Dr. Gordon Neufeld, a foremost child developmental and clinical psychologist from Canada, made this statement during a talk he gave on Why Home Education Works…
“It’s not ever home educators that have to justify what they do, it is those who send their children to school that have to justify what they do.”
The theory he put forth was really quite amazing as he articulated the reasons why home education makes sense. He isn’t even an advocate of homeschooling. He is an advocate of child development. However, he very clearly stated that homeschooling provides the optimum environment for a child to mature in to a healthy and whole person who can achieve his fullest potential. Years of research and study show that a child was designed to be raised and educated at home because the most important element in a child’s development towards maturity is his attachment to those who are responsible for him (aka parents).
A study was done on 19,000 adolescents in the United States and the single most important factor in keeping them emotionally healthy was a strong attachment to a pairing adult.
He says, “The great advantage of home education is not that children are being educated at home but rather that they are at home with those who are educating them and that their attachments to their parents are more likely to be fully developed and safeguarded, enabling the child-parent relationship to serve as a shield against wounding and as a womb of true maturation.”
If a child’s attachment to his parents is developed and safeguarded, then the fruit of his development will be maturity. The fruit of maturation looks something like this:
A viable being who emerges as one who is
– Separate in his identity
– Full of vitality (not easily bored)
– Has a sense of agency and responsibility
– Is full of interests and curiosity
– Has a venturing forth energy
– Has a relationship with self
– Has a strong quest for independence
A resilient being, adaptive to stress and able to respond to it positively by
– Being resilient and resourceful
– Recovering from trauma
– Benefitting from adversity
– Learning from consequences
A social being, able to do ‘togetherness’ without losing his integrity or sense of self, able to integrate by
– Being well tempered
– Being considerate and civilized
– Being balanced
– Appreciating context
– Seeing perspective
– Having egalitarian values
He explains that at home, there are certain conditions present that foster maturation. At home, children have continuity of contact with their parents, preserving a deep attachment to them. In schools, children are not able to develop the same level of attachment to their teacher. They move from one teacher to another each year or have different teachers for each subject. There is no continuity of contact. Furthermore, schools separate children from parents and foster competing attachments with peers. Children will attach themselves to someone. If it isn’t the parents, the next best option for them is peers.
At home, parents take on the responsibility of pursuing their child relationally. This gives a child rest from the work of attachment. He doesn’t have to strive for the attention or affections of his parent. Only in a state of rest can there be growth. Neufeld explains that “our responsibility is to do the work of attachment, so our children can rest. All growth eminates from a place of rest. Emotional growth happens from the resting state. Unless an adult provides more than what a child is looking for, a child cannot grow. When we make children work for love or affection, they do not grow or mature.” Unfortunately, in school, children cannot rest. Their insecurities are exploited. Grades become more important than relationships. A child develops an addictive attachment to marks, grades and rewards.
Play is also a key condition for maturation. It is the home that provides the room and space for true play. Children can engage in self-initiated activity without the pressure of outcomes. In contrast, most endeavors to encourage play in school are still outcome-based and therefore, it isn’t true play.
When at home, a child faces less separation and experiences less wounding (ideally) so his heart stays soft and pliable. In school, there is much wounding that occurs, especially among peers. And when a child is continually separated from his parents, it triggers a flight from vulnerability and child develops a hardness of heart.
Unlike school, there is support for the maturity processes at home. Parents are better able and equipped to handle the stages a child goes through, the questions, and the struggles.
Neufeld uses the analogy of a plant to explain the importance of the attachment that children have to their parents. “What we don’t see is the most important part of the plant. It’s just like humans. It’s not what we see. It’s what we don’t see – the roots of attachment, the bonds, the connections.” If we did see these roots we could understand that children naturally seek those whom they are attached to. They want to be like those they are attached to. They want to be a part of and take the side of those they are attached to. They want to feel important and special to those they are attached to. They will give their heart to those they are attached to. And they want to be known by and reveal their secrets to the ones they are attached to. These roots are the womb of maturation.
I was moved when Neufeld asked the question, “When did your child fall in love with you? When did your child give you his heart? We were never meant to deal with children whose hearts we did not have. If you do not have the heart of a child, you will not have the context in which to bring them to their full potential. If you don’t have their hearts, you will not have their minds.”
The problem with school is that it can sabotage the conditions required for maturation by increasing the separation a child faces and fostering peer orientation. Since attachment is the most important thing for a child, nothing should break that continuity. We have to assure our children often, “Nothing will separate you from my love…not your attitude, not your behavior. I love you no matter what.”
If a child faces separation the dangers are Pursuit (fixes and fixations, clinging and clutching, hoarding and collecting) –> Alarm (anxiety problems, agitation and attention problems, adrenaline-seeking behaviors) –> Frustration (aggression, violence, and suicide problems) –> Defense-reattaching (peer orientation, routines and rituals, belongings and possessions, fantasy attachments) –> Defense Dominance (alpha problems, counter-will problems, bullying) –> Flight from vulnerability (emotional numbness, defensive blindness, defensive detachment)
How do we reduce these problems? We must reduce the separation between parents and children. Homeschooling is the antidote.
PLEASE NOTE: These are not my ideas. All credit goes to Dr. Gordon Neufeld for this information.
But now, my own thoughts…
I would like to write a quick reflection that takes off from Neufeld’s conclusion that the most important determinant of maturity in human beings is their ATTACHMENT to the adults responsible for them. I do believe that parents are key to a child’s healthy development. However, I would like to add that we are also spiritual beings. Therefore, we must not only foster an attachment between ourselves and our children, but attach our children to the Lord. We cannot let our children remain dependent on us, as parents. While the attachment may begin with us, at home, the attachment must transfer to the Lord. Otherwise, our children cannot realize their fullest potential. After all, their fullest potential must be considered in light of the Creator and his purposes.
I’m not disagreeing with Dr. Neufeld. His science is sound. But we are talking of something more than emotional and physical maturity. There is such a thing as spiritual maturity. And spiritual maturity comes from our attachment, our relationship to God.