An essential component of homesteading is simplifying.

When I hear about another Colombine or the latest middle school suicides like those featured last week on Oprah, I think of Eliot Wigginton and his students.

In the book Foxfire 2, still considered one of the mainstays of the modern homesteader, he writes: “This book is dedicated to high school kids like Carlton, Karen, David, Barbara, Stan, and thousands like them across this nation-all searching, all groping, all testing for the touchstone, the piece of serenity, the chunk of sense and place and purpose and humanity they can carry with them into a very confusing time.”

What I might add is, if today, compared to the 1970 copyright of this book, the student has stopped searching, then we’ve really got something to worry about.

It does seem that the systems have stopped searching.  The educational system, the political system, the social system.  In education we have done exactly what Wigginton hoped against, we have become more dependent on structure, on obscure facts and dates, on standardized tests and curriculum guides.  Not only are we going further away from a direct contact with what gives life true meaning, but we are exporting those ideals as a working model, even though it’s very clear the model is not working.

Wigginton goes on, and again, I couldn’t agree more today: “See, mostly this book is about school, and about community, and about people, and about the great adventure life can be when lived intensely.  And about the fact that instead of celebrating with our kids the infinite variety and ingenuity of nature and man, we are still allowing them to be drowned in the Franco-Prussian wars.”

“We have separated (the student) from his world-have made it irrelevant to our tidy curricula-and yet we count on him to know what to do with that same world, and have creative solutions for its problems, when our time with him is done.  Amazing.”

We continue, in effect, to choose the complicated over the simple, even though  it is more likely when asked sincerely what he wants from life the insightful individual will reply “happiness” before he will say “riches.”  Still we espouse the standard is to teach students to be “successful,” while we have yet to change the rhetoric of success.

There is happiness, for many if not for all, in simplicity.  Mark Twain said, “Let us spend one day as deliberately as nature.” But in today’s world, among “successful nations” at least, few have any idea at all of the deliberate pace of nature.  What good is knowledge of the latest technologies if we don’t know how to put those technologies to work toward the simplest things?

“Man, despite his artistic pretensions, his sophistication, and his many accomplishments, owes the fact of his existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil - and the fact that it rains.” ~Anonymous