Right off the bat, let me say that this is not another rant against social media. As an extrovert who doesn’t get much time to go out, but who hungers for actual adult interaction, I happen to enjoy social media. I have an active Facebook feed, I regularly interact on a homeschool forum, and obviously I blog for the CME Retreat. I have a few podcasts and blogs that regularly feed my soul and correct my steps. I have met some incredible friends online, some of whom have become real-life friends also. The Interwebs and I... we’re good friends.
I have moderated in the AmblesideOnline forum for almost five years now. In that time, I see some of the same questions, fears, and insecurities rising up again and again. Let’s take a look at a hypothetical homeschool mom; we’ll call her Joan. Joan has been reading Charlotte Mason, and she is inspired and excited. She has settled on the curriculum she is going to use, but she has a few details to work out. Like many good 21st Century educators, she hops online. Let the mind games begin...
Poor Joan. In one evening of web surfing, she added 43 items to her To Do list, spent $250 on that one hard-to-find book that everyone was raving about, is terrified that her kids will never be able to write a narration from the viewpoint of the door in the story, and is currently hiding in the closet with the rest of her children’s Halloween candy stash. Where did Joan go wrong?
Here is what Joan missed. That Shakespeare family? They adore the Bard, and this family production is the only special thing they do all year. The skiing family goes outside so often because their son has Sensory Processing Disorder and struggles to sit still for any length of time. The mom with that fabulous writing curriculum only uses bits and pieces as a jumping off place to inspire her daughter. Without any lessons, the child started reading at age 3 and has been a voracious writer since then. Forcing her to put down her notebook and go outside is a battle. Every day. That family that breathes art? Their child is utterly fascinated by pictures and draws connections between artists that her parents never dreamed of. If she had her way she would skip her readings completely and spend all her time with her sketch book. And that crafty family? That mom is energized by creating with her kids. In fact, she often finds that half the day has slipped past while working on a project, the house is a mess, and she has to order pizza for dinner because there is no time left to cook.
Joan doesn’t see any of this as she peeps in at each single aspect that the family chooses to share. The internet may not be telling lies, but it isn’t telling the whole truth either. Joan is looking at the one area where each of these families excels, and then expecting herself to produce ALL of them. She feels like a failure because she thinks she should be able to combine everything that everyone is good at into her one little family.
Maybe you have been a Joan. I know I have. I have found myself dreading the school day, disappointed in my kids and myself, and feeling completely inadequate. I have been so swamped with possibilities that I can’t figure out what to do next, the goals that once seemed so clear sinking under a sea of ideas. You, too?
My friends, it is time for a gentle reality check. You cannot do it all. Your kids cannot do it all. You cannot take everyone else’s talents and combine them into your own life. Therein lies at least one dangerous aspect of the online world. It offers so many possibilities that we start to think that we should be doing everything that we could be doing.
One of the things I love most about Miss Mason is her beautiful sense of balance. She didn’t tell us to focus only on what our kids like or what we are good at. She encouraged teachers to lay a wide feast for their students. Notice, though, the delicate balance in her curriculum. Morning school time was strictly limited and lessons were kept moving. The time was used wisely and efficiently to sample from the broad variety of subjects. And yet, she didn’t recommend that students skim a little bit of everything and never go deeply. The flip side of this brisk and cheerful morning was leisurely hours in the afternoon. At that point, students had long spaces to work on specific projects or skills that had caught their attention. They could dig deeply into the things that sparked their creativity. In the mornings, they sampled the feast. In the afternoons, they feasted on the dishes they loved. At no point were they expected to eat everything available. We would be wise to take a page out of Miss Mason’s book--any of them, actually.
In a world flooded with a billion webpages, inspiring blogs, and forums full of (often conflicting!) advice we have to fight for a balanced and honest view of our own lives. The internet clamors for our attention--all our attention, all the time, to all the things. If we are going to make room in our lives for the things we have chosen as most important, we have to keep our perspective and draw boundaries.
So how do we know where to draw those boundaries? In Volume 3, Miss Mason makes an interesting observation. She claimed that modern education was failing because it failed to look at the results of its methods.
May I digress for a moment to raise a warning note against the following of blind alleys, whether in our educational thought or our methods. We do not, in the sphere of education, find hidden treasure by casual digging in the common roadways... We may perceive the futility of such notions by applying the test of progress. Are they the way to anything, and, if so, to what? (Volume 3, Home Education, p.243-245)
I propose that we apply the same test to our online time. Is it moving us towards richness and contentment, or is it breeding comparison, insecurity, and dissatisfaction? If the results are negative, the path needs to change. The question isn’t, “To internet or not to internet.” The question is, "What do you need to cut out or make room for so that you can be encouraged towards love and good works?" There have been times when I had to disconnect altogether for a time. I have had to unsubscribe from blogs and thoughtfully cull my Facebook pages.
The internet is a tool. Like any sharp knife, it can carve out the daintiest bits for my family’s enjoyment or it can cut me to the bone. Let’s be wise, keep our end goals in mind, and evaluate whether certain input is encouraging us along the way or distracting us from the path.