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Why Some Kids Aren’t Heading to School Today

Choosing the most radical education reform there is.

by
Tony Woodlief

Bio

September 2, 2008 - 12:35 am
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My wife Celeste and I have four boys under the age of nine. This life stage is not a good time for experimentation. Order is the watchword, because order yields control, which preserves sanity, which saves lives — specifically, the lives of four children who some days are much closer to being sold to the local zoo than they think.

We believe everything you need to know about parenting can be gleaned from Little House on the Prairie. Growing up in wildly dysfunctional households, we both learned that you can do much worse than the Ingalls family. We decided when we got married that our home would be better than what we knew as children. The foundation is love, order, and relentless application of rules like: Eat all your vegetables, and Mind your manners, and Don’t push your brother’s head into the toilet.

So we frown on radicalism. Yet we have embarked on one of the most radical endeavors families can undertake: home-schooling. Given preconceptions about this practice, I should note that we are not anti-government wingnuts living on a compound. We like literature, and nice wines, and Celeste would stab me in the heart with a spoon if I gave her one of those head bonnets the Amish women wear. We are not, in other words, stereotypical home-schooling parents. But neither are most actual home-schooling parents.

Even though Ma and Pa Ingalls sent their children off to the little schoolhouse in Walnut Grove, we’ve decided to start our own. In the eyes of Kansas authorities that’s exactly what we’ve done; regulations require us to establish a school and name it. Ours is the Woodlief Homestead School. I wanted to go with something like: “The School of Revolutionary Resistance,” but Celeste said that was just inviting trouble.

The reason we’ve broken with tradition, or perhaps reverted to a deeper tradition, is not because we oppose sex education, or because we think their egos are too tender for public schools. It’s because we can do a superior job of educating our children. We want to cultivate in them an intellectual breadth and curiosity that public schools no longer offer.

Somewhere there is now an indignant teacher typing an email to instruct me about his profession’s nobility. Perhaps some public schools educate children in multiple languages and musical instruments, have them reading classic literature by age seven, offer intensive studies of math, science, logic, and history, and coach them in public speaking and writing. The thing is, I don’t know where those schools are.

Except for one, which is in my house.

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