As the summer melted away and the school year readied for another harvest, I found myself reflecting on the essential purpose of developing an educational philosophy and the absolute futility of developing a schedule to reflect that paradigm. Upon entering our eighth year of homeschooling, I would have thought I had a framework and its practice down by now. (In fact, this sentiment pretty much sums up my thirties.) But a miscellany of time, experience, and providence continually force me to reexamine how to best prepare each of you, our family, and myself for our journey.
This year will be a bit different that previous years of schooling. When we began schooling, William was in preschool, Robert was a toddler, James was an infant, and I was impassioned to learn, but lacking in time and sleep. Your father and I experienced the best that public school had to offer through our graduate degrees. Yet, we both knew the state of pedagogy was something akin to the renowned 1939 Polish calvary. But having grown up in a context where homeschooling was peculiar at best, I had no idea where to begin.
I rekindled a love for literature once my formal studies ended and knew I wanted to expose you all to good books, avoid busywork, and incorporate our faith. And so, armed with good intentions, I began using a popular faith-based literature program in tandem with another popular based neo-classical co-op.
Though we have since left those programs, I’ll always be grateful I had them as I navigated tempests of newborns, toddlers, homemaking, aviation pipelines, deployments, and developing a personal theology (an entry for another day). I had checkboxes that were mostly completed; you could rattle off reasons for the fall of Rome; we formed life-long friendships (most of you are betrothed by the way), and we were reading excellent books. And yet…
There’s a scene in one of the greatest movies of all time, ‘The Labyrinth,’ where the heroine has fought her way though dangers untold and hardships innumberable and finally returns safely at home. As she surveys a bedroom filled with her beloved treasures, she realizes something is askew. Everything is there, but lacking authenticity; it is all merely a shell of what it should be. After six years of homeschool, somehow, this was how I felt – something was off.
And so began another Odyssey. Supported by your father’s attending demeanor and patient temperament, I began reading lots of books, questioning many presuppositions, listening to you, and recognizing, yielding, and eventually trusting this is how the Spirit moves in my life. Like Jacob, I am challenged, I inquire (or sometimes demand), and I wrestle until I find blessing that was waiting to be freely given all along.
Here is what I’ve concluded and hope our ‘school’ and our short time together in turn reflects.
Education does not what happens in ‘school time’ hours any more than faith is what happens on a Sunday morning. It is what we do with our life (it’s no wonder ‘disciple’ means ‘learner’).
You are each unique persons with your own ideas, passions, gifts, weaknesses, and abilities. I am not trying to teach you everything, but rather trying to expose you to as much as I can so that, guided by your creator, you can take ownership for your own education. As people who have lived on the earth longer than you, your father and I do have some, but not all, insight on what is good to know.
Learn to see the whole of a thing before you break it down. As children, you will easily do this. Hold fast to this tendency because as an adult, you’ll want to break everything down ‘to understand,’ but I’m realizing meaning is almost always found in unity and truly seeing the whole of a matter.
Our consumer-based culture is product driven, which has crept its way into education, even faith-based education. Resist the temptation to define others or yourselves by what they produce for you. That is the definition of slavery.
Art is one of the best defenses against this product-driven mindset because it embraces beauty for its own sake rather than for utility. In that way, it is perhaps the closest we can get to expressing love. Make poetry, music, visual arts, literature, singing, dancing, and any other form of beauty a priority, because if you do not, it will fall to the background and take joy with it.
The purpose of education is to produce a good person, and the traits that define a good person are not easily quantified, less able to be ‘packaged,’ and therefore, easily ignored or saved for ‘later.’ Kindness, grit, patience, perseverance, wisdom, selflessness, and concern for others aren’t measured in tests and certainly aren’t broken down by a grade-level. Nor are they checked off in a box (bummer for me). But they matter most.
I cannot express how important humility is to learning. With it, we move from hearing others to listening to them. We move from gaining facts to seeking wisdom. When you are learning, drop expectations of yourself and others, especially when you’re reading the Bible.
As a corollary, actively seek to avoid vanity. Use what you have learned whether it be long division, a new language, or how to ride a bike to serve others which will help you guard against a knowledge that puffs up.
There is a difference in memorizing and learning by heart; do the latter.
Slow is smooth, smooth is fast (it’s not just for shooting!). Give your full attention to whatever (or whoever) you are studying or trying to understand. This requires time and will often compete with our culture’s “productivity” mindset. However, it is only through dedication and devotion that we get to experience the joy and love available from Jesus, nature, learning, and people.
Your brain and body need rest. Even a full grown adult needs a change in pace after about 30 minutes. If I ever forget this, tell me to give a power-point presentation on it.
I am a disciple too. I am learning all of this, which is not the same as having learned it. I know my personality will strive to accomplish all I can during ‘school hours’; that I’ll naturally want you to share my opinions, and that I’ll tend to judge myself by whether or not you understand why dividing a fraction is the same as multiplying it by its inverse. But do not confuse the Spirit’s continual work in me with your sense of worth, which is defined by someone so much greater than me. Be patient with me, especially this year when so much is in flux. Know that I am devoted to each of you and our family and our Odyssey together.