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Practical Homeschooling® :

A Mind of Their Own

By Lawrence Bangs
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #11, 1996.

How to get back the wonder of learning things for our children
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As the Great Depression loosened its grip upon America, her young people were enthralled by a technological miracle unfolding in their Weekly Readers. A two hundred-inch telescope was constructed at Corning, New York, and successfully transported to Mount Palomar in California. Mankind was about to peer further into space than ever thought possible. Teachers and parents, with well-developed adult minds, piqued the curiosity of young students by asking, “What will they see? What lies beyond the limits of our vision?” Children wondered about their universe, about their world, about themselves. They asked questions. They sought answers.

Today we have a similar instrument in orbit. The Hubble telescope reveals objects which once lay beyond the imagination of mankind. Today we know about the blueprint of life called DNA. We have immediate access to information stored anywhere in the world. We have the capacity of formulating more detailed theories than ever previously conceived, more accurate explanations than ever previously imagined, and more elaborate solutions to the questions which have taunted us since we acquired the capacity to think.

Our children, therefore, should be the most excited, most curious, most dedicated scholars the world has ever known. They should be so awed by the power of their own minds that the ingestion of mind-altering substances should be unthinkable. They should be dedicated to mastering the vast accumulation of human knowledge. This should be their most treasured possession, theirs to draw upon and theirs to expand. They should be elevated to a level of intellect transcending all the pettiness through which mankind has had to pass. They should be all of these, but they are none.

“No One Loves a Feller who’s a Social Disease”

In the fifty years between Mount Palomar and the Hubble telescope, we have robbed our youth of their innate curiosity. We have converted them from intellectual beings into social problems. We have chained them in the caves which Plato describes in Republic and forced them to gaze at the false images of dead screens which divert attention from reality. We have turned their gaze from the raw power of the supernova in the Crab Nebula and shown them instead the unreality of Star Trek. We have degraded the wonders of DNA by stifling their curiosity with the wild scenes of Jurassic Park. We have used the computer to divert their attention to the sterile world of Nintendo, away from glorious spectacles such as the Grand Canyon or the Milky Way.

A Wildridge Academy student receives insruction from Crow Cannon archaeologists on the proper way to dig a site.
Who does all this to our children? We do. We are responsible. We are the parents. We are the schools. We support the structure which feeds the poisonous television sets. We are the blind who do not see what we do. We channel their attention onto the murky screen rather than stimulate golden thoughts in their minds. We fix our gaze on price tags and social status. We leave our children languishing in daycare centers and schools which rob them of individual thought, accomplishment, and satisfaction.

Mind or Ego?

We have allowed our schools to focus on the ego rather than the mind. In the small town of Newark, Vermont, the 1995 school budget appropriated over $20,000 for social and psychological services and $37 for curriculum development. School teachers in Bennington, Vermont, are more concerned with one-way glass to develop psychological profiles than two-way glass to develop the minds of the children. Teachers in training are exposed primarily to psychology courses designed to foster a child’s self-esteem. Student teachers devote little time or effort to learn the astronomy, history, mathematics, or art which would expand a child’s mind. Scholarship is gone from the classroom. In its place are teaching assistants who are unaware of a sum total of human knowledge or any subtotal thereof. They cater to the social and psychological needs of the child, ignorant of the existence and the power of the child’s mind.

In a recent interview on public radio, the editor of the Louisiana Penitentiary newspaper made a vital observation. He acknowledged that he was confined for life without hope of parole, then admitted that his first years in prison had been devoted to causing trouble. When bored with troublemaking, he went to the prison library and discovered the power of his own mind. He concluded, “If only I had made this discovery before I took up crime I would not be here today.”

Look around and see how many mindless criminals fill our prisons and streets. Notice how many mindless adults escape the confines of a cell but pass through life imprisoned by their own crippled intellect, seeking only to possess the accepted look or to say the accepted thing. Young minds are the fertile soil in which productive ideas grow. Our schools are sowing salt, not seeds. The fertility of young minds is destroyed by texts void of truth and stimulating thought.

