- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 12, 2004

People arrive at the decision to home-school through many differing routes. Michelle Wilbert, who is a midwife, writer and mother of four (soon to be five), decided to home-school her children before she had even met her husband.

As a college student in northern Michigan, she became interested in the self-sufficiency and economic independence ideals of the back-to-the-land movement, described in the book “Spiritual Midwifery” by Ina May and Stephen Gaskin, of The Farm, an intentional community in Tennessee.

She decided to become a home birth midwife and to live her life with a global consciousness about food production and health care. While still single, she read the books of John Holt, and felt that when and if she had children, she would educate them at home.

Many years later, she met Benjamin Wilbert who had also decided to home-school future children, and they married and began their family.

Mrs. Wilbert says that for them, “home-schooling started when the children were born by simply living life as a family and showing them the world. We never had an ‘age’ graded kind of thing. We gave them whatever was needed at the time, in terms of materials or information. We’ve done very little actual ‘teaching’ in the sense of initiating topics or insisting on a particular set of objectives because it usually doesn’t work very well unless the child is interested or invested. We make few distinctions between ‘school’ and ‘life.’

“We use everything around us as curriculum and we’re pretty unstructured about it. We’ve had early readers, age 4, completely self-taught and ‘late,’ at age 9 and also fairly spontaneous. Each of our children, now aged 16, 13, 10 and 3, have different ways of learning and have all found their own way to reading, writing, math, science, and multitudes of other things I never even thought about.”

While the family uses standard textbooks for certain subjects, such as English grammar and math, Mrs. Wilbert says “We have a house full of literally hundreds of books on every subject so, they have a lot of resources. Also, they make good use of libraries, used bookstores, other people who are knowledgeable in their fields and the community as a whole to find out what they need to know.

“I think that virtually every child is born with insatiable curiosity and the ability to make sense of their environment, to create and to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to make a meaningful life and to contribute to the public good,” she says.

“Kids who stay rooted with the family, community and all the educational experiences that represents, retain that curiosity and eagerness,” Mrs. Wilbert says. “It seems that public school children are often burned out and bored by the time they get to first or second grade.”

Rather than discourage social interaction, home-schooling develops it, she says.

“Most of the home-schooling families I’ve seen have children who are out in the community taking lessons, doing volunteer work, meeting with book groups and special interest clubs and organizations and generally, being very involved with people of diverse ages, interests and cultures,” Mrs. Wilbert says.

She compares this to “30 kids, all the same age and socioeconomic group, stuck in a room all day with one adult with a single perspective and orientation,” which hardly exposes them to the “real world.”

“I’ve noticed that home-schooled children are more direct,” Mrs. Wilbert says. “They make eye contact and seem at ease with both adults and children, and are invariably described as mature, rounded, interesting and helpful. … Home-schooled kids are freer, I think, to develop an independent mind-set and to make choices reflective of their real interests and passions, rather than what is currently popular.”

Mrs. Wilbert says the real strength of home education is that “by its nature, it keeps families working together toward a common lifestyle goal and purpose. That can only be a good thing.”

What I love about the home-schooling population is that it reflects the diversity of our nation, in ethnicity, viewpoints and economic circumstances, yet it is rooted in a commitment to family and to developing mature and contributing human beings.

People of every faith group, political sphere and region are making learning a part of their family culture, and that is producing better children and better communities.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a free-lance writer living in Maryland.

More info:

• Michelle Wilbert’s book, “Close to the Root: Simple, Sustainable and Earthy Alternatives for Family and Community Life” is a book of interviews and essays on midwifery, home-schooling, hospice, disabilities and other issues, scheduled for publication in early 2005. Contact Mrs. Wilbert at MLEwilbert@aol.com for more information.

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