A good friend recently asked some honest questions about homeschooling – because their children are struggling. This friend is brilliant, hard-working, and a lover of Jesus and the truths of grace. And life is still hard.
If we’re honest, all of our children are struggling. We are, too. We’re all GT and LD at any given time.
The questions these homeschool parents asked are significant –and they’re not just searching for a way to get their children through school. They’re really searching for how to apply what they know to be true about love and grace to the weak, immature, and maybe even broken parts in the learning/education departments of their children’s lives.
My answer to them may be different than my answer to you, because I have a safe relationship with them – and I had permission to speak truth.
If I have this permission from you, keep reading. These ideas are not main-stream education; for many, they may not even be mainstream Christianity – yet. These ideas are as radical as the Gospel – and they also bring life and love and freedom and maturity.
What I have found to be true and live-giving in education:
1. No labels. And yes, it’s ok to acknowledge areas of weakness, because these are the places were help is most needed. But our brains respond to labels as invalid identities – and we start behaving as though the label is who we are instead of just what we need help with.
2. No testing. At least not for the purpose of determining where your child’s abilities are compared to others. Honestly, why does it matter? “Behind” is one of the most devastating labels we can give our children or ourselves. Start good instruction exactly where they are and they will grow; I have not found that it really takes 12+ years to accomplish most academic objectives. I have experienced that when students do not sense any shame from being “behind” – they begin to really trust and “follow me” in good instruction – and their learning usually accelerates. We are built to learn and grow – and in a shame free environment with good instruction, we do.
3. No worksheets. Except for daily practice of math (and grammar in the younger years.) Worksheets are for the purpose of getting a grade; they reduce “learning” to “performing,” – and busywork – often at its basest level. And worksheets reinforce the lie that 100% is expected on everything all the time.
4. 100% is not the goal – If God is ok with us maturing into who we already are and not getting everything right all the time, we can offer this freedom to children, too. Our fear is that they’ll get lazy or not care; that has not been my experience. Just like Paul’s argument about grace instead of Law, our children don’t want to do poor work. They just get tired of the expectation that “it’s not ok that everything’s not ok.” I think this, almost more than anything else, explains the apathy (despair, anxiety, depression…) we see in many middle and high school students today – and millennials. Give children permission to struggle and grow and they will.
5. No pre-digested curriculum. Give them real and beautiful and mature – and sit beside them while they develop an ability to “taste and see.” Remind them often: (1) It’s ok to need help, and (2) It’s not about understanding everything at once. Read real literature and history books together – and wrestle with the ideas, not just the facts. Ideas are food for the mind. Read science books together and struggle side by side with the vocabulary. Celebrate the 40-50% you do understand, and build on that foundation.
(6) Education is about building a brain – not testing one. The thoughts we think today will build the brain we wake up with tomorrow. So spend today thinking good thoughts, reading good books, having good conversations, developing good relationships and enough trust to resolve conflicts and hurt feelings. Spend time in nature, considering beautiful art and music, building and restoring beautiful things, writing thank you notes, and restoring order to things at home and in the world. Build a good brain today – and let love and grace have its effect on any unresolved issues and trauma. God’s design is a good one; work with it instead of against it.
(7) It’s not about you. For the parent, this is vital. Your child’s academic struggle or success is not about you; they will sense it if you believe this lie. The weight of needing their good performance to establish your well-being is too heavy a burden for them to carry; the shame of your shame about their struggles adds fuel to trauma. As an adult, find a community of grace to resolve your own issues so your children’s report cards aren’t required to medicate them. And teach your children it’s not about them, either. Waking up with the goal of total personal comfort and satisfaction because everything went just the way I wanted it to today is an agenda that will consistently bring disappointment. There is a reason “love one another” is our one New Testament commandment. And this, “It is better to give than to receive.” Loving others isn’t just a nice thing to do, it is what brings personal fulfillment, joy, and peace. Learning exactly what it means to “love one another” is a life long relational adventure – a worthy objective for families and Christian educators.
Helping families with this kind of education is my life’s work. I look forward to your “Yeah, but…” and “How does this practically work?” questions. Your comments may encourage and help someone; I look forward to hearing your thoughts.