Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Value of a Child

I have the privilege and pleasure of participating in Nancy Kelly's Living Education Lessons. I cannot tell you how much the first two classes blessed me, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the sessions more than I can say. The next one is tonight, in fact! I missed the CMI conference last summer because of our move, and will miss it this year, too, because I waited too long and it's sold out. I needed something to renew my spirit, and these classes with Nancy are just the ticket. Do check them out and see if it's something that might interest you. You won't be disappointed. Her blog, Sage Parnassus, is also a wonderful resource.

The first two weeks we discussed Miss Mason's first principle of education: "Children are born persons." Upon first glance, it seems like an obvious statement in some ways. The longer I've had to ponder it, though, the more I find there is to consider.

It's not simply that children are human, or that they are people. Person almost needs to have a capital "P," because personhood, I believe, is talking about a child's soul, the very thing that makes them who they are in the eyes of God.

This first principle is what first touched my heart and drew me to Charlotte Mason. When I was growing up, personhood was not something that was ever discussed, much less seen as important. Certainly no one had heard of Charlotte Mason. The parenting style was punitive, with little or no regard to circumstances or the heart of a child. When I learned from Miss Mason, and the lovely people God's brought into my life along this journey, how to see my children as Persons, my heart and parenting were forever changed for the better. I'm so grateful!

I made a new connection on Personhood as I was reading our first assignment. Nancy has asked us to keep commonplace entries of our readings, of course, and sometimes I feel as though I should just copy the entire book out by hand. There seems to be more underlined than not! The quote I chose was this one:
If we have not proved that a child is born a person with a mind as complete and as beautiful as his little body, we can at least show that he always has all the mind he requires for his occasions; that is, that his mind is the instrument of his education, but his education does not produce his mind. --Vol. 6, p. 36 
When I read that initially, I felt a huge sense of relief. I was assured that the education I'm giving my girls is not what is making their minds. They already have all the mind they need. It was a breath of reassurance I needed.

Then, though, I looked back over the reading as I prepared to read the next week's assignment, and I came across this quote:
...the beautiful infant frame is but the setting of a jewel of such astonishing worth, that, put the whole world in one scale and this jewel in the other, and the scale which holds the world flies up outbalanced.
--Vol. 6, p. 34
Can you see that vision with me? Can you imagine the soul of a child as a precious jewel whose value outweighs that of the earth itself? That image has captured my imagination, and is again reworking the way I see my children. I know as mothers, as parents, we all see our children as precious. I have no doubt of that. I am beginning to see that they are worth still more than I knew, and they are so incredibly beautiful.

When I put those two quotes together, I found an expansion on the idea that children are not blank slates or empty buckets to be filled. No matter what book we assign our children to read, each one will receive it differently. I am continually amazed by the connections my children make in their reading, and it's never the same thing from any of them. We can no more turn a child into a doctor or a lawyer than we could turn them into a squash. They are who they are made to be by the Creator, and He is forming them according to His purposes.

Of course, I still want them to experience truth, beauty and goodness through the books they read, and my goal is still to provide them with the feast of ideas Miss Mason talks about spreading before students, but in the end, the ideas help them find out more about who they already are, rather than making them into something want.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Never Say Never

I am not missing, but I've been hiding. I keep thinking about the blog, and haven't been sure what to write or how to talk about what's been going on here. It's certainly not a tragic situation, but it's been quite an adjustment for my family. Here's the deal:

My son completes his 8th week of school this week. He's attending the lovely little school at our church.

I still have a hard time believing he's going to school. This is my 11th year homeschooling. I love having my children home with me, and I love being able to give them a living education, so unlike what I experienced in public school.

How did we get to this place?

For the last 3.5 years, since we officially started "school" with him, I've been trying to teach this child. It's been an uphill battle, every single day. And, I do mean battle. He fought me constantly when we'd try to work together. It didn't seem to matter what I did. Believe me, I tried what seemed like everything. I kept thinking he'd grow out of this need to push back against school work, but he just didn't. He took all my time and energy, and I was not able to engage with my high schoolers the way I wanted. I didn't feel I was doing well by anyone. No one was getting what they needed from me.

