The Real Tragedy of Education Today

I recently discovered I was ignorant. Ignorance is not a bad thing if you ask me, especially if, firstly, you admit it frankly and secondly, if you know how to cure it. And I realized I was ignorant in the classics.

Well, I thought. I can’t possibly be a classical unschooler and be ignorant in the classics, so away I went to the bookstore to fix that. My plan was – is – to read the great works of literature, philosophy and history chronologically.

Where are the greats?

Imagine my surprise then when I had trouble finding the first writers of great Western literature – the Greeks – at a bookstore that seemed otherwise overflowing with books! What? No greats of Western culture? How could this be?

And yes, I found Homer, thank goodness, but no Herodotus, no Aeschylus, no Hesiod, no Quintus, no Thucydides. And just a smattering of Plato and Aristotle in the middle of a large area of philosophy replete with existentialism and nihilism.

And I haven’t even started with the Romans.

I’m not blaming the bookstore, mind you. They stock what they can and what sells. They have to work within their space constraints and make a profit. I get it. I’m as capitalist as they come.

What bothered me was that if the bookstore wasn’t stocking Greek and Roman classics, it meant that no one was buying them, which meant that no one was reading them. 

What are colleges really reading?

Clearly, there’s a disconnect somewhere. Fareed Zakaria, in his book, In Defense of a Liberal Education claims that a common base of culture and knowledge is important for people to form a common identity. People get along better when they have it. E. D. Hirsch says the same thing. Lists like these confirm the idea that books which matter to western culture are alive and well read.

And yet, here’s a better list – a dynamic list – of what colleges are really reading.

This second list matched my experience at the store. Yes, of course there are people other than college students buying books. However, it seemed to me that when it comes to reading what is referred to as “good literature,” the pool that people choose from stops more often than not in the Modern age. And even that is now being scrubbed clean.

We love Shakespeare, but…

… we don’t read those who influenced him enough. I was dismayed when I saw so many copies of Ibsen’s A Doll House on the shelves and not enough copies of Greek drama.

It reminded me of my own education which followed a chronological order that was all wrong.

We do a disservice to our children (and ourselves) if we only throw in a smattering of Greek & Roman mythology in their childhood because they are fun and then leave it out completely when we enter the middle grades and high school.

We do a serious disservice to our children if by the time they enter the Rhetoric stage, all we present to them are Modern writers and philosophies of nihilism and existentialism.

I know because I’ve been there.

Speaking anecdotally, I can tell you that I adopted existentialism as a personal philosophy because it seemed “cool.” There was very little thought that went into it.

I received a good education. Having read Greek and Roman mythology in the elementary years to Medieval writing (in simplified English) in middle school, we were reading Shakespeare in high school. Unfortunately, we went from that to Moderns, Moderns and more Moderns in college. We also threw in a generous helping of Post Modern literature until we all concluded that hell was other people.

My worldview – along with my education – was apparently complete.

Structure Your Curriculum Differently

In my book The Classical UnschoolerI mention how to structure every subject so that the student can pass through the three levels of learning – the grammar, the logic (or dialectic) and the rhetoric – for each subject individually.

I also mention that the rhetoric stage can be the most fun stage because at this stage the student already has a grasp of the basic knowledge each subject requires, has tested what is true and what isn’t and is at the point where he can make arguments for and against a specific topic.

It is precisely at this stage – the rhetoric stage – that we want to reintroduce him to the classics. The rhetoric stage is when we want to challenge the mind with new ideas, to grapple with them, to find the beauty, the poetry and the pathos in them. Sure, if you so wish, throw in some Postmodern ideas in there, too, but make sure they are questioned, not just imbibed.

This the tragedy of education today. Don’t let it happen to you and yours.

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How to Homeschool in a Small House

Before we started homeschooling, I made the mistake of wandering innocently onto some Pinterest boards for ideas. I say “mistake” because what I saw was immediately overwhelming. I saw dedicated school rooms! Imagine that … and keep imagining it, because for our little 1000 square foot house, it was just not going to happen. How in the world was I going to homeschool in our small house?

