As a longtime homeschooling parent, and a pursuer of Charlotte Mason's philosophy, I would like to say that a passion for learning is something we just don't have a problem with around here. But it wouldn't be entirely true...or at least not if "passion for learning" equals "passion for schoolwork." Almost-seventh-grader Dollygirl loves to read, but mostly the books of her own choosing, not the "assigned" ones. She likes to write, but again, not so much when it's assigned work. I've seen this pattern emerge with the older girls, too: "out of class" time is separate from "school." If they feel that "their time," when lessons are done, is honestly "their time," then they seem to feel that they also have to differentiate their own reading, writing and other activities from assigned "schoolwork." I've never heard any of them (even the Apprentice) begging for more math homework. This question of ownership--and therefore passion, or lack thereof--has been a source of frustration (on my part, it doesn't seem to bother them!) for almost two decades. Some readaloud books have blurred the line between "this is school" and "just Mom and me reading," but in general, that's the way it works, or doesn't work.
The funny thing is that some, most even, of what we do in school...even the difficult stuff, even if it's "coerced" or at least teacher-decided, has been very successful. The Squirrelings have enjoyed Great Expectations and Silas Marner, and I'm pretty sure that Ivanhoe will also be a successful readaloud later in the year. They are good readers, and, when they want to, they can put words together pretty well too. (Ponytails' work in public-school English class has earned her praise and high marks, in both ninth and tenth grades.) But I hardly ever see one of them browsing for more Dickens or George Eliot or Scott; the Apprentice did read Jane Austen on her own, but that was the exception. Dollygirl's current personal reading consists of Harry Potter and the Cornelia Funke Inkheart books.
Some homeschoolers (or teachers) might suggest that the way to get older students to engage with learning would be to leave the curriculum up to them. If it's put on their plate, it comes from outside, isn't personally meaningful; if they've chosen it, they'll be interested. I would say yes, to a point; I do give options wherever practical. But, thinking of Charlotte Mason's quip about expecting people to make their own boots, it's even less consistent with our family's homeschool practice to let the kids decide if they're even going to wear shoes. So to speak.
Since we follow, more or less, the Ambleside Online Curriculum, it's already pretty much decided: Year Seven follows Year Six and is followed by Year Eight. This year is Dollygirl's Year Seven, and, within reason, I'm expecting her to take on the work that's given in that outline. Promoting engagement by completely freeing up the curriculum is not an option for us. It's not in tune with Charlotte Mason, it's not what I'm comfortable with, and it's not even (really) what our kids expect.
So how else do we find delight, engagement, passion, without expecting too much (or too little) of 21st-century, somewhat-distracted kids, and without turning them into prigs about learning?
("Mr Samuel Arrow, a wonderful man who... used to get us up from our beds before dawn for a good flossing.")More (and a book review) in Part Two. Make sure to come back, especially if you think I'm too hard on my kids. Because you might be right.