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    Educational Philosophy, Home Education

    Don’t Get Your Head Turned

    April 6, 2015 by Brandy Vencel

    We assume that new solutions are needed
    if we want to make real progress,
    but that isn’t always the case.

    James Clear

    [dropcap]I[/dropcap]’m at the point where I’m writing pep talks to myself,” I said to her. I think she thought I was joking, but I was serious. I had written most of this post the day before I told her this. Two different people had referred me to this article, which ended up being full of the sorts of things I needed to hear at the time. It’s true what the articles says, you know: “Mastering the fundamentals isn’t sexy, but it works.”

    Don't Get Your Head Turned

    The article tells the story of hospitals that significantly lowered their ICU infection rates by deliberately doing what they knew they ought to be doing in the first place. They took note of the accepted steps to proper sanitation, made a checklist, and followed it religiously. No new technology or technique required. Just boring old application of known wisdom.

    So naturally I was thinking about this in regard to homeschooling.

    When things aren’t working for us, it’s very tempting to start checking out everyone else’s grass. That mom over there, for example, has the latest i-Thingie, and the apps are teaching her children for her, and isn’t that stunning? And that mom over there has her kids in the latest and greatest co-op, and they can diagram a sentence aloud, before an audience, without getting nervous.

    And here we are feeling not very impressive.

    It’s not that there is never a time for innovation. It’s just that sometimes the “problem” has more to do with not doing what we know to do than needing a new solution.

    Most problems have already been solved, after all.

    In fact, isn’t this how we got our education into the state it is in in the first place? By deciding that innovation — rather than faithfulness — was the solution to the educational problem?

    Truth is, the answers have been there for millennia, but most people aren’t willing to follow the checklist, so to speak.

    James Clear writes:

    “Everybody already knows that” is very different from “Everybody already does that.” Just because a solution is known doesn’t mean it is utilized.

    Does this not remind you of that famous quip from Chesterton?

    The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.

    Sometimes it is easier to be faithful in the big things than in the small things. The big things, after all, have their bigness going for them. They’re flashy; they feel important. Buying impressive new technology and downloading really cool apps feels like a door opening to endless possibilities while teaching the math lesson every morning, narrating each reading, and doing our copywork doesn’t feel like much.

    But it’s the little things, as they say.

    The big things have their place, but it’s not from big things that we fashion our lives. Nope. Life is made up of the small stuff. The minutia. Our success — however we define that — is often determined by the millions of little steps taken rather than the occasional dangerous leap. And, really, our ability to survive the leap is determined by who we became in the process of taking the daily steps.

    The funny thing about James Clear telling the hospital story is that it was told about a hundred years ago by Charlotte Mason, history being doomed to repeat itself and all that.

    The reader will say with truth, — “I knew all this before and have always acted more or less on these principles”; and I can only point to the unusual results we obtain through adhering not ‘more or less,’ but strictly to the principles and practices I have indicated. I suppose the difficulties are of the sort that Lister had to contend with; every surgeon knew that his instruments and appurtenances should be kept clean, but the saving of millions of lives has resulted from the adoption of the great surgeon’s antiseptic treatment; that is from the substitution of exact principles scrupulously applied for the rather casual ‘more or less’ methods of earlier days.

    Trying to tell someone what we are doing in giving our children a classical, Charlotte Mason education often feels like an exercise in futility. We say “we read and then follow up with narration and conversation,” and while that method reaches far back to the very dawn of educational philosophy, we’re often greeted with a blank stare and a question about “what else for language arts.”

    The thing is, the principles are sound. Sometimes, however, we’re implementing them through hit-and-miss practice — we are rather guilty of the “more or less” imprecision Miss Mason was concerned about.

    So.

    It’s springtime, and sometimes it is hard to be self-disciplined. And people are starting to talk about shiny curriculum catalogs and conferences and planning for next year and and and. It is so easy to get your head turned.

    I get it.

    But let’s not grow weary at the end. Easter was early this year, after all.

    Teach the math. Do the copywork. Narrate. And all the rest.

