My topic was Charlotte Mason and the Older Child: Debunking Myths. I want to explain a little how I arrived at the title.
Oftentimes the next question that surfaces after friends and family have wrapped their mind around your choice to homeschool your children is this one: ‘for how long?’
I get their concern. I suppose the idea of entrusting Kindergartners or first graders to an untrained ‘teacher’ is still within the bounds of a reasonable risk. But high school? What about Chemistry? What about Trigonometry? What about Five-Paragraph Essays? Are we still going to homeschool when the stakes are high(er)?
If you are going to pursue teaching the ‘older child’ or any child, for that matter, there certainly are some things to brush up on; before you get to decisions concerning how you’ll teach upper level math, science or composition, you had better see your way clear to knowing ‘the whys’ underlying what you do.
Everything you teach and the manner in which you teach it is the outworking of a philosophy, expressing beliefs about God and about the nature of being human and what it means to know.
Knowing the ‘whys’ can save you from a great many headaches. But it is not a one-time shot in the arm. Rather, it is constant work to watch out for these untruths, these myths and misconceptions that come at us in so many ways. We need to be vigilant.
In the book of Isaiah, Scripture tells us that “The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the nation of Israel”. The vineyard is a picture of the people of God, amongst whom He has since raised a ‘Branch of the LORD,…beautiful and glorious…to cleanse, and to gather, and to shelter” His people. But in Isaiah’s time, the vineyard was not yielding ‘good grapes’ and where there should have been ‘justice and righteousness,’ there was only death and distress. (Isaiah 4-5)
If we are not careful and wise and dutiful, the vineyards of our homes and schools will not produce their rightful, God-intended fruit either. In fact, we will not recognize those ‘little foxes that ruin the vineyards that are the LORD’s. (Song of Songs 2:15)
What I am suggesting is that if we are not clear on the nature and purpose of education and on the nature and purpose of our children, we will allow just any old foxes amongst our vines, not realizing until too late, that these foxes are aimed at their destruction. Our goal should be to first expose and rid ourselves of some of those foxes threatening our vineyards; those ideas that distract and discourage, and threaten to destroy. Only then can we see our way clear to know what we can do and want to do in these teen years.
During the Retreat, we focused on several, specific myths—or foxes—that threaten to undermine our educational efforts. Here, in this space, I would like to spend a bit more time looking at what it means to live out our philosophies of education in a consistent manner.
A Philosophy with Legs
Philosophies have their outworkings in ordinary moments; if we look at the day-to-day events of our homeschool, what philosophies do we see being put into practice? What ideas about the nature of a child, the nature of education, the nature of knowing, and the nature of assessment are embodied in our home?
Our Ideas: What ‘books and things’ do we spend our time with?
Our Atmosphere: What is the atmosphere of the home?
Our Habits: How do we schedule our time and how do we interact with our ‘books and things,’ the lesson plans and assignments?
Do we agree with the philosophies we are enacting and asking our children to enact? Are we enacting consistent philosophies?
When we are inconsistent or enacting faulty philosophies, we are allowing foxes into our gardens and we will either be frustrated trying to make things work that were never meant to go together or will be disappointed when we do not get the results we were expecting.
These questions are not always easy to identify and to answer but we must if we intend to have the results we envision. The first step is to recognize that all methods are not created equal. They are not so many interchangeable parts that we can plug in at will. I would go so far as to say that a mere few methods, consistent in their underpinnings and thoughtfully considered and practiced, will yield better results than a hodge-podge of abundant yet inconsistent applications.
Let me give just a few examples that might clarify what I mean by consistency:
Is the giving out of rewards or incentives consistent with the understanding that children are by nature endowed with a desire to know?
Is a lapbook, with detailed instructions of what to include and how to include it, consistent with the idea that all education is self-education?
Is a home where Mom and Dad spend much time behind ‘screens’ consistent with an atmosphere of lifelong learning?
Is a course of study in which only the students’ interests or bents are exercised consistent with the idea of a balanced mind-diet?
Is a day without a schedule or a routine consistent with habits of orderliness and punctuality and the idea that time is to be respected?
Smith, James K. A. Smith. Desiring the Kingdom. Baker Academic, 2009: 37.