Did you ever have a fight with something you were writing? I've been having a terrible time with this post; it wants to get away from me and I keep trying to whip it around to what I thought I wanted it to say. I'm not sure who's winning.
These are side thoughts on the workshop I'm writing; it's the things that I don't have time to say and some strange places that "a shopping bag of stuff" is taking me.
Although the workshop is mostly about using "pre-cycled" materials as part (or all) of your homeschool curriculum, the first part is about planning and goal setting--which is much the same whether you order school materials straight from a textbook publisher or create your own from yard-saled stuff. Although homeschoolers love to talk curriculum, it's only one side of teaching; what you have isn't always as important as what you do with it or why you're doing it.
To prove my point on that, I put together a genuine, not rigged, collection of stuff from a real-life rummage sale and a trip to the thrift shop--all found within one month. (40 or so books; these particular trips didn't yield many other kinds of things.) I've now proved to myself that it's perfectly possible--with a bit of luck--to come up with a quite acceptable year's curriculum for a very minimal amount of money. I'm convinced that if I found myself away from the computer, away from our wonderful library system, and even away from my own patiently-collected thousand or so books, I could easily start teaching all over again and we'd be fine.
Which brings me to the real point (and this is the place where things start to escape in all different directions, so there really does need to be a point): the problem of teaching children in North America is not usually (for most of us, unless we're living in some isolated, poverty-stricken community) needing to scrounge enough school materials to work with. It's making sense of and appreciating what we already have; narrowing down, cutting out clutter in goal setting, in materials and in educational activities; realizing that "success" doesn't depend entirely on the financial investment you are able to make; and continuing to marvel that there is so much out there already. Our culture is wealthy beyond belief; we're as overloaded with resources and information as Nick Butterworth's camel who couldn't fit through the gate. That's the problem.
If you don't believe me, think about this very hard: I was able to go out in a couple of short trips and create a decent year's curriculum out of stuff that people had discarded. Yes, I seem to have an peculiar talent for that, just as some people can go out and decorate a bathroom beautifully with castoffs, but the point is that the materials are there, and there is so much surplus that we're able to discard them, overlook them; these are the dregs. We have so much, we can't even see what we have. I feel a bit like the Mexicans who hammer Christmas ornaments out of tin cans.
Am I trying to propose wonderful solutions? Recommend that everyone buy all their homeschool books at rummage sales? No...although I think we do worship a bit too often at the altar of new and shiny. Rather...I would like to see more homeschool resources that help us make better use of what we already have. I would like us to be more confident and more resourceful about finding good materials, rather than worrying that something isn't on anybody else's booklist. I would like us as a society (not just homeschoolers) to be less wasteful, and I don't mean about bottles and cans. We ignore what's right there--feeling we need special reading books and packaged science units or the kids just can't learn. Didn't we learn anything from Schoolhouse Rock? Maybe it's time for our own version of Reduce, Re-use, Recycle.