Six years ago, on the original M-mv site, I published the post “Homeschooling expert? Nah.” By request, I’ve reworked / reproduced much of the material below.
I have always been startled by e-mail messages from homeschooling parents seeking my counsel, advice, and, as one correspondent put it, “expertise.”
Folks, I am no expert. True, I’ve been doing this for a while — twenty-five years of parenting and eighteen years of home education, to be exact. And, yes, I have graduated three students.
But, “homeschooling expert”? Nah.
Do I have a few tips? Sure. And over the years, I have provided them. It’s not enough, some correspondents have protested. More. Tell more. What program? What schedule? How? When? Where?
Once upon a time ago, a colleague and I were working on yet another Very Important Project (Rush! Rush! Hurry! Hurry!) using a program called Ventura. Other publishing professionals may remember this package. It was a behemoth, but, oh, if you could harness even a bit of its power… the places you could go! Anyway, as always, one or another junior attorney in the firm was strutting and fretting in the hall beyond our suite. “What are you doing? When will it be done? Can’t you hurry? How do you do that?”
In his carefully cultivated “affable mid-Westerner” style, my colleague replied, “You know what, man? It’s like sausage. You really don’t want to know how it’s made. In fact, if you saw how it was made, you would never eat sausage again.”
If you saw how it was made, you would never eat sausage again.
Yeah, I think that about describes how I felt when I fielded yet another request for a homeschooling how-to tutorial. Heh, heh, heh.
Look. I’m not willfully withholding information. I’ve always been blunt, direct, and transparent.
We go out into the world and work, play, and live.
What more can I say?
Perhaps I’m not prepared to provide a conventional how-to tutorial because so much of what I did and what I do is intuitive and specific to me, to my students, and to my family. Besides, describing what we do any more than I already have would be a helluva a whole lot like trying to teach that junior attorney some Ventura “basics.”
If you saw how it was made, you would never eat sausage again.
In September 2009, I read a thought-provoking article on the subject of experts. Two passages in Frank Furedi’s piece struck me. This one:
We are advised to seek and heed to advice of a bewildering chorus of personal experts — parenting specialists, life coaches, relationship gurus, super-nannies and sex therapists, to name a few — who apparently possess the authority to tell us how to live our lives.
While this professionalisation of everyday life has been a distinct trend from the outset of modernity, it has grown at a breathtaking pace since the 1960s, with professionals systematically expanding the range of personal issues that demand expert knowledge. Today, every aspect of life from birth through to school and career to marriage and mourning is subject professional counselling.
While I do think the homeschooling endeavor could benefit from a little more — for lack of a better word — professionalism (i.e., the adoption of some of the traits that make us successful in our more conventional work) — I never bought into the idea of professional motherhood that columnist Anne Quindlen once excoriated. Critics of homeschooling often accuse us of professionalizing everyday life, though; of, in fact, professionalizing motherhood. And frankly? I understand that accusation. While it is not what prompted my decision, I certainly realize that homeschooling seems to have conferred some — again, for lack of better word — status on my choices. Many people maintain that stay-at-home parenting alone does not draw on the education and work experience one has acquired, but they concede that home education may. A little, anyway. (Either that, or they simply dis and dismiss homeschooling parents and their students, which is a topic quite apart from the ideas I’m exploring here, isn’t it?)
I’m hoping we can, for now, sidestep the philosophical exploration the previous paragraph begs (i.e., “What do I care what other people think?”). It will add nothing to this entry. Moving on, then.
The family-centered learning project did, indeed, benefit from and draw on the knowledge gained from my studies and work. While a degree may not be necessary to be a good teacher, I cannot, will not understate the role my own education — which includes a graduate degree and postgraduate studies — has played in my teaching. More, I firmly believe that the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers and that the quality of teachers affects student performance more than anything else. Folks bristle at such assertions, but they keep writing to me: More. Tell more. Don’t become angry, then, when I tell you. My education — and, yes, my work — shaped me, shaped the way I receive and convey information, shaped my idea of what an agile mind comprises, so when I found myself in the most important teaching gig I’ll ever have, I knew I was shaping my students, shaping the way they received and conveyed information, shaping their idea of what an agile mind comprises. I did so responsibly, not with the objective of providing a good elementary, intermediate, or secondary education but with the goal of growing lifelong learners.
Simply put, then, I have ensured that my students can read widely and deeply, write clearly, and think well.
Critics have also accused homeschooling parents of selfishness and self-centeredness, saying that we do what we do to serve needs of our own, not those of our children. I am guilty of one count of this charge, and this is it: I have selfishly spent the last eighteen years molding the sort of readers, thinkers, writers, and students that I sought in my classrooms and workshops once upon a time ago: Inquisitive. Well read. Versed in culture, both of the capital-C and the popular variety. At once thoughtful and challenging. Clear spoken. Confident. Mature. And so on.
While I appreciate the child-like, the childish leaves me cold, so I discarded conventional ideas about grades and age-level appropriateness and what every child needs to know, ignored most of the educational and homeschooling “experts,” and simply gave my students the books, conversations, challenges, opportunities, time, resources, and all required to meet my ideal as quickly and effectively as possible.
The average child is capable of so much more than is typically asked of him or her! He need not be “scary smart” to understand Shakespeare in elementary school. She need not be “gifted” to move quickly through three levels of math. In an environment in which the tools of study are readily available, in a classroom in which the students have been led to understand that this — all of this reading, thinking, learning, discussing, studying, creating, working, and, yes, playing — is their job, in a school in which the teacher can, in fact, teach, damn it, there will be much profitable learning.
It’s just hard to describe what’s happening in such a classroom because it will be unique to that environment, those students, that teacher.
Moreover, folks become intensely uncomfortable when you tell them that, yes, seventh- and eighth-graders can understand college rhetoric, psychology, history, and logic texts. Sure, eleven- and thirteen-year-olds can enroll in college courses. Of course, ten-year-olds can attend museum lecture series. Hell, yeah, a student can do work he loves and earn good grades and graduate from high school with many college credits on his transcript. Certainly, 1.5 hours of music practice daily is possible. And why wouldn’t they be able to join a sports team?
They become even more uncomfortable when you assert that your students are quite normal, really. Each has strengths, weaknesses, talents, flaws. But they have been asked to do what they are capable of doing — regardless of their age — every. single. day. by a teacher who embraces the idea of a lifetime of excellence. No matter what else life may demand.
It’s really that simple.
And, yes, that difficult.
Like working with the 1995 edition of Ventura.
Or making sausage.
Since most homeschooling parents were products of conventional schooling, many remain caught between two false ideas: (1) that simply because they homeschool, their kids are somehow better positioned for success and (2) that learning must be keyed to certain grades, levels, ages.
Elsewhere, I’ve already explored how far off the mark the first idea is, but the second… well, that brings us back to the tyranny of experts, I think — back to all of the e-mail messages asking me, What program? What schedule? How? When? Where? As if I possess the authority to tell someone else what to teach her own child. As if, even if I possessed the authority, the expertise, that what I’ve done here is replicable, that it would work elsewhere.
But I am no expert on the subject of homeschooling, so I won’t add my voice to the “bewildering chorus” telling you which grammar book, reading list, math schedule, foreign language, lab science, etc.
More, I’m not even an advocate of homeschooling. I’m not. Really.
All I can and will say is this: Make your own sausage. My recipe is a family secret. It begins with parenting them well. After that, well, you’re on your own.