I had been homeschooling my three children for several years already when I realized I was stuck. My firstborn was a dedicated entertainer. Clever, studious enough, and always engaged, Braeden was my homeschool test case and by all accounts a success. Mark one for the mom who began her journey filled with doubt and trepidation.
My second, Shane, was my mathematician.
“Mommy, I want to do 30 pages of math today.” “OK!” I’d oblige him, of course.
He completed his first-grade math workbook on Halloween of that year. Shane loved math, and I loved math enough to have been a sought-after calculus tutor in my college days. I had him covered.
From a young age, my daughter loved to draw. To empower her, I told her that if she was really interested in something, she should purpose to do it for at least 15 minutes each day, as a way of learning her craft. I knew she’d either dig in more and hone her skills or she’d discover early on that it wasn’t really her calling. Octavia started doing two or three hours of art each day, even researching fine art and current artists to emulate. She was and is incredibly gifted in both her imagination and her expressive abilities.
So, as she turned 12, I hit my knees. I’m an entertainer and an engineer, but one thing I am certainly not is an artist!
“God, what am I supposed to do with this? I don’t have her kind of talent. How can I homeschool that?”
I also started asking around for insight into how one leads budding artists into their talents, and someone suggested that artists typically take anatomy classes in order to learn better how to depict the human form. Eureka! Something concrete that I might do to further my child’s studies, and something that fit my grade-school-engendered notions of education being simply about identifying and assigning the right teacher for the job.
I headed straight upstairs to Octavia’s bedroom and found her, as per usual, at her desk, drawing. I related the ideas I had just gleaned and asked her, “So, shall we find you an anatomy class?”
“Oh, Mom,” she replied, somewhat amused by my naiveté. “Look.” She opened one of her sketchbooks and showed me a double-paged spread of drawings of a human knee, inside and out, in varying positions. She had already been doing her own research of human anatomy, having long before recognized that it would be key in improving her abilities. She was, I realized just then, self-teaching.
I was still in the old paradigm of teacher-imparts-knowledge and student-imbibes-pre-digested-information. Although I had been home educating already for a while, I was still simply homeschooling.
In this surprising twist, I realized that the ideal teacher for the child can be found within. Show a child where to find knowledge, encourage exploration, and foster a freedom mindset. Young children need some guidance on what to learn, but ultimately their gifts are best discovered and developed from within. Once that fire is stoked, they can often determine their best path forward.
That doesn’t mean abandoning the child to his own devices on every occasion. Some things are hard to learn but meaningful in the long run. My son Shane wanted to quit piano. I disallowed it, thankfully. Later, as a teen, he grew to love piano and asked me to find him a better piano teacher. He knew what he needed, to improve. And he loves it now. He said to me the other day how sad it made him when he learned a new friend had been allowed to quit piano previously.
Public school has captured the culture for decades. That implies not necessarily success, but a laziness in the population to hold it responsible. Take a moment to consider how the schools/administrators/educators know what they are doing: It’s simply what they’ve been taught to do. While some students excel in the classroom setting and become valedictorians, many others get left behind—lost on their own journeys.
A self-teaching paradigm would likely have served them far better at identifying their gifts and exploiting their full potential more effectively, expediently, and enjoyably. Seeking conformity for our offspring by sending them to school or even trying to emulate school at home is entirely counterproductive when, as a culture, we value individuality.
The traditional homeschool paradigm is also flawed, as it follows the flawed school structure. People who pursue public education at home have the highest burnout rate.
I learned a crucial lesson from my child that day, and it still took me some time to fully process it. Children are naturally curious. Forcing them to focus on something uninteresting for hours a day squanders their innate talent and potentially distracts them from what they truly love. Calling that disruption education ultimately discourages them from learning. We do our children a grave disservice by imposing conformity, in the way of school institutions, on their unique talents and abilities.
Self-teaching takes the tremendous onus off the parents by empowering them as guides, not lecturers. It offers students opportunities for self-determination and responsibility, as well as the freedom to learn at a desirable and satisfying pace. Let’s work toward educational freedom for our children and their parents.