Thursday, June 11, 2009

The search for meaning

As Glinda the Good Witch advised Dorothy, "it's always best to start at the beginning," and so as I embark on homeschooling, I've started at the beginning by reading a book about the end. In this case, author Neil Postman's "end" is really more about the entirety. I first read The End of Education several years ago, and I decided a few weeks ago that I could use a refresher on it since I recalled it answering that basic question that nearly every parent hears at least occasionally: "Why do I have to go to school?" For the homeschooling parent, the question may be edited to "Why do I have to learn that?"

Postman argues, basically, that schools need a better mission statement, a raison d'être, or, as he puts it, a god to serve, and this must be a god that doesn't fail. I'll give a full review of the book after I've finished re-reading it, but in brief synopsis, an example of a current popular god that has failed is the god of economic utility, which basically says "study hard and you'll get a good job after you graduate." It's not that this maxim is inherently untrue, but it doesn't exactly infuse a young person with a sense of higher purpose. By replacing this narrative with -- according to one of his suggestions -- a narrative that prepares students to be caretakers of the planet, we begin to restore the collective consciousness and meaning that has been missing from institutional education.

Grasping for that meaning prompted me to pull out my copy of Walden yesterday. My daughter yearns for what she views as the ultimate simple life: the romanticized, school-free existence of the Kalahari bush tribes featured in The Gods Must Be Crazy. In an effort to explain that school may not be essential to the human condition, but learning is (even Kalahari children must learn skills to survive in their world), I found the famous words of Thoreau, which are inscribed on a plaque near the site of his cabin at Walden Pond:

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

I'm persuaded that freeing oneself from the materialistic cultural paradigm is an entrée to a life more focused on learning, even if that does not involve "school". My next task is to implement a home school that celebrates true learning, the kind that rewards us with meaning.

Fun Links of the Day:

I got a kick out of this Salon blog describing a Facebook unfriending. Surely all those who have been friended by people they haven't even thought about since high school will relate to this.

In another humorous Salon essay, Gary Kamiya wonders how the macho American male will adapt to Fiat's impending takeover of Chrysler. Enjoy!

And finally, rubber lawn chairs in Times Square? Tis true!

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