We have three bedrooms – the boys’ room, the girl’s room and our bedroom. Beyond that, there’s bathroom (a small one) and a dining area and living room.

Where in the world was my dedicated school room going to be with the pretty lettering on the walls? And the maps? And the kids’ art work?

I was saddened. Perhaps you are, too. So in this post, I’m going to talk about what you do not need and what you do need when it comes to being able to homeschool in a small house.

You do not need a chalkboard

The oddest thing about making the decision to homeschool is that most people think they need a chalkboard. Or a dry erase board. I did, too. I think the idea of school that looks like a classroom is something so deeply ingrained in our minds that we can’t conceive of another way. So here it is: you don’t need one. Use paper. 

The advantage of homeschooling after all, is that you will be working one on one with your children. Use a pad of paper to explain a problem. Alternatively, if you really like dry erase boards, you can get a small one to hold.

I still much prefer paper.

You do not need a dedicated school room

If you have one, great, but you don’t need one. There is absolutely no need for a school room or a play room for your children.

Yes, it’s nice to be able to put all the “school work” in one room and yes it’s fantastic to be able to get all the toys put away out of sight in the evenings, but no, you don’t need a separate room for that.

“School” tends to spill out into real life anyway, especially if you’re a classical unschooler. So why bother trying to contain it in one room?

Writing? Use the dining table. Reading? Use the couch. Memorizing? Use the backyard or patio. Or the car.

Things You Do Need

A dining table that is clear of things

Most people have a dining table with things on it. At least a table cloth. It’s a good idea to take some time to clear clutter before you begin homeschooling because it tends to collect.

Keeping a small house clear of clutter is the single best thing you can do for your homeschooling success.

Alternatively, a desk and a chair in the kids’ rooms where they can sit and write, read or do Lego projects could work as well.

A dedicated space or closet to store school supplies and books

We have a closet that my husband has built shelves in. In a small house, shelves are a life saver.

In the closet however, we keep only school-related things. Nothing else. It is accessible to the children and it is cleared out regularly. Anything that we are done using gets sold or given away or even thrown away. We do not store more than necessary.

A closet also serves us better than say, shelves, because at the end of the day I can put things away and shut the door. Because I am here all day long, in the middle of the toys and books, it’s nice to be able to close it when I stop working.

A couch

Most of our sit down work happens at the dining table, but we do the occasional read aloud on the couch. (I’ve been reading aloud after lunch, so we like to just hang out at the table and listen.)

Most of the children’s reading is also done on the couch and in their own beds. All this to say that if you are in love with reading nooks and can afford to have them in your home, that’s great. But if you can not, you’re not robbing your kids of a lifetime of reading. If my children can read hanging upside down from two chairs, they can read in a brightly lit open living room.

Don’t stress it.

So don’t let the size of your home stop you from taking on the adventure of a lifetime and giving your family the gift of homeschooling. We have a small house and we do just fine.

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Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Ineptitude

I recently quoted Nancy Pearcey on my Facebook wall. The quote went something like this.

Homeschoolers are the ultimate do-it-yourselfers. They are self-motivated and self-directed, independent-minded and creative. They are not content to turn their education of their children over to the government.

One of my readers who also happened to be an old friend mentioned under it that she also saw homeschoolers as incredibly driven because this is no small enterprise we undertake. Another friend objected. Not necessarily, she wisely pointed out, adding in her characteristic way, You can be lame and still homeschool and you’d still do better than sending your kids to the government run mills.

In my mind, they were both right. I have seen homeschoolers who are organized, driven and make teaching their children their job, one that takes up all their time and attention and one they do exceptionally well.

On the other hand, I have also met homeschooling parents who are more hands off, but take their children with them, teach them whatever they know, believe simply in being involved in their lives.

Both kinds of homeschoolers do just fine. And yes, both are better than assembly line government run public schools.

An Assembly Line

I recently went to get a new car key made for our family van we bought last year. I couldn’t help but notice how unable or unwilling the people who worked at the dealership were to do things differently.

Would I like a free car inspection?

