Paths are Made By Walking
by Nancy Friedland
“The way we learn is never as clear as a neat, guided walk through
a California nature preserve. In fact, the idea of a path, getting from
one place to another, is probably an illusion. Mostly there is a process
of unfolding. At the end a spiritual person turns around and sees the design
of her life and calls it a path. There isn't any clear passage.”
–Natalie Goldberg in Thunder and Lightning
What Natalie Goldberg says about the life of a writer is true of parenting and homeschooling as well.
When we begin to homeschool–or even when the more experienced homeschoolers encounter new territory (changing needs, new interests, teen-hood) –we often want some direction, benchmarks, sign posts, anything that will help us feel not so lost or alone.
Each person who steps out on the homeschooling journey is really forging their own path, one that is totally unique to who they are, what their goals are (which may shift over time), and what resources they have or discover along the way. On top of that are the unpredictable surprising events that come up. One's path only becomes clear in hindsight. My map, the road I've traveled, won't really help others find their way.
The search for the perfect manual on “How to Homeschool” can be frustrating to new homeschoolers. Helping new, tentative families as they take their first steps along the homeschooling path can be difficult for experienced homeschoolers. At the start what looks like a proper path is soon obscured by obstacles, wrong turns and dead ends. Those who have gone ahead have left some markings, but they go in many directions, making the “right” way unclear.
Traditional schooling is usually a different matter! There are maps and guideposts galore. There are volumes of standards for every age, broken down into tiny incremental steps, with supervision and examinations every inch of the way to see that you don't step in a different direction. Teachers are there in the lead, to say, “Follow me, look at this, fill out this sheet on what you've seen.” These things offer security and hope to people who want a plan, who want their child's education structured by others, or who believe in the school's system. The structure offers assurance and appears to be a ticket to success in life. For new homeschoolers, duplicating this school structure at home may at first feel like the correct path. But for many homeschoolers it soon takes on the feel of a super-highway and we find ourselves yearning to travel the back roads with their meandering vistas and diverse points of interest.
When my husband and I were traveling around the country many years ago we stopped overnight at a friend's house in Alabama. As we perused the map to decide the next leg of our journey, looking at the various back roads and winding scenic routes, the friend pointed out the big Inter-state that would get us quickly to the next stop. “That's a good road. Those others are bad roads”. It became our running joke for the rest of the trip, labeling the rough and beautiful as “bad” and the quick and boring as “good”. What's good or bad all depends on your perspective, what you want to do along the way, your budget and timeline, how you want to feel when you get there, and the goals of the journey.
My family's homeschooling journey has settled into being a family hike in which the children are usually in the lead. Often they'll step back to walk alongside us, or we'll move up to take their hand, or they'll help each other. Sometimes we parents go ahead to investigate the path further on, scout for dangers or take a side path in search of our own inspiration, but mostly they lead and we follow–and enjoy. Being in the lead spot may mean encountering an occasional rattlesnake or a sudden precipice. But by being in front they also have the joy of discovery, the chance to be first to see what lies ahead in their educational journey. Sometimes we may jump to the main road, the direct route, because that is what serves our needs at the time. We know we can always get back to our beautiful meandering travels when we want.
On our journey we often meet up with others, though they no doubt will have arrived there by a different route. It can be helpful to know that at times we all must travel alone, and at times we will find roads wide enough to allow the company of others, at least for a while.
Once we've stopped and turned to look at our journey we can say, “That was my path. I got here because of that turn, this twist, the detour there.” We don't really know what our path looks like and where it's going until we've gone there.
Coming and going, there's no dividing line.
What you're headed for, someone left behind.
And the shortest road ain't always the best.
Sometime let a back road take you home.
From Kate Wolf, Back Roads
Published in the October, 2000 issue of The California HomeSchooler
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