Friday, April 25, 2014

Homeschool Ponderings

Children throughout the centuries before the mid-1800's received an individualized education (either at home or from tutors) that was full of Biblical values, morals and character by the methods of:

1) Copying (copy what you see),
2) Dictation (write what you hear),
3) Memorization (remember what you read),
4) Recitation and narration (say what you know), and
5) Composition (write about what you know). 

These methods are so simple that any parent can do them with their children, right?  All we need are a Bible and some great books -- McGuffey's Readers, Noah Webster's 1828 Dictionary, character-building biographies of heroes throughout history, intriguing books to spark an interest in all things scientific, some arithmetic books, etc.  After all, life is so full just doing the labor that God has given us to do that we can't spend all day sitting at desks doing bookwork.  Right?

Then came Horace Mann and the Common School Movement, Jean Piaget's theories of cognitive development,  John Dewey's Humanist Manifesto, and B.F. Skinner's Humanist Manifesto II and behavioral psychology.  They all sounded so educated!  So intelligent!  Surely they knew more than we simpleminded parents ever could.  We need to put our children into these schools so that these highly educated people can teach them!  They should all be taught the same thing at the same time.  And it would be easier to do that if they were divided into grades with other children their same age.  There were some who questioned it, even fought tooth and nail against these changes, in the beginning.

But now?  We can't remember when everyone did not go to school.  This is our new normal.  Functional literacy is lower than ever.  Children do not know their siblings.  Fathers are not respected.  Mothers have too much time on their hands, and have been told that they are not necessary in the home, so they are seeking fulfillment with jobs.  It is left up to churches to teach all things spiritual, because there is not time when the children are gone at school all week long.

What has happened?

We (even those of us who homeschool) believe that our children aren't getting a full education unless they can learn (and spit back out on a test) every fact that the textbook publishers throw at them.  This schooling philosophy, and the idea that textbooks and boxed curricula are the only way to make sure that our children get a "complete" education, without the dreaded "gaps," takes away so much of our freedom as homeschool parents!  We rely on "experts" to teach our children because we believe that we are inadequate.

I am beginning to come around to the idea that teaching our children is like cooking.  If I can read, I can do it... or at least learn how to do it effectively with practice and patience.  It is not something that should only be left up to the "experts."  I am capable!  It might take me a while to work up to making something as complicated as foie gras, and I might even decide that foie gras is not something that suits me, so I might not even try.

Sorry for the food analogy.  I must be hungry.  My point is, every family will homeschool differently!  Sure, I will use textbooks for arithmetic.  Math is not my strongest subject, and my math-loving husband isn't available to answer questions all day long.  However, I am freeing myself from the idea that someone else knows better than I what my children need to learn.  I am learning to rely on God to guide me to the resources He wants me to use to teach my children.

It is not an easy process, and believe me, I like easy!  I want to use that shiny new curriculum that comes in a box and promises to teach my children everything their little brain needs to know without any gaps.  And I found great comfort in those boxes of curriculum in the beginning of our homeschool journey.  That might be the path that God has for some people!  Who am I to say that God wants every family to do things the way I feel He is telling me to do them?  *This is not a salvation issue.*  I just want to have time to teach my children everything that I feel is most important for them to learn.  I want them to develop the kind of strong character that can withstand Satan's attacks.  I want them to put on the full armor of God, and I just don't have time to teach my children what my husband and I have decided that we want them to know when they are spending all of their "school" hours answering questions that are only important to someone else.  I believe that it should be every homeschool family's highest priority to define the goals they have for their children and their education.  Even if those change over time, just figure out what is important to you and why!  If you shoot for nothing, you'll hit it every time.  

Will I never ever pick up another textbook to use to teach my children?  I am not saying that at all (see math comment above!).  And I have a very faithful husband who keeps me accountable to fully utilize the resources I have been led to.  (Have I mentioned that I am highly distractible?) We also consult the World Book Typical Course of Study to determine many of the topics we feel are important to cover during our homeschooling years. 

Here is where I ask my questions and then stand on my soapbox for a bit.  When we decide that our children's education will not be complete until our children learn certain things (or do certain things), are we leaving room for the Holy Spirit to work?  Certainly, my husband and I have taken the time to pray and to ask God to lay on our hearts what is important for us to teach our children.  We have agreed and decided on what we believe is important for our children to know.   But beyond the things that God leads us to, are there any further requirements?  And why do we all (read: why do *I*) stress out so much about meeting standards that have been decided by atheist, socialist men who do not believe that our children have eternal souls?  Men who believe that our children should be taken away from us for the majority of their day early in their lives so that our influence on them can be limited as much as possible?

When you read that these people (who, may I remind you and myself, are the ones who decided what the current standards of education should be) do not believe in a Holy God, and feel strongly that parents do not have the right to decide what is best for the children that God has entrusted to us, how does that make you feel?  It makes me feel like shouting from the rooftops that these heathens are trying to take away the most important part of my children's education!  They want to fill my little ones' minds with humanistic philosophies, knowledge of a world that God had no part in creating and doesn't care about today -- actually, how could He care, if He doesn't even exist?  I don't want my children learning about that world.  NO!  I will fight against those teachings with every breath.  Or I should.  I fail often. 

This is what we, as parents who are under God's authority, have been commanded to do.  Deuteronomy 6:4-9  "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.  And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."  Do these sound like the words of a God who doesn't care if we make Him a priority in our children's education?  Where in the Bible does it say, "You shall teach your children arithmetic, phonics, grammar, science, and history.  Oh, and if you have time after that, and everyone is still in a good mood, read a Bible story so that God can have a place in your day."

Do we really and truly believe in the God we say we believe in?  Then we need to teach our children about Him!  Before we do anything else!  Better yet, while we are doing everything else.  God should not be an addendum to our curriculum.  God is a jealous God.  He should be the most important part of our children's education.  We need to reach our children's hearts!!

Do we truly believe that God is all knowing?  All powerful?  Then why do we think that we have failed if we don't teach our children every bit of knowledge that is in the world today, during the 13 years of their "formal education?"  (Yes, I am over-exaggerating to make my point.)  How many times does a girl go all the way through school, college, graduate school... and then realize that her most fulfilling role is as a loving, humble wife and mother serving her family and helping and uplifting her husband as God intended for married women to do?  How many times does a boy go through school, college, etc. and end up doing something completely different from what he has spent decades being trained to do? 

As a Christian, it is my duty to develop in my children a love for God, a fear of His Almighty Power, and an ability to be still and listen to the Holy Spirit's leading in their lives!!  What could possibly be more important than that?  Yes, the grammar will be taught.  Yes, they will be required to know their math facts.  I am not arguing with the fact that those things are important.  However, I am realizing that my priorities have shifted from emphasizing academics above all else (who doesn't want their kids to excel?) to making sure that following God is our family's top priority.

This post may seem disjointed and all over the place!  I realize that there are many topics here.  I will try to answer my own questions along my homeschool journey for the benefit of others.  I have been pondering many questions over the past few years.  Some of them I have answered for myself, and some of them I am still seeking answers to.  I have been reading Educating the Wholehearted Child, by Clay and Sally Clarkson, and it is challenging and encouraging me, and is opening up a whole new perspective on homeschooling for me.  I have also been introduced over the past couple of years to the Eclectic Education Series and Sherry Hayes at Large Family Mothering.  These people, and their wonderful resources that have been birthed from decades of teaching their own children, have helped this searching mama find some truths that I needed to hear. 

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