Why it worked, and what it couldn't do

As a continuation of yesterday's memory lane jaunt, here are a few more thoughts.

I never intended to homeschool my kids ... until the summer before we started. Schooling at home seemed to me to be a kind of cop out. It seemed like an unwillingness to cope with reality - a way to hide from the world. But I thought that because of the homeschoolers I'd listened to. They were hiding. And it isn't fair to keep your kids home with you because you're the one who's scared of the big bad world in which you don't feel ready to participate.

Then my kids started getting the short end of the educational stick, and I couldn't sit by and watch. So I brought them home, and had no idea what I was doing, but thought to myself, "How hard can it be? I've been teaching in classrooms practically my whole life. I know how to teach."

Yeah right.

The difference between classroom teaching and teaching your own kids at home is the difference between rows of sneeze guards hovering over rows of generic, bland (often brightly colored) cafeteria food, and cheerful homemade soup with equally cheerful and hearty homemade bread served at the kitchen table with honey and butter. It's the difference between a degree in animal husbandry and having a pet of your own. Admittedly, some stuff is the same, but so much of it isn't that they often seem like altogether separate things.

So I had to learn things like trading in a schedule for a weekly rhythm of activities. I had to learn the truth of Charlotte Mason's sparklingly clear illustration about the study of trees - it's better to touch and handle and bring indoors pieces of actual real trees than to look at pictures in a book or make representations from paper. If you want to study trees, find a tree. And if you want to teach "life skills," fold the clothes and make the beds and set the table. If you want to gain a literary mind, don't do book reports ... read books that are worth reading, and then allow large, open, seemingly endless spaces of time for the imagination to work. (And supply blankets and sheets and dining chairs for the building of things like castles and forts and zoos.)

I also had to learn that it's possible to learn math while wearing pajamas.

I had a lot to learn.

Now, the youngest of the three is nearly nineteen years old. They've gotten old enough for the occasional feedback of a random comment to float by my ears, and apparently I still have a lot to learn. Mostly, the thing I need to remember now is that I never really had any control over what my kids would remember about their childhoods. One very interesting evidence of this is the various answers to "do you remember?" when it comes to books we read. There's no connection between the ages in which they heard or read the books and what they remember. There's little rhyme or reason to the genres they remember. It appears almost completely random.

So I'm glad we chose good ones. And I'm glad we had just enough "junk" around for comparison's sake. Books bought in desperation at grocery stores at 4:00 in the cranky afternoon. Books given to us by people who wanted to clear their own shelves. Books that came free with purchase. A few videos too. We most certainly did not have a pristine or sterile environment. Some of that stuff was just plain awful. There is, for instance, no earthly use for a "Christian Mother Goose" or dumbed down versions of Mark Twain. And the person who thought children's brains would be entertained by "Let's Talk About Pouting" needs to be sent to daycare for a time out.

The thing about kids, though, is that if you get them accustomed to the food proper to the developing mind, and if you allow them to form their own connections, and if you give them real ideas and not a rarefied child's world in which to grow up ... they do. If you allow them to have pretend and fantasy and imaginative freedom, they use it. In fact, I have begun to suspect that without the artistry of imagination, there is no soul's iconography. There is no window into the unseen and unseeable. We humans need this.

Kids who develop and form connections and wrestle real ideas are kids who learn to ignore the junk because they learn to tell the difference. (And by the way, if you're homeschooling, I want you to know - stepping in and calling things "junk" out loud, to your kids, is the opposite of helping. The kid is in fact highly likely to adopt that bound piece of junk and defend every page of it forever if you're the one who rejected it. Give your kid some credit for being a developing human, and allow the process to happen over time. Trust me on this one.)

And that's why I think our homeschooling worked. I think it worked because ultimately, it gave:

**a habit of relationships to God, to the people and things in the big wide world, and to ideas,

**the skill of picking and choosing,

**ownership over one's own self.

I've seen the fearful homeschooler, and the hiding homeschooler, and their attempts to create Heaven on earth in a perfection of "holiness" or "academic purity" or whatever else they think they can control ... well, that doesn't work.

I have a suspicion that it never can. Humans aren't meant to be plow oxen, trained never to want to stray from the job assigned. Humans are essentially creative, and there's no getting around it. Go ahead and wish with all your might that winter doesn't exist, heat your house to tropical temperatures when it's cold outside if you want to, and refuse to buy or wear anything but a bikini ... but one day your kids will open the door and figure out that they've been lied to. After that, the kid who decides to embrace the snow may never eat another raw papaya again, even if papayas are good for him.

Ultimately, for us, the purpose of raising kids is to get new humans ready to take their own places in the world. And for us, schooling our kids at home was the most practical way to get the job done. We didn't keep them here with us because we preferred having them around all the time (although we liked that ... usually), and we didn't keep them here because we thought the world was an essentially evil place (but we did think that conventional education mostly makes cooperative standers-in-line and form-filler-outers, and we think there's more to life than that.)

Home schooling didn't give us days of unmarred Paradise. But it did give us three new adults in the world who live for more than themselves, who are unafraid to try new things and question convention while respecting tradition, and who sometimes say things like, "Remember that book? Yes, I remember that book! Scenes from that book are in my dreams sometimes!"

1 comment:

Willa said...

Stephanie, it's neat to "see" you online again and hear how your three are doing.

This is beautiful:
I have begun to suspect that without the artistry of imagination, there is no soul's iconography.