To home school your own kids is to invite insecurity as a constant companion.
You can never measure up to a governmental institution that has been practicing and perfecting the art and science of schooling children for over a century… Can you?
Over the recent decades, home schoolers have challenged that assumption, surprisingly successfully. In fact, many have surpassed the government standards, highlighting the general inadequacies of our learning institutions.
How did they do that? They obviously had principles they refused to compromise, but I think it also has something to do with understanding the limitations of any bureaucracy. Government simply cannot serve all children equally (they are all so unique) – that defies logic. They must adopt a “good enough” attitude (now known as “No Child Left Behind” or more recently, “Common Core”). In contrast, home schoolers can concentrate on the individual child and have much more exacting standards.
What I’ve discovered in the past year, when I enrolled my two boys (briefly) in a very qualified private school, was eye-opening, so I’ll share it here.
The school they attended used the Shurley Grammar curriculum I’ve written about. One of the issues I had with Shurley was its writing program, which is extremely repetitive and painfully intense for my active boys. The private school supplanted that program with another, less exacting plan from Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). Not only that, but they didn’t complete everything in the grammar portion, either. Imagine that! They didn’t finish every task in the book! This was absolutely (sadly) mind-blowing for my obsessive, exigent self. What if they missed something? I thought. And then I realized that missing a thing or two along the way could always be caught up later, during the inevitable repetition of subject matter.
In fact, teachers almost never cover textbooks in their entirety – not even the private schools, but certainly not in public schools. I recall my mother’s discovery that the biology class at our high school only covered 17 chapters of a 56 chapter science book, to her horror. Last year I discovered that was the norm, not the exception, so I did a little research. Most curricula are purposely over-written. They are designed so individual teachers can pick and choose, and they provide extra work to keep advanced children busy. Average or slower students will never see (and never need to see) the extra stuff – what I call “busy work.”
So if our revered institutions don’t complete the ‘prescribed’ work, why was I holding myself to such a high standard? Because I’m a perfectionist, which is unhealthy – for me and my kids. I decided that just because I have high standards does not mean I must follow and complete an entire curriculum to satisfy them.
Keep your eye on the ball. The learning is the goal, not the textbook.
This year, I’ve backed off a bit. I do most of the Shurley sentences for each lesson, and about a third of the writing assignments – there will always be time for my kids to do more writing the next year, because Shurley is nothing if not repetitive, and for good reason. Children learn best through repetition. They often cannot take in an entire concept at one sitting, but need multiple exposures to complicated ideas, like how to write a particular kind of essay. They also should not be subjected to tedious busy work as a way of drilling information that will be covered many times over in the future. I admit: it’s a fine line. But at the risk of losing my student to abject boredom or frustration, I err on the side of caution: everything in moderation. We cover the basics until I see my student “gets it,” confident that there will be review in the coming days. This way, my students, the loves of my life, are not burdened with my obsessive perfectionism, agonizing to complete tomes of structured learning. I prefer for us to concentrate on enjoying the process, instead.
As for my insecurity, which goes hand-in-hand with my perfectionism, I’ve learned to deal with it. Sometimes it’s quite challenging, but I’ve found a great balance between hard-core, staunch, fulfill every single demand of an over-written schoolbook and the broad strokes that our public schools paint with every year. As long as my kids excel, enjoy the process, and can show my husband how to diagram a sentence with an object compliment adjective, well, I guess that’s actually good enough for me.