Is It Essential?

So, I’m going to come right out and say it – I have seen some real snobby attitudes since I joined the homeschool world. Some truly “all or nothing”, elitist attitudes, especially when it comes to curriculum and educational philosophy choices.

You know the ones that I mean – the ones who have become so focused on a certain pedagogy or curriculum, that they (passive aggressively) look down on anyone who doesn’t choose something as academically “rigorous” as they did. Or, they look down on those who do not follow the model of an educational philosophy to a “T”.

They are the ones who will argue that a “true” education, is not complete unless your children have read the Odyssey and the annals of Plutarch; until they have learned Latin and Greek mythology, and have memorized countless poems and speeches. Or, unless they have studied the great composers and poets and artists of eons past, their life will ultimately be lacking in depth and fullness.

I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, so I would like to think that they don’t realize how they’re coming across to others. Maybe they’re just so truly passionate about the choices they have made, that they forget that there can be another way that works better for other people. Or, sometimes I wonder if it is because the idea of another way is perhaps threatening to them, maybe they are not as confident in their decision as their bravado would lead you to believe.

Just the other day, in a group that I’m a part of, a fellow mother, obviously frazzled, wrote that she is struggling to get through the recommended study of Plutarch: she doesn’t like it, her children don’t like it, and she’s afraid that it’s going to make them hate school. “Is it essential?” she asked.

Now, anyone with common sense knows that no, it isn’t. And the fact that she would even have to ask others if it is crucial, stopped me in my tracks – until I remembered that I have done the same thing. Because that is the pressure we homeschoolers put on ourselves, and what’s more, on each other, to be perfect. We find an educational pedagogy or a curriculum that we agree with, that we like, that works, but then suddenly think that means we have to follow it 100%. We think that each and every ideal of that philosophy, must be done perfectly lest our child’s education be found lacking.

I thought that perhaps the other mothers would encourage her to shelve it for awhile, or forever. That they would reassure her that of course her children will turn out fine if they don’t study Plutarch. And a few did, but the majority “encouraged” her to persevere. Their encouragement ranged from posting articles on why Plutarch is “necessary”, to reminding the mother that, “We don’t get very far by quitting!” “We should be forcing our children to trudge through the hard and mundane things!” (Regardless of the cost, eh?) “No liberal arts education is complete without Plutarch!”

You get the idea. I felt so sad for that mother, who clearly just needed some reassurance, to be told that it was okay to let go, which is what she clearly wanted to do. And instead she received peer pressure to keep going, basically a passive aggressive form of adult bullying.

In the end I sent the mom a private message and told her what I want to tell all homeschoolers:

There are ideals, and then there is reality. Educational pedagogies such as Charlotte Mason, were just one person’s ideals. One individual person’s idea of what constituted the “ideal” education, one person’s ideas of what were important topics to learn and how to learn them. And that person lived over 100 years ago in a different era, society and culture. They did not know you and your priorities, or your children and their needs or interests. The reality is, the “ideal” education is going to vary from student to student based on their learning types, needs, interests and goals for the future. Ideals are not a one-size fits all.

Today we have the ability and freedom to tailor our children’s learning to that which interests them, that which incites a passion for learning. And if Plutarch does not incite that passion, there is quite honestly, no need in teaching it. This is not to say that Plutarch can not be valuable with lessons to be learned from it – most certainly it can be. However,  it is most definitely not essential to a fulfilling education and/or life.

And here is another reality – there are many valuable things to learn in our world, and we will never be able to learn them all. So, all we can do, is pick and choose what is the most meaningful to our lives, what interests us the most, what will have the most impact and influence, and pursue that – and let go of the feeling that we must learn it all.

After all, learning does not stop when a child turns eighteen. Learning is lifelong. If you can teach a child to enjoy learning, to want to learn, then they will continue to pursue learning as an adult. Perhaps they will choose to read Plutarch when they are older, when it has meaning and value to them.

But, I can promise you, that if you destroy that enjoyment of learning early on, by forcing them to push through things that are meaningless and pure drivel to them, things which make learning tedious and boring, just because one person a hundred years ago said it was “essential”, you are hindering their future learning. And chances are, they will never pick up Plutarch again.

So, what is essential? The “Three ‘Rs”. Because without a foundation of those, other learning cannot happen. Give a child the tools that will allow them to learn, and then incite a desire in them to want to apply those tools for the rest of their lives. If Plutarch, or Homer, or the Odyssey, or Latin or Greek incites a desire and an excitement in your students, then by all means, dive right in.

But if those non-essentials are not working for you, if they’re causing stress and grief and turning learning into a chore for your student, then please, never be afraid to let go; no matter what anyone else tells you, even if they tell you that without checking off all those boxes on the pedagogical checklist you’re not giving your child a complete education. Let go of what doesn’t work for you, and what doesn’t bring joy to your learning, especially if it is actually hindering your child’s enjoyment of learning. Trust me, it will be okay.

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One thought on “Is It Essential?

  1. Preach it! There is such pressure to be the sole person in charge of your child’s education…you’re right that we can’t do it all.

    But when I have my own crisis, it’s easy to forget. It’s like I need a tattoo or billboard saying, “Just teach them to learn and read. They’ll be fine. Smile! Read some books. Play outside.”

    Even though I *know* things will turn out okay, it’s so nice to have reassurance in the middle of a moment of doubt.

    That’s the great thing about a homeschool community– we can all take turns telling each other to chill. 🙂

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