Sunday, February 6, 2011

One Homeschooling Peril

Although I am sure there are more homeschooling perils, one in particular sentences me to the Pit of Despair (rasped out in an appropriately ghoulish voice, a la The Princess Bride): doubt.

Let me attempt to clarify.

My ultimate goal is to provide the very best possible education for my children. Since all children are individuals and are blessed with different strengths and challenges, this may look different for each child of mine. Fortunately, both of my scholars enjoy books: reading on their own, my reading aloud to them, or listening to books on CD. I love all those things as well, so I joyfully settled on a literary-based educational philosophy for our family.

This worked well for a few years. Then Miss Priss began fifth grade, and doubt crept in. I became convinced that we were not doing enough. So I made some changes. We followed them for several months, but the going was tough. We were hard pressed to finish everything scheduled for a day, and I felt overwhelmed and ineffective. This past January, I thought long about the changes I'd made and why I'd made them. I talked with a homeschooling friend of mine, and we discussed ideas, reasoning, and options. I prayed for guidance. And peace.

I know I'm not the only homeschooling parent thus plagued. With the myriad choices on the educational buffet, it's easy to get bogged down, not only in the details but in the bigger picture, too. Spiral or mastery for math? Do we need a formal spelling program? Should we try a hybrid school? What about an online school? Is a four-year history cycle better than a six-year cycle? Shouldn't my child be doing (fill in the blank) by now? Are we going to need a tutor for math? Latin now or later (or at all)? What about lab experiments? Am I completely ruining my children's chances for success?

Homeschooling is a passion for me. I take my role very seriously. This is a good thing, but I also feel the heavy weight of responsibility on my shoulders. Are the choices I'm making the very best ones for my children? Doubt about this question can make homeschooling a burden for me.

Here's what I learned: my focus was out of whack. I'd been viewing my children as tabula rasa, buckets to be filled with educational matter. Wrong! In The Great Conversation, Robert Hutchins writes: "The result of liberal education [is that the student learns] to read, write, speak, listen, understand, and think." Note he did not say "to regurgitate a bunch of meaningless facts in a vacuum."

Joy in learning should also be a goal of mine for my children, for them to "find knowledge so delightful that it becomes a pursuit and source of happiness for a lifetime," as Charlotte Mason writes. My job, then, is to provide a wealth of educational opportunities, a wide-ranging banquet for their minds; to create an atmosphere rich with intellectual pursuits that spark their interests and natural curiosity; to give guidance and help where it is needed, but not take over; and to stimulate discussions of ideas and impressions.

With that in mind, I've given lots of thought to our long-term plans, and I've back-tracked somewhat. I'm convinced that a literary education is exactly the style in which my children will flourish. And I'm committed to fostering a love of learning in their hearts and minds. I'm sure doubt is not through with me yet, but my recent struggles have helped me to see our destination more clearly and to better map out our path for getting there.


  1. What a wonderful post, Ellen. I too needed to hear you say this. We've had a year of that too a bit. I, like you, was feeling overwhelmed, the gaps, the routines, the curriculum choices...then I stopped, listened, and enjoy. Many of my perceptions was based on, as you perfectly described, understanding my girls as empty vessels to be filled with my or others version of knowledge.
    As you, I am not doubt free, but I'm certainly much calmer, enjoying this adventure we call homeschooling, definitely praying for it, and listening to them. I have rekindled my passion and my role inspiring versus dictating.

  2. This is our first year homeschooling and I am plagued with the same doubts. This post is very helpful and I look very forward to following you on this journey.

  3. Now that you're back to a literary-based education, everything does seem a little more right with the world I think.

  4. Very well put. I have also come across some of the same stumbling blocks in my own mind. We have a standardized test looming ahead of us in May that has changed some of my thoughts about how we do school. We too have mostly been Charlotte Mason up until recently when I have changed a few things.

  5. You said this all very well, & I find myself nodding along with it all. I'm still working on the exact "hows" of all this, but I want that joy in learning, & it's so hard to ignore the standards of our government schools when I'm so immersed in it. Thanks for encouragement!!!

  6. I adore your opening about the pit of despair (rasped out in the Princess Bride voice).

    It's often when I am banging by head against a wall, I finally set myself aside and ask for guidance that He gently leads me - and our little homeschool - back or forward to where we are doing well again.

    Thank you for your honesty. Beautiful post.


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