The question of your personality and its effect on helping or hindering your homeschooling efforts is one I keep coming back to. That’s because it is important.
I am writing a fairly large chapter about this in my new book The Classical Unschooler’s Guide to Building Your Own Curriculum that will be coming out this May. If you would like to get updates on that, be sure to sign up for my mailing list in the right-hand column. As a bonus, you will receive my free e-book Nine Questions Every Homeschooler Should Be Able to Answer.
Today, however, I want to mention one of the writers that has helped me immensely in terms of getting to know my own personality and create better habits, which directly affect our school days. I’m talking about Gretchen Rubin.
That’s because in this book, she mentions besides her brilliant distinctions between larks and owls, marathoners and sprinters, moderators and abstainers, (I’m a lark, a marathoner and an abstainer, in case you’re curious) she also brings up the four tendencies.
The four tendencies include the obliger, the upholder, the rebel and the questioner. They are an excellent framework for you to understand what works for you. It is so powerful that I keep coming back to this understanding about me to fuel not just my homeschooling efforts, but also my writing, my parenting and my marriage.
You see, according to the quiz in Better than Before, I tend to be a rebel with a little bit of questioner thrown in. As a result, when someone asks me to do something, I will only do it if I see the value in it. And I have to convince myself of that value constantly. I also have to learn to override my own desire to sabotage my own work because I don’t like listening to my own voice in my head telling me to do something, no matter how important it is.
If you’re a homeschooler, this self-knowledge is invaluable! It helps you sidestep the issue of copying someone else’s style and curriculum only to find out that it doesn’t work for you. It has certainly helped me.
I’ve been reading Shoe Dogby Phil Knight, the creator of Nike. It’s a fascinating read all the way through. But I was especially hooked when he described how he first had an inkling of what he wanted his life to be.
Here’s an excerpt.
Late at night I’d lie on my back, staring at college textbooks, my high school trophies and blue ribbons thinking: This is me? Still? […] On paper, I’m an adult. So why, I wondered, why do I still feel like a kid? […] Like all my friends I wanted to be successful… I wanted to win.
No, that’s not right. I simply didn’t want to lose.
And then it happened. As my young heart began to thump, as my pink lungs expanded like the wings of a bird, as the trees turned to greenish blurs, I saw it all before me, exactly what I wanted my life to be. Play.
Yes, I thought, that’s it. That’s the word. The secret of happiness, I’d always suspected, the essence of beauty or truth, or all we ever need to know of either, lat somewhere in that moment when the ball is in midair, when both boxers sense the approach of the bell, when the runners near the finish line and the crowd rises as one. There’s a kind of exuberant clarity in that pulsing half second before winning and losing are decided. I wanted that, whatever that was, to be my life, my daily life.
So that morning in 1962 I told myself: Let everyone else call your idea crazy… just keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t even think about stopping until you get there, and don’t give much thought to where “there” is. Whatever comes, just don’t stop.
There are three reasons why this book got me teary-eyed and excited enough to write about it on this blog.
For one, he mentioned how in spite of being an adult with a degree from Stanford, he felt like a child. He hadn’t experienced much of real life, which he soon would, something I hear echoed often.
For another, he mentions the aspect of “play” which inspires him to start a business selling Japanese shoes in America. People who are truly excellent at what they do often say that when they are working, they often feel as if they are playing. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Flow calls this optimal experience” a state of consciousness called flow, which I have mentioned here.
Have you heard the question, “If you were accused of being a _______ (fill in the blank with any noun you cherish) would there be enough evidence to support it?”
I have. And I don’t like it.
To me, the quote sounds too much like a plea for stereotyping. It asks that I act a certain way and carry a certain image to the outside world so that people would know exactly who I am and where I stand on certain matters.
A similar incident happened to the presenter of a podcast I listen to. Isaac Morehouse, whose book I have mentioned in the past, speaks about how he was approached after a speaking engagement by a man who sought to define his ideology. Not being able to pin it down was causing him quite a bit of difficulty.
“He was visibly bothered,” Morehouse says. “But I knew what he was asking for. And I wasn’t going to give it to him.”
He was seeking a label.
Breaking Molds, Bending Genres
But that’s the thing about life, isn’t it? That’s the thing about love. People we love, things we do – things that matter – are complicated. They’re real, they live and breathe.
The best ones break molds.
This is as true of you as a homeschooler as it is of you in any other profession. This is true of you as a wife, a mother, a father. You are at your best when you transcend a role. This is true of your children and their curriculum. This is true of your days.
