Our Journey to learn how to learn

Michigan Citizen, April 10-16, 2011
Our Journey to learn how to learn

By Cindy Fadel

A mother’s story of why she decided to home-school her son underscores the need to transform our public schools. Chapter 5 of The Next American Revolution advocates “A Paradigm Shift in our Concept of Education.” —GLB

The decision to op out of of public education and take on the responsibility of my son’s learning was not one I made lightly. I traveled from school to school, trying to find a place where he could explore and begin to understand his world.

I went to public, private and parochial schools in two cities. I met with superintendents, headmasters, and priests. I took my son with me to observe how these individuals interacted with him. They all looked for ways to get rid of him and keep him out of the process while they tried to sell me on the idea that they would transform him into an obedient child who could follow directions and memorize information, that he could then display on tests that would give them and me proof that he was smart so that, together, we would lead him into a top university. They even had tests that could predict his future career goals.

I knew I had to find a way to let my son learn and not be taught, not to tell him what to learn but how to learn. From birth to age 4 he had learned so much and had a burning curiosity to know more and more each day.

I thought why not just stay on this pathway and see what happens. Maybe one day, I will find a “school”.

Eventually I found Clonlara School (school away from home) in Ann Arbor. Pat Montgomery, the director, had created space for homeschoolers to come together where kids and Moms could share time and learning.

By this time, I had read everything written by John Holt as well as numerous books on unschooling. I had dusted off my Steiner, Dewey and Illitch from college, reading them with a whole new perspective. I had my philosophy straight. This is about life style; not just about education. It is about living and educating outside societal norms. I had set the stage for how I would look at my son’s journey to make sense of his world and learn what was relevant to his age and curiosity.

I began to relax and become more of an observer, guiding from the side, facilitating curiosity moments that many times turned into teachable moments.

My son’s passion is and always has been animals. He has learned everything though his love of animals. Early in his life we moved to the country so that he could become connected to nature and have animals of his own. He loves the land we live on and knows every inch of it. Wendell Berry and Einstein inspired us to a deeper connection with nature.

We made close relationships with our veterinarian and he allowed my son to come in and observe his practice, spending Fridays watching surgeries. As my son got bigger and stronger, about age 12, the large animal vet started letting him go on farm calls and learn to be an excellent helper.

Being educated outside the system has given my son all the same skills he would have learned in a traditional setting and so much more, not being confined to the four walls of a school building. I don’t think I could really tell anyone HOW or even IF I taught him anything. Sometimes it is a mystery, even to me, how he acquired all his knowledge and skills. It is magical what happens when a child is left to his natural curiosity to enjoy the unfolding of life, as they make sense of their world.

He was blessed with a good memory which serves him well in a traditional educational setting. I hope he takes his time and continues to combine academic learning with real world hands-on experience. I am confident that he is able to make good decisions that will lead to his goals.

I am thankful that I did not send my son to traditional school, but as a human being on this planet, I am committed to doing what I can to advocate for the transformation of our public schools. I am convinced this will be an outside-in, bottom-up effort led by community.