the "home" in homeschooling and learning

An Essay By Ben // 10/3/2002

"Let us consider where we possess our home, and then think how we may come thither, and let us then also attempt to arrive there...." This is what the old seaman in the old English work called The Seafarer tells us. He’s a wise fellow. So we ask ourselves: where is home, first of all? We ask the question in both an immediate and a deep way. Where is home?...

The question unfolds itself in all of us the longer we live. Where it begins, I don’t know. But the first time we see it is at birth, when our younger brother or sister wails at the sight of the outside world. I can remember it well: standing in awed awkwardness by my mom and dad, trying to feel unworthy of the disgust on my newborn brother or sister’s face. "This is your home," we show our infants over and over again. But we know that it is and that it isn’t.

And then the question stretches its limbs within us every year a little more so that we are aware of it each year a little more. The more we feel and understand the question, the more we feel unable to answer or imagine it – and this is painful.

I’m at school right now, and I feel my mind wakening itself again a little more. The activity I put it through stimulates it. I spend my days reading the history of the Roman people as told by Livy and Plutarch. I spend my days reading Virgil’s Aeneid and Beowulf. I spend my days reading early English poetry by Wyatt, Chaucer, Marlowe and more. I read essays on the art of literary criticism by Matthew Arnold, Dante, Longinus, Ransom and Jung. I spend my days studying ancient Greek. I spend my days getting a liberal arts education. But these are just names for something else more important to me. I spend my days ordering my perceptions and ideas.

When I was young my imagination sometimes seemed more real than reality. Now that I am older I recognize that my imagination is sometimes more real than the reality I think I see. But there is a reality. There is the world. And we are here in it, now in it. Of course we knew this even as young children and probably before. Yet the renewal of this knowledge over time has given us – each time – fresh new eyes to see with. A liberal arts education is nothing more than this process of recognizing the world as it really is again in a fuller way. The same can be said of the homeschooling way of life because, as Claire writes in her latest piece here, "I am already living in the real world." Homeschooling gives us the opportunity to ground ourselves in good things, in the earth, in our family – in the real world. To "live in the real world" and meet its people, to study ideas, things, history, and creative expression... this is the work that allows us to have the liberating and joyful experiences and insights of life. My philosophy and Greek professor, Mr. Shea, has said pretty much this, and we don’t need his many years of study to recognize that he is right. But we do need his years of contemplation, thought, and study to know that he is right.

The process of learning allows us to begin to say, "I like this!" Or, "that’s not true." Today I can say, "poetry is important," and say it with surety and knowledge and experience. A month ago I couldn’t have said it in the same way. From such basic facts we can begin to evaluate our own life – say, "I want to live this way and not that way."

And from this we are free to "consider where we possess our home," how we are meant to live and what we are meant to do. We are free to begin answering the question of where home is; we are free to form a picture of home in our imaginations. And then, like Odysseus or Moses or our parents, we can put our energy into the things that make us happy and well and "think how we may come thither" to our home.




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