Madeline Levine’s book Teach Your Children Well (see Judith Warner’s review, NY Times 7/29/12) includes a startlingly true statement that serves as a call to action. She says, “When apples were sprayed with a chemical at my local supermarket, middle-aged moms turned out, picket signs and all, to protest the possible risks to their children’s health, yet I’ve seen no similar demonstrations about an educational system that has far more research documenting its own toxicity.”
A few years ago while I waited for our 12-year-old daughter’s swimming lesson to end, I heard a mother bemoaning her children’s lack of enthusiasm for school. “Each year I hope they’ll realize the value of buckling down and getting it over with,” she said to the mother sitting next to her. Hearing this made me feel both sad and mad. How could learning, in my opinion one of the most fun activities, have turned into one of the most “un-fun” activities for so many children?
Our family decided to step off the traditional educational treadmill during our daughter’s middle school years. Levine might have said we were “demonstrating.” Some of the parents of our daughter’s friends let us know they thought we were being downright “revolutionary.”
The truth is, once we worked up our courage and stepped away from the traditional school setting, we felt liberated. We began by “delving” (instead of skimming), found “fertile books” (no textbooks), embarked on a world cruise without stepping beyond our backyard, built a schoolhouse and planted a garden, and slowed down to eat a healthy lunch every day. We learned what things make life worth living at age 12 or 50. We learned that questions are far more important than answers. We learned that it’s vital to ignore conventional wisdom when it gets in the way of health. And that it’s just as important to expand the heart as it is to expand the mind. We learned a lot. At the end of the two years, our entire family can best sum up our “demonstration” in a single sentence: We said NO to middle school and rediscovered a love of learning.
Our “demonstration” continues here on this website. We hope that standing up for engaged learning & healthy living will give someone else the courage to do the same. Whether you are six, eleven, twenty, fifty, or seventy, you deserve the chance to fall in love with learning. Don’t let anyone steal that from you or your child.