Monday, June 01, 2009

A Few thoughts on Sheltering

We homeschoolers are often criticized for "over sheltering our children" from"the real world." It is thought, commonly, that a child must be exposed to the world in order to thrive and that homeschooling harms children by shielding them from the realities that children must invariably face. I am not unaware of these criticisms or unconcerned about them. Certainly, the children we raise in our homes are a part of a larger community-- a neighborhood, a state, a nation of which they are a part. We are proud to belong to these larger communities, but is sheltering so wrong?

Maria Montessori was my first inspiration to think about what sheltering is and what it provides. She speaks so beautifully of nature itself providing shelter to its young. The plant seed is covered in a shell, the animal offspring protected from predators in hardened calcium, the human embryo wrapped in layers of coverings of vernox and water, all provided by nature herself to protect new life from the harshness of the elements. Montessori doesn't even touch on the harshness of of a world oblivious to moral rectitude, but simply of the need to shelter our young from the glaring light of day and the noise of every day goings on in a busy, busy world of motion and noise moving ever faster ever forward. How is one to establish roots and thrive and grow in such an environment? How is new life expected to emerge without some shelter, some support, some encouragement and protection, some shielding force that allows it to express itself for what it is and become what it it is meant to be. I am convinced of this. I believe in this. All children need some protection and shelter to thrive, at least as much as the grass we mulch. I do not claim that all children must be homeschooled to receive this protection. I do not think that this is true, but that homeschooling is a legitimate form of that protection that all parents must provide. It is a choice, a decision based in prudence by parents who know themselves and take into account their children's ability to withstand adversity and their ability to provide an environment where the children can be themselves and grow in accordance with nature and in the life of grace.

I read, not too long ago, one woman's opinion that homeschooling truncates a child's development, that harshness and adversity are the very elements necessary for a child to bloom. This may be true for some, but it is arrogant and presumptuous to presume that it is true for all at all stages. This same woman, by the way, defined child rearing as a process of "letting go." I found this odd in the same way I'd find it odd to define light as the absence of darkness. We speak of "raising" our children, not "releasing" them as spores to the wind. Parenting is much more a process of enabling a child and only "letting go" as the child becomes self sufficient. There is great joy in discovering our children's abilities, and the mother who truly loves is proud beyond measure of her child's ability to do without her, however saddened she might become to lose the relationship of dependence that a child has blessed her with for a time. It is a great paradox and a funny thing to be a mother who so loves her children to be with her and at the same time so want them to not need her at all. And yet, this is the task that lies before us all, to love our children, to love that they love us, to love that they need us when they do and then to let them go when they are ready to be let go, one careful step at a time. It is such a delicate process and one that is fraught with such dangers and pain and joy and sorrow. So delicate, so personal in fact, that we must be careful, very careful not to tread on the heartfelt and thoughtful decisions of other mothers who ideas and circumstances might not be our own.