In 1944 the population of New York City was very close to what it is today. Then, there were less than 50 murders a year. Now, there are almost 1,500. This is thirty times as many. Teenage pregnancy, drug use, and welfare applications have increased in the same proportion. In the same period, the increase in the amount of money spent on education has far exceeded the inflation rate, but our collective performance on scholastic tests has dropped from the top in international scoring to the bottom. Textbooks have been revised by committee after committee until any idea which might stimulate a young mind has been deleted because there might be some offense. Consequently, our young minds atrophy.

Children Need Adults

Our species possesses something which no other species can claim—a vast reserve of knowledge. All manner of humans have contributed to this treasury, and all may draw upon it. We have been able to accumulate and preserve this precious collection because our design is different from that of any other species. Where most species achieve maturity in six months to four years, our young are blessed with an extended childhood which stretches for 18 to 21 years. They have 20 years to be exposed to the adult mind, to learn through emulation, discussion, and observation. John Locke says, “The Power, then, That parents have over their children, arises from that Duty which is incumbent on them, to take care of their Offspring, during the imperfect state of Childhood. To inform the Mind, and govern the Actions of their yet ignorant Nonage, till Reason shall take its place, and ease them of that Trouble, is what the Children want, and the Parents are bound to.”

When we produce children, we must accept the responsibility which extended childhood imposes. We must develop the innate curiosity of the child into the superior intellect of the adult. This is accomplished by allowing the child easy access to the adult mind. The child imitates the adult in play. The adult corrects misconceptions and provides access and direction to the vast reserves of human knowledge.

This was once done in school, but now must be done at home. Daycare, kindergarten, and lengthened school years expose the child to an atmosphere dominated by children. The child is reared in a world created and controlled by peers. Roles are reversed. Teachers imitate the young. The opportunity to observe and imitate adults is corrupted by an environment augmented by Barbi and her friends. The valuable lessons, such as how to crack an egg and what develops if it is incubated, are never taught and curiosity is squelched. Values degrade into a question of what will bring immediate satisfaction. The adult approach to life does not develop.

Such disregard for knowledge has occurred before. It produced a Dark Age where knowledge languished and suffering multiplied.

In previous times when mankind has rejected learning, there has always been a cell of knowledge which has been retained. As Rome decayed, the library at Alexandria preserved much of its accumulated wisdom. In the Dark Ages, monks in Ireland copied manuscripts and preserved the knowledge of the past.

Today a cell for the preservation of erudition seems to be emerging. It is called “Home Education.” It bears the hope that children may continue personal contact with a well-developed mind, to help the child discover the vast power reserved within the recesses of its own mind.

Study Great Men

What must a parent do to accept this overwhelming responsibility?

Show your child the value of strong character. Our knowledge has been accumulated for the most part by individuals. Some individuals have made vast contributions, others have added only tiny fragments. Studies of the people who have made the contributions are as meaningful as the study of their works. For example, Heinrich Schliemann excavated Troy, Mycenae, Tiryns, and other sites where ancient Greeks once lived. His autobiography is recorded in his descriptions of his diggings. He tells of childhood dreams of finding Troy. He explains how he educated himself to accomplish his dreams, and how he worked to amass the fortune that would enable him to accomplish his goal.

Champollion, who used the Rosetta Stone to decipher hieroglyphics, offers another inspiring biography. He viewed the Rosetta Stone when a young man and declared, “I will decipher it some day.” He did much to educate himself to accomplish the challenging task.

The biographies of men such as Galileo, Edison, Frederick Douglass, Mark Twain, Booker T. Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, and Howard Carter, who excavated Tutankhamen’s tomb, illustrate the responsibility we assume when we attempt to educate ourselves. Each of these people removed a barrier which blocked mankind’s view of a bigger world. Most of these men were educated, at least in part, at home, and most educated themselves. Their first discovery was always the same: they all discovered the power of their own minds.

The “Fun Trap”

Parents must show their children the variety of problems solved by the human mind and the joy which is the reward of accomplishment. Children want to have fun. This has led many educators into the “fun trap.” They attempt to make learning and everything concerned with school fun. This produces a frivolous attitude toward work. The child who has the opportunity to study the adult mind discovers the fine distinction between having fun and enjoying one’s work. Schliemann, Champollion, Teddy Roosevelt, Howard Carter, and Booker T. Washington all enjoyed their work. Each found work which was exciting, rewarding, stimulating, enjoyable, but hardly fun. A study of how the human mind has achieved “impossible” goals elevates a child’s expectations from fun to satisfaction.

