My 11th grader recently picked up Gombrich’s History of Art from the bookcase. It is a book I wanted to schedule this year but then cut due to her daily page count being too high. She is reading it in her free time, commenting daily about how good it is. She reads me passages and tells me why they are significant.
After our composer study last year- she found a 3 inch biography on Chopin and plowed in. The obscure details about Poland’s passionate struggle for independence and the romantic details of his personal life captivated us all through her spontaneous narrations.
Do we sound like one of those fluke intellectual families? Sound like that one kid per family who is a little quirky? Nope! We are no more than average. Yet the above tends to be the sort of thing I see at various levels in all of my kids.
With some families it seems like it is in the genes. You know the ones that make you think- of course they homeschooled and produced geniuses! It was in the cards for them regardless. Not us- we are standard issue ordinary homeschoolers- or are we?
I follow many homeschool pages. I try to keep a broad perspective, an eye on the bigger picture. To me Charlotte Mason isn’t amazing because it is the only philosophy I have studied- but because she has held her own among others. In following others I have seen a trend - a trend that I don’t see in CM circles and it involves the high school years.
Weekly I see tired and bedraggled mothers post with questions about how to deal with bad attitudes. The search thread is full of posts asking how to motivate the unmotivated. Some are weary of “the battle” and are announcing their terms of surrender. It breaks my heart. I want to comment- but don’t know where to start so I just read.
Occasionally the thread is punctuated by someone’s idea of a funny meme that shows a mom at the beginning of the homeschool adventure, cute, optimistic and sane; then the after, looking like she has been drug through a ditch backwards! I lean over and check the mirror to see if there is any resemblance! Nope. Why?
All of the stages of a Charlotte Mason Education have their sweetness- but there is something singular about the High School years. This is my second and third time though and I see a pattern. It wasn’t just my oldest, it wasn’t just personality- what I see is the harvest of seeds sown.
High School is harvest time if the field has been properly cultivated. It is here that the fruit begins to ripen. Simple narration matures into shared conversations between equals. The various streams of knowledge converge to form a mighty river that carries and propels them of its own accord. Curiosity has be piqued, skill has been given and the adventure of learning commences more and more without me but with the tethers of relationship bringing them back to share their view of new vistas.
More and more the attitudes become a thing of the past as the mosaic of a thousand pieces of the puzzle of life begin to take their place and paint the captivating picture that is the story of mankind and the world he has been blessed with. Who in their right mind could resist such a temptation?
It comes down to philosophy. Is all of this about how much you know? Is it the grade on a test or placement in a class? Or is it the way you cover it and how much you care? Fruit would say the latter. And while I agreed, it was difficult to trust- to put into practice. It took me time to care less about what we missed in a year and more about what we got.
I remember a pin clicking into place as my eldest approached her senior year. I realized that there were things we hadn’t covered, specifically, books I had wanted her to read before she was “done” and was tempted to extend her year by 6 months! Then I realized… she cared. Mission accomplished.
Because she cared- she would never be “done”. Her education would be a lifelong pursuit. A lifestyle.
Ms. Mason’s motto: Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life doesn’t end in 12th grade. It is in fact a model for life, can’t you hear it? If “school time” stops at a specific time each day- I believe it will stop at a certain stage of life as well. With a Living education we are not just preparing them for life- but showing them a way to live. I think that that is the difference I see on those social media posts- for some, education is a veneer they are applying to the outside- it isn’t touching the heart, and so you have attitude. You have to motivate the unmotivated. How can I say all of that in a little comment box without relationship?
As my #3 approaches her senior year- as I look at the stack of books I can’t possibly schedule into one year and remain true to short lesson times I feel the same old temptation. The idea lurks that this is a desperate crush to a finish line. I take a deep breath and remember; this is not the end of something but a beginning.
All of this, ALL. OF. THIS. has been fodder to teach the art of self-education and she has learned her lesson well. All of this has been but a whetting of the appetite and she is hungry. Hungry for knowledge and hungry for a life to live well. She is feeding herself now- she is ready.
To you with littles- don’t buy the memes, don’t go for ordinary. There is a way to parent- a way to educate, that leaves you beautiful and breathless at the relationships you have with the people you get to live with and the world you get to explore together.
(This article has been published in Commonplace Quarterly. )