It’s happened to me a several times over the past few years.  I read a book or hear a sermon or listen to a talk that changes everything.
Or at least how I look at everything.
An epiphany of sorts. An ah-hah moment.
It happened when I first discovered Lutheranism. And the first time  I read C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity.  And the first time I heard about classical education.  And after I listened to  Dr. Steven Hein speak about ‘vocation’.
And then today.  After I read Dumbing Us Down, written by John Taylor Gatto.  It’s an expose on the hidden curriculum of compulsory schooling and it knocked me flat.
How many awakenings does one girl need in any given three year span?  Stevie feels the same way and has forbid any new books for at least a month. He’s kidding. But I know what he means.  It can be a little like losing your footing.  Or like waking up from a deep slumber and being blinded by a very bright light that exposes all manner of short comings in your life.  Truth has a way of tearing down the pretenses and straw men we’ve built.
And before truth nurtures your soul like a good medicine, it can be a bitter, harsh reality.
Growing up as a product of nearly 25 years of compulsory government schooling, I never questioned the institution.  It seemed perfectly natural for 35 adolescents of similiar age to be quarantined together all day under the auspices of ‘education’.  Away from the influence of their parents, grandparents, and community. And relieved of any community responsibility to serve the neighbor. To obey a set of prescribed rules where one is allowed to learn math only between 8 and 9, stop all learning when the bell rings, and  use the restroom between 3rd period and lunch. The ‘institution’ then invades the sacred ‘family time’  by assigning far too much homework and thereby successfully further isolating children from the most promising influence most can hope to have—-their own parents. ‘They’ have taken the lion’s share of children’s lives by demand and we have grown so accustomed to the system that we wouldn’t think or dare to question the goals or motives or outcome.  Gatto asserts that basic reading, writing, and arithmetic can be learned in 100 hours if the child is ripe for learning. So what is happening in the other thousands of hours?  He taught for thirty years in New York City and was crowned with many glowing achievements. He seems fit to have an opinion.
 He ponders the hard questions.
Why have we allowed them to capture nearly the entire childhood and adolescence of our children without so much as asking the obvious questions? The ‘pseudo-communities’ that schools forge, he says, lack real nurturing and love that families and real communities provide. And given the amount of time spent in school, after school activities, and homework…plus the time spent under the  mind-numbing brain-washing effects of most television, it’s no wonder that our generation is frought with people who are addicted, divorced, lonely, and literally at a loss to make meaningful connections and relationships.
This ‘network’ created by people of similiar age or interest  is a shallow excuse for a supportive environment that is conducive to growing healthy, happy, independent adults.  The school system itself fosters dependance…..where we want someone to tell us where to go and what to do next.  That’s what we’ve been doing all our lives.  He makes the point that the system is designed this way because those dependant types prop up our economical system well….where the average high school graduate is most likely to work at Walmart or in fast-food.  In that sense, he says, the system does exactly what it is designed to do.  To make a society of people addicted to dependance and consumerism…..thereby ensuring the ‘big machine’ will continue. They will tell us what to buy.  We will buy it.  It works for everyone.  Or so it seems.
This sort of pseudo-commmunity lifestyle is also sorely lacking in solitude.
 Our kids have no time to play.  Without homework. Or lessons. Or organized sports.  Or electronics.  And if they do have free time, they don’t know how to use it.  Where are the creative, inventive, industrious children that could spend an entire afternoon amusing themselves with a roll of tape and an egg carton? Or heaven forbid a book with any more depth than Goosebumps.
As a result of growing up highly addicted to distraction, it took me many years to appreciate solitude.  And to use it effectively.  To learn a new skill.  Or to read a good book.  Or to sit and watch the sunset and appreciate the beauty all around us.  Solitude is where the real ‘work’ happens.  Where our souls are fed.  And without solitude, our lives become a series of poorly linked events….without meaning or purpose.  We’re addicted to distraction according to Gatto.  And we’re teaching it to our kids.   Or at least we’re letting schools and  television teach it to our kids, all day long, as we sit by and wonder why we live in a society full of violence, drugs, pornography, a myriad of psychiatric illnesses, and addictions of all kinds.
We need meaningful relationships, a safe and stimulating environment in which to learn, and solitude——where the real learning happens.  Most of our lives are filled with overextended schedules, very little solitude and shallow family relationships that are mostly based on the ‘next activity’.  And I’m as guilty as the next guy. Homeschooling is sometimes a wonderful alternative , but it doesn’t ensure that the learning won’t be fragmented and devoid of real meaning.  I will certainly not be interrupting anymore ‘in the zone’ playtime, which is probably where real-life math skills are learned, to require the girls to do another worksheet.  I will no longer feel guilt or pressure to mimic the ‘school’ environment where the lines between math and history are so clearly demarcated.  And we will take more field trips.  To learn about sewing from a seamstress, and baking from a baker, and gardening from a gardener. People who have a talent or skill and are passionate about it are the best teachers.  Which reassures me that my girls will at least be able to transform an old door from Goodwill into a killer sewing table…..and make the world’s best brownies…..and when all else fails, add lip gloss and ribbon.   I do hope my love for reading gets transmitted. At least then there’s hope of  lifelong learning.
So, this book has affected me profoundly.  It has illuminated why I have struggled so much with certain issues in my own life.  Parts of this book rang so true in my heart that I found myself  at times full of emotion—-of regret for so many ‘lost’ years, and of guilt, for sitting by for so long and expecting someone else to do for my children what I can most effectively do.  Whether they go to school or stay home with me.
Waking up from such a slumber is painful. The light is bright and hurts my eyes.  I want to pull the covers back up and pretend it’s not morning. Just one more hour. Or five more minutes.  But I know what I must do.  I must brave the light.
And pray for mercy.
I would recommend the book to you but I hate to be the one to disturb any good dreams.  Be careful if you read this one.  Approach with caution. It is powerful and will sound a mighty loud alarm.
BTW, he offers a glimmer of hope where schools are  more locally controlled and does offer homeschooling as an alternative that seems to be successful.  But for most of us, we must live with the consequences of the education we have received.  And hopefully we will all  continue to be self-taught and self-directed enough to fill in the gaps.  And although I have very large gaps, I seem to have an insatiable appetite for filling them. 

