Ignorance is Bliss, until…

September 30, 2007

by Tammy Drennan

I’m thinking today about all the ways that institutional schooling, the state form in particular, destroys the potential of the human brain.

One of my favorite things about homeschooling my boys (they’re grown now) was the time they got to follow through on a topic. There were no bells, no tests creating deadlines, no guidelines that limited what they should know about a topic, no one saying stop here. There were some basic requirements that I considered foundational to a decent education – math up through pre-algebra, good reading skills, and lists of books I considered worth their while, a familiarity with geography in its various forms, though how each of these skills was covered was negotiable.

When my youngest was 11, I let him (at his request) take the year off from doing math so he could pursue to his heart’s delight his interest in the Civil War. He spent the year creating elaborate reenactments both inside and out, from strategy meetings to battles. He wrote and produced a very good little Civil War magazine that included articles, poetry and fiction that he wrote, a movie review by his older brother, clip art, and more. He read and read and read. And he produced an excellent and very moving one-man skit that he performed at a history event. (He also went on in later years to tutor other students in algebra.)

I could share other stories, too, about my own boys and many other homeschooled children I’ve known. But the point is that these young people learned to go the distance when it came to understanding a subject, not only because they were encouraged to do so, but because they were allowed the time to do so.

Good education takes unfragmented, uninterrupted, uninstructed, untested, unregulated time. Lots of it. Not the block schedule kind, but the real life kind. The kind you’d put into a personal interest or a passionate hobby.

It takes access to substantial and meaningful books and experiences. Not textbooks, not the internet, not Wikipedia, not newspapers and magazines, but real stuff written by smart people who researched and thought and researched and thought some more. Not career day speakers but people out in the real workplace and world.

Almost everything that contributes to an education that’s meaningful to life and liberty happens not in school but in other places and under other circumstances – places and circumstances that allow a person to devote the necessary time to understand a thing at its roots, instead of at its test-level.

The sad thing is that so many people never know it. They think they got a good education because they got good grades or because they graduated from college. They think they know and understand so many things that they don’t.

Ignorance is bliss… until you lose your liberty over it.