Caring less for learning than for test scores, a vital sector drifts

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The siblings of newborn Olivia Clemons, held by her mother Quinn, surround her after she was born Saturday in Clarksville, Tenn. Olivia’s dad, Wayne, is the son of Chattanooga-area surveyor Sam Clemons, a homeschooler and father of eight who resides in Jasper, Tenn.

The year is almost over. We have made it through another year of homeschooling. If we had a good year we are planning on making next year even better and if we had one of those frustrating homeschool years we are even more determined to improve things next year. Next year we are going to be more efficient. Our school will be bigger and better; our children smarter and smarter, because as we all know the goal of homeschooling is bigger, better, smarter kids.

Spring is a very discouraging season of the year for the homeschooling mom. She is beginning to plan for the next year while being confronted with the futility of plans made last year. Things never work out quite the way we envision, do they?

The scenario plays out in our homes yearly. It has also played itself out in the homeschooling movement historically. When the modern homeschooling movement began not too many parents were worried about test scores. Many early pioneer homeschool families used homeschooling as a way for mom and dad to repair their broken educations while protecting their children from the early stages of cultural decline. Everyone in the family was learning together, not to prepare for the SATs but just for the fun of it.

A FUNNY THING HAPPENED as families were reading, thinking and growing together — test scores went up. Homeschoolers started to score higher than public and private schools in national averages. The collected homeschool consciousness seemed to say, “If we are doing this well without even trying, imagine how amazing we could be if we tried even harder?” We began to keep one eye on the mirror. Our focus shifted slightly away from reading, thinking and learning to proving ourselves. Where once homeschoolers were defined by all the good books they were reading, now they are defined by what program they are using. The pressure is on to get our kids in what we think are the most prestigious programs and/or co-ops. We are spending our time, lots and lots of it, in a mad dash to be educated while forgetting the one thing needful to true education — time to think.

Our children have all the answers and none of the questions.

I belong to a class of curmudgeonly older moms who are wondering what happened to homeschooling. Maybe the younger moms are saying, “What happened? We just got better.” And yet from this older mom perch it seems like something precious has been lost. There are a few moms who understand this — the moms with regular children, the moms not raising geniuses. Homeschooling 2.0 is not sure what to do with those kids. Homeschooling Beta says do the same thing with the regular child as with the genius — read, think and learn together. True learning takes place in an atmosphere of questions, not in a place with all the answers.

ONE THING I ALWAYS remind myself is: The Beginning is not the End. We sometimes judge our lives and our children from the wrong perspective. We treat the beginning of the thing as if it were the end and it is discouraging. I learned this when my oldest left home under what I felt was a sad circumstance and joined the Navy. It just seemed like a slap in the face to all the hopes that I held for him. Now 9 years later he is succeeding in a career in the Special Forces and has a lovely, wonderful wife and 3 little boys.

There have been many times I looked at my children and felt like maybe I was doing them a disservice. That is an OK question and it has to be asked but it also has to be confronted with the truth that what is going on in the public schools is so dismal we cannot do worse than that at home.

But the problem is we feel the whole weight of responsibility and if they were in public school we could share that burden of responsibility. Ours is a heavy burden for a mother to carry.

The truth is, your children are sinners. They are people who deserve respect, but they are sinners, and since we are, too, life can get very difficult. Our children don’t always respond to truth, beauty and goodness when presented with it. That doesn’t mean those things aren’t working their way into their souls, though. You would not believe the things my older boys appreciate and remember when I thought they were not even trying.

IN GOD’S WORD WE find an answer for this question about the ultimate end of Christian education. “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6. Too cliche? How about Ecclesiastes 3:11: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” The Bible is full of the idea that we are not rearing up our children for the moment, but for a lifetime. “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit” Eccl. 7:8.

So there you have it. Don’t be prideful about your homeschool and all that your children are learning.

And don’t despair either. Be patient.

Remember that delicious fruit needs time to ripen, time in the sun. It is patience and faithfulness that will bring our children to the finish line, not a mad dash or our pushing and prodding.

The beginning is not the end. Plan accordingly.