Home Schooling Isn't Easy

Harold Goldstein

There's a lot of schooling going on at home these days, much of it among ultra-conservative families deeply suspicious of the content and methods of education as practiced in public and private schools. It is anyone's right to make sure that his children are properly educated, and, with appropriate safeguards, I say, go ahead and God bless you.

When I was growing up parents were glad to leave this chore to the professionals, partly because they themselves weren't quite sure of the difference between a gerund and a circumference. But there was one subject that, although recognizing their own limitations of both knowledge and courage, parents preferred home instruction to leaving it to the schools. The subject was human reproduction, which was so tied up with both religious belief and taboos that each family wanted to do it their way. In more recent years sex education has been tried by the schools, usually as part of courses like hygiene or health. But in my day it was a job for the family.

Each family had its own approach--which was the idea in the first place. I remember my own intellectual initiation into this arcane subject. I must have been six or seven, and some incident must have precipitated the decision by the family council, Mom and Dad, to start it. Maybe I had asked where my little brother came from (I was five when he was born), or maybe I had been curious about girls. I have the sense that in those days parents waited anxiously for the terrible moment when they were required to tell a child the dreadful news.

At any rate, one Sunday my father said he'd like me to come on a walk with him. We walked out away from the built-up neighborhood where we lived, and into an area of empty lots, where weeds like Queen Anne's lace, ragweed, and many flowering plants grew profusely. Dad called my attention to them, and began to explain how they reproduced, and the functions of pistils and stamen and pollen. It was all interesting, although I wondered what had brought this up. At the end of our walk he told me that on our next walk he would explain how the birds and the bees went about it. I dutifully nodded, even though I still had no idea why I needed to know this stuff.

It turned out that something came up and we never had that next walk, so my formal sex education extended only so far as what to do with a pistil and a stamen, neither of which I possessed. Luckily, I had opportunities to get sex education at the best place for it, from the kids on the street, and when I acquired a fair amount of sophistication in this way I realized what my Dad had been leading up to. It left me with a feeling that somehow the flowers were up to no good with their stamens and their pistils, and it was all just a little bit off-color, and not the kind of thing that should be done in the open air and in daytime out there in the fields--in other words, my sex education on the streets left me with a healthy and wholesome attitude on the subject.

So I grew up, and got married, and we had two daughters, and they grew up and the time came when my wife and I decided the time had come. Somehow, my wife being the smarter one, I ended up with the job. I want to say that we--and American society--were more advanced than my parents had been a generation earlier. Taboos had been done away with, frankness in sexual matters was the norm. All you had to do was tell it like it is.

So, starting with our older daughter, I told it like it is, complete with anatomical diagrams, and I mean about people--no wasting time with birds, bees or even mammals, and certainly not flowers.. I was proud of my progressive, liberal, frank approach to what my parents had been horrified to touch. There was just one thing I left out, one thing I found myself unable to deal with, and that was the fact that there is pleasure involved in the reproductive process. Much as I struggled with myself, I couldn't bring myself to let the child in on that secret. In the end, I said to myself, let her find that out from the kids on the street. They'll know how to say it.

As I watch the home schooling movement, wishing them good luck, I wonder how they will handle the subject of human reproduction. They will do it each in his own way, of course, and of course much better than some "liberal" teacher would do it. But, whatever they do, I am reassured by the certain knowledge that their children will afterward go out into the streets, meet other kids, and really learn the awesome facts of life.