I grew up in the deep woods of east Texas among towering pine trees, rolling hills, meandering creeks and neighboring pastures. I roamed adult-free and found secret, sacred places; favorite trees just right for climbing and reading; deep creeks with logs to cross, massive vines for swinging, and stock ponds to skip stones. The only technology we had was a land line which we shared with everyone on the long, red dirt road. Lest you think I grew up during the Waltons time period, this was only in the 70s. When the phone rang, everyone answered it and listened simultaneously to see who was being called. If it wasn’t for you, you quietly hung up. If you felt mischievous, you listened for a bit, then realized how boring the grown-ups were and hung up.
Our news came by way of a radio which we could tune in to Shreveport, La, about 100 miles away. It also came via The Wall Street Journal which, as a CPA, Dad read religioulsy, although it was always several days late. Eager for news about the rest the world, I read The Wall Street Journal from cover to cover. (Ironically, TWSJ was my first employer after graduating from college.) The other publication I read hungrily was National Geographic which we still receive. It was how I learned about the world. I saved the maps and grew “curiouser and curiouser” about cultures around the world. In a way, these were my first “homeschool” materials.
So a generation later when I moved from Austin back to the woods, I thought my kids would experience the country much the way I did. They are avid readers but they’re more inclined to read hanging in their indoor hammocks than leaning against a tree. Although they love hiking and swinging from vines, they are more apt to wait for a grown-up than to take off on their own. We don’t have cows to milk, horses to ride, pigs to take slop, chickens to feed scraps, a worm bed to tend and endless hoeing, shucking, snapping, weeding and canning to do. There is less that pulls them outside.
And there is more that keeps them inside. Two years ago, we brought the first tv ever into the log cabin. (Had to get that one approved by extended family members!) Then the boys saved up their money for a Wii. I still kept technology at bay by allocating screen time to the weekend. Then we discovered Netflix. Since I grew up without a television, I have always felt a little out of the loop. I don’t want my guys to miss out on so many cultural references, so we are catching up. Does this count as education?
If not, the fabulous documentaries from BBC, Novo, History Channel and others do count. It seems strange to be using the screen for education but I can’t deny it’s usefulness. We are transitioning from nothing but workbooks and worksheets to awesome educational movies that promote a dialogue in a way that a textbook cannot. Unless we cut down acres of trees for satellite access or AT&T moves to our neck of the woods, we still can’t stream news or YouTube videos but we keep a very active Netflix queue.
Ten years ago, when we began our educational journey with our oldest son, we were living in Mexico and enrolled him in a Waldorf school, eschewing technology. Today, we are knee-deep in DVDs, Rosetta Stone, Khan Academy, Typing Instructor and more.
When I was a child, you could probably have blindfolded me, turned me ’round and ’round, and I could’ve found my way home in the dark. I can easily imagine taking a “reading” with my senses and quickly navigate the forest – which is a superb, sensory-developing, confidence-building skill. True, my guys may not be able to find their way back in the dark (yet) and they may not understand the different grunts of pigs, cows and horses but they are certainly not nature deprived. They are still young. For now, we are, in their words “The Waltons Meets The Jetsons” with a cross-point that is constantly changing. One day we are more Waltons; another day we are more Jetsons. Yes we are back in the woods – and I am learning to embrace technology. It’s all good.