Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Why There Will Be No "First Day of School" Post Here

You see, there was no last day of school.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary:

"place of instruction," O.E. scol, from L. schola, from Gk. skhole "school, lecture, discussion," also "leisure, spare time," originally "a holding back, a keeping clear," from skhein "to get" + -ole by analogy with bole "a throw," stole "outfit," etc. The original notion is "leisure," which passed to "otiose discussion," then "place for such." The PIE base is *segh- "to hold, hold in one's power, to have" (see scheme). The L. word was widely borrowed, cf. O.Fr. escole, Fr. ├ęcole, Sp. escuela, It. scuola, O.H.G. scuola, Ger. Schule, Swed. skola, Gael. sgiol, Welsh ysgol, Rus. shkola. Replaced O.E. larhus "lore house." Meaning "students attending a school" is attested from c.1300; sense of "school building" is first recorded c.1590. Sense of "people united by a general similarity of principles and methods" is from 1612; hence school of thought (1864). The verb is attested from 1573. School of hard knocks "rough experience in life" is recorded from 1912 (in George Ade); to tell tales out of school "betray damaging secrets" is from 1546. Schoolmarm is attested from 1831, U.S. colloquial; used figuratively for "patronizingly and priggishly instructing" from 1887.

Let's take a look at some of this:
The original notion is "leisure," which passed to "otiose discussion," then "place for such." I love the idea of leisure as the original notion for school; in our house, since learning takes place all the time, at our leisure, we are truly living the original notion. We don't stop learning just because we are at the beach, having a picnic, or riding the subway. We don't begin to learn the day we walk into a classroom, laboratory or lecture hall. We can set up the finest room in our house and call it school, but this does not preclude learning in another room, or out of the house, or anywhere, for that matter.

Learning at our leisure is hardly otiose, however! In fact, while casual to a degree that would frighten a school district, it is usually quite purposeful, and rarely ineffective. Our conversational learning process and challenging discussions are the heart of a meaningful education in our homeschool.

I once had a discussion with some 7-10 year old children, the friends of my children, at the beach. They wanted to know how my children would learn anything if they did not go to school. I asked them if they ever learned anything outside of the classroom. They said , "No." I asked if they were sure. They insisted they did not ever learn anything outside of school. I rephrased the question several times, and got the same answer. It made me wonder if these children had been conditioned by school to turn off their brains when they were out of school, or if they simply did not understand what learning meant. Either way, they dreaded the end of summer, and, bemoaning their plight in early September, said goodbye to my children and left the beach. We continued (and still continue every year) to visit the beach until the weather turned cold. And even then, frequent visits to the shore after storms and during cold weather have revealed seasonal changes that the other children miss. The first day for
some includes learning where and how the lines are formed, where coats are hung, what time the bell rings, how heavy or long or hard-to-read the books are, how nice the teacher is...that same day we continue to read a great book, or look for coquina shells, or visit the home of a president who lived nearby, or study etymology, or head to a favorite concert or theater venue, or climb a mountain.

Those well-schooled school-children (skipping through the definition to the end:
used figuratively for "patronizingly and priggishly instructing") miss all this, and more. Without instruction, they insist that there is no learning. They have been taught that education is something that happens to them. Learning is a chore, not a joy. School has become to them a necessary severance from the real and natural world, and they accept that separation without questioning it, even as they complain.

The lessons the real world teaches elude these children. Their knowledge of the natural world is often two dimensional, limited by the scope and sequence, which often requires that children who cannot name the trees in their yard learn names of species in the rain forest (I once visited a school where principal proudly pointed to a rain forest display that the students had made--entirely out of Styrofoam; the irony was lost on him). They may do a report on a city 3000 miles away, and not know how to negotiate the streets in their own neighborhoods. They may do contrived demonstrations in a school laboratory, but never get their hands dirty looking under a rock. They will learn grammar from a workbook, instead of through the rich heritage of literature. The first day of school for these children is an end to leisure as they understand it, and an end to a real, natural and meaningful education.

A true education is multidimensional. It is a field trip that lasts for days, not hours. It is a book chosen because of personal interest, not enforced syllabus. It is immersion in Shakespeare, or music, or literature, or geometry, or beach combing, or Catholicism. Real education is driven by what matters, and by what is real, not by what is distant or required by a faceless board of advisers.

We are not entirely immune to the school year. Our son is in high school (his decision) and our daughter is in college now. We still head to Staples for the school supply sales, and glance through those catalogs that fill the mail box every August. German and music lessons follow the school calendar. But we make sure we have leisure scheduled in well before we fill the calendar with classes. For it is in these times of leisure that we get down to real learning. When children in our neighborhood go back to school, when the beach is empty save for us and the retirees, and when the school buses rumble by, we keep doing what we have always done: Learn. We started our true educational journey with our children years ago, when our first child was born. Those days of infancy are our first days of "school." Everything else is continuity.


Alice Gunther said...

All very true, MacB.

Laura A said...

I came over here from Willa's In a Spacious Place sidebar link, and have been reading (and listening, Messiaen currently in background) ever since. First I liked your article on not starting school. Then I scrolled down and liked your photos of thunderstorms, Black Skimmers, booklists and your family's interest in music. And then I realized that you obviously live in the NYC area. We have many of the same interests. Needless to say, I'll come back to read more.

We have a formerly homeschooled (for a year or two) friend who is also studying violin at Juilliard, I think third year this year. Her name is Nicole, just in case Libby meets her at school. Her mom taught my own daughter violin for many years.

Julie C. said...

Well said, MacBeth.

I'm going to start studying your websites to see how you "do school." The MacBeth method sounds very intriguing and rewarding.

MacBeth Derham said...

Hi Laura A...nice to meet you here. I just subscribed to your blog--it's lovely. I'll be posting Juilliard events, so maybe we'll meet sometime! I don't know if Libby knows anyone named "Nicole" yet, but I'll ask.

MacBeth Derham said...

Hey Julie C...I hope you can make some sense of the jumbled mess of a website!

Cay G. said...

Yay, MacBeth!