday things out of context, (kind of the old dog with a new collar) and keep working on being a better living curriculum, or those old dogs will bite you!


2 thoughts on “Deschooling Dessert Anyone?”

  1. Silvia,
    I LOVE this post! The quote by Illich is so fitting and I love his angle from a public school perspective – it does ring so true for today, including for homeschoolers!Just today, a homeschool magazine arrived with all its glossy products and I was thinking these thoughts almost exactly. We just don't need very much to provide a banquet for our children, do we? I am so thankful to have been led down this path of the CM method. Great post!


  2. Silvia, I am considering Simply Charlotte Mason's Books and Things DVD. I probably already know it but I must say I am curious. I do think we can do this with living books and few ordinary household items. I have a blister microscope but really everything else can be easily found around the average house.

    I posted all those links to free curriculum and I sincerely hope it does not encourage the idea of curriculum. But hopefully in reviewing all this free curriculum, a home educator can see they probably don't need it. Or something free will fill the need just as well as something expensive.

    I am saddened every time I see those teach your baby to read commercials. And my cousin just told me she knows of someone who is doing this program with her 1 year old. We wondered how much time was spent on this instead of learning to roll a ball or even learning walk, run and jump.


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