19 August 2009

Homeschooling 311

A long, hyperbolic, opinionated rant aimed at no one and everything.

There is no such thing as homeschooling. This somewhat existential yet deeply actual fact can perhaps be more fully understood this way: “Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

My husband and I decided against sending our kids to organized school when our oldest was around three. We decided this not out of some smug sense of our own superiority or because we believed the conspiracy-thumping hypsters. We decided this because we spent so much time doing dirty parenting jobs, we figured we could just as well do the dirty work of teaching the children to read on top of it all. And because we’re really, really possessive, but I’ll get into that some other time.

So we started researching our options and found that there are billions of stars in the homeschooling universe; homeschooling is infinite and being stretched infinitely into everything and nothing, so on, &c. And, as if this weren’t complicated enough, homeschooling is legion: structured, un-, eclectic; Classical, Charlotte Mason, Waldorf . . . It never ends. It cannot end. If it did, it wouldn’t be homeschooling.

But! While homeschooling is, ultimately, impossible to define, each method of homeschooling is at once inclusive and exclusive. In fact, once you select an approach you had better stick to it, for every other method is instant death.

Should you wish really to be a classical homeschooler, then you must follow the pre-fab structure laid out in this carefully researched, HISTORICALLY PROVEN! book; you must purchase every last colorfully packaged piece of curriculum provided by this publisher; you must commit your every waking moment to a scheduled scrutiny of each modicum of information about the history of the West, and only in this way can you be considered “classical.” If you really want to be an unschooler, then—good news!—you need purchase nothing. But if your kid is not naked but for a thick crust of mud at least once a day, and if you schedule bedtimes or expect the two-year-old to put her poop in the toilet instead of in the garden, then you don’t pass muster.

Which is the crux of the problem. The homeschooling universe dares to stretch far past education into life control. In some circles, should you wear conventional clothing or—gasp!—makeup, don’t even think about calling yourself a homeschooler. In other circles, should you purchase your bread pre-sliced, should you even go so far as to bake bread with flour you did not mill yourself (HT: Rebekah), do not presume to call yourself a homeschooler. In other circles, should you think Bible Bowl competitions weird, should you enjoy reading Harry Potter, should you vaccinate, should you consider using a curriculum that even mentions Charles Darwin in passing, give up and go Public. And in still other circles, should you dare mention that perhaps the Virgin Mary had no other children but Christ, or that the Book of James is a good read, or that—egad!—you dislike barley and hops, get out your helmet! You will likely be stoned.

Under such conditions, the potential for gravitational collapse is very high. Hence, good and gentle reader, the conclusion that homeschooling does not exist—too many contrary variables. And if homeschooling does exist, it surely has an event horizon by now. Best just to leave it alone.

So, how, then, to talk about this thing that I do all day, every day with my kids? I don’t know yet, really. “Homeschooling” makes me sad and angry, so I don’t do it anymore. Instead, like some of the other DIYEducation types we know, my husband and I just do whatever we want, whenever we want, however we want to do it: We buy scads of books (buy them, unless they’re kitschy, because I don’t like having to stuff a book into even a generous library’s return policy timeframe). Some of these books are professed curricula, some of them are turn-of-the-century crazy, some of them just look fun. We take lots of trips out to Grandpa’s farm, we watch BBC videos on YouTube, we cook, we play, we read, we write, we figure
. . .

I don’t want to call our days’ activities “homeschooling,” because doing so attaches too many politics and makes our days’ activities more difficult than they need to be. You know, when I obligate myself to a group, or a philosophy, or a government in something as basic and as mine as the raising of my children, the raising of my children is suddenly dictated by the external obligator.* My kids are mine, given to me by God, the giver of all good things. He entrusts me with their care, and as my Master He may then dictate the terms of all eternal matters relating to my children. We don’t mess around with Scripture or catechetical instruction, neither do we blow off church as Warm and Fuzzy Hour. God, we take very seriously, because He loves us.

But on matters of mere human construct (things that are passing away even as I type this), I’m going to do with and for my children what I think best according to my confession. Homeschool Materials Publishers do not love us. They want our money. Thus, I submit to the Church, but I will not submit to Susan Wise Bauer.

I also get that I’m enacting modern ideals in a post-modern way, but let’s not talk about that just now. Look kids, a butterfly! Catch it and identify it in under ten minutes, and I’ll let you help me bake a half batch of Dad’s favorite cookie.

