I really struggle with my words when I attempt to write about how we home-schooled high school. I mentioned this before, and I’ll say it again now: The spirit and life of our high school grew out of the atmosphere—values, interests, work, hobbies, past-times, and discipline—we created in the early years. And even though I recently posted a list of qualities describing the values that created our home and learning atmosphere, yours will be different even if your values and lifestyle are nearly identical to ours. That’s the cool thing about individuals and families. God has made each one truly and wonderfully unique, and as the years go by, it is a pleasure to watch, create, and enjoy what I think can be fairly called an artful life.
So, going into high school, my kids already had some full-blown interests, and the seeds of other interests had germinated. Still other interests and gifts were dormant and yet to be discovered. In other words, we were on a roll. I say this, but I also think that it’s worth attempting, at any age, to develop a poetic life—to attempt to break through duty to re-engage with wonder, curiosity, and the pursuit of a thing for the love of it.
I’ll add that some of what I was not only comfortable with, but was quite happy with, are pursuits that some of you may not be able to think of as “academic” or educational at all. How many of you, for instance, are comfortable watching your 13-year-old play “stuffed animal soccer” for hours a day? Or spending long school days building an elaborate fort? Can you see the importance of it and what is being developed in this kind of play? Can you look beyond traditional academic productivity to see a powerful creative and intellectual development occurring in play and other non-bookish-academic pursuits? How many of you are comfortable with only a minimal amount of utilitarian writing coming out of one of your children, even in high school? (Can you see that the tools and deep thinking that make up good writing are profoundly there in the child—if they indeed exist in your child; and do you know how to tell if they do?—but are yet largely undeveloped on paper? Can you believe that it can take only a month or so to come together into powerful—even lauded—writing, but it might not happen until the first term of college? Are you okay with that? Do you have vision and faith to believe it will happen?) How many of you are comfortable taking a hands-off approach to your child’s learning and taking on the role of leader, mentor, encourager, motivator, facilitator? Of largely standing alongside in the process of learning rather than only commanding from above?
But this approach does not mean that a parent stands aside and wrings his hands hoping that something is going to come of this education. And it does not mean that a parent does not lead. The parent’s role in this is not passive but is very active and under-girded by a guiding vision and educational view. So, the simple fact that my kids played stuffed animal soccer for hours should not, by itself, assuage the worry of parents whose children are busy at pursuits that seem to them like a waste of time. It’s not enough to justify an isolated pursuit—one must view and assess the big picture. And it is your own vision and educational philosophy that should assuage your unrest. We all need vision. “Without a vision, a people perish.” If you don’t have one, get one. :-)
I happen to be one who sees the glass half-full and views the world through rosy-tinted glasses. I am an optimist, a hoper, and a believer. And I saw my children’s playful pursuits as supremely important. I saw their skills and abilities and inclinations and could imagine these coalescing into something wonderful, given time. I was cut out for a homeschooling life that requires some patience, vision, and faith. Without these traits, I would have bitten my nails and worried. But I didn’t. I believed all along that my children were becoming deeply educated in ways that don’t occur easily in a schoolish environment. What I valued was not what is valued in our modern system of education, and I think this kept our educational atmosphere relaxed.
Ours most certainly isn’t the only method or philosophy of learning that can be poetic or guided by curiosity, interest, and passion. Of course not! And even the most schoolish homeschooling environment can leave room for interests to flourish, for curiosity to lead the way, and for wonder to invade the heart of a child. So, if you are happy with your homeschool and you believe your children are lively learners and energetically engaged with life and learning, then please keep doing what you are doing. Not only am I not trying to sway you to our way of learning, but part of me is tempted to sway you against it! Because even if you are frustrated with your homeschool, I might not have any answers for you. I have no idea what the situation is in your home, and when you read my words, they might translate as something far different than what I really mean. (This is why I give a lot of examples of how learning looked in our home.)
Which brings up another problem. I’ve been talking with my kids about what to say and what not to say about our homeschool, their interests and pursuits and projects, and where this all led them. And they are quite happy with me sharing about our homeschool days, though they prefer that, in some cases, I should not use names. One of my children also said that the learning life in our home was rich and deep and joyful and full of life, and it was valid whether or not the kids went to college or ended up accomplishing things that most people want to see homeschoolers achieve.
