“A safe fairy-land is untrue to all worlds” -J.R.R. Tolkien
Mention homeschooling in conversation and you will inevitably get a variety of responses ranging from general suspicion to out right silence behind a look which reads, “Get me away from these crazy people as soon as possible.” One of the consistent criticisms aimed at the homeschooling community is that they are sheltering their children and raising them to be socially inept. “You aren’t preparing them for the real world,” the argument will most likely turn to. Upfront I think it is important to recognize that this really means that homeschooling parents aren’t preparing their children for a certain version of the real world. And to this I say a hearty, “Amen!” Not only do I have no interest in ‘educating’ my children to be assimilated into a certain version of the real world, I am actively and intentionally educating my children to adjust their entire being toward a different version of the real world. Through their imaginations, their intellect and their loves I am offering a rival story in which they are characters, which will in the end form them to be (i.e. have their being) a certain way in the world throughout their lives. That is of course what all education is doing whether we recognize it or not.
With this in mind I think it is important to ask ourselves if we really are adjusting our children’s being to what is real in the education we are providing at home. I think that if we have chosen the path of homeschooling primarily to keep them safe from “the darkness out there” then we are motivated out of fear. I would caution us to recognize that this is not a healthy fear but one that will undermine the very adjustment to what is real that you are attempting to cultivate their hearts and minds in. True education does not dismiss the darkness it deals with it.
It is a constant hang-up for parents when they encounter what Tolkien called “The presence of the terrible,” in literature. But Chesterton was right:
Fairy tales, then, are not responsible
for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear;
fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly;
that is in the child already, because it is in the world already.
Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey.
What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea
of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known
the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination.
What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to
kill the dragon.
Part of what we must do in adjusting our children to reality is deal with the dark because it is a part of what is real and it is a part of our children already. It’s already in their imaginations. Every child knows that a nightlight will make the hours of darkness just the right amount of bearable to finally close their eyes in sleep. Every kid knows that when their light switch is too far away from their bed they must run and jump several feet before the edge of their bed to land in safety from whatever lies in the darkness beneath. And every parent knows it does no good to tell them there is nothing there. The monster lives in their imagination because monsters live. And that shouldn’t scare us. Let Tolkien impart some wisdom on us, “On callow, lumpish and selfish youth, peril, sorrow and the shadow of death can bestow dignity and even wisdom.”
I ran across some interesting research having to do with people who had been adjusted during their most formative years in ‘darkness’. Subject to abuse, forced to take drugs, unloved, and uncared for. My father-in-law is a juvenile probations officer. He tells me stories sometimes of the kinds of things his kids have done, but then he is quick to add the kind of life they are subjected to. It is nothing short of living in darkness, which is of course very formative on children and how they come to ‘be’ in the world. Many of these kids will continue to walk in darkness, but some will find a way out. The research suggests that those who do find a way out and come to a more well adjusted life are the ones who are able to make sense out of their dark experience within the context of a larger story. In other words they were given a story (a certain version of reality) that allows them to deal with the dark.
I fear that in our attempts to keep our children safe we will not adequately deal with the dark. They know, as Tolkien has said, “A safe fairy-land is untrue to all worlds.”