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My brain said ‘no’

One of the benefits of homeschooling is that it is generally unnecessary to hold to a rigid schedule. In other words, I let my kids sleep until they are no longer tired. Even my own two children have different schedules–the older one wakes up first, almost at the same time every day–the younger one can often sleep to an hour that others might find ridiculous. We don’t have the option of “sleeping in” every day, but when we do, I let them.

This morning, my eldest stumbled into my office about thirty minutes past his normal “wake time.” He looked at me sleepily, and said “My alarm went off at 8:30, but my brain said ‘No’ so I went back to sleep.”

The great mass of the world is on a schedule–school, work, errands. Everything has a time and place assigned to it. It must start and stop at an appointed hour. But must it? How did we arrive here? Why is this the way?

Some of the most creative and productive people do not do anything during “regular hours.” As adults, they are given the freedom to figure out what to do and when. As young people, often these adults did not perform well in a hyper-structured environment (think Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates). We don’t allow children that same luxury because for a school system to function there must be a set start and stop time. Now, “after school” time is spent bent over homework or rushing to and from activities, only to come home, eat, bathe, and go to bed before 9pm so you can start it all over again the next day. A hamster wheel comes to mind when I think of it, as does a factory. In fact, factories are why we operate this way.
At the time of the Industrial Revolution, what America needed most were factory workers. Workers who could show up on time and respond to bells (like school bells). Workers needed to be “schooled” quickly and assimilated into a work force, necessitating the implementation of schedules. Schedules are posted in factories, aren’t they?

Now you might ask if I have something against factory workers. Not in the least. But you may have noticed that (for various reasons) this country is fresh out of factory jobs. Nonetheless, we have an approach to education that came into the mainstream as a response to the Industrial Revolution.

We have children coming out of high school and matriculating through higher education, wracking up piles of debt, that may never find work to fully compensate the time, effort and expense laid out in the process. That may not mean that a college education is a waste of time, but it should raise questions about what you get for it.

The future does not have to be bleak. I have great hope for the future because I see what is possible when we allow ourselves to think outside of a pre-constructed box. On the same day that my oldest child “listened to his brain” and got an extra thirty minutes sleep, he decided to take apart a complex toy and reassemble it, “to see how it worked.” No factory training needed. The parts are all over my dining room table and it’s 9:21pm.

He’s so engaged, I don’t think he’ll be going to bed any time soon. One thing I know about him is that once he sets his mind to something he does it, and he doesn’t give up until he’s learned what he wants to know. All I have to do is give him the space (and late nights). Thankfully, we’ve chosen a life that allows it. And if his brain says “No” tomorrow, he can listen.

Photo by Ted Hood. Children in Surry Hills, Woolloomooloo, Redfern, Sydney, Australia. 1949.

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