No, thank you, I’m just here for a new key.

Well, we do have to check tires. It’s the law.

Fine, but nothing else. I’m just here for the key. I have other things to do as well.

And even after all that, the car somehow ended up at the vacuuming and cleaning place. After waiting for over an hour, I inquired, complained and finally was able to leave. Not before paying for the key and upsetting the people working there.

Why were they upset, you ask. They were angry because I refused to be part of their assembly line. Because I wouldn’t passively accept what they thought they needed to do to my car.

Because, as the customer, silly me, I thought I was supposed to be in the driver’s seat.

Customization is Key

What is true of good customer service is true of education.

Your children are not supposed to be carbon copies of another. They are not to move from station to station, getting inspections along the way; they are not supposed to walk lock step with their peers.

They are unique people. They are to be the best and fullest version of themselves.

Unfortunately, the only way to get that education in a system that is developed for an assembly line is to anger people who are part of it.

Or you can choose not to be part of it.

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Ineptitude

I was reading The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon written by Brad Stone and came across a part of the book that illustrates this perfectly. When Steve Jobs created the iPod, the writer says, Amazon’s music sales suffered. It no longer made the profits it used to by selling CDs. Music became digitalized and sales drifted to iTunes.

Did Jeff Bezos decide to then produce a cheap imitation of the iPod? Thank goodness, no.

He didn’t make another iPod because he couldn’t. Doing so would be a poor imitation of something that was, for all intents and purposes, perfect. Instead, he took an e-reader that had failed in the past, rejected by most and came up with the Kindle.

The difference in the two giants here – Bezos and Jobs – who in many ways have similar life stories – was not just in the products in they created. The difference was in their personalities that were the reason behind the products they created.

You see, Bezos loves words and arguments in the form of a narrative. He made his employees write essays instead of create PowerPoint presentations. He had this to say about why.

Full sentences are harder to write. They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.

Jobs on the other hand loved music. There is no way he could have created the Kindle. That would also have been a cheap imitation.

Homeschooling is about Customization

Homeschooling then is the ultimate education and life hack. It shuns imitation. It allows families to be who they truly are, it lets children blossom and become who they are meant to be. It lets inventors tinker in their garages, readers read.

It doesn’t seek to stuff individuals into molds and send them off to the next station waiting to be vacuumed and polished and made perfect.

Even if it ruffles a few feathers along the way, homeschooling is well worth it.

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On Studying History & Fake News

I’m not one of those people bothered by what is currently referred to as “fake news.” I am not currently wringing my hands wondering what kind of a world my children will inherit and how they will ever make sense of it. That is because I love history and am deeply passionate about it.

Allow me to explain.

History tells us that from the beginning of time, people have told lies. This is nothing new.

The earliest written history is a battlefield in itself – what with Egyptians consistently trying to remove names of underappreciated pharaohs from the lineage to obliterate their names and Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, ordering a larger than life epic poem be written about himself to win over his subjects.

Fine, but these were not journalists, you say. Well, not in the sense of reporting to newspapers that got delivered to you which you read over coffee, but they did have the job of delivering important news by word of mouth, as was more common those days. It was only the influential people of the world had their own “birds” and spies to keep an eye out. It’s possible that’s how they got influential. So consider if you would feel trust the news when it came from the likes of Lord Varys. (Sorry for the Game of Thrones reference, but it makes my point perfectly.)

And this is just the beginning of written history.

Why is today considered any different? Do we think we have somehow arrived at the point where people reporting the news have become completely trustworthy?

What I Am Not Saying

Now look, I’m not arguing for lying. I’m certainly not saying that you should make stuff up, that it’s somehow good for your neighbor. Of course you shouldn’t.

I’m just arguing for some perspective.

History looks different when one is caught up in it. And people haven’t changed. This is the nature of the creature we are dealing with.

Was there ever a time that we could accept what was being reported as absolute truth? If there was, I’d like to know because I’d run out and buy textbooks from that era.

Get my drift?

History is Anecdotes

I have written before about how we study history in our home and have since refined that philosophy to include memorization of a timeline as well as Presidents’ names.

