Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Tour Through Liberty

Dear friends,
My sister was just remembering this photo after her family took a trip to NYC to celebrate the 30th birthday of our sweet sister-in-law, Dana Quarrier. My Aunt Camille kindly sent this to us. It was taken on September 6, 2000 at the Statue of Liberty, and yes, those are the twin towers of the World Trade Center in the background.
(From left to right: Virginia, Micah in the stroller, Mary with Lydia in front of her, Joanna, Barb with her baby Amy, my niece Carrie, my nephew Doug, Rachel, Julia, and my brother John with Andrew on his lap. All of the children are mine, except where noted. I was also pregnant with Naomi at the time.)
After we came home from our Liberty Tour, I wrote an article about it for the Hope Chest, the home school e-magazine that I still publish. I was trying to draw some parallels from American history to the modern home education movement. Here is the article:
The children and I had a golden opportunity this past month to go “up north” and visit my family. My sister Barb, who is the adventurous type, suggested that we go on a mega American history field trip for three days. This takes quite some doing when you are traveling in three cars with 10 children, two moms and a grandma!

The first day found us in Valley Forge, where George Washington wintered with the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, and where we misplaced a daughter for about 45 minutes (long story, Mom’s fault). When we toured Washington’s headquarters there, the guide inquired why our children were not in school. My reply? They are! School takes place wherever we happen to be learning at the moment! What freedom! At the Episcopal chapel at Valley Forge, things took on a personal note. The names of two of our ancestors (Captain Samuel Ransom and Captain Alexander Quarrier) are inscribed on the list of patriot heroes on the bell tower wall, and our girls took turns making crayon rubbings.

After spending the night with my brother in New Jersey, we headed out to the Statue of Liberty in New York City. Two other home school families met us there, so our clan swelled to 16 children, four moms, one grandma and an uncle. The ferry from the Jersey side took us first to Ellis Island, where immigrants were processed for entry into the USA in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Here we made more rubbings from a wall, this time of the names of great-great uncles and aunts who came from Italy (Thad’s side of the family) and Germany (my side). It was after 2 o’clock when we got to the Statue of Liberty, so none of us got to climb the stairs to the crown. While the rest of our party went up to the pedestal (still quite a view from there), Grandma and I stayed at the bottom with the three little ones and browsed through the museum.

The next morning (my 37th birthday) I woke up with morning sickness and a bad headache, but a few hours later we were able to drive back to Pennsylvania to see historic Philadelphia: the Liberty Bell in its glass pavilion, Independence Hall, the Betsy Ross House and more. Though we’d had lots of fun and learning, you can imagine that my patience level hit rock bottom by the time we got back to Grandma’s house near Washington D.C. that night!

Yep, that was quite some field trip all right! Lest I forget, my refrigerator door is now plastered with souvenir magnets, and miracles of miracles, the photos are already in an album. But I digress. I would like to share some historical background as well as a few things related to the home education movement that struck me as we visited these hallowed grounds.

The Liberty Bell, made in England, arrived in Philadelphia in 1753. Hung in the State House (now known as Independence Hall), it was often rung to herald important town meetings, toll the deaths of dignitaries and more. Inscribed with a verse from Leviticus, “Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof”, it was testimony to the desire of the British colonists to lead lives of liberty in a land where justice reigned supreme. Unfortunately, over the next two decades, it became increasingly obvious that the royal and parliamentary rulers across the Atlantic were more interested in their own fortunes than in fair governance. They would not listen to the repeated pleas of the colonists for representation in the decisions that affected them. As unrest grew, freedom-minded folks knew that soon the Liberty Bell would ring for another reason! I think of how long modern parents and other concerned citizens have been laboring like the petitioning colonists, this time fighting to regain religious liberties and promote academic excellence within the public school system. I commend them. But I also commend those who have decided they cannot subject their own children to secular mediocrity when it looks like effective reforms will never happen. Their conviction is that the time for independence is now, thus they choose to educate their children privately or at home.

