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When people ask me, “How did you decide to homeschool?” I’m still stumped. Usually (because I don’t go into as much detail with everyone), I  begin with you, Liam, and the conversation I had with your pre-K teacher so many years ago after you had told me you didn’t like school and just wanted to stay home. I didn’t understand: Your teacher, also an artist, adored you, always doting on your love for storytelling and art. She would tell me, “I give Liam as much time as possible in the art and writing centers because he doesn’t seem to want to do much else.” You have always been fearlessly independent, easily engaging new people, so I knew this dread of school was due to neither a fear of leaving me/home nor a lack of affection within your pre-school environment. Dad and I went back to the drawing board, so to speak. We had friends who had or were planning on home-schooling, and this was the first time I actually began thinking about it as an option for you. I started reading, of course. First, I borrowed a brief book from a friend journeying through several different families’ style of homeschooling. I then read The Homeschooling Option by Lisa Rivero, which I highly recommend. Who knew home-centered education could be so diverse? Then I read Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Trained Mind, and I was hooked, although I wasn’t entirely quite sure to what. You finished your pre-K year, and I began to teach you how to read at home. You’ve always loved learning, Liam. Always. Voraciously absorbing anything we would read to you, I naturally assumed teaching you to read would be easy. Nope. Lesson #1: Don’t assume. You have thus far been the most difficult of our three readers to teach, in part because you hate sitting for a formal lesson of any sort and another part because you would try to read to too fast, leading to tracking issues. We solicited help, and you spent three months meeting weekly with a reading specialist, whom you loved! You learned how to read with more confidence, and I observed and learned how to channel my inner elementary school teacher squealing voice of encouragement.  Lesson #2: Always encourage. I now have to tell you to stop reading: before breakfast, at the table, when it’s time to clean up from our day, or get ready for bed. You and Burke both enjoy reading enormously (can you feel me grinning?). Lesson #3: Revel in accomplishment, no matter how small.

This brings me to our current topic, worksheets. Remember how I mentioned your loathing of most formal lessons? Well, that more appropriately applies to the “m” word — math; you languish at the very mention of it. You see, most of our “school day,” we read, recite, and discuss ideas, while you all build with blocks or Legos or draw or paint. Math is the one area of our day you have to deal in absolutes — either the answer is right or it’s not. And you desperately HATE being wrong. Lesson #4: We all fail. Trying to engage you, I’ve experimented with many things these last three years, such as standing, laying on your stomach, or sitting on a bouncy ball during our math lessons; changing the time of day; or even as of late, changing to a computer-based curriculum (enticing because you hardly get to be on the computer). But still, you wither. The truth is we learn quite differently, Liam. I gladly would sit and listen to a teacher, complete whatever work(sheet), and move on. You want to participate, always questioning. You want to touch and build and play. You still have an insatiable love to learn. You want a conversation. A story. A Lego sculpture. A play. Not a worksheet. Not a fill-in-the-blank. And certainly, not a “lesson.”  I love this about you. I love how you inspire those around you to learn and explore and see the world differently.  Yet, some days I am ready to pull my hair out watching you will yourself against a sheet of paper. I mean it’s just a worksheet. Why is this so hard? You understand the concepts. Just do it. Lesson #5: You are not me. And this is a hard lesson, still. The goal is not to conform you to me, seeing the world the way I do. Instead, our goal is to help mature and develop/flourish you into you (whomever the Lord has created you to be), and that requires faith. So I recite to you what I often need to hear myself: “The Lord has made us different people and put us in the same family. So there’s something in you to teach me, just like there’s something in me to teach you. And sometimes. Just sometimes. We all have to do things we don’t want to do. For you right now, Liam, it’s this math lesson.” You sweetly ask for me to pray for you. I later talk with Dad; I talk with Nina; I talk with other home-schooling moms; and I read more, wondering if this process really is for us. I read The Dumbest Generation by Mark Bauerlein, Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey through the World of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto, How Children Learn and How Children Fail by John Holt, The Montessori Method by Maria Montessori, and The Core by Leigh Bortins. I feel more resolved, encouraged, and confident. And sometimes our “great ideas” agree, like last week when we declared that from now on all of your (including Burke’s and Blythe’s) finished math worksheets and scratch paper must be used to design new paper airplanes. (And thanks to the modern era of the world-wide web and google, we have instructions.)

Below are pictures from some of our “school” days within the last year, also your sketches on our chalkboard, with pencil, pastels, or a pen. I included the picture of our geography map from last year, when we were learning the European waters, and you showed me how they each resembled a sleeping dragon, a space ship, a Pteranodon, etc., an enlightening moment for me as to how your spatial-oriented brain works.

Book Cover

Although always intrigued by bombastically titled books, I generally find myself discouraged by their poor argumentation, weak research, or overzealous rhetoric. Not this one. (I did however feel somewhat self-conscious requesting the title at the local bookstore; the guy looked at me as if  I had requested a book on how to join the KKK. Sigh.) Unfortunately, I simply don’t have enough time to give this 230 page pearl justice in terms of a review (especially with a certain 2 year old sitting in my lap). All I can briefly say is: smart, smart, smart — the thinking, diction, argumentation, research — all of it. Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory, fluidly moves through vast amounts of research (15 pg. bibliography) to debunk the myth that the technology age has in fact increased the  intellects of the under 30s.

While giving credence to all his counter-arguments, Bauerlein quickly points out that in spite of the increased availability of vast amounts of information and the ability to connect to the thoughts and achievements of the generations preceding us (“vertical modeling”), the under-30 crowd (just  missed that one) still primarily uses the Web for what he terms “horizontal modeling” or “more raillery and mimicry of people the same age.”  So, rather than connecting youth to the wisdom, traditions, or lessons of the past, the Web is creating a generational cocoon, allowing adolescents more advanced means “to do what they’ve always done in a prosperous time: talk to, act like, think like, compete against, and play with one another.”  This cocoon simultaneously misleads them to believe that “authentic reality begins with themselves and that what preceded them is irrelevant.” Hence we experience the currently more common “trumpeting [of] a-literacy (the knowing how to read, but choosing not to)” as well as the glorification of the “perpetual adolescent” — an extension of the adolescent interests and demeanors well into adulthood. Adolescence, Bauerlein describes, originally was intended as a brief  segue into adulthood and has since become a widely accepted extended phase of self-exploration lasting well into our 20s (or even 30s).

With all of his dower statistics and prophecies, Bauerlein does not actually blame the millennial generation or technology per se. He, however, does turn to admonish the mentors (both formal and informal educators) for our deferment of educational leadership to technology (i.e. hours of  approved “screen time,” glorification of “electronic-literacy” as a replacement for traditional literacy, ignorant assumptions and interpretations of statistics…etc). Overall, Baurlein seems primarily concerned with the declining general intellect of the young population in relation to the direction of national leadership and intellectual competition with rising world powers.  Pretentious title aside, the book is certainly worth your time.