Finding our Stride..... Homeschoolers with highschoolers, particularly long term homeschoolers tend to find a groove. How has your family’s educational philosophy evolved over the years? Where do you find yourself in the highschool years?"Finding a groove" reminds me of LP records. Do you remember those? I grew up with them, and I suppose that dates me. CDs didn't come out till I was out of college, or at least, we didn't get a player until we were married, and they were still pretty new then.
Anyway, the principle of the LP record was that a needle travels along a groove in a concentric spiral, getting further and further in until you reach the ungrooved middle when the record ends.
In child-raising, though, it seems to work the other way. The "groove" spiral starts out small and goes outwards, getting bigger and bigger. until it gets to the end and then, I suppose, the child launches out into the world. Though I've realized more and more that you are a parent till the day you die; you don't quit when the child goes out into the world, and though your role does change it has been changing all along, so it's not exactly an abrupt break.
Our educational philosophy hasn't really changed over the years, but I guess it has evolved or developed in that it's being road-tested now as three children go out into the world and four more are in various stages of transitioning.
This is what we started with:
We wanted our children to be "trained up in the way they should go" which to us meant attention to their own unique qualities and inclinations, but at the same time, with solid formation that applies to every person because they are humans made in God's image and intended to be citizens of heaven.
Another way to say this would be Pope John Paul's "Families, become what you are!" which means both attentiveness to the uniqueness of each child, plus a lively discernment of what God wants them to be.
Obviously this is a trial and error proposition. It involves a certain kind of balancing between two things. "Formation" or "training" means raising children properly. It has both its negative and positive sides.
On the negative front, Chesterton points out that God gave us freedom when He gave us the Decalogue. Only Ten "Thou Shalt Nots". That is insanely simple compared to, say, the regulations of our society, which seem to be getting exponentially more complex. Just look at your tax forms and the papers you have to fill out to get your children insured, say, or to enter kindergarten, for that matter.
On the positive front, there is "freedom for excellence." Because our society has so very many constraints, and many of them are artificial, there is a constant discerning process going on. Which restraints truly promote the good of the individual and of society? Which can be dispensed with? When you are homeschooling, or trying to live as a Christian, more possible laws and restraints pop up. Again, there is that discerning process. There are "gurus" everywhere who will heap up burdens and laws if you let them. Which are good? Which are unnecessary or even harmful?
Here is where I love our Church, which focuses on the necessary ones, and also provides wholesome ones that are not necessary but which CAN be good. Voluntary following of certain rules in a spirit of freedom can be extremely beneficial. Any time you join a club, or pursue a hobby or sport, or marry, or take part in a group endeavor, you sign on for a certain set of voluntary limits. Humans thrive on this kind of voluntary structure. Watch how children naturally invent rules for themselves, or how they are attracted to games and fairy tales, where the rules are deeply inherent in the thing itself, and mysterious and arbitrary. Chesterton talks about that, too.
But take the game or fairy tale and make it obligatory, or add false rules that come from the exterior. The child shrinks or pushes away, as it should.
As a mother, I have made many mistakes in this dance, this delicate balancing act between "rules for excellence" and "rules that offend, despise, and hinder" the child.
A teenager seems to be pre-programmed to "test" the childhood structure, not in a rebellious, nihilistic counter-dependent way, but in a very human, idealistic way. The high school years are often at least partially a time to sort out and re-order childhood structure and values. From my teenage years (which weren't spent very wisely) I can remember my intense hunger to see and hear my parents, what made them operate, how they thought and decided. At the same time I remember my impatience with mere restatements of the "old rules".
I see this, mostly in a more healthy form, in my own teenage children. They ask questions, they learn more complex skills alongside me, they discuss and sometimes protest. To me this is both a discipline for me as parent, and a great joy, because even though I feel humiliated or frustrated sometimes (the kid is RIGHT! How do I acknowledge that and still keep my parental mystique? The kid is WRONG! How do I show him where he went off course!)
How This Works in Daily Life
This seems to me to be the core of what homeschooling a teenager is about, but of course, that doesn't really touch the daily details and it is getting away from "finding your groove" so here are some things we have found that help with this basic agenda. This is our "groove".
Good Books and chances to discuss them . Good books raise questions and deal with issues that are important for kids to think about -- when I look at young adults nowadays I see them being encouraged to settle for easy, shallow solutions to big issues -- either by their peers or by authority figures.
