Updated: Sep 14, 2020
A few weeks ago I found Pat Farenga’s blog and read through a few of his most recent posts. Pat worked closely with John Holt at Growing Without Schooling, the newsletter that John Holt founded. After Holt’s death in 1985, Farenga became the publisher of GWS. It was during this time that I first discovered Holt and GWS. His work spoke to me very strongly, leading me to explore homeschooling and look at learning in a whole new way. I’m currently rereading his book How Children Fail and feeling moved all over again by his acute powers of observation with children.
I was fortunate to hear Pat Farenga speak at a Mindful Education conference in the late 1990’s, where he made a great impression on me as well. He talked about parents reading book after book on parenting yet never finding quite the right one. He encouraged us to stop looking elsewhere and look instead to our own children for the answers, “because no one else has ever written the book on your child.” This hit me squarely, as I am one of those people who likes to find an instruction manual for everything. Imagine the audacity of just observing your own child, following their lead. It was a radical idea to me at the time and it’s still a process for me — both trusting them and trusting myself. (Actually, I find it much easier to trust my children than to trust myself.)
Anyway, I learned that Pat Farenga is working with Carlo Ricci and Caitlyn Free at Nipissing University in Canada to compile the old issues of GWS into a book. Pat’s blog post asked for proofreading volunteers to help with this enormous task. Music to my ears! I immediately emailed the contact and quickly received a back issue of GWS to work on. It was magical for me. That issue from 1984 was packed with just as many encouraging ideas and testimonials as I had remembered from my subscribing days. Those newsletters were truly the basis for much of my philosophy of education. It was through reading these newsletters that I gained a critical mass of confidence in this approach to learning. Realizing that it could not only work, but was, in fact, the best approach to nurturing whole-hearted children that I have ever found, even to this day. Reading through these newsletters from thirty years ago, I am struck by how similar the issues are to today:
“. . . I do think that the ideal is more difficult now than it was . . . Most people now do seem to think that family life and family work are unnecessary, and this thought has been institutionalized in our economy and in our public values . . . How can we preserve family life — if by that we mean, as I think we must, home life — when our attention is so forcibly drawn away from home? . . .”
“. . . I am not nearly so much concerned about [public education’s] quality as I am about its length. My impression is that the chief, if unadmitted, purpose of the school system is to keep children away from home as much as possible. Parents want their children kept out of their hair; education is merely a by-product, not overly prized. In many places, thanks to school consolidation, two hours or more of travel time have been added to the school day. For my own children the regular school day from the first grade — counting from the time they went to catch the bus until they came home — was nine hours. An extra-curricular activity would lengthen the day to eleven hours or more. This is not education, but a form of incarceration.”
Some of the stories make me feel that I could have done so much more. I could have been more trusting, more supportive, more sure. GWS stopped publishing in 2001, and I didn’t have access to older copies. The copies that I did buy, I regrettably gave away to a friend. I wish now that I had kept them to reread several times a year at least. They would have calmed my fears, reapportioned my priorities, sustained me through doubtful times and reaffirmed the trust I placed in my children. Ahhh, the clarity of hindsight. Here are two more reader comments:
” . . . John, when you came to New Zealand and we had that chat, I remember only too clearly what you said to me when I asked you how you saw the boys’ education going in the future. You looked a bit strangely at me and said, “What do they like doing?” and I said, “They like to read,” to which you replied, “Then let them read.” I must admit that I went away grumbling to myself and thinking, “How on earth does he think we can do that and not have the education board on our backs?” Almost a year later we have found the answer. I don’t know if it is the one everyone would be brave enough to carry out, but we have. We have done, in fact, what you suggested — let them read, along with anything else they wish to do, and my goodness, what a wonderful result. When the children want to read, they read; when they want to do math, they do math, etc., etc., and it is quite amazing what a balanced program they have built up not only for themselves, but by themselves.” “There are so many good suggestions in GWS written by many lovely people — all of whom I’d like to meet. I sometimes feel overwhelmed because I would like to follow through on all of them. But that would make me a zombie with no time left for the children! And then again, some of the ideas overlap simply because at the basis of all of them is the following point: we must allow them to grow and learn what they want, when they want, as they want, when the interest is there.”
There are so many good suggestions in GWS. Just reading them fills me with hope. Helping with this project means I am helping others find these same truths that will nurture and sustain them through parenting and educating their own children. That’s all I want — to be a pointer, a beacon of light to someone else, along their parenting path — that a few more children might find a way in these “modern” times to pursue what they really love and can become good at. Our world needs them.
© Jean Nunnally and TrustYourChild, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jean Nunnally and TrustYourChild with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.