(Obviously, these thoughts relate specifically to Red-Brick Academy. However, some of them relate to community is general! May they help all of our endeavors towards healthy community.)
Now that I am in the season of interviewing families again, answering again some the same questions I have answered many times before, I find myself reflecting on what it takes to make Red-Brick a successful part of your family’s journey. In pondering I don’t want to make it sound like RB is the only way to homeschool, or even the superior way – but as I am consistently approached by people who are attracted to what we are doing and obviously looking for some missing piece, I must conclude that it is at least appealing! Since no one begins a thing wanting it to fail, on the front end of things - what needs to be known to give it the best chance of working – long term?
Even with our “regular” families there seems to be a range of what is most valued. Is it the academics? Or is it the community? For me, they weigh in equally. For others I have heard that one might carry more importance than the other. Wherever you fall in this, it must be acknowledged that Red-Brick IS an academic addition. Some groups focus on only fun or only extracurriculars – Red-Brick was specifically designed with the purpose of supporting students and families academically. It was designed to meet specific academic needs. Because we use Charlotte Mason’s approach those academics feel invigorating and even fun – because of her emphasis on broadness, we experience a wide variety of interactions every Tuesday and if you ask a student, they will tell you it is a “fun day”. But as parents – we need to acknowledge the academic aspect of this community.
Red-Brick can function in one of two ways:
It can act as a spine to the rest of your week. (We offer curriculum counseling to that end.) You can use it as a launch point to continue exploring introduced ideas during the rest of your week. This is a solid plan, we can set you up with a custom schedule that will meet all requirements for a year of homeschooling, including meeting credit requirements in High School (and help with transcripts!). All you have to add is consistency and structure at home. You can use Red- Brick as a spine, but you don’t have to in order to be successful.
The second option is that you use Red-Brick as a one-day-a-week supplement. We have had families use a wide variety of curriculums at home and also be a part of Red-Brick successfully. The only caveat to this is that while many of the classes are designed to be “stand alone” there are a few that will have homework requirements. In choosing Red-Brick, you will be choosing to make that homework, and understanding that homework, a priority in the context of your week. You will have to give these classes more space than just Tuesdays. Red-Brick can be a special day within your chosen curriculum path that explores things in a slightly different way and provides a hint of Charlotte Mason to what is already working for your family. I have seen this work successfully.
The thing you cannot do successfully is make Red-Brick a one day a week addition. It is too much. It is too academic. The thing I have seen crash several families, is a mom who loves her at-home curriculum so much that she doesn’t want to lay any of it aside. (It is ok if you are this mom! I have been there too- we sometimes tend to be an over-achieving breed!) We need to remember that in choosing to say yes to one thing – we have to say no to another, the no is inherent in the yes. If your curriculum is a priority for you, you will have to make it priority by saying no to Red-Brick.
People who try to do it all – end up frustrating and doing a disservice to their kids. To choose Red-Brick successfully you need to be willing to let it take some pieces off your schedule, I can tell you now – adding it on top of what you are already doing will not produce life in your child’s education. You may not feel the strain- but they will. Regardless of how great your plan is – or how amazing your booklist is, in choosing Red-Brick you will have to be content to let some of it go. This is hard for some personalities. A full curriculum schedule simply cannot be crammed into 4 days a week and another full day’s worth of academic expectations put on top of it, no matter how delightfully it is presented.
So- first piece of advice: Choose Red-Brick as a spine- and go all in. Choose Red-Brick as supplement - and decide which pieces you are going to let it take the place of. But don’t choose Red-Brick as an addition – it won’t work.
This is a bit more philosophical but needed. The short version is: We limit ourselves to be in community. Here is the longer version.
We all like the idea of community. But in many ways the goodness of it – lies in the hardness of it. The restrictiveness of it. Its goodness lies in a denying of ourselves for the sake of a common good, for the sake of others. Here is how I have seen this play out:
Some parents seem to be frustrated with the amount of “progress”. They realize they can do more at home! The truth is- yes you can! For some I have seen this is due to lack of understanding of Ms. Mason’s philosophy and the structure of our classes. (If you are interested in hearing more about this- find me!). But part of it is accurate – you can do more at home. A class “slows you down” in the same way my relationships slow me down! Ha! I could be a lean mean accomplishing machine if I were a hermit- if people would just leave me alone! But is that healthy? No.
Being a part of a class once a week has so many advantages. Students learn to listen to and interact and receive from someone other than their parent. In teachers they meet boundaries and expectations and personalities that will help round them out and prepare them for the real world. From other students they can learn empathy and how to consider others in their interactions, conversations, and responses. Maybe they already know a thing – let’s help a friend understand… because, “You aren’t the only pebble on the beach”!
Community also slows one down physically. There is a commitment to being present weekly. Public school families can’t relate to this! But we free-wheeling, freedom-loving homeschoolers sometimes break out into a cold sweat at the suggestion of commitment. This is another one of those yes-es that has a built in no! If you say yes to Red-Brick you will have to prioritize our schedule.
We, as a family, love to travel! However, we have decided to prioritize Red-Brick over travel and hit the road on breaks. If we want the benefits of community – there are costs. This is one you will just have to weigh out and decide for yourself. But I have seen that families should do this first, come in knowing - we limit ourselves to be in community. There are so many positives I have seen in my kids from being in a school community, allowing ourselves to be restricted by community – and in the end the stability has proven to be good for us all.
