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Nothing Like School to Break Up Family

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By Barbara Kelly

Concentric Circles

Have you ever wondered how people perceived their world prior to the rise of the western industrial juggernaut?
Most of us would automatically assume that life must have been such a drudge that people could not possibly have lived a fulfilling life – at least, not by today’s standards.
We have inherited a world of improved material structure, but at the same time we’ve relinquished the healthy and balanced psychological structure that sustained mankind in his various undertakings throughout the centuries.

They knew that everything related to their village, including themselves and their families, was integral to its being.

They knew that everything related to their village, including themselves and their families, was integral to its being.

In fashioning a society that relegates family and community cohesion way behind economic growth and consumer participation, we’ve built for ourselves a fragmented version of reality. And, despite our best efforts to take charge of the monster we’ve created, many people are becoming increasingly perplexed at the feeling of disconnection that pervades their lives.
Children have an instinctive grasp of the fundamental need for humankind to maintain a tight-knit inclusiveness.
Recently, I came across a telling passage by an assistant teacher recorded in Ronald Blythe’s famous social history, Akenfield, which examines the life and history of an English village as it moved toward modernity in the late 1960s.
The teacher, Daphne Ellington, was commenting on the differences in perception between the village children and those from the more economically independent and socially mobile housing estates that had sprung up in the area. Remarking upon the “strange” attitude of the village children, she says:
“The children aren’t jealous – on the contrary, they are convinced that they have something which none of the newcomers can ever have, some kind of mysterious life which is so perfect that it is a waste of time to search for anything else…I am beginning to realize that they know from an early age that they don’t need to take in what I am teaching them…Perhaps they know that there is nothing like education for breaking up an ordinary country family.”
What did those children know?
For a start, they knew that they were part of a living organism that was their village.
They knew that everything related to their village, including themselves and their families, was integral to its being.
They knew the intricacies of the relationships that knitted their community together – they knew where it was darned and where it was worn and where to tread softly when required.
They knew they were links in an ancestral chain, and learned young the importance of watching, helping, and emulating the grown-ups around them.
They knew that everyone who inhabited the village, from the squire down to the ordinary laborer, contributed something and was valued accordingly.
Everything that surrounded these children, whether animate or inanimate, was familiar and loved, and existed on a scale that was easily assimilated into their lives.
Ivan Illich, in his book, “Deschooling Society”, made this observation:
“Traditional society was more like a set of concentric circles of meaningful structures, while modern man must learn how to find meaning in many structures to which he is only marginally related. In the village, language and architecture and religion and work and family customs were consistent with one another, mutually explanatory and reinforcing. To grow into one implied a growth into others.”
The truth is that most people in western society no longer live in a village, and modern man has been equally diligent in chipping away at its urban counterpart by centralizing services and shopping precincts and drawing them away from the intimacy of local neighborhoods.
Perhaps one day we will recapture lost wisdom and return to the nurturing embrace of small close-knit community life – only then will we regain a true sense of the purpose and meaning of life.

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5 Responses to “Nothing Like School to Break Up Family”

  1. Wherever people worked, and also wherever they amused themselves, children were mingled with adults. In this way they learnt the art of living from everyday conduct."

    (Philippe Ariés – Centuries of Childhood)

  2. Part of me asks, "How did we get so far away from this?" The other part asks, "How do we return in a society that feels 'homeschooling' will never be for the masses?

  3. Barb Kelly says:

    Jacki – thanks for sharing. Phillipe sums up in so few words the innate wisdom of past societies that we have allowed to trickle away from us.

    We've only been doing it this way for what amounts to a heartbeat in human history – and yet, for many, the questions that Linda asks would not even enter their consciousness, so all pervading is the doctrine of institutionalized schooling.

  4. Beverley says:

    I'm very interested in the transitions between the two worlds – the simple meaningful village that doesn't do anymore than it has to, isn't into consumerism for the sake of increasing economic wealth, etc, and the big wide world where nothing really makes a lot of sense in an immediate way (how well schooled we all are!).

    Our unschooled children face these transitions as they grow up.

  5. Barb Kelly says:

    It seems to me that unschooled children are far more likely to have developed an ability to take the initiative in choosing their learning directions – as opposed to a schooled child who has been directed through every step of their education.

    This independence of thought learned during the formative years also serves as a liberating tool when making the transition to adulthood. These young adults are far more likely to realize that it is possible to regulate one's relationship with the big wide nonsensical world – to engage with it on their terms.

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