Introduce children to the mysteries of our world. Let them discover for themselves what was discovered by someone long ago. Read with them Galileo’s Starry Messenger. With binoculars, find the moons on Jupiter and record their changes. For the child this is not rediscovery, but discovery. Let them wonder why the circumference of the great pyramids divided by its height is equal to pi. Why does the Sphinx stare at the rising sun at the vernal equinox? Was there an Atlantis? Why does the coast of Antarctica appear accurately on ancient maps 200 years before the Europeans ever discovered its existence? Is there a last galaxy at the edge of the universe?

Virtuous Reality

The wonders of the universe are only seen by those who are allowed to wonder.

Put your child in contact with reality. Show them the galaxy of Andromeda and the Horse Head Nebula in Orion. Reveal the life found in a mud puddle or in brooks, but not in a kit. There is no life to be found in packaged science. Stand on the rim of the Grand Canyon and follow the layers across the plain. Take them to a pond to snorkel, bicycle with them about the battlefield at Gettysburg, or ride together across your state. Call your state geologist or archaeologist and learn about the past which surrounds you everyday.

Let your children see that mistakes are part of learning, that wrong ideas detected and corrected are the basis of our vast collection of knowledge. Explore with them and show them how an adult can use curiosity to learn, grow, and develop intellect.

Read together and read aloud. Read Book VIII of Plato’s Republic: the decay of democracy. Read it and illustrate each step of decay by reading from any New York Times. Ask how one who lived in Athens 2,500 years ago could give such an accurate picture of New York City or Los Angeles. Discuss it and watch your child’s mind grasp ideas written two and a half millennia ago.

The child who is stimulated by reading and discussing Plato may pursue an idea into John Locke or Thomas Paine. This is the goal of education, to pique the curiosity and stimulate the young mind to educate itself. Our teachers are trained to measure and classify. When interest is stimulated, marks are immaterial. Parents must realize that good education is not measured in percentiles. It is reflected in stimulated interest, analytic reasoning, and a life-long pursuit of knowledge.

The Test of Life

I tried to explain this to a superintendent of schools. “How do you know you haven’t overlooked something?”, she asked. I told her I send them into the world and watch them succeed. She replied, “You don’t understand. Suppose they can not pass some test?” I replied, “No. You don’t understand. The only test you can’t retake is the test of life.” All of the child’s needs may be met at home, free from the threat of senseless quizzes, tests, and measurements.

Why must this be done at home? Isn’t this what is supposed to happen in school? Plato explains our schools to us, “In such a state of society the master fears and flatters his scholars and the scholars despise their master and tutors; young and old are alike; and the young man is on a level with the old, and is ready to compete with him in word or deed: and old men condescend to the young and are full of pleasantry and gaiety; they are loth to be thought morose and authoritative, and therefore they adopt the manners of the young.”

Our classrooms, be they daycare, elementary or high school, are dominated by children. The children select the study plan. They dominate the discussions. They deny themselves the opportunity to grow, then resent reference to peer pressure and their inability to function as maturing individuals. Unfortunately, their teachers join in their immaturity. The teacher imitates the student, perpetuating ignorance rather than dispelling it.

Hope for future generations lies in the parents who accept the responsibilities and arduous duties imposed by home education. The conditions that provide the necessary contact with adults prevail in small, home-style groups.

Family schools have the courage to expose the child to ideas. Only parents have the strength to say, “I don’t know myself, so let’s find out together,” and “Of course you don’t like music. You don’t know anything about it! Study it first and then make up your mind.” Only parents have the authority to say, “These were good people. How can we be like them?”

Only in a strong home can children be made to realize that there is right and wrong. Only in the home can we escape the domination of the ego which prevails in our socially-oriented schools. But most importantly, only in the home can we divert attention from grades, labels, and measurements and focus instead on interest, knowledge, and learning.

If you have children, accept the responsibility John Locke defines. Yours is the adult mind which your children would most like to emulate. You have them only once and for a few short years. Enjoy learning with them. Give them the full opportunity to escape the ignorant state into which they are born, but which they do not have to perpetuate. Teach your children as much as possible at home. Nothing can match the satisfaction of seeing a new generation step forth equipped with functioning minds.

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