(The following is another guest blog from Cindy LaJoy. She offers an interesting view of education as directed by the student’s interests, one I agree with and think is worth a good reading.)
The journey to becoming the homeschooling family we want to be is not an easy one. Like any pursuit, you start at the beginning, and along the way you find your true path. This happens almost magically, if you sit back and allow it to. Oh, we often force ourselves to try this or that, or we feel obligated to follow what we know…which is frequently something that looks similar to public education, only it happens at our kitchen table.
Given time and allowing ourselves the space to “become”, we eventually tippy toe into new territory. It is uncomfortable at times, and it feels as if we are walking on unstable ground. Like quick sand, we could suddenly find ourselves stuck in the mire that sucks us downward, taking our kids and our best intentions right along with us.
But sometimes, we discover something that perhaps we innately already knew but were afraid to act on. Our kids can and will teach themselves, if they only have the opportunity and are allowed to follow their heart’s desire. Sure, it may take time for that to happen, it may take a period of de-schooling, it may take years of exploration and pattern breaking for them to find their passion. But it will happen, if we adults just get out of the way.
We are beginning year three of our homeschooling adventure, and finally I think I am finding my own center. I have come to view my role far differently than those first terror filled months when anxiety was at a fever pitch and I asked myself “How can I ever teach them everything they will need to know? How can I possibly think I can do this, and do it well?”
I no longer see myself as “teacher”, although I certainly step into those shoes from time to time. I no longer feel the full weight of responsibility for our children’s education, although I do recognize that overall I am the one to whom the state will turn for proof of their progress. The difference between two years ago and now is that I have a far better handle on what my most important role is, and that is to be the facilitator of their education.
There is no single person on earth who could ever teach all that a child should know prior to graduation, particularly if one adheres firmly to the idea that there is some sort of mystical set of perfect academic standards that students should be held to. Knowing this to be true, I am gradually learning to trust my own children to guide me in finding ways I can be helpful to them. I am seeing ever more clearly that each of my five children will likely need a different knowledge base to effectively serve them in their life’s work. Sure, we all acknowledge they will need to perform well in the basic skills of reading, writing and math, but beyond that, each is an individual and headed in their own direction in life. What may be important to one child will be pointless for another to learn. Helping steer each child to explore their own gifts and talents is far more important than pounding advanced calculus into the head of a child who will ultimately never use calculus in their future career as, say, a sandwich shop owner.
Another discovery is that each of us has buried within us a sense of curiosity about the world around us, and that natural inclination to learn and explore can be beaten out of us more easily than anyone might ever realize. If I, as Mom/Teacher, can see to it that I provide access and opportunity, more often than not my children will take the bull by the horns and learn more on their own than I ever could have taught them myself with a pre-programmed curriculum. While I am not someone who could go the full unschooling route, I can certainly see merit in allowing kids to follow their own rabbit trails and see where it leads them. Most often, I think it will lead to study of subjects that will eventually morph into fulfilling life long careers or avocations that are spirit filling. However, sometimes that takes getting the “teacher” out of the way.
We currently have one son entering 7th grade, and in fact he was our main impetus for making the decision to homeschool. His boredom in the classroom was borne without complaint, but his demeanor said it all…”I can barely tolerate this…I am losing myself and my dreams.” are the words that went unspoken as he valiantly attempted to please the adults around him. He had passions already at the young age of 10, and no way of working toward pursuing them. He wanted to be a pilot, and has always had a fascination with all things air oriented. How was 5th grade work going to help him pursue his passion?
We leapt, we pulled him out just in time, and we saw quite quickly what had left him…a hard won desire to read, the twinkle in his eye as he learned some new fact, any thought about a future that would be of interest to him. It took a few months, but we got that child back, and now his academic work has meaning again. We brought him home and let him read any book on military equipment and flight that caught his fancy. This naturally led to a greater interest in history in general and now he is voraciously reading every single one of the old Landmark history series I can get my hands on (in fact he packed 4 of them along to a one week church camp just this morning!). He has landed in multiple airfields as he has learned all about flight utilizing Microsoft’s Flight Simulator program, and he has decided to learn German this coming semester as he thinks he might like to fly someday for Lufthansa. He also has just joined the Civil Air Patrol and now has a goal to get his pilot’s license well before he graduates high school, and to work through one of their unique camp opportunities at an assembly plant for Boeing where he can learn even more about aeronautics.
And all of this came from giving him more freedom with his learning. It also made all the necessary subjects more meaningful, as he knows he will need certain basic skills to pursue his dreams, which are not being delayed until “someday”.
We have four more children for whom we hope the same thing happens. We are starting to see it in our youngest, who has already declared he thinks he wants to be a doctor and followed his own interest at 8 years old and dissected a frog and a duck, complete with measuring the intestines and squeezing blood out of the chambers of the heart in complete fascination. Our other son is deeply interested in theology at 12 years old, and has a book of “Godly Questions” to discuss with our pastor. Will this lead to work in ministry? Possibly, and in public school where would he be able to work with THAT passion?
What our kids need is our help as they find things of interest, they need us to create opportunities for them to explore those areas that are intriguing to them, and to expose them to all the things in this world about which they have no knowledge. Sure, they might try 50 different things and only one of them “sticks”, but they have to experience that first 49 to get to number 50!!
My growth as a mom and an educator has been staggering this past couple of years, as I learn right alongside my children. We are companions on this journey of life, and I no longer feel a need to lead them along by a leash, tugging them away from things that capture their interest in order to force feed them. They will find their own way, and I will walk just a bit behind them, offering suggestions and encouragement, and perhaps sharing a word of wisdom here or there. Sure, we’ll still have to swallow some subjects that are not deeply engaging, but when also allowed to follow gifts those go down a little more easily.
In the long run though, our children teach themselves just as much as we teach them. I am glad I am learning that!