I’ve spent time reading around the Internet, thinking about the various versions of home education (from classical to unschooling to Charlotte Mason to text books). When I began with my kids in 1992, the Internet had not yet emerged. We were limited to books and small group meetings. I remember watching a film series about Konos with my buddies. Sold! We didn’t do any more research. We simply embarked, together, into some of my best homeschool memories (dress up clothes, facepaints, great foods, ear canal diagrams made with cookie sheets and hoses).
Today, it’s bewildering to sort through the maze of what constitutes right living, right parenting, right home education, right politics, right curriculum choices.
The biggest hurdle, for me, was to let go of my idealism (characteristic of the 30s!) and pay attention to my family. I did, at some crucial moments in my journey, fall prey to the temptation to take someone else’s rubric for their home education lifestyle as a rulebook for mine.
Painful lessons ensued.
When you use someone else’s hard-won wisdom as a template for your life, you’re in danger of subverting your own evolving wisdom for your family. It’s okay to “try” suggestions and see how they work out. That’s necessary for growth. It’s good to try a practice, see how it goes, and then say honestly: “Well that didn’t work the way I thought it would” or “Maybe it takes a different tone of voice or family culture, but this isn’t working for me and I don’t want to keep trying.”
It’s another thing to bend the results or wish away your anxiety. It’s not honest to pay more attention to how others will evaluate how you live than how what you are doing is impacting your children. It’s not okay for you emotionally to pretend a practice is effective, when you know in your heart it isn’t working the way you believed it would.
If you find yourself hiding the results of your choices in order to “fit in” with a group of home educators, you’ve begun the slow descent into homeschooling hell. It’s a cave of dripping condescension and you wonder why “this stuff” works for everyone but you.
If you are more worried about whether you are following the plan than creating peace in your home, you will not have peace in your home.
If your spouse is not “on board” with the decisions you make during the day, when that partner comes home at night, the children will know that there are two different kinds of “family” in their house, and they have to adapt to both, affirming each one, silently. This is crazy-making.
If you know the leaders or moderators of a group, and you’re afraid to say the truth about your experience in their presence, it’s not a healthy environment for exploration and discovery.
It’s good to remember that lots of families have happy memories, enjoy dinner together, exchange inside jokes, and find ways to educate their young.
It’s good to remember that you have options. You are not a failure if you change your plan or philosophy because of new information or due to that parental niggling doubt about some practice that just doesn’t sit right with you, no matter how many other people tell you it is the KEY to happiness and wellbeing.
It’s good to remember that you can’t know it all at age 30 or 40 (or 50!). But you especially can’t know it before you know it through lived experience. You are experimenting until your last child turns 18. Truly.
Not only that, but life has a way of upsetting the apple cart of your most prized philosophies. Stay flexible and attentive.
This journey of parenting (because education is merely a subset of that experience) is not for the weak. It takes a certain strength to choose to guide the next generation (our young) into responsible adulthood. No wonder we are terrified of getting it wrong!
One of the reasons I enjoyed homeschooling so much (even though there were a couple of years where I hung in by my fingernails) is that I discovered as I went, that I was creating my own patchwork quilt of home education for my family. Like an heirloom quilt, really. It would look like us, it would reflect our personalities, it would accommodate our weaknesses, and champion our strengths.
I share stuff in Brave Writer that my family tried and liked, that worked well for us. I happen to like some intentionality around learning, and I like planned experiences. I discovered during my “unschooling” experiment that even as relaxed and loosey goosey as I can sometimes be, we all functioned with more alacrity when we followed a bare minimum routine—some predictable practices that were like comforting friends we returned to each day. I learned that home could be homey while also creating room for academics (yes, that word – not just a lifestyle of learning – which I love, but also the preparation for rhetorical thinking and college academics that I value and enjoy so much).
I don’t think there’s a utopia for parenting and education, though there are principles that help me be empathetic, kind, attentive, and disciplined. I learn every day from Brave Writer parents who call me—the literal dozens and dozens of ways you each tweak your home environments and academic goals to suit your family’s tastes, to make learning a lifestyle and an academic challenge.
All I wanted to say in this post is: Keep going. Tell the truth. Make changes. Trust yourself.
Cross-posted on facebook.