29 comments on “Rise and Shine”

  1. Have you read “the Lost Tools of Learning” talks about things like this? Sounds like a thought provoking book! I homeschooled for a week..then put them back at Christian school. There is guilt and I feel like a selfish “mom” but I just couldn’t do it! Some days I really regret it but yet I know the feelings I had when I did! But, I admire and applaud all you homeschool moms…I think it is the best. There has NEVER been a homeschooled kid or young adult I have met..not thinking ” I hope my kids grown up and act as he/she”.

    -sandy toes

  2. Wow. What a review! I have this book on my reading list for this year. I think I need to order it now. It sounds like a really thought provoking read. This is our first year homeschooling and my son is saying that he loves being home and hated the school that he was attending, but thinks he might want to give middle school a shot. I think reading this book might give me more reasons to not send him back other than just wanting him home with me and feeling like he’s wasting his time being at school because he can grasp things so much quicker than a lot of kids his age.

  3. You just said exactly what I wish I could have said after I read the book, except I don’t say things like you do! We may be doing the homeschooling thing after they finish this year, so I look forward to reading every one of your posts! Go Edie!!!!

  4. I read that book when I first began homeschooling. And “Sandy Toes'” comment, above, about “The Lost Tools of Learning” – that was another ground-shifter for me.

    I have a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon stuck to the board in our schoolroom. Calvin is bringing his mom a book and he says, “I read this library book you got me.” His mom says, “What did you think of it?”

    Calvin says, “It really made me see things differently. It’s given me a lot to think about.”

    Mom says, “I’m glad you enjoyed it.”
    Calvin: “It’s complicating my life. Don’t get me any more.”

    HA! The mark of a truly great book… it complicates your life. 🙂

  5. What a great book review!! I definitely will add this one to my library. Good job for being brave and facing the light that hurts your eyes. It is never too late!!! We also do a classical education and I meant to comment the other day we use Shurley Grammar and LOVE it!!! I love what you said about the best teachers are those who are passionate about what they do. What a GREAT idea to take field trips to bakers, seamstress, gardeners, etc. Real life can teach us lots that a textbook can just can’t do!!

    Back in the summer I had one of those “AH-HA” moments. I was flipping channels between Nickelodeon and Disney Channel with my kids and I realized that not only the shows but the commercials are undoing all of the values we teach our children. I then told the kiddos only PBS or movies from now on. Thankfully they really don’t watch a whole lot of TV.

    I’m going to jump on the bandwagon with you and whenever they are playing not interrupt them so they can do another math worksheet!

    Thanks again for the very insightful, thought-provoking post!!! I am so glad I found your blog!!

