Sunday, 25 September 2016

The Three Pathways of Homeschooling

This is going to be a long post. I apologise in advance, but I encourage you to read it, and read to the end: it could fundamentally change how you educate your children at home.

You see, every August/September, I have a crisis of direction.
  • Even after doing this for 13 years.
  • Even after becoming a firm believer in the philosophy and fruits of the Charlotte Mason method. 
  • Even after applying all the good parts of public school that I learned as a teacher there, and knowing what to discard and what to bar completely from entering through our doors.

You’ve probably felt this way, too. In August and September, everyone starts shouting what they’re planning to do for the year — singing the praises of this curriculum, or that program, or about exams or credits or dual-enrollment or American style or whatever, and you think:

… maybe … I’m … doing … it … wrong.

Chances are, you are doing it wrong. Almost all of us are. Me included.

Let me explain.

First of all, I think there are basically three pathways to education, particularly home education. You can see from the introduction that I have certain biases, but we’ll probably all agree on the general principles I’m going to run through.

Number One Pathway: the school-at-home way

I call this the “world’s pathway” — that is, following the way that most people’s countries go about this whole education thing, and the fall-back position for most homeschoolers. It’s what we know, right? The bottom line of this pathway is that students are drilled in an effort to achieve pieces of paper. In some cases, they’re not even drilled: they just end up with pieces of paper because they’ve signed up for something and then proceed to teach themselves. Let me explain:

My teen has just signed up for her first “dual-enrollment” course at a local college. It’s an online English class, and it consists of reading some chapters of a book, writing a paper, and emailing it to the teacher. The teacher them writes back “accepted” or “not accepted”. If you’ve ever read T H White’s Once and Future King, this might remind you a lot of the ant colony where things are either “done” or “not done”. This seems the pinnacle of factory education to me, where a teacher runs a course only in name. All the real learning has either been done by the student before, or the student doesn’t get any real learning or … surprise, surprise … Mom does it! However she gets there, her ultimately outcome is simply this: Done.

The problem with the world’s pathway is that the outcome of “done” is what’s important, not the process along the way. Children can cram and vomit out the expected answers, then go on their merry way, none the wiser.

This is true of so many homeschool approaches, too. Don’t kid yourself: if it’s short answer, fill in the blank, multiple choice, the level of learning is minimal, and the aim, at the bottom of it all, is to be “done” or “not done”.

Number Two Pathway: focus on the process of learning

Now we come to those home educators who have opted for the second pathway, that is, learning for learning’s sake. There is no sense of “done” and “not done”, but of “doing”. They have eschewed the hoops and hurdles of someone else’s idea of success, and focus instead on the process of learning. There are different ways of achieving this aim, and some are very rigid while others are very loose; however, they don’t settle for “done” and “not done”, but are pushing the learning outcome to something lasting. This would be more your Classical Conversations, your Charlotte Masons, your Montessoris and other “living” approaches, including (to some extent) your unschoolers. Curricula and texts and activities work on the nurturing of the learner.

Clearly, as a Charlotte Mason advocate, I find this approach preferable to the first. I’ve been in the done/not done environment as a teacher, and I can spot a done/not done curriculum from a mile away, even if it’s dressed up as something else. The second pathway is clearly a higher level of learning for the student. It takes students further, deeper, broader; expands their level of brain development, motivation, retention; and turns them from “done/to done” or input/output machines into organic, holistic creatures made unique and, theoretically, more adaptable to what life throws at them.

I’m constantly trying to encourage newbies to leave the first pathway and branch out to the second one, because the first one usually leaves them feeling burned out or insufficient teachers, leads them to lots of shouting fights with their kids who find it boring and uninspiring, and therefore, prevents the warm, fuzzy feelings one was expecting to have when teaching one’s children at home. 

Almost everyone who has changed from pathway one to pathway two, if they were having problems, is happier after the change, because it suits their vision of what homeschooling would be like when they were thinking about doing it once upon a time.



(Pardon my analogies … I’m doing my best!)

However - and grab onto your seats - BOTH PATHWAYS ARE WRONG!

The right pathway is pathway three. If you’re religious, it’s God’s pathway, but even if you aren’t, don’t give up … I’m not going to cram the gospel down your throat. I’m going to tell you something amazing about how to educate your children at home.

Or, maybe I should say “WHY” you educate your children at home.

You see, your educational philosophy — whether religious or secular — has a spiritual or philosophical or at least a moral element to it. I mean, if you’re trying to sit down and read a book with your kids or make them read a book, but they’re fighting instead, and you just say something like, “For goodness’ sake, can’t you just get along like good people do?!!!”

What about, “It’s not nice to hit.”

