November 11, 2017

The Homeschool Teaching Crisis

There are many kinds of homeschooling parents.  There are those who incline toward structure and order, whose days appear to run seamlessly.  They make it look so easy.  I'm not one of those.  I am inclined toward crises of purpose and procedure.  Structure is not my best friend, though I long for it.  I have waves of wailing and gnashing my teeth about this impossible task I have brought upon myself - but have no plan to escape.  I suppose you could call my educational style "The Hopeful Masochist Homeschooler".

A totally staged picture of me pretending to get a headache teaching my daughter something and her pretending to learn it.  She didn't want to actually write one of those cursive letters for the picture because it's Saturday.

I'll have to write this quickly while I'm still on an upswing from my most recent existential crisis of homeschooling despair.  I want to share some of my more helpful thoughts to sort of send down a rope to those of you who are currently wallowing in the pit of self-doubt.  Please do not use it to hang yourself, but rather, to try to climb out.

(If you’re someone who has it all figured out and makes it look easy, you probably won't want to waste your time reading further, so you might as well go back and help your second grader construct the life size replica of the Globe Theatre, in which your family of eight geniuses will perform the Shakespeare works they have memorized.)

What is this thing we're doing?  Educating our children.  And what does that actually mean?  What is our goal?  For some it's getting them into college.  For some it's launching them into a lucrative job or career path.  For some it's keeping up with the state’s educational requirements.  For some it's making sure they're ahead of the standard.  For some it's providing a liberal or classical education to free their minds.  For some it's being faithful to homeschooling at any cost.  For some it's keeping them safe from the world.  And, I confess, some find one of the extremely attractive goal to be avoiding having to get them up and dressed before the sun comes up.

In pursuing these goals and meeting these standards, often set by someone else, we go through our days with our children pushing and fretting, yelling and regretting.  Someone else’s standards.  But these are my children to raise.  I am their parent and no one cares more about them and their future than I do.  When I stand back and look at the big picture, what difference does it really make if they go to college as long as they find a path they love, by which they can make a living?  Who cares if they’re geniuses or three grades ahead?  Not everyone can be a prodigy or it would lose its meaning.

So, how do I know what curriculum to use, what philosophy to follow, when to worry about their progress?

I'm currently looking into the method of "not worrying too much about it" for continuing our homeschooling.  I have already overachieved my quota for worrying and that’s not paying off with peace.  There is so much time - even though it seems so short.  I'm wondering why we think our kids need (as kids) the absolute “best” education out there.  And, I doubt very much that there is one.  And the other question that must be asked is, “Best education for what?”

I think it depends on the kid.  And the parents.  And the timing.  And the weather.  I'm pretty sure if they learn to read and you have a happy, loving relationship with them and do interesting things now and then, they'll turn out fine.  You’ll be amazed. There simply can’t be only one recipe for well educated people.  What is this education for?

I guess that's the question I should be asking when I fret about finding the right, best or perfect curriculum or materials to use.  What difference will it make (now or later) if we do this or that thing?  What's at stake?  Is it the kind of living my kid will be able to make?  The snob factor of the college she attends?  (Who cares?)  Will it be the difference between getting A's or B's or C's in a college class?  (Big deal).  Will she have even better conversations with even “better” people?  Will her mind be bigger - and what for?

I’m on board with the idea of a liberal arts education, which provides “a means of teaching the student to be happy by learning to love what is good, true, and beautiful. God is the Origin of all goodness, truth, and beauty—and that means loving Him and ordering one’s life accordingly.”* (See Karen Landry’s whole article here, for more on the purpose of education)  But, even pursuing this ought not be at the cost of stressed out relationships that turn them into liberally-educated neurotics.  It’s not like there is just one package that will deliver this.

If I look at my own life so far and ask what I wish had been different, so little of it involves what I learned at what age.  I think it would have been helpful if history had been presented more as a framework in which everything happened in an inter-related way, rather than as a subject.  But I doubt very much my life would have been drastically different even if that had happened.

I think I'm doing pretty well myself, in terms of can-hold-a-conversation-without-sounding-too-stupid and I had virtually no real, methodical education to boast of.  We moved a lot and changed schools a lot, so it was all hit or miss.  I wasn't even really into reading.  Even through grad school writing papers made me feel like dying.  I doubt I could actually diagram a sentence even now.  Nevertheless, here I am loving to learn and pass on interesting things.  I love to live in this fascinating world with so many mysteries to solve.

I'm really trying to de-stress the whole deal.  And to thereby actually love the processes of teaching and learning.  I'm now trying to shake off all the extraneous expectations of other people's standards, so we can get down to enjoying learning and developing better relationships and a happy homeschool.

Here are some basic tips I offer for those in the homeschooling pit of despair:

  • §  Seek like-minded friends.  My friends are a wealth of ideas, encouragement and discussion about education.  If you lack a social group, find one on Facebook devoted to homeschooling in several styles you like.  They abound!

  • §  Avoid those people who believe there is only one way (generally, it’s their way).

  • §  Be open to completely different things than you’ve been trying – even enrolling in a school.  No option must be a permanent commitment.  I have a friend who homeschools when it works for them and just as easily enrolls her kids in school when that works better, even for only part of a year.  She is my inspiration of non-commitment!

  • §  Ask grown-ups you admire about their education.  You may be surprised how varied their experiences were.  I know a brilliant man, who heads an educational organization, has a degree in architecture and designed his own stunning house, travels the world helping families with children with disabilities, whom, I discovered, could not read until he was in fourth grade.  How’s that for giving you hope?

  • Look at your actual child.  Are you proud of that child out there in public?  Other people can tell you how you are doing.  Believe them!

  • §  Remember they are just kids.  They’re not finished.  They’re supposed to act like that at that age.  Remember what you were like then.  You may not see the output yet, but all the stuff you’re putting in will eventually be manifest.

There is more than one path to excellence – and there are even more paths to goodness.  If educating your children is stressing you out and you find yourself feeling like a slave to other people’s standards, step back and remind yourself what this education thing really is and what it’s for.  Take a deep breath.  These are your children to love, raise and educate.  Your peace and enjoyment will pass along to them, just like your weird habits and family quirks.  They’ll be fine.  You’re probably doing a better job than you realize.

·         Follow this link to read the article by Karen Landry in the Cardinal Newman Society Journal, from which this quote was taken:  article

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