When we found out we were moving to Colorado, I was thrilled to discover a Charlotte Mason school here. I thought that would be the answer to everything. He would go there, until the girls had graduated high school, and then he would come back home with me. Unfortunately, they are not in need of students his age, so when he didn't test as being ready for their second grade, they weren't willing to work with us. I felt a little desperate at that point, as I really needed some help with him, but I had to believe if he'd needed to go there, God would have worked it out. Isaac really liked that school, and said he wanted to go, so we began to try to get him up to speed with reading, handwriting and math so he could. He didn't seem to understand that he had to do some actual work to get caught up, and he was no more motivated to work with me, even knowing he could have gone to that wonderful school with the playground and the fish pond (the reasons he gave me for wanting to attend there).

He struggled with the upheaval of our move from North Carolina to Colorado, as we all did. There were a lot of good things about our new home for him. We moved into a house that is right next to a park, and with lots of kids there in the summer. He got to play there a lot. There are some boys living in the house behind us, and he quickly made friends with them. We had a couple of months of settling in before we officially started our school year in Colorado, but we fell back into our pattern of discord as soon as I got the school books back out.

We started attending a church here, and our pastor's wife, Sara, turned out to be a tutor (and is becoming a dear friend). She agreed to work with Isaac, which helped somewhat. As I described my struggles in working with him, she encouraged me to talk to the principal at the school there. To my surprise, the principal was willing and eager to work with us. She, Sara, and the second grade teacher (who also happens to be my girls' youth group leader) came up with all kinds of ways to help him, as he's not reading on grade level. God removed all of my objections, one by one, and I knew we'd have to send him.

I've been having a rather schizophrenic conversation with myself.

Homeschooling mom (HSM): "You are the parent. Surely you can figure out how to work with your own son?"

Tired of Fighting mom (TFM): "I agree with you, but it's been 3.5 years and nothing I've tried has worked yet."

HSM: "You're a homeschool fraud and a failure."

TFM: "I am so tired of fighting with this child."

HSM: "Surely there is something we haven't tried yet. Have you considered [insert idea from any of many well-meaning homeschooling friends]?"

TFM: "Yes. Don't you remember when we did that?" or, "No, we didn't try that, but we've tried SO MANY THINGS hoping that it would fix all our problems, and nothing has."

HSM: "It's always better for kids to be at home."

TFM: "I wanted to believe that, too."

HSM: "I miss him when he's not here."

TFM: "I miss him, too."

HSM: "Are you sure you love him enough? Maybe you don't love him enough."

TFM: "The only reason I was able to consider this at all is that I love him so much. I don't want to destroy our relationship or his love of learning. My relationship with my son is more important than my ideals."

This is still going on, but I'm able to ignore them (or at least live with them) most of the time now. I spent a lot of time crying, the first week or two, and I do miss him. I've seen amazing improvement in Isaac already, though. He's taken initiative every day to get himself ready to go to school, and after the first day, told me I could drop him off at the door and pick him up in the carpool line - I was not to come in with him. When it's been snowy, he's packed his own snow pants and boots so he could play in the giant snow pile in the parking lot.

He doesn't seem to mind that he doesn't have nearly as much free time as he did. He gets THREE recesses at school, which he thinks is fantastic. (Never mind that he had hours of free time at home...) He loves being around all the other children. Honestly, he was lonely at home. With my teens' schedules, he wasn't getting much social activity. He's still working with his tutor twice a week after school, and will have to do that through the summer. He has to read to me each night, but he's more willing to do that now than he was when it was only my idea. There have been very few days when he didn't want to go to school. 

The hardest part has been realizing that this means my homeschooling journey will probably come to an end quite a bit sooner than I thought it would. My girls are in high school, and even if I really stretch things out, I have a maximum of 4 more years (and that is assuming they both take a "gap year"). I don't see bringing Isaac back home. It's not that I don't want to, or that I wouldn't. If that's what needed to be, I would do it in a heartbeat. He enjoys school tremendously, is doing so well, and I know it would be hard for him to be the only child at home. At the end of the day, I'm grateful. I'm grateful we are able to send him to a private, Christian school, at our church, where I know and love the people. I'm grateful he's doing so well, even though I'm having to bite my tongue at some things I just don't agree with about the way things are taught. I'm grateful that my son and I are able to enjoy each other more in this season.

I forgot, somewhere along the way, that this little Person has a mind of his own (does he ever!) and that what I want, for me, is not necessarily what is best for him. This school is what is best for him right now. I'm getting closer to acceptance and peace with it. God's helping me see what was right and what went wrong, and He's made it clear this is where Isaac needs to be for now.