With a firm foundation on some very basic facts, we then segue into individual biographies, anecdotes and otherwise interesting trivia. Now, here’s where it can get tricky.

After the basic facts of someone’s life – place of birth, date of birth, childhood home, mother, father, sister, brother (and sometimes not even that!) all we are left with is the stuff of a life lived. And life, as we know, is messy.

But the fun, the joy in history comes from its very inability to wrap it and tie it with a clean bow.

And so we read and wonder about George Washington’s mother who often complained about her son not sending her money and Mary Todd Lincoln chasing her husband Abraham down the street with a knife. We admire Andrew Jackson fighting off his own assassin and beating him with his cane at 67 years of age when the rest of the people around him froze.

The anecdotes, the trivia, the details, and yes, even the “fake news” that may or may not be true, add color, depth and – believe it or not – truth – to history.
It adds truth because no two people saw the same event from the same perspective. They were limited in time, in space, in their cultural situation, their thinking – limited people with limited attention spans, varying levels of interest and somewhere else to go.

I’m not arguing that objective truth does not exist, mind you, just that if you’re hoping to get it from people, you had better have more than one source because what you will get will be fractured, anecdotal and always a little skewed this way or that.

Laziness or Textbooks?

Jim Gaffigan says that the news media is like that slightly annoying friend of yours who knows what’s happening and is full of “Did you know…?” “Have you heard…?” I wish more people held this view.

Because even with the mantle of supposed transparency of journalism, this is true. Cameras and the printed word can lull us into thinking that the ultimate picture of objective. But it’s not. It’s just one perspective of what actually happened.

So what is it that makes us blindly believe all news when it’s reported? Is it that we’ve been spoon-fed history through such textbooks? Is it because we’ve been so brainwashed in public school that we are used to two-dimensional cardboard character in a committee-approved politically correct history textbooks?

There’s only half a step between “if it’s there in the textbook, it must be true” to “if the newspaper says so, it must have happened.”

False information has always been around. There has never not been a need to sift through and question.

Never in the history of time or American history for that matter could you put skepticism aside and blindly accept what the magazines, rags, neighbors, newspapers, water cooler junta, or reports said. For all you knew, everything was tabloid talk.

Homeschooling, History & Current Affairs

I am a huge fan of the internet. I couldn’t be happier with access to more than one news site, more than one perspective. Give me another blogger with something to say, something to report. The more kaleidoscopic an event is in reporting, the fewer chances some one person has to tamper with it.

Does this mean the readers have to be more vigilant and weigh information? Yes, of course it does. But it’s what they shouldn’t have stopped doing in the first place.

Discernment is a skill that we value in homeschooling. It is one of the reasons why even if we use a history textbook, we only use it as a “spine” for the curriculum. It is also why we watch current events and discuss them, relating them to the past as often as we can.

If you’d like to know more about how we study history, get my book The Classical Unschooler

And if you’d like to read some fun, historical anecdotes this President’s Day, check out my listicle about my most recommended American history books.

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Juggling Well

I recently came across some fantastic time management advice in Michael Gelb’s book More Balls Than Hands that I thought I’d share with you. Even though it refers to juggling (and he’s not kidding – there’s an actual section at the end about how to learn real juggling) the author has some great advice for homeschoolers.


In fact, this advice can be applied to your life no matter what you do and especially if you’re a busy mom.

Read this.

James Clawson says that there are two types of people in their work styles: Project Finishers and Time Allocaters. Project Finishers can only handle one ball at a time. They’re good doers, but bad managers. Time Allocaters don’t organize their work by projects but by allotments of time spread across a wise variety of tasks.

The Time Allocation approach to work seems very much like juggling. How does one keep multiple balls in the air? And how do we discover the optimum number that can be successfully managed? If there are too many balls, they all fall. If there are too few, not much gets done. The principles of juggling seem to help. Develop a stable, reliable process for handling one project or item and then apply that process to other projects…

Develop a rhythm, an inner sense of how much time it takes to keep a project from falling to the floor. Handle projects lightly but firmly and with a familiar repetition.