So, should I talk about my kids’ experience with college or not? Should I tell you about my children’s achievements or the honors they have earned? I understand that, for many, seeing “success” in this area is a validation of our chosen way of learning and one that gives vision or hope. But I don’t know if I can speak to that end because it was never what guided us; it was never what “validated” our choices; it was never what we were going for.
My children prefer that I speak about our homeschool days and years but not about their lives afterward because they believe that it is irrelevant—that their learning life was valid, positive, and very good no matter what they chose to do after homeschooling. And for me to speak publicly (though it is a small public I am speaking to!) of their lives now is also too personal for them, I think.
Having read my blog(s), you already know that at least some of my children attended college. But is it not valid to choose a path other than college? To choose work that offers little notice, little status, and little pay? Can this person live a life worthy of the calling of Christ? Of course! One thing I have always believed is that education is not for a career—it is for life. God does not judge us by our station in life but values how we love Him and love others. It’s that simple.
All I can speak to is the basic vision that guided us. My goals were mostly “spiritual” in nature. This is what really mattered to me, and I can only discuss our way of learning on this level:
1. I wanted my children to develop a lifelong love of learning. A lifestyle of learning where their curiosity and wonder couldn’t be contained—and shouldn’t be commandeered—but would bubble over into all kinds of interests and pursuits. I didn’t want learning to be something the kids saw as a duty to get over with so that their real life could resume. I didn’t want reading and science, history and writing, or any other traditional “subject” to become distasteful, as these subjects had with so many of their school friends. (“You’re reading that because you want to?!” or “You write for fun?!”) I wanted learning to mesh naturally with our real, daily lives—from morning to night and flowing into the weekend—as much as possible.
Loving to learn is not the same thing as having fun, though it can be extremely pleasurable. Discipline and hard work come into this, but I’ll address this later.
2. I wanted my children to have the freedom to pursue their education according to the way God made them. I was (and am) convinced that, truly, we are each unique and fearfully and wonderfully made. It doesn’t take much watching to see that children have their own inclinations as far as what is interesting and fun to do. Children are passionate learners, pursuing their interests with energy and zeal, and each child stands apart from others in his manner, personality, and inclinations. It is in school that these learning inclinations must be set aside for a more homogenized education. I did not want my children’s learning to be homogenized or pasteurized or anything else of that nature. I wanted their natural learning inclinations to be kept whole and raw and alive--the little bacteria of curiosity and interest growing and multiplying and nourishing their little brains! (Haha. I couldn’t resist making a sort of painful metaphor here!)
Becoming who God created them to be is my biggest prayer for my children—that they would know Him, love Him, follow Him, trust Him, serve Him. I really don’t care about anything else. This is my ultimate hope.
Those were the two basic aims of our home-learning, but there were also secondary aims and goals of learning (for how and what we would learn), which I will address later. I can confidently say that ours was not a dumbed down education. My children remain curious and have retained a lovely sense of wonder. They continue to pursue their interests. They are creative, philosophical, insightful, and intelligent. They have learned to think, analyze, and communicate very well. Their learning has gone deep and has spanned wide. They are disciplined. They love to read and then discuss their reading. Conversations with them are interesting, stimulating, and enlightening. In many ways, my kids have educated me. They have certainly inspired me to learn many things!
I’m leaving many holes in this post that will likely bring up questions and objections. It’s so tempting to go back to attempt to fill those obvious gaps, but I can’t say everything, and this is enough rambling for one morning!
Hopefully I’ll address a few of the holes in future posts. I have many areas to cover after today: responsibility, discipline, requirements, and expectations; record-keeping, courses, credits, transcripts, SATs, and college prep; writing and research; what I thought was important--how we chose what to learn and how we “designed” the learning; my role—what I did and didn’t do; project-based learning; the depth and breadth of this kind of learning; what we learned together in our home (what worked and what didn’t); what to do with kids who resist; our daily rhythm; etc. I won't write a post for each of these topics, but will combine some of them.
I'll be mixing a lot of other, regular posts in with these high school writings.