Some movies -- for the same reason.
I think it's important to have a mixture of classic and modern books and movies. The classic ones are usually guaranteed to be quality resources for whatever reason made them stand the test of time, and so studying them gives you a natural historical perspective.
Modern ones, studied *in the context of the family* (this part seems very important to me) gives both kids and parents a view of the present society.
If we could only do one, classic or modern, I would go for the classic, because the modern world is too much with us anyway, late and soon. But current art forms give us perspective, help us stand back and look at our environment, so I think they are valuable in that way, as long as they aren't just another form of unconscious immersion.
Lots of conversation. Not just about books and movies and art, but about life in general.
Live alongside the high schooler. I am trying to do this more consciously. My older three kids did more chores at an earlier age than my younger ones do presently. But with my younger kids I am trying to make more of an effort to teach them skills, the kind that come up in everyday life, that involve problem-solving, like replacing the flapper in the toilet tank. I think some parents do both of these things naturally. Not me though, I have to focus on it.
Another aspect of "living alongside" is continuing to develop as a human oneself. That doesn't mean deserting the family in the name of fulfillment. It means, if possible, continuing to learn and grow, particularly as a Christian, but also in other ways. If it's not possible -- if one is struggling just to survive, I think God makes up for the lacks. In this regard I always think about Assunta Goretti, Maria Goretti's mother, who was illiterate and was forced to live in dehumanizing near-slavery, but raised a saint, which is what we are all trying to do whether we know it or not.
Logistics and Details: Then there are the details of preparing a high schooler, like essay writing and test prep and higher math and apprenticeship/job training. Our "groove" in my family is to do these things for a season and in whatever way the highschooler can accept "ownership" of it. I like to pick which hills to die on, and these aren't them, for me. Usually we can find something that works for both me and the individual high schooler, and usually they manage to get what they need.
On the other hand, "transparency" seems important to me during these years. If I think essay writing is important, why do I think so? It's worth discussing and recommending and making the thing workable for the student. On a wider note, part of transparency is evangelization. If the child is already devout in his faith, share with him or her. It is so sweet to pray with a teenager, or follow some devotion chosen by him or her, or hear what his faith means to him and her. In these times, perhaps I am being evangelized as much as my child. What a blessing! On the other hand, if the child is questioning and doubting or just seems lukewarm, it is hard to reach out and show your own faith and how it works in your life. Easier perhaps to scold or criticize or reproach, or just keep silent or stop thinking of your child as a fellow soul, a traveler in need of aid. But I am so very thankful that my parents were open about their faith even when I was doubting and falling away in my teenage years, and that they didn't judge me or try to force me to say or do what I couldn't think or feel.
While things like college prep writing may not be hills to die on, mortal sins ARE hills I would have to die on. I couldn't let it go if the child living in my home was missing weekly Mass, taking communion in an obvious state of sin, or openly and unrepentantly breaking one of the commandments. I am not sure what I would do, since we haven't been faced with such a situation, but it would have to be the equivalent of a medical crisis, where ordinary life would basically stop until we had a treatment plan.
This brings up the issue of balance and priorities. The things I have listed above are in our groove, but over-emphasizing one of them would make our record needle "skip"and go out of its alignment, and I am always watching to make sure this doesn't happen (or more honestly, usually trying to recover and get back on track. Movies are good, but not to the exclusion of hard work. Hard work is good, but not to the point of grim joylessness or major stress. Holding the moral line is good, but not to the point of fighting battles that are really the child's, not yours anymore, or making your battle against sin into a battle against the child. So balance seems important to me, though elusive, since I'm both lazy and obsessive, and those things work against proper ordering.
And finally, prayer, my major weapon. Probably really my only one. Prayer and trying to progress in imitation of Christ. I am trying every day to make this more of an essential and primary part of my homeschooling groove. In that way, the groove reminds me of the traditional LP one, which gets deeper and deeper in until it reaches the center, the Center, when I hope to "be like Him, and to see Him as He really Is." I can only hope for that, not do it myself, so I need grace, and when we ask for grace, we are promised that we will receive it, so I have to keep asking, and asking.
And that will probably continue, even increase, when all my students have left our home LP and ventured out to begin on their own.