The best ones bend roles and genres.
I don’t often listen to music when I’m driving. One of those rare times I flicked on the radio and it occurred to me that I had actually begun to enjoy music quite uncharacteristic of me.
Now, I have never been a fan of rap, or hip-hop. But on this day, there was a song this particular radio station played that incorporated both those genres and added some elements of the blues into it. Perhaps because it took from two genres I didn’t much care for and went beyond them, I quite liked it.
The Best Things In Life Are…
Surprises, of course!
Ever so often, I come across a person, an idea, an event, a book that changes me. Usually, I am going about my day, checking things off my list, doing the next thing and something or someone disrupts it. I am left in the position of the audience member just mentioned questioning the disruptive influence.
“What are you?” I wonder. “Where do you stand? Who are you?” (Or, in the case of an idea, what? What in the world was that?)
Integrating this newfound knowledge requires a paradigm shift. It requires that I change, that I grow. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, author of Flow, which I have written about earlier, says that we need differentiation as well as integration to grow and become our complete, whole selves. An appeal to act a certain way to convince others that I am a certain person is an appeal to only one side of the equation – integration.
We need people who break molds in our lives; we need genre bending music, ideas that don’t quite fit. We desperately need to be stretched in ways that our to-do lists don’t make us. Over the years, I have come to appreciate those people who make me think, even if at the time they say something odd, I am left confused. Even if I reject what they say, they have made me think and helped me grow.
I was at a grocery store today. It wasn’t an accident that I went to this specificstore on this specificday. 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.
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.
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.
It’s that time of year when most people who have made resolutions flounder a bit. Is that you?
Or are you amongst my wiser friends who wait until mid January to really get going on them?
Whatever the case might be, changing habits take work and a decent amount of motivation.
Here are 5 books that can help you create better habits. While these books don’t deal with homeschooling or unschooling per se, much of what they can be generalized to create a better life for yourself.
Duhigg talks about how to stick with new habits and find time for them in your busy day. He also has a new book called Smarter, Better, Fasterwhich I hope to get to read this year.
Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin – I liked this book mainly for its central theme that individual differences between us have a lot to say about how we stick or don’t stick to our habits. If you are what she calls an “abstainer” there’s no sense telling yourself you’ll “just have one piece of chocolate,” if you’re a “night owl,” stop trying to wake up early to get work done.
It is an excellent book when it comes to learning to work with our unique gifts and talents. Chances are, once you do that with yourself, you’ll see those in your children and tailor their education to what fits for them. Gretchen Rubin’s other book The Happiness Projectis excellent as well.
David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell is another one of those classic must-reads. The sections on dyslexia and the advantage of attending a smaller college rather than a big Ivy League university is especially relevant for those of us who homeschool.
While these books may not be “motivational” in the strictest sense of the word, they should give you enough of a push to get going on your resolutions if you’re flagging a bit.
Here’s a confession – I read my children’s books. And I actually do enjoy some of them.
Their books are colorful, they’re full of interesting facts and details – and they’re just plain fun.
Good books versus bad books
I find that good children’s books are a lot like good books for grown ups. They’re factual, they give you a sense of history, they have biographical details, they’re not overly speculative and the truly well-written ones have a plot that keeps you interested in what’s going to happen next. This is true even when the book is non-fiction.
The quickest way for me to tell that a book is bad is when it started veering off the road of normalcy into the land of idolizing.
You know what I mean. It’s when it starts building the pedestal of the man overcoming incredible odds to become the truly titanic person he is today, or was, before he died.
We’re supposed to read with rapt attention, hoping to achieve that level of success. It makes us work harder, longer, because we want to emulate that person we just read about.
Or so the story goes.
Unfortunately, that’s not what happens. What usually happens is that we either see through the story because some detail sticks out at us and makes us skeptical or because this larger-than-life person fails to impress us and motivate us because he seems hollow.
And he seems hollow because, indeed, he is. He is two-dimensional.
But that is the better of the two scenarios. Because the flip side of what could happen is that you decide this person was truly remarkable and you can’t possibly be like him.
Bring Your Heroes Down to Earth
Now I’m not saying there are not people who live remarkable lives or that we shouldn’t be inspired by them. I’m just arguing for nuance.
There has to be something more to a book – even a children’s book – than just the individual overcoming obstacles. If there isn’t, it reads like just another Disney movie telling people to “follow your dreams.”
