Life kept getting in the way of my highly structured, subject-by-subject plan.
I started homeschooling, officially, in August of 2003. My oldest child was a few months away from his fifth birthday, and he missed the cut-off to start kindergarten. His sister was 20 months old.
I bought myself a teacher’s lesson planner and a grade book, alongside stacks and stacks of homeschooling materials. I got the first few weeks of our homeschool all planned out in that handy lesson planner. I readied the books and the supplies. And I ignored the nagging feeling that there was more to learning, more to a quality education, than the scope and sequence laid out by a publisher. We were, after all, going to rock this homeschool thing!
Except that we didn’t. Life kept getting in the way. Things that I secretly thought were more important – like morning cuddles, playing trains or superheroes, building forts, reading stories, riding bikes, going to the park, and field trips – those things all kept getting in the way. And I let them. We were all happier when I stopped fighting it.
I felt overwhelmed and inept.
Our first official week of homeschooling hadn’t even ended before I was already behind on the scheduled schooling. That lesson planner was the bane of my existence. It practically screamed, “You’re incompetent! And you’re going to ruin your child!” at me every time I saw it.
My son’s natural love of learning was being squashed.
I wasn’t the only one feeling overwhelmed and inept. My poor little guy, who wasn’t even five years old yet, was also feeling the pressure. I could see his natural love of learning being squashed under the weight of all of this stuff that somebody else had decided he “needed” to know right then and there.
I never felt good about any of the options available to me if I had to make my kids “do school”.
When my kids’ desires to learn what they wanted to learn clashed with my ideas about what they should learn, I didn’t like any of the options that were available to me if I was going to push the issue. As I saw it, my options were to leverage their interests, coercion, manipulation, bribery, or outright force. I never found any other options once I went toe-to-toe against a pint-sized package of stubborn, willful defiance. None of those options felt good.
This homeschooling thing, when I departed from what I was coming to believe about education, was destroying my relationships with my kids. That was completely unacceptable to me. There is nothing in the world that is important enough for my kids to know that is worth damaging our relationships to make them learn.
None of my kids learned how to read when the schools said they should.
Apparently these days, kids have to learn how to read in kindergarten because somewhere, some faceless, nameless bureaucrats decided that kindergarten was the necessary time for children to learn to read. Well, none of mine did, but all three of them insisted upon learning when they were ready.
Jarrod didn’t learn how to read until he was seven, and he didn’t turn into a good reader until he was eight. Erica, who later ended up being diagnosed with dyslexia, really struggled with learning how to read. Somehow, by the grace of God, she learned…but she was closer to 10 before things started clicking for her. And Jillian, who is seven now, is just now reading beginning readers.
So, none of my kids learned to read at the prescribed time. Rather, they each learned in their own time, and I have three children who love to read.
My kids started showing me what it would look like when I waited for their needs and desires to drive what they learned.
As I was learning to let go of what I thought schooling was supposed to look like, my kids started showing me what it would look like when I waited for their needs and desires to drive what they learned.
When he was eight, Jarrod came across the Spiderwick Chronicles Book of Monsters, which is written in…cursive. And he wanted to read that book! Badly. So he asked me to teach him how to read and write cursive. I did, and he learned – without the fighting, nagging, and tears I had anticipated would tag along when I had envisioned what it would be like to teach him cursive a few years earlier.
When he was 11, Jarrod discovered (much to his dismay) that one of the merit badges he wanted to earn as a Boy Scout required him to write a research paper. He had, to that point, refused to write. He insisted that he hated it. But man, he wanted that merit badge…badly enough to go learn the thing he said he hated, in order to earn it!
I could go on and on with story after story of how needs and desires to know something work together to create a beautifully customized education, but I think you get the point.
I started questioning the effectiveness of the status quo.
Traditional classroom learning in segregated grades where attendance is compulsory is a one-size-fits-all approach to education that, frankly, doesn’t work very well. Every student must learn the same material, at the same time, with the same method, to the same degree, and with the same resources as every other student in the class. I think that’s crazy.
Additionally, a careful examination of the contemporary wisdom that it’s important for kids to get good grades in high school so they can go to a good college so that they can get a good job reveals that while it may still be contemporary advice, it isn’t very wise. It’s antiquated, a relic of the Industrial Age. Young people are graduating from universities saddled with mind-boggling amounts of debt and unable to find those promised good jobs in alarming numbers.
I started thinking about how and why people actually learn.
This isn’t rocket science, but it’s one of the primary reasons why authority-driven, one-size-fits-all approaches to education either fail outright or encounter so much resistance and disengagement from students. People learn more and learn easier when they are interested in the material. The process is smoother when someone understands and buys into the reason for learning something before anyone tries to teach it to them.
Trying to force an unwilling, resistant child to learn something is a lot like herding cats. It’s an exercise in futility. Sure, you can leverage their interests, bribe them, manipulate them, or coerce them, and the less stubborn children may perform. They may do the assignment or do what it takes to pass the test just to get you off their backs…but have they really learned anything? Furthermore, what have you just taught them about learning?
Adults all follow the same basic process for learning something. First, we must recognize a need or a desire to know or be able to do something. Then, we locate the resources and materials we want to use. We study or practice until we’re satisfied, and then we move onto the next thing.
The only time in people’s lives that they will have little to no control over what they learn, when they learn it, how much of it they learn, and which resources they will use to learn it is when they are children who are unlucky enough to wind up stuck in an authority-directed educational system. It isn’t that children are incapable of making sound decisions about the course of their learning; it’s that allowing children the freedom to do so doesn’t do a good job of churning out worker bees and it’s less convenient for the purposes of crowd control in a classroom.
I reflected upon what kind of lives I want my children to be able to build for themselves and what kind of environment I can create and maintain for them that will maximize the odds that they will be equipped to do that.
It wasn’t until my oldest two children were in their teens and I had begun doing a lot of research and reading about entrepreneurship that I finally came to have a full appreciation of just how flawed the current practices and philosophies that govern our approaches to education in mainstream America actually are. They are relics of the Industrial Age. They worked well then, but they are failing young people in staggering numbers in the Information Age.
I saw my own beliefs about education being echoed back at me from the books and websites if the greatest gurus and the movers-and-shakers in success and entrepreneurship…and I was hooked. I was convinced of three things. One, I am on the cutting edge of an absolutely massive shift in how we view education that is coming down the pipeline; it has already started and is slowly gaining momentum. Two, it is more important than ever for me to continue to allow my children to direct their own educations. And three, I was also deeply convicted that this is a message that needs to be shared with other people who have nagging doubts about the status quo but don’t know what to do instead.