Monday, June 11, 2007
Jean Jumper Chronicles Part 2: The Great Gulf
A big factor in home school burnout, and in my own decision to quit home schooling, is what can develop which I’m going to call the great gulf. It is a large, gaping disparity in a home school mom’s mind between what she thinks she should be doing to be a successful home schooler and what she is actually accomplishing.
Here’s how it happens. Any wise mom who is starting an endeavor as large as home schooling feels that she should read books by others to give her advice about how to get started. No one just goes into it confidant they have all the resources in and of themselves. In fact, in most cases, we feel totally inadequate and so are reading every book written on the subject to try to compensate for those feelings.
So, a mom like me picks up a book by Charlotte Mason. She reads in there that children should spend a lot of time outside learning about nature. They should have nature notebooks in which they draw birds and wildflowers. They should learn the names of all the local trees and learn to identify them by their leaves and seeds. They should be taken on long nature hikes and allowed hours to just romp through the forest. So we go to Wal-mart and buy each of our kids a nature notebook and we take them to the woods.
While the kids are running around in the woods nearby doing the Charlotte Mason thing, we pick up our next book which is on how the only way to home school is to give your kids a classical education. We read that every second grader needs to have memorized all the queens of Egypt and the dates that they lived, all the kings and queens of England and their dates and affiliation (Tudor, etc.). They need to be taught Latin starting in second grade as well as another foreign language, like Spanish or French. They should be spending at least two hours a day reading themselves, as well as several hours a day being read to by you. You need to be reading them all the classics like The Iliad and the Odyssey and Shakespeare for second graders. And they should be working a year ahead in math. They also need to have plenty of opportunities to do “hands-on” learning because everything shouldn’t just be bookwork. That means you need to be making medieval feasts with your kids, you need to be sewing Daniel Boon hats, you need to be doing elaborate science experiments, like paper mache volcanoes that take up the whole dining room table, and don’t forget the messy art projects. Of course they need to have a thorough knowledge of all the major composers and be able to identify their major works. They should listen to several hours of classical music a day. And don’t let geography fall by the wayside: they need to know all of the countries on all the continents in the whole world by third grade. (This might sound far-fetched, but I am not exaggerating. There are books out there telling us we have to do even a lot more than I just mentioned.) So you look up from your book at the kids running around playing in the woods and you yell: “Quick kids, get in the car, we’ve got to go home and get started on Latin.”
Our next book that we pick up is about how the most important thing that we teach while home schooling is life skills. So we need to spending time each day cooking with the girls, sewing matching dresses, teaching them to clean and iron, and teaching the boys how to woodwork, fix mechanical things, etc. By age 12, the boys need to have started their own home business. The girls need to know about the organic gardening of medicinal herbs.
Even though any sane woman knows that it’s impossible to do everything these people tell us we have to do, the gulf is still forming in our mind; the gulf between what we feel like we should be doing to be good home school moms and what is actually being accomplished on any particular day. And with each book we read, the gulf grows a little wider. Of course we have people telling us that we don’t have to do all that stuff; that they’re learning so much more than they would at school no matter what. But the expectations for ourselves just won’t go away. After all, they sound like such good ideas. We think that all those other classical home school kids can recite the periodic table of elements and my kids don’t even know what a molecule is.
I do know of home school moms who have overcome this problem. But sometimes they are the ones that have 5th graders who aren’t reading; the other extreme. I know there is a middle ground but I was never able to find it. For all four of my home schooling years I was plagued by the gulf. It haunted me nearly everyday, no matter how much work we got done. If we had a day where we accomplished a lot academically, there was this little voice saying, “Charlotte Mason said that kids should spend hours out of doors in nature.” If we had a good “Charlotte Mason” day out of doors, I thought, “Susan Wise Bauer said that they should have Hamlet memorized and be acting it out by first grade.”
The gulf only grew bigger as more kids became home school age and the older ones’ “requirements” were upped by the classical expectations for higher grade levels. As I would complain to Christopher about my feelings of failure and inadequacy, he would always try to tell me that I was trying to do way too much. He would tell me about how our kids already knew more than he knew going into high school and how ridiculous it was to feel like they were behind. But somehow, no matter how often he told me that, I still felt like I was giving my kids an inadequate education. Truth be told, I felt like there was something wrong with me that I couldn’t do all those things. Maybe I wasn’t organized enough.
So I’d go on an organizing binge and write out a rigid schedule of our home schooling day, trying to factor in reciting the Sanctus, drilling of math facts, messy art, classical music, science experiments, but somehow there still wasn’t time to do everything even on an organized schedule. And I’d streamline the housework as well, with the kids trained in respective cleaning duties, meals and grocery lists meticulously planned and organized, books and supplies organized. But still the gulf remained. No matter how on top of the housework I became, we still never got around to memorizing the names of all those darn Egyptian Queens, nor the Kings and Queens of England, not even the presidents of the United States for that matter.
I know there’s got to be an answer to this problem but I never found it out. There’s got to be a way to read books about how to home school and what your children should know, and come away with realistic expectations. And I know there is a way to home school where you feel satisfied in what you’ve done, because I know people who’ve done it. Somehow, I never learned that skill. Even though I laugh writing all those things that people say we should teach our first grader, and I know it’s ridiculous, I also know that if I was home schooling again, I’d still be having the same struggle.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that you are on your own when you home school. You aren't given a curriculum, a set a guidelines, or a standard. When you start looking for one, you get overwhelmed. Just a smattering of philosophies out there--Literature-based: Sonlight, Workbook-based: A Beka, Classical: Veritas Press; Hands-on learning: Konos; Nature: Charlotte Mason. They each come complete with their rational of why their way is the only way to home school. If you're like me, you think you are going to be so wise and combine the best of all these different philosophies into one master curriculum. You soon find yourself lost under a pile of laundry.
Funny thing, even though our kids now go to a "classical" school, they aren't learning all those things there either.