Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The #1 Thing I Believe About Education

It was so difficult to write and publish something with a title containing "the #1 thing I believe". It could have just been about making a bed ["The #1 Thing I Believe About Making a Bed"], and I would have felt myself winded from the effort of asserting my opinions on bed-making which start and stop at-- make them as often as you can. Also, the post turned out just about as dry as that leftover pizza I heated up and then forgot about in the toaster oven for about thirty minutes yesterday while I was distracted by diapers on the verge, a 4 year old terrorizing us with his ninjabatman skills, and the kids in general coming at me like a herd of drunk alley cats. Yes, this post is as dry or dryer than that piece of pizza. I tried to slip in a joke about a rabbit, but it didn't work. With all that said, please read on. I would love that very much.

We are considering home-school for Thomas, but it has little to do with a decision against other forms of schooling and everything to do with the natural progression of things in motion. However, Paul and I have a foundational understanding of our role as parents that helps us embrace homeschooling just as much as it would help us abandon it in the future if/when needed.

We see ourselves as the primary teachers to our children for as long as they are in our care. We are very aware of the great influence we have in their lives and know this to be a noble responsibility as well as a true joy.

Paul and I were both raised by intentional parents who cultivated a love of learning, and a path to that, well before the force of the classroom. Reading was widely encouraged. Kids were expected to handle weighty responsibilities. Independence was earned and respect to authority was given. There were dinner table conversations of weight. No meant no. Hard work offered no shortcuts. T.V. was generously limited.  Not too dissimilar, I imagine, from the home you were either raised in or are now day-by-day cultivating.

I've always felt incredibly grateful for my public school education. To me, it was more than adequate.  And yet, as I get older the picture come to focus a bit differently.  While I wouldn't subtract praise from some truly great teachers I had, I also see now that those things I was gleaning from school largely stuck because of the foundation I received at home. 

I saw how true it is that parents are the primary teachers in the six years that I taught in public schools.  It was the young adults already equipped with values like a sense of purpose, integrity, and a healthy self-esteem (from what I imagine was a good mix of hard work and lots of love at home) who most effectively absorbed the information and opportunities in my classroom. 

As a bonus, some kids arrived in my classroom with experiences. They happily shared that their parents talked to them one-on-one or that they had been to a play or to another state or had visited a battleground. These kids really experienced a rich boost in learning. They had the exposure and were ready to run!  

Parents provide those hooks with which their kids can hang that knowledge coming at them.  Parents are the first to show and show and show what this world is about and how a child should carry herself in it. It is my belief that particular school programs make much less difference in a student's knowledge base than that frame of reference provided to them at home. 

I also experienced such sadness for kids who were starved for attention, words, experiences, or simply just love, and came to school each day actively looking around for a substitute for that void.  These kids are found in any classroom setting distracting themselves from learning because they've got other pressing needs that has them all but gnawing on wood.

So it is like this.  Deciding on where our kids attend school matters. However, I don't think it matters nearly as much as the effort, thoughtfulness, dedication, and love put forth in a home.  If parents are sending their kids off for a teacher's magical touch, for this thing they can't possibly do themselves, well, they might be a little bit wrong.  If parents are sending their kids off for a teacher to teach ALL the things, then, yes, they're mistaken.

Tremendous praise is due to the wise parents who entrusted their kid to me in the classroom, and yet never let their kid's physical distance be a reflection of a total release of that very special and also important role they earned when the stick turned blue (or two plus signs appeared or said pregnant or whatever it was that it did.)

If Paul and I go forward with homeschooling Thomas, it is because we are so convicted that parents are already educators that our hearts were found open to it.  And if we don't home-school, it will be because we know there is no system, school, or teacher who has enough power to completely overthrow all that brainwashing we've been doing this whole time.  [See, I did try one joke.]

We don't see any form of schooling as a hill worth dying on whether that be public, private, or home-school. There can be so much tension clouding the conversation of educational choices. Parents are twitching with anxiety in comparison, guilt, doubt, or financial burden. Maybe it's best we rest a bit with our choices. We do what is right for our families with the resources we have. We try our best. We change course when needed. Children are much more flexible and adaptable than we give them credit.

Moreover, we know this: no matter where our children put pencil to paper, it is the untold hours of discipline, training, teaching, conversation, and love that we have poured into them each day that they bring to that desk. There will be other things at that desk too. To start with, likely a spicy word carved in with only the flare boredom can muster. But it is my observation that these less savory bits of education, inevitable in every single possible setting we sniff out, matter a great deal less to a child sent with a heart and mind already stuffed.


  1. Not dry at all, but clear and insightful. I loved reading this. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts!

  2. Loved your post... Very well stated!

  3. Love the idea of resting with your choice. What's right for one child might not be what's best for another, or it might be best now and not a good fit later. We are taking it year by year with each of our children. Home schooling isn't really an option for us at this point, but how wonderful that you are able to consider it and with such passion for learning. P.S. Thomas is such a cutie!

  4. Oh Ash. If this is what you think is dry......well then I want to read your file of writings you deemed not worthy of the cut. This post. Everything. All of it. Yes.

  5. Well said, and well done. I'm a former teacher, in the classroom for 9 years total, and I now homeschool my kids. My husband is a counselor in public schools and often gets asked why we choose to do what we do. The answer is largely that I find this duty - of being the primary educator of my children - to be a great joy. There is no one right path, so yes, rest in your choice, take it slowly, and listen to where God is leading you.

  6. Beautiful. And so very, very true. It seems to me that family breakdown is the absolute biggest reason that our public school children are being "left behind". But it's good news that what we do as mothers and fathers trumps whatever else may come in our children's school life! I think Pope Benedict is a great example of this. He grew up in Nazi Germany for goodness sake. But his strong Catholic upbringing got him through

  7. I have been struggling with the education decision of our kids greatly and at the end of the day I totally agree with your ending conclusion, that no matter where they go it matters more what happens at home. You have such a gift at writing. Thanks for sharing.