A writer encounters a group of kids climbing trees, wading in streams, and using maps to find a trail in a state park. Where are their parents? They’re practicing “masterly inactivity,” a concept Naomi Schaefer Riley explores in her new book, Be the Parent, Please: Stop Banning Seesaws and Start Banning SnapChat.
How do kids become confident with a map and compass? How do they learn attentiveness to the natural world? How do they learn to take appropriate risks in exploration and learning? Riley witnesses all of these things happening under the “masterly inactivity” of parents of the Charlotte Mason Academy. Co-founder Amy Snell says that parents “are the authority, and you set up boundaries, and then you are inactive and let kids have freedom.”
Most academy students are homeschooled, but gather once or twice a week to learn subjects their parents might not have the knowledge or the resources to teach them. “As our kids get older and prepare themselves for life outside of our home,” Riley writes, “we want the circle of [parental] neglect to expand gradually.”
Giving kids freedom to explore their environment was a common observation for Dr. Jeffrey Dill, lead researcher of the homeschool sector for the School Cultures and Student Formation project of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. He observes, “Any healthy ecology includes a rich biodiversity: different plants, animal species, and microorganisms that together create a vibrant ecosystem. Our homeschoolers seemed to intuitively understand the analogy between a healthy biological ecosystem and a moral or social ecology and that analogy’s implications for the education and formation of children. Their choices to homeschool, in many ways, reflected a careful attention to the moral ecology in which they believed their children would thrive.”
The families of the Charlotte Mason Academy seem to fit this characterization. They have deliberately set boundaries in ways that require curiosity, responsibility, and an intrepid spirit. Riley asked how her own children could become responsible young adults. Much of the answer comes down to the “moral ecology” that parents craft for their children.
Dr. Dill’s homeschool research appears in The Content of Their Character, which highlights the dynamics of character formation in 10 sectors of American high school education—including home schools. CultureFeed offers an exclusive preorder discount.