Why We’re Doing This, Take 10

Categories Education

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!)

Finding our way
Finding our way

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.

6 thoughts on “Why We’re Doing This, Take 10

  1. Yes. Even when things are crazy here with a precocious 2 year old and the last 10 weeks or do of pregnancy. I’ll chew on this and try to leave more later. :-)

  2. Life has a way of testing us, doesn’t it! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    I wanted to temper my “tv is not an option” statement. We do watch it sometimes (mostly news and sports), and we Netflix movies. But it’s not a default activity.

  3. Janet,

    Okay, I’m back. :-) I think I imagined when we began this journey that by our fourth year, my insecurities about it would have vanished, but I’m finding that’s not the case. Part of it is my perfectionisitic nature, and thankfully, I have enough people in my life (especially those on the “front lines” of public education) who tell me we’re doing “more than fine.” I know that in all likelihood my children would be left out in school because they seem to be capable, and in some ways above average (and we live here at Lake Wobegone ;-) ), and the default in the public school classroom here is to the lowest denomninator now. Too–I value our free time–lthough honestly it feels pretty rushed sometimes. I still haven’t found the “sweet spot” when it comes to philosophy or methodology. CC has been a struggle this year, at least for us to make time for it at home when there are so many more interesting books to read! My biggest struggle, though, is on the time management/home management/ planning end of things. There are never enough hours in my day. Anyway, I try to remind myself that even if the girls went “out” to school somewhere, I’d stil have lots and lots of questions and insecurities–probably more! I try to be content that I’ve managed to turn them into bookworms.

    I love that you focused on the positive in this post, which is something I obviously failed to do here.

    Have a lovely Friday!

  4. I can tell from your wrap-ups that you’re doing a wonderful job. I think I’d have trouble keeping up with CC too, though I’ve considered it.

    What you describe happened to my oldest in kindergarten too — she learned things quickly and then was assigned to help the other children. Not a bad thing really, though it wasn’t an inspiring year at such an absorbent, imaginative age. Yet I’m not always a killer in the inspiration department either, and with only two students I don’t have much of an excuse!

    I have two struggles. One is that my children are so different. The first one can be set down in the vicinity of knowledge and will absorb it like a sheet of Bounty, leaving me feeling like the best teacher ever. The second one is very, very different, and I haven’t figured out how to appeal to her yet.

    The other struggle is that the classical approach is feeling very redundant now that my oldest is going through the history cycle for the second time.

    Okay, there are more than two struggles, but those are the main ones academically! :-) As you say, we need to focus on the positive, because there isn’t much of a support structure for homeschool parents. It’s one of the reasons I’m drawn to the blogosphere.

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