  6. i did a professional development training on that book when i worked at the dept of education….

    LOVE IT!

  7. Love your review! I love this post! I’m reading “For the children’s sake” right now and want to get “Dumbing us down” next. I know what you mean by transforming books…we, too, are on a truth-seeking journey. Is it ok if I link this?

  8. Thanks for the review Edie. I hadn’t read this one yet and since I’ve been feeling burned out, this post revived my spirits. I like the classical method because the organized perfectionist part of me leans that way but Charlotte Mason’s method seems so much more fun for the learner and so much more natural. I’m not saying he’s teaching that method but it sounds like they share the same ideas. I love ‘ah hah’ moments like this!

  9. I’ve heard about this book- I so need to read it now.

    I first got interested in homeschooling when my oldesat girls were 8 and 5- becuase of the amount of time “schooling” took away from our family. One of the biggest positives of homeschooling for me is the amount of family time it allows for, and not just immediate, but really having time to spend with extended family too.

  10. I can’t remember if I told you thank you for the prayer book and the beautiful Christmas card…forgive me if I didn’t, it’s been crazy here with a quick trip to California for the holidays.

    Hope you had a great Christmas and thanks again.

  11. Well, I must say I just don’t agree. I thought about whether or not to post, thinking I should just move on, but I couldn’t.

    As an educator, I am continuously reading about the latest theories and practices in education. I picked up this one, but couldn’t get all the way through. Discernment tells me the author fails to give the whole story. The book comes across as fact, but it slanted to the point of an op-ed article.

    True, the education system has room for improvement. However, I think removing children from it for the purpose of decreased influence and increased family time can be just as detrimental as it is helpful.

    Not every family should home school, just as not every teacher is effective. It’s sad that the book doesn’t address more of the issues that occur “outside the grid.”

  12. One of the most important thing to be gleaned from a book like Gatto’s is that just because it is and has been done a certain way, doesn’t make it right or good or even in the best interest of society. Questioning why we do what we do and personalizing it is so important.

    After fourteen years of homeschooling and the reading of many books about education and the family’s role and, ultimately, responsibility in education, I have had many ah-ha moments. And I wouldn’t trade them for the world.

    That information has given me the encouragement and ability and confidence to major on what’s really important in Tessa’s education–even now that she is in an organized school setting, because I know what is not important.

    I love that I learned how important play is and that I can give my child the freedom to be a child for as long as possible. I love that I learned that beyond a shadow of a doubt that large blocks of time at home are important and necessary for creativity and family relationships to flourish. And that is very important to me.

    I love that over the holiday break, Tessa read and played games and learned to crochet and made flower fairies and wrote a story and asked me how to hear God’s voice and read some more.

    I love that she didn’t watch much TV or play video games (well, a little Wii Winter Sports) or feel the need to surround herself with her peers or run hither and yon. She was just happy to be home and hang out with her relatives–go figure!

    I owe those warm, fuzzy feelings to the years I spent learning right along side of my students–all four of them! I miss homeschooling and consider the years spent doing so as the most fulfilling.

    Thank you Edie for sharing your thoughts and for having the courage to express ideas and opinions and convictions and disappointments. You are more than sheer entertainment with your writing–although you do that well too!

  13. We are sending our children to a Catholic school. I worry about my own flaws of being terrible in math and science to trust myself to teach the kids in these subjects. But what I do is not schedule my children after school. I am always the mom in my Bunko group that says no my kids are not going to summer camp, no they are not in sports and music and brownies all in the same week. I give them the option to try a sport,but I don’t insist. So my kid doesn’t play soccor they will be okay. But what I am so proud of is there love to read because of this. reading machines… all of them. ask to go to their room early to read. i’ll stop writing, cause you write so much better than me. i so admire everyone who homeschools. it is always in the back of my mind.

  14. I just found you and I’m enjoying reading your blog. This was a great review and I’ll be looking up the material mentioned. I have been schooling my boys forever – it’s been so long, I have to try and remember when we started. I love it!

  15. this is a wonderful post! i don’t know how i missed it. browsing around here today. finding gems.

  16. The school described in tte book doesn't sound at all like my daughters' public school, where children have worksheets and play, field trips, parent volunteers in the class, activity-based learning like hatching chicks and bugs in the classroom and lots of art and drama. The difference between that school and the stereotypical one is that parents put their time and effort in to making the school meet their values. If parents didn't exert such influence it might be different. Maybe homeschoolers are only putting their effort into their own children instead of helping their kids while also improving the school and other kids. Of course, it also boils down to an amenable school board and administration. It takes parental work to change those elements, as well.