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    40 Comments

  • Reply It’s In the Day to Day and the Little Things | February 19, 2016 at 6:16 am

    […] at Afterthoughts, wrote a thought provoking post called Don’t Get Your Head Turned, where she talked about the importance of the little things we do in our homeschools. She said in […]

  • Reply It’s in the Day to Day and the Little Things | April 15, 2015 at 7:48 am

    […] Brandy at Afterthoughts, wrote a thought provoking post called Don’t Get Your Head Turned. In this post, she talks about the importance of the little things we do in our homeschools. She […]

  • Reply dawn April 8, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    Ah, stepping into Cindy’s shoes with a necessary reminder. It’s the Homeschool Catalog post 🙂

    Thank you. I’m so glad someone posted one this year 🙂 And right before convention, to boot!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 8, 2015 at 1:36 pm

      Oh my goodness! I didn’t even realize I was channeling Cindy when I wrote this, but you are totally right, Dawn. 🙂

      • Reply Heather April 8, 2015 at 3:59 pm

        I also totally thought that this was the point, to carry on for Cindy’s reminder. See how genius you are?! 🙂
        I feel so relieved that I don’t have to worry about trying the latest thing, anchored is the word I used when I wrote about it exactly two years ago at this same time which means I was probably thinking about homeschool convention stuff and Cindy’s posts helped me remember.
        http://www.americanadiangirl.com/2013/03/a-charlotte-mason-anchor.html

        • Reply Brandy Vencel April 8, 2015 at 4:09 pm

          It’s just in the weather this time of year, I guess. 🙂

          Thanks for the link! I love the word anchor, Heather. Good choice! 🙂

  • Reply Bambi Moore April 8, 2015 at 11:21 am

    Hi Brandy, I’m a new reader. Thank you SO much for this post! As a mom with two graduates and many still in the thick of it, I too can testify that the basic principles WORK. Be faithful in the small things, day in and day out, here a little there a little, precept upon precept. Yet knowing it I *still* fall prey at times, even after all these years, of looking at other grass 🙂 Thanks for the thoughtful piece and good reminder.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 8, 2015 at 1:36 pm

      Thanks, Bambi! I’m glad you’re here. ♥

  • Reply Annie Kate April 8, 2015 at 2:24 am

    Thank you! I’ve been pondering what to do with our homeschool. Due to family illness, stress has affected everyone’s work so much that I was contemplating starting summer break now just to get all the dear little people back into a healthy frame of mind. And there’s still snow on the ground! Way to early to take a break unless it is absolutely needed.

    But perhaps just focusing on the simplest basics every day and being faithful in them whenever possible–it’s not always possible these days–is better than taking a full break. Just math, narration, copywork. And only bits of all the rest when it is possible….

    Once again, thank you.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 8, 2015 at 6:59 am

      There is a bit of irony in taking summer break while there is snow on the ground. 🙂

      It is hard to know exactly what to do when there is sickness in the house! I will be honest and say that unless someone is *seriously* ill, we try to still do lessons, but a more simplified version. It really depends upon the situation. 🙂

  • Reply Melissa April 7, 2015 at 11:44 am

    Excellent Brandy! …I used to be more prone to wander, but to be honest, I started to get burned out. The longer I do this homeschooling thing, the more I see the bonus of slow and steady wins the race. Hind sight is 20/20 :))

  • Reply Katrina in AK April 7, 2015 at 8:26 am

    Brandy, thank you. I have been wanting to jump the fence, not trusting the methods. Of course, my lack of consistency doesn’t help. I am encouraged to be more diligent and trust that the little things will all add up.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 7, 2015 at 10:19 am

      And they *do* add up! That is one reason why I try to really fight my inner slacker — because the slacker version, unfortunately, doesn’t work as well. 🙁

  • Reply Karen in ky April 7, 2015 at 4:00 am

    “…we’re often greeted with a blank stare and a question about “what else for language arts.” – laughing at this. Yes! This whole post hits home for me. Keeping things simple snd steady helps us find our rhythm so much easier than new tech and / or new flash…but it’s so exasperating to try and explain what we do sometimes, especially when the questioner isn’t really listening because they’re really just not interested. Thanks for an encouraging read this am.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 7, 2015 at 7:50 am

      It is *so* hard, sometimes, to explain what we do. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately and I really think the problem is that we are just coming at everything from such a different angle that is takes a longer conversation than is usually possible with people we’re just running into…

      • Reply karen in ky April 7, 2015 at 8:02 am

        I think you’re right. I’ve found that, over time, some friends / family do get a better understanding. But those casual, quick conversations…oh well. I think there was a thread on the forum about how to offer a more streamlined answer as to “how do you homeschool?” or “what curriculum do you use?” – I’m going to go and look for it. 🙂

        • Reply Brandy Vencel April 7, 2015 at 10:18 am

          Small world. 🙂 After your comment, my first thought was, “I really should go find that forum thread and reread it. all…” 🙂

          • Silvia April 7, 2015 at 12:33 pm

            Loving the conversation… thinking that we, CM moms, are not good at small hs talk ha! I rather not elaborate if I don’t see genuine interest. If there’s a good heart in the one asking I manage to express some ideas that leave them curious about this and they find their answers.

