Monday, June 08, 2015

Homeschooling reaches its end

Mr. Fixit and I were having a conversation, about other conversations we've had with other people. One thing we've noticed is that there's an awfully big worry, in all kinds of areas, about trying to get things perfect. People want systems; commercials promise fix-alls. If you just live this way, do it that way, all your problems will be solved. There is little allowance for human variables, for weakness, sinfulness, or just realities in life. But still we get sold on the perfect way to do things.

In Jan Karon's novel These High, Green Hills, Father Tim and his wife Cynthia get lost in a cave. While waiting to get rescued, they hash out some of the issues Father Tim is having about his pending retirement from ministry. He insists, "The way things are, they're running smoothly, most of the bases are covered. I'm trying to get it right, Cynthia. I can't stop now." Cynthia responds, "Getting it absolutely right is God's job." She reminds him that the future belongs to God, not to him; that Father Tim needs to trust for what he can't make sense of. We are called to be faithful, but we should not lean on self-righteousness. A lot of systems involving "just do this" are self-righteous, self-focused.

After nineteen school years, you might think that I had homeschooling down to a system, that we could make everything work; that if we had any more children coming along behind, we could kind of crank them through school now like sausages. But it doesn't work like that. My best-laid plans, many years, have fallen under reality's wheels. One student likes to listen to stories, but balks at keeping notebooks. Yes, she should do that. But no, she's not doing that. Do we enforce what's not happening, or look at the bigger picture?

This is not a nice metaphor, but...when our oldest was small, a particular parenting source told me that it was necessary to be very firm about making children eat what they're given. Unfortunately, the dinner at which I decided to invoke that edict was also the evening she was coming down with a stomach bug, which was probably the reason she wasn't eating her dinner in the first place. It was awhile before any of us wanted to eat lasagna again.

I heard (my memory is failing right now on the source) that when one of the veteran Charlotte Mason teachers was asked about C.M. methods of teaching reading, she said that any good teacher would have her own methods that worked for her, so there was no reason to copy just what was written in Mason's books. That was about as close to the horse's mouth as we are going to get on that. There are principles of good teaching, but the details that work for one family, some of the time, may not work for another.

Is homeschool success found through our own systems and self-righteousness? In that case, I would be stewing now about all the Ambleside books we never did read, and the science experiments we didn't do this year, and the folk songs we never got around to, not to mention the field trips we didn't take.  But it's not, and I'm not. I don't apologize for our failure, over two decades, to establish nature notebooking as a lifelong habit. I don't apologize for the fact that penmanship has never been a strength around here, and that therefore copywork has also suffered. Our children are human beings. We have gone through stressful times. In some seasons, the "bases were covered." In others, maybe, one or two bases.

Did we have a winning team?

Lydia (our eighth grader) recently needed a writing sample to go with an application. She was going to write a play, but decided to write a dark-toned spy-genre story, with a teenage protagonist who's being followed by unknown nasties. There's chasing, shooting, and blood. She was quite pleased with her work.

She's hoping to be has been accepted to volunteer at drama day camp this summer. In the fall she'll be attending a Christian high school (by bus!).

Ponytails is in her last days of high school. While she's not as likely as we once thought to jump a motorcycle over garbage cans, she's still a person of passions and originality.

The Apprentice is discovering life in the big city, and still likes to barbecue the way Mr. Fixit taught her.

All three of our girls have turned out to be good writers, good readers. At least one of them likes math and science. Another prefers history and philosophy. I can't take credit for their full schooling (the older two went to public high school), but at least we got them off to a good start. And school is just the is ahead.

Linked from the Carnival of Homeschooling: Retirement Edition, and from the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival: June 2015.


Jen said...

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for this post. I am in a very different stage of life from you (one son, an only, going into JK in September), but there is much wisdom in this post for me. It is so easy to stress because my son doesn't know all his numbers and letters or can't read yet, and I really appreciated the reminder to let my son grow to be who he was created to be, not what a book or chart says. And also, to let things go. My son may never be the nose in a book kid, but maybe he will be awesome at building and fixing. Who knows?

Thanks again for your wisdom and for taking the time to pass it on.

Alexandra Dekerf said...

Hi! You left a comment on one my blog posts about sharing it in a homeschool carnival. You are welcome to do that, please send me a link to it too! Thanks.

Annie Kate said...

Yes, systems tend to bring out the bad sides in us, whether slowly or quickly. Other people's systems especially, as you pointed out. Thank you for this insightful post!