*And for those of you who choose to send your kids to school, be it Lutheran or private or government, be it known that you can’t really choose wrong when it comes to your kids’ education. There are good schools and bad schools, to be sure, but there is no such thing as The Only Way in matters of learning how to write your name.


Reb. Mary said...

Having recently cannonballed into this alternate universe, I deeply appreciate this post ;)

Melrose said...

Gauntlets- This post deserves to be in print, then framed and preserved for all time in the Homeschooler's Hall of fame. But then I suppose people would be begging you to write a book, publish your own curriculum, and guide their every step at home out of their own laziness or lack of self confidence. :) Nevertheless, I like the "Gauntlet Approach" and I shall henceforth be a Gauntlet Method Homeschooler :D

The Mama said...

Sounds like eclectic homeschooling to me.

I kid, I kid!

I agree completely.

Jeff said...

This was a great post...

Just thought I'd say that, now back to lurking.

Monique said...

Thank you for such a great and most timely post. Currently, I am knee high in curriculum catalogs, trying to decide how I will fit all this into my already hectic day. Also realizing that I just might have to start selling my blood in order to afford it all.

As parents we do need to be reminded that our primary concern is the condition of our children's soul. Everything else is totally and completely secondary.

In my devotion this morning I came across this great prayer by Starck's.

"On the last day let me stand at Thy right hand with all my children and say to the praise of Thy holy name: Behold, here I am, my God, and the children which Thou hast given me; I have lost none of them"

Reb. Mary said...

Monique: That parents' prayer of his both inspires and terrifies me :O

Monique said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dakotapam said...

No matter what choices we make, our kids will still blame us for something later in life...such is life this side of heaven.

Rebekah said...

>>The homeschooling universe dares to stretch far past education into life control.

Which is why I feel about homeschoolers like Andy Rooney does (or used to) about pro-lifers. :P Present company and other actual friends excepted, of course.

I'd also just like to mention that this blog is more sci-fi than it gets credit for.

Jane said...

That was awesome.
Simply awesome.

Cheryl said...

What Jane said.

You know, Gauntlets, you're being kind of stingy limiting this brilliance to CSPP readers. I know a bunch of other people who could benefit from a few of your cerebral crumbs if you should care to brush them off the table. :-)

Elephantschild said...

So well said, it approaches manifesto status.

Thank you.

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

Completely agree. I was venturing into homeschooling when The Well Trained Mind debuted, and I read it and said "I can't do this!" I was already leaning toward classical simply because I loved Mortimer Adler and his work with the classics. But then the 2nd book that I ventured upon was Creating Your Own Classical Curriculum (or something like that, I can't find the book). All of a sudden, we went from 1st grade needed 5-6 hours to 1 hour. Then, I read Charlotte Mason, The Bluedorns, etc.

I ended up taking the La Leche League philosophy of "Take what you want, leave the rest behind" In philosophy, I am guided by classical and Charlotte Mason ideals, but I often look like an unschooler (or worse, a flake). The underlying philosophy guides us, but the method ends up being bended to work with us...and my kids do pretty well with it. We tried Veritas Press Omnibus last year and when we were constantly tense and pressured (and I was correcting a lot of theology as we read), I realized it wasn't working, and so we just started reading the literature they recommended (except for the Calvinist stuff), and just enjoyed it. 7th grade is too young to start hating Homer. I want him to have a better start than I did. So cuddling on the couch, reading a chapter at a time of the Odyssey works well. After all, how much longer will he be willing to cuddle with his mom as I read? And my 1st grader is absorbing the story as well as she comes in and out of the room.

I'm pretty proud of you for figuring all of this out so early!

The Mama said...

I hear so many people rave about Omnibus- but I keep wondering that about the theology. Is it that prevalent?

Pam said...

Gauntlets, you are awesome. If we survive this crazy year of driving half the day to take our kids to Lutheran school, I hereby also adopt the Gauntlets Method. I mean it, I might not survive!

But I am far more encouraged that we could return to homeschooling after getting our house in order if I could possibly quit setting such standards for myself that we can't actually *enjoy* it, after which point, well, what's the point anymore???

Gauntlets said...


To you icons of Lutheran homeschooling (you know who you are), I say, please be my friends and tell me everything you know. 'Cause now that I'm off the grid I'm in the dark. Though the jump was really fun.