What are some of these benefits? I have seen class provide positive peer pressure for things like neatness, caring, and presentation. It forms a natural sort of peer review. Having others around you who are engaging and caring and striving is contagious. The reality is that the flip side of the coin is true as well. At Red-Brick we try hard to keep the balance towards the positive. If your kid needs to be pulled up - great here we are. But know that we will love them and nudge them into not being the dead weight; by the end of the year our goal is to see improvement and we will push for it. We want to invest in students who are the positive influence in their circles. Let’s keep an eye on that together!
Another benefit of community is the challenge for both parents and students to hear various opinions on topics. This is just the intrinsic benefit of any healthy community. By healthy I mean – can we discuss and talk and disagree and still be friends and sit together at lunch? This is a bunny trail I won’t go on… but guys, this is what our society needs. Can we do it on a small scale successfully and model it for our kids? These are the types of silent, seismic, things that don’t show up on a transcript or a syllabus that simply cannot be cultivated galivanting all over the country at a whim’s notice (talking to myself here!).
Constancy, consistency, relationship. Do I feel crowded sometimes yes, yes, I do! But it is good to be needed, expected… missed. Are we raising a generation of people who will stick to places long enough to wallow out a spot shaped like them and so in leaving leave a felt vacancy... and be missed? Or are we raising transient autonomous individuals who wonder at their underlying feelings of discontent?
As you can hear in my lists of benefits, the challenges lurk in the corners. These things work in tandem. As I said earlier, the goodness lies closely with its hardness. Can we walk that line? There is a sweetness that will never be realized when we are thinking only of ourselves. Community.
Who am I kidding! Community isn’t a newly good idea! It is the buzz word- the thing everyone wants; But in my experience very few people want to do the hard work of building and maintaining that community. We have a hard time with commitment. We live in an age that tells us to keep our options open. Don’t pin yourself down. What is in it for me? Can I get more out of it than I put in? Is there a good return on investment? I am saddened to say that we live in an epidemic of consumers. We also live in the most unhappy and discontented population in history. I think there is a connection, and so do the smart people.
What does this have to do with Red-Brick? Just this, it is not a vending machine, it is a community and in need of producers so that we can all have something to consume. This might be tangible, or it might just be atmospheric. Contributing doesn’t equal teaching. We have moms who don’t teach but are such a blessing in their mood, encouragement, and support that they buoy us all. On the other hand, I have had moms who taught, but felt like an anchor.
As in any healthy community, it functions as a net. Of course, we all have ups and downs, and that net is designed to hold any one of us, in our down times. But the net must stay healthy. We will hold you – but we can’t drag you (or your kids).
Final thought on community – There is an affection and a comradery that comes when we choose to commit to a community of people who, might not be ideal in every sense of the word, might not be our first or curated pick- but with whom we choose to produce with and for. This is Red-Brick.
The final thing that I think it takes to make Red-Brick work long term is an understanding that everything we do is diametrically opposed to what screens do to your child. Does that mean we are screen nazis? No, we all have them and use them. It means that in choosing Red-Brick and a Charlotte Mason approach you are in some ways choosing a lifestyle, and if that sounds a bit dramatic – at least a value system, and if even that sounds a little cultish! – can we say, a goal?
Charlotte Mason and Red-Brick have definite goals – we will be steering your child towards, the habit of attention, the skills of self-education, a personal pursuit of a broad and fulfilling life marked by handwork, mind work, and an emphasis on the outdoors, play and nature. The screens in your child’s life will contradict this at every turn- they scramble attention, kill motivation, narrow interests, keep children inside, steal the ability to initiate free play and make nature seem old fashioned.
Does this mean that in choosing Red-Brick, screen time is not allowed at home? Of course not, this is the world we live in. It does mean that you need to recognize that the two will be in conflict. That you will need to consciously steer away from what is the easy path (screens) in order to prioritize your decision for Red-Brick. We courteously ask that you not frustrate our teachers and time together with that conflict, by limiting screen time at home.
The truth is- after working with a group of students I could line them up and rank them by how much screen time they have per day. The difference will not be very obvious to anyone but the teacher, who has to compensate for it, until they begin to move through the Forms. As the ideas and expectations progress, they will be left behind- physically unable to engage with the ideas alongside their peers, though they may want to. This is terrible for self-esteem. Screen use will have molded the brain away from the capabilities it needs for meaningful connection. The kids who do well in junior high, the kids who make it to graduation with Red-Brick are the kids who had the least screen time. Screen time acts as a filter.
At Red-Brick, every lesson, and every interaction with the teacher and fellow students is carefully designed to build attention, ability, and connection. These are our goals for this type of education, for this school group. In joining us – you are agreeing to work towards these goals with us. This necessarily involves a conversation about screens.
Have I been too candid? I have been doing this now for many years, I have seen that this information would have saved some families some money and time!
As I said in the beginning, these thoughts are not intended as judgements or “better-thans”. Red-Brick Academy isn’t the only group out there- if we are not a good fit, there is a group is out there to meet the needs you have!
The homeschooling movement is so broad and diverse now that there is a place for everyone, and that is a beautifult thing. There is no "right" way.