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Michelle Miller Howard

Click the thumbnail image below to read the full article.

Hammering Away!

(First published in Homeschooling Today)

There he is! Super Official Conscientious Homeschool Dad. Out in the driveway pulling on the front end of the car. Jerking on the back end. Trying to streeeeeetch the family van. Now he is above, grabbing the metal roof, trying to increase the vehicle’s height. He grunts and heaves. He sweats and slaves. But to little avail.

Maybe he lacks the right tools! He races to the hardware store—several of them, actually, in case the next one has a niftier tool than the last. He organizes and labels all his new gadgets, then gets back to work.

Freshly reviewing his handiwork, he isn’t encouraged. The family van still doesn’t resemble his desired image. Maybe paint will do the trick! He slaps that special orangey-yellow color onto the now-misshapen vehicle. He adds some black stripes and numbers. Maybe flashing red lights?

A Lumpy Wreck

Oh, it looks like a lumpy wreck wearing the colors of a sick canary. How, he wonders, can he “officially” transport his children to educational outings when his vehicle doesn’t look like a good, ol’ American school bus?

Then there is the problem with the house. He should flatten the gabled roof, remove the flowerbeds and gingerbread decoration, and brick the exterior walls so it looks like the public school down the street. How can they attempt homeschooling in a structure that looks different?

Okay, by now you’ve guessed I’m being facetious. We would laugh hysterically if a homeschool dad felt the need to alter the vehicle or house to resemble a school bus or school building. We wouldn’t call him conscientious; we would label him cuckoo! However, we—conscientious women that we are—unceasingly try to duplicate the school classroom in our homeschools. Isn’t that a bit silly too?

We stretch and pull. We twist and torque. We jump through hoops and wade through daily ditches. We buy new tools, new gadgets, and new curriculum. We make elaborate plans—all to duplicate our image of school. Yes, we humans are powerfully driven by what we believe! But so much of what we see as true education is only needful in institutional settings where the teacher lacks close access to students or freedom to use living resources. This difference is hugely important.

Dear Mama

My beloved mother taught in classrooms for thirty years. She became a teacher because she valued one-on-one intellectual interaction with children. She yearned to see the fire of learning kindled in the heart of each youngster. But that was just what she couldn’t enjoy when teaching so many classroom students.

Because there wasn’t time in the prescribed school day, she couldn’t enjoy an engaging conversation with each boy or girl over a yummy meal, snuggled on the couch, or under a starry sky. She couldn’t connect with their unique learning styles. Instead, of necessity, she administered impersonal tests to stimulate and check learning. She never thought it was the most effective or meaningful way to teach or gauge student feedback; neither did it allow various sorts of children to best absorb and express what they had learned. But she had no choice.

We homeschoolers do have a choice! But we cannot exert that choice until we dislodge “scientific” testing from its sacrosanct place in our minds. We mustn’t continue believing it is the only means of motivating and verifying student learning simply because it is what we experienced as institutional students. How ironic that we tend to duplicate the same frustrating methods we know to be flawed.

If we think about it, God’s plans alone are the basis for what is true and good! So, how does God want your children to learn and demonstrate that learning? If needed through institutional texts, so be it, but let’s not default to anything simply because it was our experience or it is what we see at the nearby schoolhouse.

Living and Learning

The same is true for layer upon layer of worksheets, book reports, and projects. You see, the more “living” our main resources, the less added activity we need for vitality. Think of the institutional teachers who would give anything to use living books—great biographies, stirring narratives, personal accounts, and well-written stories, whether in history, geography, science, or more—as their students’ main courses. Schools require teachers to use standardized textbooks, and they must add the type of living books and activities that we can make our focus! We can have a streamlined homeschool, which eases our burden and saves our children from boring redundancy.

We perhaps congratulate ourselves on conscientious teaching, but if the nature of our efforts is a relentless pounding of our homeschools into the shape of the world’s secular education, we are fighting an exhausting and hopeless battle. We will unwittingly destroy the wondrous, God-intended “shape” of a family homeschool.

Upside Down,/p>

Let’s ask the Lord, Maker of our children, about His design for student input and feedback. What did Jesus do with the disciples? That method was life giving and personal. And effective! Without any textbooks or tests, they walked and talked with the Messiah, read God’s Word with Him, worked beside Him, and turned the world upside down. What has He intended for your children’s learning resources and means of expression? Seek those and then rest!

Neither your homeschool vehicle and building nor your materials and methods need look anything like the world’s model. Trying to make them so is futile and fatiguing since our efforts can never change God’s design. Let’s not be fearful, sheep-like followers of the world’s ideas but God’s confidently trusting students. Now there is excellence and peace.

Originally published in Homeschooling Today® magazine—(Nov/Dec 2010). Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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