Now I don’t know about you, but this sounds a lot like homeschooling. It also sounds very similar to advice I have given about developing a side income while homeschooling as well as advice I have received about the real schedules of real homeschooling families and how they make it all work.

If you’re a homeschooling mom, you’re a manager. And if you have any interest in juggling well, you ought to read this book.

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Homeschoolers and the Burden of Proof

I was at a grocery store today. It wasn’t an accident that I went to this specific store on this specific day. I was there for a reason. I was there to buy coconut milk, which had been advertised at what I thought was a very attractive price.

I picked up, amongst other things, a sizeable amount of it and made my way to the cash register, where I noticed I was not getting the advertised price.

I mentioned that to the cashier.

No, the cashier says, that’s the price.

That’s not what was advertised, I insisted.

Maybe that’s a different brand, she argued. This one’s price is right here on the screen. I just scanned it.

At that moment, pinned down with all my other groceries and my three children (because let’s face it, they’re almost always with me) I chose to return said coconut milk because it wasn’t at the price I had assumed I would pay for it. I paid for the rest of the groceries and left. (I make no excuse for my frugality. My husband works incredibly hard for the money he makes and I refuse to be frivolous with it.)

Anyway, because I’m obsessive or crazy, I chose to go back through the store to see if I had seen the advertisement incorrectly. As it turned out, I had been right. I had not made a mistake.

This time, as I loaded the cart with the coconut milk again, I took a picture of the advertisement under it and headed back the cash register.

It was only then that the employee decided she would send someone to check the price. After looking at my picture, enlarging it and turning it this way and that. It was only when another employee rushed to save her from herself that she backed off and gave me the discount and couched in an off-hand “Sorry.”

I walked out of the store with a smile. I had won.

Well, yes, I had won. And I felt good about winning. I may have muttered In your face! as I walked out of there.

But as I thought about it, besides the fact that this was just bad customer service, it made me think of how much this small interaction resembled the burden of proof that we, as homeschoolers, face in the world.

It reminded me how homeschoolers are questioned, looked at strangely and asked what it is they do and how they could do it even after it has been proven time and time again that homeschooling works, that non institutional learning yields better results than government schools can ever hope to provide.

As I have written about in my free giveaway essay Nine Questions Every Homeschooler Should Be Able to Answer, most people immediately shift the burden of proof of homeschooling onto the homeschoolers.

Homeschoolers and the Burden of Proof

The evidence that homeschooling works is there, but the picture must be enlarged, we need additional proof and perhaps we need someone to go and check it because, hey, perhaps it’s still not true.

But the system says, they cry, the system says. What the system says must be true after all! 

Sure, you’re homeschooling them, they say. Let’s see if they can keep up with their grade levels. Okay, you’re homeschooling, they say. Can we test them each year to see if they’re on par? Or perhaps we can just come and visit and talk to them awhile. See, because the system says all children must learn multiplication at this grade and algebra at this. The system, the system! 

What is it about the system that guarantees such adherence, such unquestioning obedience? The system is a liar; as in the grocery store, the system could have very well said something else had it been updated.

What most people forget is that the system was made for convenience. The system was put together so that workers could be churned out for industrial jobs. The system is defunct.

Homeschoolers and the Burden of Proof

The system was made for people, not people for the system. Homeschoolers see that. And even with the burden of proof on us, we are beating it.

Keep at it, homeschoolers. Even when your friends roll their eyes at you. Even when your extended family does not understand. You’re winning. You have the proof. Don’t bow to a failed system.

You’re winning. The facts are on your side.

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I Homeschool Because Classrooms Taught Me Some Terrible Habits

I don’t homeschool because I did badly in school; I homeschool because I was a good, no, a great student.

If you ask my teachers if they remember me, I would bet a body part that twenty-two years later, they still do.

I didn’t talk during class; I didn’t raise my hand too often so as to give others a chance even when I knew the right answer; I waited my turn. I asked for permission. I waited for test days to let my personality shine through.