  • Reply Claire April 7, 2015 at 3:40 am

    Awesome reminder! It was timely and a great post. I think CM is one philosophy of education that is plagued by the “more or less” mentality and it helps to realize and remind everyone that indeed it was not at all a hit or miss, simplistic gathering of methods. Done right, it’s all that is needed for an excellent, college bound student’s education for life.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 7, 2015 at 7:48 am

      I hadn’t thought about CM being “plagued by the more or less mentality” before, but I think you’re right, Claire!

  • Reply silvia April 7, 2015 at 3:24 am

    Much needed. You nailed it. I’m sharing it on FB.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 7, 2015 at 7:47 am

      Aw, thanks Silvia! 🙂

  • Reply Ritsumei April 6, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    Timely words. Thank you.

  • Reply Sharron April 6, 2015 at 5:14 pm

    Oh yes! It’s that time of year when I get a little panicky! Thank you for sharing!!

  • Reply Claire April 6, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    ” And that mom over there has her kids in the latest and greatest co-op, and they can diagram a sentence aloud, before an audience, without getting nervous.” You made this up… Right?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 6, 2015 at 1:11 pm

      Of course. 😉

      • Reply Claire April 7, 2015 at 1:29 pm

        I thought so, but, yk, Poe’s law and all that…

        • Reply Brandy Vencel April 7, 2015 at 1:41 pm

          🙂

  • Reply Diana April 6, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    I love this little reminder. We are in a co op (for friends), and I’m going to attend my first homeschool conference (for fun), but we’re also doing the work at home (Teach the math. Do the copywork. Narrate. And all the rest.) and finding great deals online for next year’s Ambleside readings. In fact, my kiddos got stacks of “free reads” in their Easter baskets. Now that’s exciting!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 6, 2015 at 1:11 pm

      That is my kind of Easter basket, Diana! 🙂

  • Reply Tricia Westling April 6, 2015 at 11:33 am

    Thanks, I needed that! Your post is very timely, causing me to reflect on various short-cuts, lazy leave-outs and unnecessary detours I have taken over the years. Our current academic weaknesses reflect those omissions and the siren-song of something “better.” I’m almost glad not to have access to a big convention these days. The isolation of Alaska may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. I’m turning my head back.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 6, 2015 at 1:12 pm

      Big conventions are sort of two sided coins, I think. One side is awesome, but one side is dangerous, especially for those of us in a weak frame of mind! 🙂 I don’t think I’d handle one very well right now…but maybe during the summer when I’m more relaxed!

  • Reply Amanda April 6, 2015 at 11:09 am

    Great post! I love the direction you took based on the article. I am revamping our home and school checklists after reading it last week. I’ve really been pondering it this weekend too. I hadn’t thought about keeping our eyes on our own grass but that is such a great related idea.

    Little things done well..

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 6, 2015 at 1:15 pm

      I really loved that article, Amanda. I think you were the first to send it my way!

  • Reply Mariel April 6, 2015 at 9:58 am

    Yes! The term “language arts” is an Americanism that, I believe, did not start being used until the 1950s.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 6, 2015 at 1:13 pm

      I wondered how old the term was…I always think, “Well, I know about the LIBERAL arts, but I’m not sure about this language arts thing,” 🙂

  • Reply Lisa A April 6, 2015 at 9:50 am

    You make a great point with this post, and it’s so very timely 🙂

    Your statement about checking out other people’s grass reminds me of the lyrics to a song that a friend of mine wrote:

    “Whoever it was that said the grass is always greener on the other side hasn’t been there yet.
    The grass is only as green as you observe it to be.
    You complain of brown patches under the cool shade of the trees.”

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 6, 2015 at 1:13 pm

      Love those lyrics, Lisa!

  • Reply Karen @ The Simply Blog April 6, 2015 at 5:08 am

    You’ve made some great points in this post Brandy. One statement you made that particularly struck me was: “And, really, our ability to survive the leap is determined by who we became in the process of taking the daily steps.” I’m rolling that statement around in my mind….and as I think about it….I think you are on to something here. 🙂 All those little steps we take along the way, well….they are a journey, are they not? And the journey is a growing process…we learn…we grow…we become…and truth be told, that very process may very well be what helps us grow and get to the place of being able to make a bigger leap along the way. This statement is going in my Commonplace Book. 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 6, 2015 at 6:34 am

      Ooh! I like how you put that, Karen! Especially this: “that very process may very well be what helps us grow and get to the place of being able to make a bigger leap along the way.” ♥

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