At Independence Hall in the summer of 1776, a group of courageous patriots pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to declare independence for the American colonies. Toiling in secrecy in tightly sealed rooms (no air conditioning for the sweltering heat) they composed the document which became the birth announcement of a new nation. They knew that the penalty for such political treason was death by hanging, but they willingly made the sacrifice. Since they had not much to gain for themselves, and everything to lose, they were truly doing this for the generations to come. We in the 21st century take for granted the notion of a democratic republic, but back then it was a rather alien concept, virtually untried. Now think about our home school forebears in just the last few decades who risked ridicule, truancy charges, court cases, imprisonment and even the removal of their children in a time when the alien concept of home schooling was not considered a “viable educational option.” What’s this? You think you can teach your OWN children at HOME? (Actually, harking back to colonial days, home schooling was quite the norm!) These brave dads and moms sacrificed their lives (time), their fortune (money) and their sacred honor (reputation in the community) so that not only they, but WE, years later, could have the FREEDOM to educate our children according to our convictions. (Yes, I know there are still legal battles going on, but comparatively few now compared to back then.) I remember when I was in college and had never even really heard about home schooling, weeping in prayer over accounts of seven brave fathers in Nebraska who went to jail over the right to privately educate their children at an unaccredited parent-controlled Christian school. I don’t know how that particular case ever turned out, but I do know that we in our day stand tall on the backs of willing-to-be-martyrs such as these. God bless them!

Let’s turn our attention to Valley Forge as a symbol of the dedication to a noble cause. It’s one thing to declare liberty, but quite another to fight for it, year after year, through deprivation and discouragement, until it is fully attained and peace comes at last. When I think of the sacrifices that these men and their families made to bring independence to fruition for the newborn United States, I am profoundly grateful. If you’ve read your history books, you know that certain leaders in the fledgling government, far removed from the battlefield, were at first unwilling to make practical provision -- food, clothing, supplies -- for their brave soldiers. Is it any wonder that so many men either deserted the army or simply went home when their minimum time commitment was up? But it is a great wonder that so many stayed and gave their all for liberty. Let’s say you have decided to declare your independence from government schooling by keeping (or bringing) your children home for their education. That’s just the start. Now you have to pay dearly for it! Now you have to put in the time for lesson planning and teaching. Now you have to shell out your hard earned cash for books and supplies and activity fees. Now you may have to face unsupportive relatives and neighbors. You might feel like you are gutting it out all alone, but your convictions keep you pressing on. You know that even though no one is pointing a gun at your head, you are in serious spiritual warfare for the hearts and minds of your precious children. Forge on, even in the valley!

Onward through history! The Statue of Liberty was a centennial (100th) birthday present from the people of France, who had been our loyal allies (remember the Marquis de Lafayette?) in the war, and who admired and sought to emulate our form of representative government. It’s nice to have cheerleaders and fans! After you’ve been home schooling for a while, those looking on might start to say things like, “Your children seem to be learning a lot at home!” They clip out newspaper articles for you, bring over interesting books for your students, or volunteer to take them to the symphony. They might even start home schooling their own children! We are a witness to the world. If we are successful in our endeavors, they will want what we have.

I think next of the immigrants who stepped out of dark, musty steerage compartments onto solid ground at Ellis Island after weeks and months at sea. These men, women and children came to our shores with a sense of adventure, ready to embark on a whole new life with opportunities not available to them where they had come from. They didn’t have lots of resources to start with, perhaps just the clothes on their back, but they were willing to work hard, to learn a new language, to adopt new cultural customs. If they were lucky, they had friends or family already in the New World to help them get adjusted. When you started home schooling, did it seem like you had entered a foreign land? You had to learn the educational jargon, you had to adjust your lifestyle (maybe you gave up mom’s income) and rearrange your house. You had to face confusing curriculum choices. And you had to find your place in the home school counterculture, which has its own values and philosophies. If you were lucky, you had a mentor to hold your hand and give you advice as you got started. But you still had to learn to stand on your own two feet, and to make the decisions that only you can make for your family. But now this new land is YOUR land! Are you glad you came?

Well, this has been a rather painless romp through American history for us, sitting in our comfortable homes in front of truly technological wonders, our desktop computers. I only ask that we remember with gratitude all that has been done on our behalf, by both patriots and home schoolers. But freedom gained once is not freedom guaranteed forever. Political maneuvering can drastically change the course of a nation in just one election, or even between elections. I beseech you, that as we look ahead to the future months and years, that we will remain vigilant to preserve and even further reclaim our freedoms, our right to educate our own children in a spirit of liberty and excellence.
And that last sentence, my friends, is more true than ever!
P.S. After I wrote this post, my second cousin Margaret, a home school mom in North Carolina, sent me this link to a case in which a judge in a divorce case ordered three home schooled children back to public school despite the fact that they are performing above grade level: http://www.wral.com/news/local/story/4727161/
For liberty!

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