Which is exactly the reason I homeschool. Classrooms taught me enough bad habits to last a lifetime.

I was once put beside the most disruptive boy in my classroom during Science class. I cried. The reason, the teacher explained to the class of fifty, was to encourage the boy to behave better.

“But you’re punishing me,” I sobbed to the teacher. “You’re punishing me for being good.” (Read the article in its entirety on Penelope Trunk’s blog here.)

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Slow and Steady Does Not Always Win The (Education) Race

My sincere apologies to Aesop, but since he can’t defend himself, he and I will just have to agree to disagree.

I recently read the story of the turtle and the hare to my youngest. To my surprise, I found myself not liking the story very much.

What changed, I wondered. It was always one of my favorite stories as a child. A nice, dependable one to lean on when I wasn’t getting what I wanted. Slow and steady, I told myself. Slow and steady wins the race. And shelved it away.

And then recently, when I read the story again, it hit me as false.

Slow and Steady Does Not Always Win The (Education) Race

Slow and steady after all does not always win.

I mean, come on, think about it – wasn’t the hare the worst mascot ever for speed? He goofed off, spouted off, showed off. He was arrogant and incredibly rude. Anyone’s money would be on the turtle.

Anyone could ask, well, what if the hare had been diligent? What if he hadn’t been proud and foolish?

Would how fast he ran hindered him then? No? Then his speed wasn’t a problem, was it? His liabilities lay elsewhere.

They lay in his attitude.

Imagine your child is thrilled that he is learning something new. He has hit upon his passion and he’s going for it. He’s learning at breakneck speed. He’s in the flow. He can’t wait to learn more. He ignores every other subject because he focused on his favorite.

Do you purposely slow him down? Do you make sure he “catches up” with everything else before pursuing this singular thing? Worse, since we’re talking of hares and all, do you hold it as a carrot for him?

Or do you let him take off and take over?

Slow and Steady Does Not Always Win The (Education) Race

Apply that same principle to anything else – opening a business, for example, or even losing weight. If you succeed at first, do you go for it or do you temper your emotions and then sabotage yourself in a misplaced attempt at false humility?

Who would do that? How about the entire system of education?

Think of grade levels. Children are assigned a grade by their age and age alone. They are judged and tested by age and age alone. Basically, they are asked year after year after year if they are a turtle or a hare. And, if they are lucky, or so they are told, they are assigned to a track.

The institutions of education have all bought in to the story of the turtle and the hare.

But slow and steady does not always win. It does not win because education, if it is a race at all, has no finish line. See, when you buy the idea of grade levels, and the fact that someone is giving you this privilege of education, you force yourself into being a turtle or a hare.

Slow and Steady Does Not Always Win The (Education) Race

There is no finish line. Education is not a race. It is only possibility. It is potential. Slow and steady does not always win, but can. The fastest does not always win, but might.

Winning is not defined by public accolades; it is defined by personal satisfaction.

If your child wants to obsessively learn some one thing, let him. If you hit upon a business venture and want to pour your soul into it, go for it! If your friend is excited about a project and can’t stop talking about it, don’t tell her to slow down.

“Pace yourself” may be one of the most annoying two words in the English language I have ever heard.

You are not a public school. Stop thinking like one. Stop selling your education and the education of your children short by buying a lie.

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Self Directed Education Means Never Having to Ask for Permission

One of the nice things about having homeschooling multiple children is that I get to see – firsthand – their budding personalities emerge. I get to experience how different they are from each other. Sometimes when I get compliments on their behavior I have to remind myself that it’s not my mothering – these traits were present all along. (Sometimes, in their worst moments, while correcting them, I have to remind myself of the same thing.)

And yes, of course, they each learn differently, with their own learning style.

No such thing as learning styles? Hogwash. I don’t care how many “experts” they can gather to swear that, I teach each of my children differently. I have watched them thrive (and fail), each in their own distinctive way.

When it comes to self directed education, the kind we are working toward, the most important thing I want them to learn is that self directed education means not having to ask for permission.

