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    It’s Never Too Late {Learning is for Life}: A Guest Post by Jen Snow

    June 2, 2014 by Brandy Vencel

    A big thank you to Jen for this guest post. Jen’s story is, in many ways, my story. She and I went to the same university {and were even there at the same point at one time!}, turned down the same honors program, lived with people who didn’t turn down said honors program, and passed up academic opportunities out of fear of jeopardizing our academic scholarships. She even toyed with going to seminary — the one I actually went to! I cannot tell you how much I identified with her story…well, if you take out the whole Africa part. Ha!

    Jen Snow is a missionary wife, homeschooling mom to three children ages 8, 5, and 3, and former classroom teacher. In her spare time {when she’s not plowing through her too-tall stack of books to be read with a cup of coffee and a piece of dark chocolate in hand!}, she serves as a homeschooling consultant to other missionary families, moderates at the Ambleside Online Forums, and blogs her ponderings on educational philosophy and her family’s homeschooling adventures in Central Africa at Snowfall Academy.

    When I was in school, I was always a good student. The one that all the teachers adored, and most of the other students resented. It actually kind of frightened me on the first day of my senior year when three different teachers I had not had previously all said something to the effect that “they had heard about me and were so pleased to have me in class that year.” I was a good girl who did all her work and turned it in on time. I got A’s, and graduated near the top of my class. However, it was all a game to me. Figure out what would make the teachers happy and give it to them. Easy peasy.

    Because of my ‘honor student’ status in high school, I was invited to join the Great Books honors program at my university. My 17-year-old self wasn’t really interested, though. I had the crazy idea that I wanted to have “fun” in college. I didn’t particularly want to have to work hard or make it too difficult for myself to play the ‘academics’ game. {Hey, I had a GPA to maintain in order to keep my scholarship.} So I declined the offer.

    Fast forward to my senior year. I had spent four years as an elementary education major, which wasn’t really a major known for its academic rigor. I hadn’t particularly enjoyed it {most of my best college experiences were via the friendships I had made in choir, not in the classroom}, but it was the means to the end I had in view – to earn a teaching certificate, become a teacher, and teach overseas on the mission field. There were a couple of things that happened my senior year, however, that made me start to think that maybe there was more to this whole “education” thing than just playing the “keep the teachers happy” game.

    First, I had to choose what Bible elective courses to take. All undergraduates were required to take 10 semester-long Bible classes. Most of these were prescribed for us, but we were allowed two upper-level courses of our choice from all the Biblical Studies department offered. “Only two?” I remember thinking. There were so many that sounded interesting to me that I found it hard to narrow it down to only two. I started toying with the idea of going to seminary not because I really needed to for any practical reason, but just because I would be able to study all of those other topics that interested me but wouldn’t fit into my undergraduate schedule.

    Then, I took a class called “Peoples of Africa”. It was taught by a professor in the history department who definitely had higher expectations of his students that I had encountered in most of my previous academic experience. Our final was actually an essay test. I couldn’t just fudge my way through it like I could on a multiple choice exam – I actually had to know what I was talking about. I can still remember sitting at a table outside our campus coffee shop, culling through all my books and notes, outlining what I might write about with all of the possible essay topics the prof had suggested to us. Strangely enough, I found myself wishing that I had had more classes like this one – classes in which I had to work hard and synthesize information and think, not just spit out answers.

    Lastly, my lovely roommate that year was a part of the honors program – the one I had declined to be a part of. I heard her talking all about the books she was reading, the interesting discussions they had in her classes, the fascinating “context lectures” that she had to attend. I started to think that maybe I hadn’t made the wisest choice when I had decided that I’d rather make it “easy” on myself in college. But as graduation loomed near, I thought that it was too late. I couldn’t go back four years and re-enroll in the honors program or change my major to one that might have been more intellectually invigorating. Going to seminary for the sheer joy of going was out of the question for me, too. It looked like formal education for me was done.

    I went on with my life – went overseas to teach in an international school for missionary kids, got married, had babies. They were very full years – good years – but the thought of ever “going back to school” became increasingly out of the question. I regretted not taking advantage of the educational opportunities that I could have. Occasionally I toyed with the idea of trying to get a hold of the book list that they had used in the honors program, but then again I couldn’t imagine myself trying to wade through Plato and Augustine and Dostoyevsky on my own. So I read light novels and parenting magazines and resigned myself to ‘mommy brain’.

    Then we decided to homeschool.

    And then we found Ambleside Online.

    As we dug into the rich books used in the Ambleside Curriculum, I found that I was learning fascinating things out of the books I was reading to my first grader. I found that there were so many other women just like me in the CM/AO community – women who lamented the shallowness of their own educational experiences but were learning all those things they never knew right alongside their children. There are those of us who have dived in to reading through AO for our own personal benefit {I started in Year 4}, and those of us who have tackled some pretty heavy books on in the book discussion group over on the Forum {Homer or Sir Walter Scott, anyone?}. I had never cared much for nature or poetry or art, but I find myself with a growing affinity for all three as we have immersed ourselves in them as part of our homeschooling lifestyle. Even my husband, who has never been particularly studious and was more than happy to be finished with school when the time came, is catching the bug. He studies the art prints we hang on the wall and talks about them with the children. We are reading and discussing Tolkien together at his request. We’re already talking about the museums and historical sites we want to visit during our time in the States next year. Learning is becoming less and less something that is compartmentalized into school hours and more and more something that is just a way of life in our family.

    When we first decided to homeschool, part of our rationale for doing so was to give our children a different educational experience than we had. I didn’t want my kids to grow up thinking that school was a game to play or something that was totally disconnected from real life. I wanted them to be prepared to live a rich and full life. What I didn’t realize was that if my goal was to give them a rich and full life, that meant that I needed to be living a rich and full life alongside them. And as I have sought to do that, I am finding that I don’t have to go back to school to make up for the educational opportunities that I missed. Rather than living with regrets, I can continue to live fully and richly even if I never set foot in another classroom or earn a master’s degree. Homeschooling my children has given that gift to me – I can ‘make up’ for all those years I lost. It isn’t too late. Learning is for life – just as much for the Mama and Papa as it is for the children.

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  • Reply Imago Dei ~ Jen's Story - Expanding Wisdom May 28, 2016 at 9:14 am

    […] to connect with other like-minded families and continue to grow as a person and as an educator. (I wrote here about my self-education journey – very much a parallel to this story.)  As I learn, I am endeavoring to put the ideas I am […]

  • Reply Sarah January 16, 2016 at 11:57 am

    This is wonderful to read. I have often said to people over the years, that AO is filling in the gaps for my own education. I don’t do a separate year to my 15yo and 11yo, but do whatever we are reading together. I love it.
    Thank you to Jen for sharing a little of your story.

  • Reply Crystal January 15, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    I never thought to do the AO curriculum along side my son, I love that idea! I am going to get my own schedule started tonight! Thank you for giving me the idea. I loved your post, it was wonderful!

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