Category Archives: Education
My wife and I have been homeschooling our kids for some 17 years now. As a homeschool dad, I have always seen my primary job as helping my wife, Lisa, to have perspective on the whole homeschooling journey. Like most homeschool moms, Lisa has always placed a tremendous amount of pressure on herself to make sure she is giving our kids the best education she can. She has fretted over which curriculum we should use, agonized over whether she is organized or disciplined enough, worried about possible “gaps” in their education, and wondered if other moms (or various private and public schools) might be doing it better.
For you homeschool moms who are putting that same pressure on yourselves at the beginning of this school year, here’s a bit of the perspective I’ve tried to offer my wife over the years:
1. The advantages of homeschooling have little to do with your educational expertise or ability to teach. Sure, a professional teacher specializing in a single subject might be able to explain that subject matter better than you can. But that teacher can never match the personal attention you are able to give to your child. Even if your attention is divided among a large number of children, the biggest families are still a fraction of the size of a typical classroom. And, of course, no teacher can love your child and respond to their individual needs the way you can.
2. Don’t compare your “closets” to other homeschool moms’ “formal living rooms.” A formal living room is a room that always stays presentable because nobody in the family is allowed to go in there. When company comes over, they are ushered into the formal living room and get a completely skewed perspective of your home. A closet on the other hand is a place we throw all our junk in order to keep it hidden when company arrives.
When you look at other homeschool moms, you see only their “formal living rooms”: their organized school room on the first (never the last) day of school, their most creative lesson, their coolest craft. You never see the times when both mom and child dissolved into tears over a math lesson, when a craft or experiment completely fell apart, or when half the week’s schoolwork had to be hurriedly finished over the weekend. You know what’s in your own home educational “closet,” but all you see of other homeschoolers is their “formal living rooms.” Any comparison you make is therefore a false comparison.
When you’re tempted to compare yourself to someone else, remember that if they were to see only your best homeschooling moments, they might actually be intimidated by you!
3. You won’t know how successful your homeschooling (or parenting) was until you see the finished product, and you won’t see that until your kids are grown and nearing the end of their educational journey. So homeschool for the long haul. It doesn’t matter if your kid takes longer to learn to read or multiply than someone else’s kid. If one of your older children learned something quickly and your younger child is struggling with it, that doesn’t mean you’re now doing something wrong. It simply means that each child is different, and hey, that’s where you can take comfort in the individual attention homeschooling enables you to give (see point 1 above).
As my mom told herself when I had a hard time learning to tie my shoes: “No kid ever went to college not knowing how to tie his shoes.” I may have run around a few years with untied laces, but eventually I got it (and thankfully, that was well before college!). Your kids will eventually get it too. One day that inscrutable math concept or point of grammar will just click, and you’ll have the joy of seeing the light of understanding in their eyes. Until then, keep at it and don’t worry. Reassure them (and yourself) that they’ll get it eventually.
As far as I can see, the advantages of homeschooling are such that it takes serious negligence or apathy to really mess it up. And if you’re constantly putting pressure on yourself, that’s a pretty sure sign that you’re not one of those negligent/apathetic homeschool moms. So relax, rejoice, and rest secure in the knowledge that you are giving your kids a tremendous advantage. It may be hard for you to see from day to day, but one day soon, everyone will see it.
Have you ever heard the song “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell? It’s a beautiful poem set to music in which she reflects on her initial idealistic view of things like clouds (“ice cream castles in the air”), love (“the dizzy, dancing way you feel”), and life (“dreams and schemes and circus crowds”). She then moves to a somewhat disillusioned view of those things and observes that she has looked at them from “both sides now.” In the end we’re left with a kind of grown-up ambivalence: having experienced both sides of life, we can no longer maintain our youthful optimism, yet somehow it’s “life’s illusions” we continue to hold on to, so that we “really don’t know life at all.”
The other day my wife and I took our oldest son up to Florida State University for his new student orientation. Twenty-six years ago, my parents were taking me to that same university for my own new student orientation.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but while I was going through my orientation, my parents were going through a parallel orientation for family members. Now that I was taking my son to college, it was my turn to go through the family orientation. While my son was choosing from a smorgasbord of interesting classes and being exposed to all the fun experiences he can look forward to, my wife and I were being told when the payment deadlines are and what can happen if our son’s GPA dips too low. The speakers at our orientation occasionally made comments about how little the students typically remember from their orientation and how important it was that we parents remember the information we were receiving.
About halfway through this process, it occurred to me that my wife and I were going through the real orientation! Then, as if I was finally seeing the “man behind the curtain,” I began to realize how much my parents shouldered the “real world” aspects of my education so I could be free to explore “great books” and “big ideas”.
A “liberal” education is called that precisely because you have to be “free” (Latin liber) in order to study things like literature, philosophy, art, science, and culture. People who work hard every day just to put food on the table do not have that kind of freedom, and so a “liberal education” is a luxury they simply can’t afford.
For me, college was a wonderful time when I got to wrestle with important ideas and competing views of how the world works, the nature of God and man, what constitutes a good life, etc. The answers I came to largely determined the course I have taken to this day.
My parents had received a liberal education (at FSU a couple of decades prior to my going there), and they had raised me to be interested in all those lofty subjects. Yet somehow, while they were interested in what I was learning, I could tell they weren’t as passionate about it as I was. They were focused on more “prosaic” things like earning a living. When I myself entered the “real world” and began providing for a wife and a rapidly growing family, I soon found I had little time to contemplate all those lofty ideas I was so focused on in college. I was simply too busy with “prosaic” pursuits like earning a living.
Today I see that the freedom I had to pursue a “liberal” education was largely made possible by the added responsibilities my parents shouldered on my behalf. Sure I contributed to the financing of my education with scholarships and summer jobs, and sure I had to take on increasing amounts of responsibility, but there was always that safety net: that knowledge that Mom and Dad would come to the rescue if I really messed things up. That freedom from worry is what really liberated me to wrestle with all those grand and lofty subjects.
It would seem I am now looking at college “from both sides.” If I were adding another verse to Mitchell’s song, I might say I’ve looked at it “from play and pay!” Yet somehow, like Mitchell, it’s still “college illusions I recall.” I know a large university is a big bureaucracy with many people who are more concerned about defending their little fiefdoms than about guiding young minds. I know the honest exchange of ideas is sometimes tainted by insecure professors and sycophantic students. I know many kids use their newfound freedom to do incredibly foolish things. I know a college degree is not a guaranteed ticket to a great job and an easy life. Don’t tell my kids I said this, but I even know a college education doesn’t necessarily make sense for everyone—especially from a cost-benefit perspective. Still, it’s an opportunity to grow up some without completely having to “sink or swim.” It’s an opportunity to wrestle with big ideas and discover for yourself what’s really important. It’s an opportunity to meet people who share the interests your high school friends never understood, as well as to engage people who think very differently than you do. All those ivy-covered illusions we have about college life still resonate with us because they represent the enduring value of a liberal education.
So while my son still has the freedom to pursue a liberal education, my wife and I will preserve that freedom by shouldering some additional responsibility. And if he starts to think us a little prosaic, I can take comfort in the knowledge that he too will eventually see college “from both sides.”