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July 1, 2009
A Defining Moment

One definition of homeschooling is that the parents take the primary responsibility for their children's training and education. We are living in a time when life-changing events are happening “fast and furious.” Change is all around us.

In an open letter to homeschooling families in the November-December 2009 issue of Home Education Magazine, editors Mark and Helen Hegener had this to say about change and the homeschooling community:
       There are a couple of opposing truisms about change to ponder: Change is threatening. The only constant is change. So do we conclude that we need to live in a constant state of threat? The answer is no. We need only consider what kind of future we want for our children, our grandchildren, and ourselves, and then plan for that future and carry out our plan.
     The future of our homeschooling community is about what kind of world we will leave our kids and grandkids. Will it be a world where we can and do have family and a larger community to rely on? Or a world where their needs are met by institutions and governmental policies? A world where mandated tests, grades and the accompanying labels define them? Or a world where they have the opportunity to define themselves by the responsibilities they choose to assume? [emphasis added]

The attention given to competing in a global economy is leading to greater pressure to establish federal academic standards and national testing. Large corporations, teachers' unions, and educational administrators are pushing skills over knowledge.

The quote from Dr. King is from a convocation speech he made at Dartmouth College. “Education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society,” he continued. “We must remember that intelligence is not enough.” In other words, is it enough for your children to be efficient at the skills listed in a curriculum program's scope and sequence? Or to pass the state's standardized test?

As homeschooling families, it's important that we recognize and understand the “spirit of the age” that is at work here. Information rates higher than knowledge. Technology supersedes ethics and morality. Shifting loyalties undermine commitment. Upheaval and uncertainty rule everyday life.

The disorientation and sense of isolation that results can be seen in every aspect of our society. What does this have to do with your homeschooling? Two more truisms to consider.

You have the opportunity to provide your children with one vital constant: relationship. Working one-one-one with your children lets you see firsthand their strengths and weaknesses. You get a feel for how they approach a task, their sense of focus, and their ability to control their own actions and behaviors. This in turn helps you to discipline them, encourage good habits, and offer opportunities to develop individual skills and talents.

You are the one who defines what constitutes education. You define what character traits you want to instill in your children. You define what values should be passed along to your children. You decide the best method for teaching your children. You decide what skills and knowledge are essential. You define what your children need to cover each year.

Of course we must still live in the world around us. We cannot isolate ourselves from it. So part of our responsibility is to make these decisions in light of the change that is swirling around us.

That's why having a vision and purpose as was discussed in last month's articles are so important. They provide the other constant for your children that can keep you focused and on track in your homeschooling. They give you a measuring stick by which you can evaluate curriculum programs, extra-curricular activities, teaching methods, and the growing list of options available.

Here are a few examples. When a curriculum publisher decides to push certain skills at earlier grade levels, do you go along with it even though you know your child isn't ready? Or do you switch to another approach that requires more research and effort to sort out?

Do you look for computerized curriculum in the hope that it will be more entertaining to your child and require less planning on your part, even though it may not be the best way for your child to learn? Do you exhaust yourself trying to find the perfect curriculum that your child will love, that isn't boring (no matter what the subject), and makes learning fun?

Since it is possible in many cases to accelerate learning in the homeschooling environment, do you go along with the trend to graduate your student early and start college? Or do you take advantage of the opportunity to spend quality time with your student to ensure mastery of skills and concepts, develop leadership and maturity, and encourage a level of communication and intimacy that can serve as a model for future relationships?

Don't get me wrong, there's nothing inherently wrong with any of the options above. The point here is: do these options help you help your child to develop into the young adult you envision?

The greatest asset you can give your children is your commitment. So pat yourself on the back for being willing to do so. It's not easy. You're going against the tide, against the spirit of the age.

When you take on the responsibility of homeschooling your children, it's important that they understand what that says to them: you care enough to give them your undivided attention, consistency, and unconditional love. That is what defines home education.

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