I’m not talking about raising your hand before speaking (although that’s a factor). I’m also not referring to needing permission to use the restroom in the middle of desk work (although, again, that’s an aspect of it.) I’m talking about being endlessly interested in something enough to not wait for someone to ask if you want to learn more about it. I am referring to wanting to do something so badly that you get ahead of your teacher.

I’m talking about being frustrated with being spoonfed and donning the apron yourself and turning on the oven to do something about it.

The problem is that, for some temperaments, this kind of self-directed education can be a hard sell.

For instance, I have one child who will do things without needing to ask permission. I appreciate that about her. I depend on her without having to remind her. And, yes, occasionally, when she gets into things she should not, I have to stop her.

On the other hand, I have another child who waits. A little more cautious, he prefers to wait for direction. To make matters worse, sometimes correcting child #1 can have unintended consequences on child #2 by causing him to shrink a little more.

What’s a mom to do?

I have, as all of us at some point, made a list of general rules for myself to get my children to take control of their own learning. As a classical unschooler, my goal in homeschooling has always been to encourage self directed education while giving them a strong base.

Here’s my list of five practical things you can do to keep your homeschool focused on self directed education.

Deschool yourself

One of the most important reminders I need is to deschool myself. I can’t tell you the number of times I have begun our homeschooling day energized and excited only to fall back into remembered patterns of classrooms and how things “should be.”

Learning almost never looks as it “should.” I have to remind myself of that.

I learn in snippets, in places I didn’t think I would, in random situations and from people whose names I can’t remember. There are only short periods of memorization or recall – and blessed aha! moments – when things come together, but for the most part self directed education does not look like a school classroom, nor should it.

Don’t scold initiative

When either of my aforementioned children do something of their own accord that leads to an accident, I have to often bite my tongue. Yes, I want a clean, tidy home. Yes, I encourage them to clean up after themselves, especially in the kitchen. But I don’t scold initiative.

This does not mean, of course, that I don’t correct them at all. It just means that I don’t punish the desire to try something new.

I will absolutely scold my son for the carelessness and inattention that led to spilled milk, and I will always ask them to clean up after themselves, but I do not try to do it for them. And I definitely do not discourage them from doing something because it might make a mess.

Have rules

Some of my unschooling friends are surprised when I mention that we have rules. Aren’t you an unschooler? is usually what I hear. But as I have written in my book, I do not shirk from rules. The old story about children playing in the middle of a field without a fence is true. It is just as true as cars that will drive toward the middle of a mountainous road if there aren’t guard rails at the edge.

Rules are just guideposts to keep my children from slipping off the edge. Guideposts are there for direction and they grow with the children, but never disappear completely. Without direction, we wouldn’t know where we were going.

Our family rules are a general map of the terrain, they are not a guidance system to a destination. We are free to trace out our own journey with their use.

Schedule/ have expectations

do have expectations of my children just as they have certain expectations of me. I do expect certain work to be done by a certain time and I expect that they will do it. Our homeschool schedule helps immensely with such expectations and how we get our work done smoothly.

My children have lately decided that they want to spend their day time playing. So they have taken to getting their school work done before bed at night. They work independently in their rooms before going to sleep. (nightschooling, yeah!)  If they have problems, I help them in the morning, right before we do our readaloud or Science or Bible reading together.

Our schedule keeps us on track and leaves plenty of room for them to pursue whatever else it is they want in their free time, which, owing to their current inclination to work at night, is almost all day. Boredom alone sometimes propels them into self-directed learning.

Strew & Encourage

If you haven’t read my post about how to use strewing in classical education, you should go read it now. I love strewing and I use it as a way to introduce new passions and subjects. Once these interests are awakened, I do everything in my power to keep them alive. Like planets? Let’s go find books about it, let’s watch a movie about it!

With all this however, I also remember to back off a little. It’s easy to slip back into my “should-ing” ways and take over the education. That is perhaps the hardest part of all.

If self-directed education shouldn’t require asking for permission, it also shouldn’t require my constant prodding. It’s a difficult balance because sometimes it requires waiting and doing nothing.

Encouraging self directed education is sometimes an education in itself.

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