It seems like I’ve written versions of this post several times before. It’s a subject I seem to feel the need to return to again and again: Why are we doing this homeschool thing again? In the six years since we began, the experience has yet to resemble the idealistic vision I had when I started out. Challenges have cropped up, along with philosophical and emotional obstacles, only some of which I’ve dealt with to my satisfaction.
So what keeps us at it?
Simply this: the most valuable education is happening at the edges and in the cracks, in the experience of togetherness. By that, I don’t mean that throwing out curriculum and pedagogy and focusing on warm feelings of affection are all that matter in a child’s education. I mean that, as with other aspects of life, perspective is everything. It’s not just what you are learning in terms of content — how to add and subtract decimals, the location of Polaris or the Periodic Table, the Seven Years’ War, how to diagram sentences with predicate nominatives. It’s how you structure your life, and how you synthesize and organize that knowledge. This is where I often feel that we are handing down an inheritance — a way of seeing the world and functioning in it that’s transmitted as much by example and interaction as it is through instruction.
Here are some of the ingredients of the inheritance in our household:
- Time: it’s valuable. Use it well. Life is run not by the clock so much as by tasks that need to be completed. Take care of your responsibilities first, then you have time to do what you want. How much “free” time you have is is largely within your power.
- When you have free time, television isn’t an option.
- Your sibling is a valuable friend.
- There is a whole complex community of life going about its business in nature, and it’s fascinating to notice it. We have some places we’ve explored and love, and this establishes the ethical stake in how we treat the Creation.
- Your learning is your responsibility. Your teacher can direct you and give you tasks to complete, but she can’t do it for you.
- Learning happens everywhere. The discussions that bubble up at the edges in the ordinary business of life are probably more central to forming your worldview and sense of yourself and spiritual outlook than any structured curriculum.
- What you think and feel matters. We want to hear it.
- God, and what he communicates about himself in the Bible and the world at large, are relevant.
- The Bible is an important voice in our lives. Sometimes it raises questions and doesn’t answer them. We pray for help to read it observantly, to understand it and remember it, and to keep learning from it and about it.
- Your parents are imperfect, but they love you and each other very much. They are as committed to growing and learning as they ask you to be.
I’m sure I’ll hone in on more, and more important, aspects of it all after I hit publish. (I would love to hear some of your family’s inheritance in the comments!)
When we started homeschooling, I was focused on curriculum and methodology. Those things are important, and I really need a shot in the arm in terms of educational philosophy these days. We’re going to attend a homeschool conference this spring for the first time because I feel I’ve drifted from the classical approach as it’s laid out in The Well-Trained Mind, but I don’t really have a coherent, conscious framework to replace it. (Or, more accurately, supplement it — there is still much there that I want to continue incorporating.)
But I find that my interest in continuing to homeschool has less to do with curriculum and methodology than with the total educational experience. It’s usually assumed that homeschooling parents are simply overprotective, and I am continually sifting my heart to make sure that’s not my primary motivation. We do recognize that there are aspects of this inheritance I’ve described that would make the culture of public school more difficult for our daughters; it might help prepare the girls for a richer life, but it surely isn’t a recipe for social conformity. So although there are ways their instruction might be better in public school (I know some first class teachers), I’m not convinced that the overall experience would be better or more fruitful. Much that makes the public school setting difficult is specific to public school rather than preparation for successful adult life. I believe that if we can see this through, our children will be on a better footing. But as with most of the important things in life, this is, admittedly, largely a matter of faith.