There’s nothing wrong with following your dreams, but without a sense of the time, the place and the truth, these books meant to inspire us just end up creating idols.
And idols have the annoying tendency of disappointing us.
Has Your Idol Disappointed You?
If you are constantly bombarded with only the best details of someone’s life, chances are you won’t be motivated, you will be disillusioned.
And yet, there are books upon books that cherry pick the events in a famous person’s life, flatten them to the shape of a cardboard and then present it in the form of a book, a very bad book, that offers nothing.
Chances are, you’ve run into a few of these.
Chances are, you’ve read some of these as a child, given to you perhaps by a well-meaning adult. And now, with a slightly more mature view of history, you’ve realized that it couldn’t have been true or if it was, that it’s been heavily tampered with, that like most history-based movies.
So if your idol has disappointed you in some way lately, be motivated by the fact that he’s a real, flawed human being. If your hero was cut down to size, you can still rejoice in his victories.
We don’t need two dimensional stories to motivate us. We need real-life people who have done amazing things, even though we find out that they are not perfect. It’s okay to find out that they have messed up sometimes.
It doesn’t ruin their successes. It just puts them in relief.
Wrong Books = Bad Worldview
The more insidious problem with bad books and the idolizing they create is two-fold.
For one, books tend to be overwhelmingly about famous people. Many of these people are currently in power or have been in power in the past. Putting them on a pedestal convinces us that they were truly amazing super-humans bestowed upon us to drag us into a better life. We could never aspire to be like them because they were made of something else that we mere mortals could never be, right?
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. – C.S.Lewis
And secondly, the problem that proceeds from the above is that we think people like this are still running the show, that the leaders, the innovators, they are made of something different, something better than us – the child reading the book.
“I could never do that because I am not that,” is an easy conclusion to draw.
Call me an iconoclast…
…but I love it, when in the middle of a good book, I find that one of my favorite authors has made a typo. I’m not – mind you – rejoicing in his failure; I’m just happy that he’s like me and if he can be successful, so can I. He’s just worked harder and longer at it. So can I.
If my children get that glazed over look when talking about a historical person or even a famous person today, we make it a point to talk about his flaws as well.
This is not about dragging famous people down into the dirt and it’s not about revisionist history. This is about giving them the right tools with which to see the world.
In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says, “Everything we have learned in Outliers says that success follows a predictable course. It is not the brightest who succeed. Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”
Give yourself and your family the gift of the right worldview, the right books, stories of successful people warts and all, so that when the opportunity presents itself, they are not fearful or lacking in courage or self esteem to have the strength and presence of mind to seize it.
We make learning harder than it should be. We favor difficult curriculum over what we perceive as easy.
We value grit.
The ability to tolerate adversity and thrive in spite of it is a good life skill. However, I wouldn’t try to inculcate it in my children through daily drudgery.
The Best Advice
My son was staring down at three workbooks yesterday. (He has recently decided to work at night so he has the day for more play.) He was beginning to get that overwhelmed look that said, “I’m not going to get anything done because I’m going to wish myself away and then cry because I’m not getting anything done.”
So I gave him the best advice I could: “Do the easy stuff.”
He stared at me.
“Do the easy stuff first,” I repeated. “Then tackle what seems hard.”
There is a time for grit and learning to do hard things, but usually the way to it is through the easy things. Sometimes, the key to grit is simply through momentum.
Working toward difficulties
When it comes to homeschooling, I often hear there are two extremes – 1. life is drudgery, get started now (grow up!) or 2. you’re a child (stay one!) and just do what I tell you.
You can sidestep both these extremes by just doing easy things until you have built up enough momentum to tackle hard things.
Dave Ramsey, debt guru & author of Total Money Makeover says to begin paying down debt by paying off the smallest debt first and building momentum. Michael Hyatt, author of Living Forward, simply fills in the titles of chapters as a first step to writing a book.
Easy, basic stuff first seems to be the key to success.
The best piece of advice I got for tackling my to-do list was simply 1. make a list of things I needed done, then 2. pick the easiest one to do.
Doing this enough times gets it all done.
Element of play
The reason this strategy works is because it brings the element of play into our everyday lives. Play includes a range of voluntary, intrinsically motivated activities normally associated with recreational pleasure and enjoyment.
Sometimes, in our attempt to teach grit, we forget to teach (and learn) play. Play is every bit as important to adults as it is to children.
