The Art of Education
by Linda Dobson
Reviewed by Beverley Paine
My life's passion is summed up in Linda Dobson's opening to her anniversary edition of The Art of Education : " I'm forever a homeschool advocate, because I know life and learning beyond the confines of school make for happier, healthier, saner adults with a strong sense of purpose and the ability to thrive and attain success to the best of their abilities, and I want to see as many families and children benefit from the practice as possible."
It is said that we're lucky if, during our education, we have access to one or two teachers who have a special ability to 'switch on' learning in his or her students: Dobson is such a teacher, and continues to be one of my treasured home education mentors. For learning doesn't stop once we become adults and we need mentors of this caliber throughout our lives.
Why is Linda Dobson special? What does she have that other teachers lack? Trust. Dobson trusts that a learner can and will learn. And her respect and concern for children is genuine and heart-felt. Those characteristics, together with her ability to see and act beyond her own immediate interests and needs to that of a nation, give me hope.
And we need hope: while business reaps the benefits of information and communication technology, public education views it with suspicion or worse, misuses and abuses it to spy on children or reduce learning to meaningless and competitive league tables. Good intentioned but ill-informed educational reform adds confusion and cost. Public education in the USA is no longer sustainable. Her plea, for families to make sure their children 'get an education instead of schooling', is an agenda that will be increasingly heard as schools continue to fail.
A proponent of self-education, Dobson is convincing - path which will build confidence as autonomous learners. her message - "we, the people, must teach ourselves" - states the obvious, but it is a reality that society has been lulled into letting go while governments imposed a massive and failed experiment - that of compulsory public education - upon us.
The Art of Education begins with a consideration of the 'real business' of schooling: the "subsumption of the individual. the [modification of] natural, individual expression into a socially acceptable sameness." When home educated parents are asked 'aren't you worried about socialisation?' it is this that people are talking about, not the acquisition of social skills. It amazes me how often this is the first and most loudly voiced protest against the concept of home education - academic education, civic responsibility and personal fulfillment are sadly of lesser concern.
Few of us start home educating by defining 'education' or critically analysing the concept or purpose of schooling. Many families are refugees from the school system, reluctantly starting on this path because school has failed their children. The Art of Education questions the assumptions we make about schooling, the way it is structured and its methods and purpose. People who feel damaged by their personal school experiences will rejoice and feel liberated by the messages in this book. Those who enjoyed school or who found it to be a refuge from a less-than-happy home-life may feel challenged by its strident anti-school language. But if we put aside our personal biases and read the text objectively there is much to offer any parent, for the subject is not purely 'education': There is much in this book to guide our parenting practice towards a more holistic, healthy and happy relationship with our children well beyond their childhood.
" When education is art, the journey is the education." By drawing on the metaphor of education as art instead of business, Dobson makes a compelling case which, through demonstrating the huge differences between schooling and education, asks us to change our perspective about notions of 'success'.
An examination of the Self reveals those factors which create our lives: social conditioning, experiences, nurture, genetics, etc. Dobson places an emphasis on social factors, examining the imperatives these implant in our minds and which drive our desires - wealth, duty, compulsion, reliance and dependency on 'experts' and overly excessive administration and bureaucratization - to show us "how society's institutions cleverly encourage conformity and complacency".
Education to prepare one for adult life Dobson argues needs to be more than "feeble attempts at intellectual stimulation and preparation for jobs". How does home education offer more? Dobson answers by examining the gift of time, real connection with others, a focus on self-knowledge and self-understanding rather than selfishness, understanding the difference 'learning' and 'training', and the role of context and meaningful purpose, achievable within a home educating framework.
She offers a chilling summary of the damage to society inflicted by schooling: " Schools condition adults (parents) to raise capital instead of kids. Parents disconnect from kids. Schools take over even more parenting responsibilities. Parents disconnect further from kids. Schools call in social services to repair the trauma. Parents disconnect even further from kids. Schools do even more of what they already do. And then those children have children." She blames schools obsessive attention on competitiveness, reward and punishment and argues that we need to shift our focus to "family-centred, parent (adult)-powered lifestyle patterning". We can do this by noticing, examining and changing our priorities - what matters and what does not matter - and by taking conscious control of the actions which direct our lives. The Art of Education not only provides a tool for doing this, but takes you further by helping you develop, step-by-step, your own personal educational philosophy for your family. From there Dobson expands the horizons of homeschooling, dispelling some of the most persistent and inaccurate myths. Far from the concept of children learning in isolation at home with mom as teacher, home education is centred in community learning with interaction with people of all ages and from all walks of life.
Although aimed primarily at an American audience, this book has much to offer families around the world worried about the fate of their children or when considering their educational choices.
Dobson peppers this text with insights and advice aimed at making the transition from schooling to unschooling easier for parents, not with the authoritative teaching voice we are familiar with but as a friend, a mother, someone deeply concerned with our well-being. Her helpful attitude and personal, 'I'm on your side' tone is both encouraging and reassuring. The practical tips, advice and insights give the reader appropriate, achievable and immediate actions to take. Common sense starting points reveal just how easy and simple homeschooling can be.
The Art of Education is a powerful and passionate plea for parents to take stock of what's happening in their homes and communities. It's also a blueprint for taking control, reclaiming the lost territory of family and community responsibility.
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Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active support of national, state, regional and local home education groups.
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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine
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