Put out into the Deep: Homeschool Challenges and Changes-Part 2

For the record, I do not despise traditional methods of education or learning that is done within a specific building or institution. What I strongly disagree with is the "conveyor belt" method of schooling children which demands that all children must learn the same things, the same way, at the same age and in the same timetable. I have always felt that way and strongly so. When I recently read through Oliver DeMille's A Thomas Jefferson Education, I was given a kick in the pants (that I very much needed) when he suggested that it is not only institutional schools who disrespect children this way... but homeschools as well.

DeMille's is the most recent in a long list of Summer reading material that I have been devouring. I must understand what is happening in my homeschool and begin to adjust accordingly in the new school year.

As I wrote in my first post, I found myself in a considerable state of anxiety at the end of the last school year. What on earth am I doing? How is it that my kids are learning so well? It's not anything I'm doing. But what about the dreaded gaps? What if I'm missing something? High school is coming. And college. If I were a drinking woman...

And what does this type of anxiety and fear produce? A very, very bumpy homeschool journey. When I'm afraid, I yell. When I'm afraid, I fixate on the clock and call others' attention to it constantly. When I'm afraid, I attempt to gain control by making others afraid. Do you know what will happen if you don't get this spelling word correct right now??? You'll never get into fill-in-the-blank University! Fear produces a type of insanity that seriously interferes with our communication with God. And it hurts our children.

In May, I stumbled across a relatively new book called A Little Way of Homeschooling by Suzie Andres (also author of Homeschooling with Gentleness) and eagerly read through it. There have been a number of times in my life when I can mark a significant change of life or heart by the reading of a particular book. This was one of those times. I finished out the year with a peace and joy that I hadn't felt about our school in a long time... and was determined never to go back. If you have any anxiety in your homeschool I highly recommend this book.

Suzie Andres writes about Catholic unschooling, and while I am not ready to embrace a full unschooling approach, the fact that unschooled children grow to be successful and faithful people struck a chord within me. All this stress about the details is wasting my time. Wasting God's time. I realized that I have been focusing so much on the workbooks and lists that I was forgetting about one critically important element... the children.

After I finished the last page of that book, I went downstairs and talked to my children. And read to them. We baked something. We laughed together. I hugged the ones I hadn't hugged in a while. I made a point of looking them in the eyes. I completely ignored the work I had wanted them to accomplish that day. It was the best day that we'd had together in a long time.

The next day, I began revisiting some of the books and articles that had formed my homeschooling worldview, some of them were Catholic (Mary Kay Clark, Kimberly Hahn and Mary Hasson, Maureen Whitman) but many were not. I read John Taylor Gatto again (his books always get me a little fired up) and Charlotte Mason... and ordered some new things from the library.

John Holt is considered the father of the unschooling movement. I'd never read his books before but I'd read a lot about him. I borrowed all of them, read most of them, and eventually came to a final but most important book: How Children Fail. That was the one worth reading. I recognized myself in those pages. The floundering children. The fear-driven, bullying teachers. I have been both. In spite of the fact that Holt is not overtly Christian, many of his ideas struck me as consistent with a life of faith. In spite of a few things that just seemed too odd for me (such as the idea that a world government is the solution to lasting world peace), I found the book to be critical to my understanding of true education.

Following Holt, I read A Thomas Jefferson Education based on the recommendation of Andrew Pudewa. It added an exciting perspective that has further influenced my path. In a nutshell, the author suggests that the way to achieve the high level of true education that founders like Thomas Jefferson achieved is to build an academic foundation on two elements: mentors and the classics. While Holt writes that education happens when teachers get out of the way, DeMille believes that education happens when teachers become actively engaged as mentors and lead students to educate themselves. The two philosophies can appear opposed in practice but I see more similarities than differences at the core; namely, respect for the dignity and intelligence of the student.

Neither Gatto nor Holt are overtly Christian in their writing. DeMille is a Mormon. And so begins for me the distillation and discernment process where I take their ideas, hold them up to the light of the Catholic faith, and discard or add them to the framework of my homeschool.

The one critical action that I have taken is to immediately adjust my approach (in speech, attitude and activities) to education in my home and to apply some ideas from my reading. I have also allowed my oldest child (13) to read much of what I am reading and discussed it with him. This is your education, son, and you must take responsibility for it, decide where you want to go with it, and understand how it is to happen.

The most wonderful and surprising result of the adjustments is that there has been a rather rapid increase in the amount of real education happening in our home. As the pressure has been taken off of the older students, their enthusiasm for learning has begun to increase into an almost passionate energy. Two months ago, I was watching that love of learning fade under my fearful watch. In a very short period of time, the children have found their way out from under that weight and I'm seeing transformation. Yes, we're still on our Summer break... please don't remind my kids!

The one thing that is clear to me is that this new path is going to require much more of me; but the work will be different. Instead of pushing papers and fretting, I will be engaging in something bigger with people I love. Am I nervous? Oh, yes. But also very excited.

The next few weeks will see the refining of our direction and schedule. The Chief and I will be sitting down to plan and dream. And I have one more book on my list remaining to purchase and read. The School of the Family: A Renaissance of Catholic Formation sounds like the perfect way to conclude my Summer homeschool renewal. After all, an authentic Catholic eduction really boils down to the pursuit of sanctity and love of our Lord. Thanks be to God!

To be continued...

(Please note: our homeschool decisions are in no way a judgement on yours. Each family and child are as unique as fingerprints. I do not believe that God has made us to travel all in the same way, as if we are soldiers or machines.)

Put out into the Deep: Homeschool Challenges and Changes- Part 1
Posted on August 8, 2011 and filed under "home education", "homeschooling".