Tuesday, August 18, 2009


I'm still having a lot of half-thoughts. But an older post at Holy Experience, together with the possibility of losing the homeschool, moved me to wonder. (It's funny how losing something makes us treasure that something.)

Now, a caveat: I do not believe that homeschooling is the answer for every family. It is not a one-way ticket to holiness or happiness. I have met mothers who homeschool for the wrong reasons--usually out of guilt or fear--and they burn out fast. It requires a certain noble sacrifice, but so too does sending the children to public or private school.

That being said, however, I have for many years been deeply committed to teaching our children at home. Here are a few reasons.

1. Togetherness. There is simply nothing that can substitute in a child's life for quantities of time with his mother and father (assuming that mother and father are basically functional as such). The school system as it currently is simply cannot respect this basic need: Children go off for 30 or even 40 hours a week--the equivalent of a full-time job for an adult. They have after-school activities. Weekends get busy fast. Car time with Miriam is fun, but it is always "going time." We're in a rush to be somewhere else. I want a family in which "together time" is maximized, even if it means some days I will pull out my hair (and possibly the children's hair as well). Quality time isn't planned, it happens unexpectedly within quantities of together time.

2. Respect for individuality and our contemplative vocation. The structure of the school day was something on which I thrived in high school. I loved having deadlines and being accountable. But I was 16. A 4-yr-old child does not need to be told, as soon as she's absorbed herself in some interesting play or project, that it's time to move on. This is not exercising or forming her ability to concentrate. Since we are all destined to contemplate the face of God and become absorbed in the "one thing necessary," our children should be allowed to exercise this capacity at a young age. For different children, this capacity shows up in different places. Miriam today spent one hour tracing all the numbers from one to one-hundred. Not my idea. Certainly not something she could have done at Glenwood. Certainly not something the little boys she plays with would ever find absorbing (not this year, anyway). But homeschooling allows me to allow her to contemplate (within reason, of course) as her little soul moves.

3. Personal attention. Again, Miriam is an independent child. She will trace hundreds of numbers on her own for hours. I wash the floor. But when the time comes, I'm able to read to her one-on-one, stop at a page or picture she likes, ask her a question, or hear her questions. Not infinitely, mind you: She is not the center of our familial universe (Isabella makes sure of that). I love, however, that we can make math into a music lesson, or bring her preoccupation with heaven into her reading time. She is more excited about the work, and so am I.

4. Integrity of life. There is little barrier to cross between home-time, leaisure-time, and schoolwork. Institutional learning necessarily fragments our children's lives. Again, this has its own advantages, especially as children grow older, but I do not think in the end it is best for learning. Popular representations of children depict school as "jail" and summer as "I'm free!!!!!!!!" Ugh. Learning and reading, education and intellectual curiosity, are an integral part of our makeup. We need to be curious and want to find answers at every moment. Wonder should spill into all activities, and no child should look upon the "place of learning" as something to check off the list so he or she can "get to the weekend" or "make it to summertime." Eventually, we hope that our children will spend their leisure and free time learning about the world, themselves, and the divine. Having lessons at home just means one less barrier to total integrity of life.

5. Raising children who care. As Holy Experience says:

"Scholastically, our aim for our children asks the same question that esteemed educator Charlotte Mason asked: "The question is not, 'how much does the youth know?' when he has finished his education––but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set?"

We believe that whatever we do, we need to do it wholeheartedly as unto the Lord. Right now, learning about God and His world is our children's full-time work. That means: education is a priority and it will be engaging work that requires real effort.

But that doesn't necessarily translate into them aiming towards traditional careers. It means we simply pursue the beginning of knowledge which is the fear of the Lord.

Do they care about God?
Do they love people?
Are their feet set in the large, large world as salt and light?

It means that we pursue not a cultural definition of success but of true greatness for our kids."

'Nuff said.

6. Letting children be children, parents be parents. Again, these children are with me for a very short time (althought 11am-1pm seems endless on most days). I have very few hours within which to know them, to love them without condition, to try to show them the way and grow with them on the way to eternity. The hours are short, eternity is forever. If I am to be a parent, let me be a parent. Their childhood is so short, let them finish kindergarten at 9am and then run. Free and happy.

Well, this has turned into quite the manifesto. I guarantee you that I will need to re-read this (and probably revise my lofty lingo) around mid-November. But I've tried to express some eternal truths. Living according to those truths will come out in the wash.


Modest Mama said...

How are you going to lose the homeschool?
Lovely post, especially the last point.

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

I have the same question. It is not clear what is going on. Are you going to give up home schooling, or is this some kind of legal thing?

Erika Ahern said...

Oh, I'm sorry! I should have been clearer. It's looking financially that we may need me to work for the next year or two. Making homeschool unlikely (though not impossible). Graduate school just takes a very long time! :)

Carter World said...

I can't tell you how much your blog edifies and your blogging genius links edifies my life.

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

I worked full time for the US government and home-schooled my older son -- and at one point also my younger daughter. It depends very much on the kids, their ages, their level of maturity (my kids were born adults, I think, or quickly became adults because of all the medical defects and health problems in the family -- and the occasional clinical death). I think there are several ways in which you could combine work and home school if you really want to do that.

Unknown said...

Love your article, I'm feeling very nervous leaving a private Christian school because of judgment. I plan on doing it and feel I have no reason not to but I feel like everyone is making it out that I will ruin my child's education. We only have one child in 2nd grade, and financially stable to afford an excellent private school but I can teach her so much more about this Devine world.. we can travel freely. I'm just so scared. ... I'm scared because of the negatives in my life (meaning the people around me) I pull her our of school for 30 days to travel with me already to volunteer and meet the world. So it's like my foots out the door , I'm just filled with self doubt.... sorry for my rant... please keep the uplifting post some of us are clinging to these words until we've accepted the facts.