You ought to read it as a favor to yourself and your family – especially if you’re homeschooling.
Now why would I say that? Clearly, it’s not a book about homeschooling or even about unschooling.
But it is a book about trying to change your life as much as you possibly can. It’s a challenge to reinvent what you can.
Part of the reason I’m the odd bird of a classical unschooler is because I’ve always been one for reinventing our homeschooling. I like blending opposites. I like being eclectic and picking and choosing things from here and there. I like quitting things that don’t work.
Does it get hard? Yes, of course it does. Do I question myself? You can bet every single time I see perfectly organized annual curricula by one of my friends who follows the more traditional classroom model, my heart skips a beat.
But in the end, it all comes down to honesty. I don’t want to have my children – pencils sharpened – at nine a.m. at the dinner table, for school. I don’t think it’s ideal for us.
I like classical unschooling. In fact, I absolutely freaking love it.
The easy question to answer, Morehouse claims, is what you hate and try to eliminate it or see if you can at least work toward what you love. In the beginning, it’s harder to find things we love, so begin by eliminating the things you dislike.
“As both you and the world change, the possibilities are untold. Don’t sweat finding that one thing right now. Figure out where you’re not in the zone. The sooner you ditch panhandling for fool’s gold, the faster you can start mining in places likely to have a mother lode.”
This is great advice. And it can apply to everything from picking a career to homeschooling to budgeting to running a household.
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 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?
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.
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.
You know that old saying about when the student is ready, the teacher will appear? I never put much stock in that one.
There’s a wonderful lie out there against self directed learning; it’s the lie of needing feedback. You may have heard it. It goes something like this:
“Oh, I’d love to learn something, but I can’t because I don’t have someone teaching me. I don’t have feedback.”
To get the basic objection to my argument out of the way, let me just admit that to some degree this is valid. Yes, you need some feedback. You need to know if you’re on the right track, you need basic help and some interaction. Mainly, you need someone to stop you when you are trying to do something and doing it wrong.
But read that last line again: you need someone to stop you when you are trying to do something and doing it wrong.
You are the one doing it. You are the one deciding to do it. You are the one in the driver’s seat, so to speak. You should be the one driving the car.
Unfortunately, when someone says they can’t learn anything because they don’t have feedback, it’s because they can’t envision themselves actually in the driver’s seat. They don’t want to be there. They want someone else driving the car for them – after the car has been brought to them. They want to copy, to follow.
They want to be taught. They say, in essence, You do it. Then, I’ll learn.
See the difference?
Education should not be something someone bestows upon us. It should rather be something we actively pursue.
When I hear the argument of needing feedback, I think, no. You’re just arguing for your own limitations and making them yours. When you’re starting out, you don’t need that much feedback from other people.
Especially as an adult, you are free to participate in self directed learning without needing to be pushed, goaded and cajoled. We are in the information age, after all.
You don’t need feedback. What you need, maybe – and that’s a big maybe – is accountability and interaction around the new activity you’re undertaking. You want to remain interested, have a chance to share what you’re learning and sharpen your skills. (And yes, as mentioned before, someone to stop you when you make mistakes.)
The problem arises when you think you have to pay someone to get this. You don’t.
That’s institutionalized, coercive, public school thinking.
It gets you efficiency, I’ll admit – 12 lessons on piano in 3 months for x amount of dollars, for instance – but you cannot mistake mere efficiency for education.
“All men who have turned out worth anything have had the chief hand in their own education.” – Sir Walter Scott
Seriously, what’s your hurry? Embracing a lifetime of education, a lifestyle of learning can mean learning at leisure, at your own pace; it can mean individualized, self-centered (in the best meaning of the word) education. Why would you trade all that and pay someone for the benefit of just efficiency? Why would you miss out on all the fun? For some sort of certificate?
Not too long ago, when public schools were non-existent, (incidentally, contrary to popular opinion, it is public school that is an experiment, not homeschooling) people did learn on their own. In fact, in that list are mingled autodidacts of today – people who were basically self-taught.
The feedback argument is tired and worn.
When you use needing feedback from people as an argument against self directed learning, what you’re saying in a very safe, sort of covert way, is that you’re afraid. You’re afraid of learning something new.
And that’s not a bad thing, really. Because you know what’s worse?
What’s worse is not learning.
What’s worse is waiting and waiting until the perfect teacher stops by and decides to teach you, to put you in that car, hold your hand, show you how it’s done and expect you to follow.