  17. This is just awesome! I have wanted to say this to others 100s times over. I HS my children so I too know the many gifts they do receive from HS. I have to think that in other families its not something that they can give their children even if they deeply wanted to. My mother was a single parent and just never could have. Its also sad but some children get so much more out of school then they do their own homes b/c of bad family life. But to the ones that feel as if school is the gift and HS is not. No No No! They just need to read this and think deeply about your words. If you can give it to your child. Then this is whats best! it is truly whats best! Wonderful Blog and lovely family!

  18. Hi Edie!! I just stumbled upon your blog and could not feel more at home. I am a Realtor gone stay at home mommy (again) to my 2 daughters ages 9 and 7. We have the girls in a great private school but feel like something is missing…something NO school can give them. I want my girls to love to learn! It makes me so sad when my oldest comes home with the next book she has to read in 2 days to get all of her points and its one that I love (i.e. Sarah Plain and Tall this week) and there isn't even enough time for us to read it together much less discuss it. BRUTAL!! We are strongly considering homeschooling beginning next year, but like you, I don't own any denim jumpers which makes me feel very inadequate!

    I am so grateful to have found you and to follow you along, gleaning from your knowledge. Oh and by the way…enough about the kids…I LOVE your decorating style!!


  19. Hello there, I just came across your blog this morning. I am 27 years old and not yet a mother but I want to home school my kids as well. Thank you so much for the information – I will share with my husband!

  20. First, I want to say that you are right on the mark in your appraisal of both our cultural slide into the opiate of distraction, as well as to the need for more genuine moments of both family bonding and solitude. I think your posting here was magnificent and it does the book honor to be appraised in your cogent and pointed words.

    I say all of this with the caveat that along with the opiate of distraction and conformity, a second and even more sinister sedative to the mind appears on the scene. This being the virus of religious faith. It teaches our children not only to believe without evidence, but that believing in something despite clear and opposing evidence is actually a virtue. It prepares the mind to be conned by charisma and charmed into complacency by those free of any moral compass but gifted in verbiage (as in Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Osama Bin Laden, etc.).

    I enthusiastically go as far as you in your appraisal of what is needed to free the spirits and minds of our children, though I go the extra mile of calling for the freeing of our children from evidence lacking dogma in favor of reason, rationality and science as well. I call on parents everywhere to honor the practice of starting with the evidence and letting it lead us to truth as opposed to starting with the answer and searching for substantiating evidence.

    Let's free the minds of these children so that they might truly be free, not merely released temporarily, that they be available to be re-chained to a different tree…the tree of dogma and faith.

  21. Extremely well said. Thanks for posting your convictions & what you've learned! My mom made the commitment/sacrifice/decision to homeschool me and did so all the way up until college. I am extremely grateful and have never once wish she'd done otherwise. My husband and I now hope/plan to do the same with our children!

  22. My goodness – what an inspiration you are. I don't even have children but I tell you one thing, if I do have children, I'll be reading this book (and blog).

    Thank you!


  23. Fabulous review. This book is now on my "to read" list. When I attended school, I was always looking for the deeper meaning of what was being taught. Of course, you could'nt just raise your hand and ask "what specifically to you mean by such and such?" There was no time for individual thought processes. Therefore, if there was something I did not understand completely, I would simply look out the window and daydream. I never felt intellectually stimulated there. I knew outside those four walls was a world waiting for me to discover. Well, I discovered the world…and I chose to homeschool my two children and have never looked back. I'm no "Suzie Homemaker," but I do know that love, family, and individual attention is what feeds the soul. Amen to that.

  24. Edie, I know you are going through a lot and have your comments closed on your latest post but I just wanted to say that through the support of all your friends, I found your blog, and through your blog I have been encouraged in my pursuit for a better education for my kids. Thank you for all you’ve shared in the past. I know God has good plans for you in the future!

  25. Do you mind if I quote a few of your articles as long as I provide credit and sources back to your site? My website is in the very same niche as yours and my visitors would certainly benefit from some of the information you present here. Please let me know if this ok with you. Many thanks!

  26. Thanks for sharing amazing post! We all know that homeschooling can be a very positive force in our family’s life, regardless of what’s going on in the public system. You have discussed some great advantages to homeschooling which don’t get discussed often enough, but which make it a very strong option for our child’s education.

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