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    Educational Philosophy, Home Education

    Starting Off on the Right Foot: 3 Questions Every Beginning Homeschooler Should Answer

    April 13, 2015 by Brandy Vencel

    [dropcap]T[/dropcap]his is the time of year when some parents start to think about pulling their children from school. Maybe, they think, my child would do better at home next year. The more spontaneous among them actually pull the plug in the spring and finish up the year at home. When that happens, they wander onto Facebook and ask about things like math curricula.


    Starting Off on the Right Foot

    While there is nothing wrong with inquiring about curricula, there are a few questions that are best answered first — before curricula is purchased and major decisions are made and money is spent. And sometimes, when you’re discouraged, it’s good to revisit these same questions and remind yourself what you’re about.


    1. Why are you homeschooling?

    We’ve been discussing the answer to this question in my local CM group, and we’re even drafting mission statements. While the phrase “mission statement” is one that tends to make me cringe, the truth is that having a concise statement about what you’re doing, why, and what your endgame is, is super helpful and grounding in the rough spots. It’s also a way to set your course. While you will change your mind on some things along the way, you’ll be way more stable if you ask the hard questions before starting out.

    Homeschooling is a big deal. It’s just as big as deciding to move somewhere new or starting a business. All the other big things aren’t things that most of us would approach casually. We’d spend time praying, we’d write out lists or mind maps or anything else that helped us figure out exactly what we were trying to do and why. We’d second guess ourselves a million time.

    It’s all really healthy.

    So I’m suggesting that homeschooling, like any other major — and worthy — endeavor, be treated in the same manner.

    I can’t tell you why to homeschool. We all have our reasons. But I will give one bit of advice. The reasons worth clinging to and persevering for are not negative, reactionary reasons. Yes, it may be true that bad curriculum or bullying is what got a family to explore the idea of homeschooling, but those aren’t good reasons for homeschooling. A positive reason — something like a vision for education — is longer lasting and has the sort of staying power you need for homeschooling because, honestly, it’s a marathon.


    2. What is a child?

    This is one of the most important questions we can ask, and because we’re dealing with education, we can’t avoid it. Bad curriculum is the result of wrong answers to this question. One of the things I love about Charlotte Mason is that she starts right out with this question — her first principle is that “children are born persons.” Our educational practices are absolutely grounded in our answer to this question.

    I’ve read works by educators who assert that a child “is an organism that needs to adapt to its environment.” Or, a child is “a human data machine.” You’ll find that the curriculum logically follows.

    I believe that a child is born a person, made in the divine image. I believe that he is a person in the sense that he’s an individual with his own unique bent, and also in the sense that he is human like all other humans. The challenges and trials that he will face have been faced before.

    And so on.


    3. What is the purpose of education?

    This question logically follows the previous question. Why do humans need to be educated? And what are we expecting as an end result of that education? I’m reading Left Back by Diane Ravitch. It’s a history of school reforms, beginning with the late 1800s, when all the major educational experimentation that seems so normal to us really got started. One thing I keep underlining is what the major players believe about education. I just started the book — I’m only on page 77 out of almost 500 — and yet there are as many answers as there are players. So far, I’ve read:

    • “Schools were expected to make social equality a reality…” {p. 19}
    • “The main purpose of education…was to equalize society…” {p. 29}
    • “[T]he primary purpose of education was to improve society by improving the intelligence of individuals.” {p. 30}
    • “The object of education…was to gain mental discipline, what educators in the late twentieth century would call ‘critical thinking skills.'” {p. 31}
    • “[T]he purpose of education was to give the individual the accumulated wisdom of the human race…” {p. 33}
    • “The goal of education…is freedom, self-dependence, self-activity, and directive power.” {p. 35}
    • “It sought to commit the schools more to social welfare than to academic studies…” {p. 54}
    • “[T]he purpose of education was the adaptation of the individual to his society.” {p. 77}

    I, on the other hand, hang my hat with Charlotte Mason and the classical tradition. I think the CiRCE Institute’s definitions page is super helpful in a conversation like this, where we learn:

    CHRISTIAN EDUCATION is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty by means of the seven liberal arts and the four sciences so that, in Christ, the student is enabled to better know, glorify, and enjoy God.


    After Answering the Questions

    Once these questions are answered, then curriculum exploration can proceed. As for me, I’ve found that most curricula immediately fade into the distance — they don’t meet the criteria. They might not be good, true, or beautiful. Or they might not treat the child as a person — with the respect due persons. It’s like all the curricula out there can be pushed through this big sieve, and what’s left on top is all that is worth my time and consideration.

    It makes decision making way easier.

    But answering these questions is more than a way to sort through curricula. It’s a way to set the course for your homeschool, to get you off on the right foot. We all learn from our mistakes, of course, but starting out with a solid vision? That’s priceless.


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  • Reply The Use and Misuse of Charlotte Mason's First Principle | Afterthoughts December 30, 2019 at 3:42 pm

    […] in terms of what makes us distinct from others. While I do believe that each child is born with his own bent that we must respect, Miss Mason is really focusing on what a person is in the universal sense — […]

  • Reply 3 Questions every homeschool parent should ask themselves | FIRST HERALDS April 22, 2015 at 6:38 pm

    […] came across a great article by Brandy over at her blog After Thoughts.  She says many new homeschooling parents focus first on picking out a curriculum (who can blame […]

  • Reply Bronwyn April 16, 2015 at 9:11 am

    This is so helpful. I sat right down at wrote out my answers. Not because I am considering homeschooling, but because I continuously need reminding of why I am. This is so easily lost in the day-to-day.
    Thank you

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 16, 2015 at 11:25 am

      This makes so much sense, Bronwyn! I know that going through these questions in our local CM moms group has been super inspiring to me and I guess you could say reinvigorating. 🙂

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