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The Hoosier Homeschooler


what can libraries do for homeschoolers?

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Hoosier Homeschooler #1.000 | September, 2007

The days of Marian the Librarian are long gone. Today, it seems we have two kinds of libraries... and librarians:

1. Either we have public libraries that are vibrant, busy, focal points of their community, where there are usually more children than adults milling about, working on a variety of independent and corporate activities; librarians on the prowl for parents needing help with book selections, reading lists and project ideas. Or...

2. ...not so much.

Good libraries aren't what they used to be. Today, the good ones are more like Learning Centers. More often than not, well used (meaning successful) libraries exist because of the willingness of the people who run them, to be flexible and creative about how patrons use them.

One more sign of a successful library? The staff of a good library loves working with homeschoolers. And like any enterprise that wants to grow, libraries want to find new ways of serving their customers.

Because I am a home based educator -- homeschooler, but the kids just call me Dad -- I was recently asked for my opinion on what homeschoolers might desire from their libraries. Something "inexpensive/easy" that the libraries could do for its unconventional, yet loyal patrons.

It was a tough question, actually. After all, I'm a publicly schooled person suddenly confronted with a pop quiz, and I totally skipped the lecture! No notes! I'm flying solo here. What if I fail?

Then I realized... this is real life we're talking about, not school. In spite of the talk about how public schools are supposed to socialize children and get them ready for the real world, nothing schools teach today is remotely close to what Americans call, Real Life. Ahah! An answer is brewing.

For most people, libraries and public schools have always been linked. Maybe because they're both publicly funded and books are involved; I don't know. But they shouldn't be associated. For one, libraries don't require mandatory attendance. And for two, libraries are really about voluntary, free range, self education.

In my experience, schools are more about attendance first. Schools don't educate children so much as they socially engineer them. The education part seems optional these days. You are required by law to attend a school, but you aren't required to learn. Since the agenda is more social than academic, schools have become micro societies, working under the pretext of schooling.

Libraries, on the other hand, are perfect, Real Life focal points for everyone else NOT in school. And when the school bound DO visit their library, they aren't much interested in reading or studying or doing anything important. And who could blame them? They've been getting socialized all day at public school.

Libraries and Public Schools are mutually exclusive. Why am I telling you this in an essay about libraries? Because everything I've ever learned in my Real Life has been outside of public school, on my own or in my local library! My philosophical point of view magically turns the concept of musty, stale libraries into "Real Life Learning Centers."

So part of my suggestion to libraries is this: Whatever you decide to do to reach the homeschooling community, don't become schools.

Anyway: This point of view was gained (learned) not from schooling or by being taught, but by reading. I assigned myself the task of reading from a dictionary. Dictionaries are big books full of words, found in most libraries. And now I have the answer to the pop quiz!

Q: What is an inexpensive and easy thing libraries can do to better serve the homeschooling community?

A: Library boards should all check out -- and read -- books about and by Plato (including The Republic). Read Socrates too. These classics will no doubt affect the board's philosophies on education, learning, government, politics and ethics. The result: great new ideas for serving the entire community. Maybe you'd rather have a three point plan with a budget, but you'd be missing the point.

Socrates invented the Socratic Method of teaching -- involving questions and answers as opposed to lecture -- handily named after himself. Most homeschooling families teach and learn this way even though they were never taught this pedagogy by any public school. Libraries that adopt Socratic methods and incorporate his ideas into how they operate, will find they will quickly become natural magnets, attracting the iron ore called independent learners. Independent learner is code for homeschooler.

Alas, I feel I still may have failed this pop quiz. The question asked for inexpensive AND easy. This "Change Your Philosophy" thing is certainly cheap, but it is not easy. It will involve not only a lot of reading, but also the changing of minds from the top to the bottom of the bureaucratic food chain. Minds hardest to change will be the ones that are made up.

"This-and-such is what a library is and what it does! We're not schools," Mr. Bigwig will say.

That second part is right. And a good thing too. All the more reason to do something different. Think different, to quote the famous Apple Computer commercial.

So think different. Adapt. If you want to better serve a clientele that acts like Socrates, you'll need to read some old books and start thinking like Socrates. I hear philosophy can do that kind of thing to a person, a community, a nation. Even a library.

The beauty of this idea is, by simply changing one's philosophy about how one does things, options become limitless. Suddenly you go from a hand full of weak suggestions for a little program here, a special workshop there, a contest or special book purchase over there, to an entire new way of thinking, a new way of operating, greater reasons for being. Homeschoolers will tell you what they want. And because of your new outlook on learning, you'll more likely say yes!

Would Socrates want to come and hang out at YOUR library? If he wanted to teach a class, would you let him? Thinking big was what Socrates, then Plato, then Aristotle were all about. Libraries need to start realizing their potential as the future free range, free market knowledge centers for independent learners of all ages. When parents decide to homeschool, where else in the community can they go where independent thought, reading, learning, investigation and discourse are common and encouraged? School?

Yeah... right.

What's the price tag on this new program? Zilch! My only concern is that those old books by old dead people might have already been replaced by mile high shelves of new fiction and DVD's. But you'll work that out. After all, you are librarians! Awesome, resourceful people.

Oh, I have one other concern I learned from my reading. It turns out that, well... to quote my dictionary: "When Socrates was an old man, the citizens of Athens condemned him to death, alleging that he denied the reality of the gods and corrupted the youth of Athens."

So, support home education as a lifestyle (like parenting) or a philosophy, not a pedagogy, but watch your back. We'll see you at the library.


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Home education is not a pedagogy, it's parenting.

And as for schools: Schools don't educate children so much as they socially engineer them. The education part seems optional these days. You are required by law to attend a school, but you aren't required to learn. Since the agenda is more social than academic, schools have become micro societies, working under the pretext of schooling.



B. B. Bennett




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