Can we quit talking about curriculum?
I surf the web looking for where the currents are, the tides – how homeschooling is understood and bandied about by other home educators. What philosophy guides today’s new homeschooler? What are the issues they care most about?
Hard to say. Hard to know. Why? Because most homeschooling discussion boards and blogs have a surprisingly narrow aim: the hunt for curricula. There is an unending need to identify, shop for and examine new methods for every subject under the sun every year, even every month! No one seems satisfied with what was used last year, unless, of course, you were and now you can write sixteen pages of posts extolling its transcendent virtues! (By the way, I so get this having done it myself.) Lord knows, I’ve received valuable advice that has “saved the day” in subject areas that were sincere struggles for us, too. So I’m not saying never to discuss curricula.
Still, what bothers me as I click around today is that it appears the forums and boards have been reduced to these conversations. In fact, may I dare make a bold statement? It seems to me that many moms love having a place to share about homeschooling so much, they become obsessive about curriculum shopping in order to sustain a reason to return to the board and friendly community. In other words, you don’t get to “play” on the boards unless you have a curriculum question! As a result, moms spend a lot of time developing ever more questions to help them have reasons to interact with all the other cool homeschooling moms that they love!
A strange disquiet grows when this is the approach (this endless dissatisfaction with our current curricula choices) though. Rather than talking about the real life scenarios that we all find ourselves in on a day-to-day basis, we stay in the realm of theory – the potential application of a curriculum we don’t own to our kids that we only partially reveal to the online world.
Then we spend more money and yet still have to think of new questions in order to return to the support and friendship of the moms on the forums, boards or in the blogs. What a cycle! It utterly guts the power of online community. It leads to a compulsive need to reevalaute every single curriculum decision every time you read a new post. I can remember even reading a comment one night where the mom said, “I really love what we’re using for X, but now that you bring up Y, I think I’m going to switch. It sounds so tantalizing!”
You know what tantalized her? Not just the curriculum. It was the opportunity to play on the forums, to affirm this other mom, to type a post and be a part of the conversation. We all need that. My goodness, it’s lonely at home. The Internet is a revolution of interconnections that has made homeschooling this incredibly powerful universe of interdependent relationships that deeply satisfy. I’m all for it!
Still, I want to suggest a few things.
First, let’s stop talking about curricula only.
Let’s talk about your kids. Let’s talk about how you are living the dream – the life that you always wanted with your children. Wordly Wise is not living the dream. Buy it or not but don’t waste another second of your precious life deciding if you want a $7.60 workbook. Don’t use up your valuable free time (time you could spend drinking margaritas with a friend or playing Zooreka with your 5 year old) talking about math endlessly. Pick a math book and use it. Get help if you don’t understand it. If it rises to the level of crisis (Math. Isn’t. Working!), then by all means devote time to finding a solution online.
Second, find places online to chat about this kind of stuff:
how to help a slow learner (not what to use for a slow learner, but how to be a better mother to a slow learner); what to do with five kids under 10 who need both your focused attention and your supervision; why it matters that you spend your days playing games and going to the park as opposed to filling in blanks in workbooks; how you can recharge your own battery; what you ought to be reading and enjoying as an adult learner who is still engaged in developing a self, not just a role…
Third, study homeschooling philosophy with friends.
Pick a home education book and read it together. Or study and share the Charlotte Mason Home Education Series. Or find a bunch of friends to hash out the real meaning of unschooling. (If you ever find it, let me know. I think it’s the holy grail of home education methodologies… elusive). Dig around in the ideas that go with educating your kids, not just which materials can do the job. It will actually make it easier for you to evaluate curricula if you have a guiding philosophy first.
Fourth, share your successes.
It’s so helpful to be reminded of what is working (not just which materials). For instance, couldn’t we all use more help with how to support a dawdler without yelling? Or wouldn’t it be nice to read about one of those mornings where your kids started a chain reaction of learning (they read the ingredients on the cereal box, which led to looking up “malodextrin” on the Internet, which led to asking about where sugars come from, which led to reading about sugar refineries, which made your kids wonder where sugar was grown, which found you looking at pictures of cane fields in Hawaii, which led to playing with hula hoops in the backyard)?
Not all online conversation has to be about homeschooling. Be sure to talk about redoing your kitchen, the coming general election, what movie you saw over the weekend, how to seduce your husband into a date night… that kind of stuff. We all need it.
I hope I don’t come across as too didactic here. I’m a veteran of online communities. I have been playing on the Internet since 1996 back when homeschooling groups were merely a bunch of email addresses copied and pasted into an address window. Gosh, that was a long time ago! And I’m sure there are lots of you who have these kinds of online spaces where you get to discuss the whole range of ideas and issues that create your family lives. Still, if for a moment I could be that little Jewish mother who nags you to drink up all the broth rather than just slurping the noodles, don’t give too much of yourself to curricula discussion. In the end, curriculum is only a part of the overall atmosphere of the home and the quality of the learning experience.
Become an interesting person yourself, develop online relationships that inspire you to be a better you, and play with your kids. Curricula will sort itself out in the end. It has a way of doing that.