“Don’t call people names — it’s not nice.”

“Only bullies act like that.”


You see, the fundamental things that homeschoolers do — all of us — is instill our absolute values in our children.

Does that make you shudder? Maybe it should. You know, a Neo-Nazi white supremist family who homeschools will be inculcating their Neo-Nazi white supremist values to their kids. A free-love naturist hippy who homeschools will be passing on their free-love naturist hippy values.

Maybe they’re Muslim extremists, Christian extremists, atheist extremists, socialists, drug-heads, welfare “spongers”, Asian Tiger Moms, or even Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Libertarians, monarchists, anarchists …

Hopefully, you’ve got the point.

Just to be clear. I am absolutely not making the point that the government should “do something” about all these different isms and ists who are homeschooling their children. For one thing, no government could possibly succeed in preventing parents from passing on their values short of removing the children from the family. Even sending children to school for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week isn’t going to stop the family values from creeping into a child’s moral fabric. 

Perhaps naysayers would argue, “Well, at least they’re getting an alternative view to their parents’ weird ideas!” No, they’re getting a whole new set of ideas, few of which are helpful or preferable. More on this in a minute.

Schools, because of the plurality of the student body, can’t espouse any unifying message of morality beyond the most diluted “be good” (ie, shut up and be quiet and don’t make any waves). Clearly, it can’t put forth any religious position of absolute truths out there, or there would be major ructions. It can’t be wholly secular, either, because there are no agreed guiding principles if you have no agreement on “absolute truth”.

All the schools can do is hope that their “be nice” message and “work hard” hopes will filter down to some sort of general order, but we all know how well that’s succeeded. Even if you personally haven’t been struck down by major tragedies like mass shootings, you or someone you know will have been badly hurt by bullying — this might not be a national tragedy, but it’s darn well a personal tragedy for millions of children, all of whom relied on the school to teach a value system.

No. Schools aren’t where the value systems of worth are found.

So, legislate as they might, governments will never replace the moral compass of a child’s home. That means the only place that your child can set his or her moral compass is at your hearth, and that means the chief end of homeschooling — whatever your religious or philosophical beliefs — is a moral one.

If you’re a Christian, this is a clear-cut direction. You use the Bible to study more of who God is, who you are in God, and how that impacts on your unique mission in life. According to R C Sproul in his excellent book called When You Rise Up, this will include equipping your children to teach their own children, who in turn will teach their children, etc.

It is an impactful pathway!

If you’re not religious, then you may like to use the two fundamental principles of natural law as set out by Richard Maybury in his Uncle Eric series of books:
  1. Do all that you say you’ll do
  2. Do not encorach on others or on their property
These two fundamental principles will get you a long way amongst fellow humans in the world.*

So let me re-cap:

PATHWAY ONE - Homeschool in a way that follows input/output methodologies, where study is a means to an end like credit hours, exam grades, degrees, and a good job. This way serves a purpose.
PATHWAY TWO - Homeschool in a way that seeks learning for the sake of learning. Qualifications may happen along the way, but you’re mainly trying to equip your children for skills they’ll need throughout their lives, come what may. You focus on process more than you focus on outcome. This pathway also serves a purpose.
PATHWAY THREE - Homeschool in a way that’s mindful of the moral messages that you teach your children, both by study and by your life in words and deeds. You set the bar of what success actually means, both in terms of academic and personal success. You know a child can always learn from a book, even after having left home, but the moral compass is set when they’re young and at home. Your studies, therefore, are not taken in a vacuum. Even something like Texas History can discuss the moral issues regarding clashes of cultures and needs/wants, and these discussions can help them tease out the hard choices when they’re adults. This pathway not only serves a purpose, but serves a society.

So, if you don’t take PATHWAY THREE, does that make you a bad homeschooler?

I think it’s the wrong question to ask. You signed up to pathway three the moment you started having children, so it’s not a matter of “if” but of “when” you start walking this way.

Parenting is about journeying with your children.
Setting your child’s moral compass is a fundamental purpose of being a parent, and therefore, you should look into using every and all resources for fulfilling that purpose. Of course, moral compasses will differ from family to family. That’s the problem of our having free will because we’re human beings. I mean, clearly it isn’t for us to decide whose free will is allowed to be free, and whose isn’t.** 

Just by focusing on principles, you’ll be teaching your children that there are such things as absolutes, and that’s a eye-opening lesson in today’s relativistic world.

Having a generation of homeschoolers who know that there’s such a thing as right and wrong will be a great influence on future society, and possibly position them to be world changers.

Be careful: you’re not nurturing them so that they can be world changers … instead, you’re nurturing them first and foremost to be moral/kind/godly, and then they CAN be world changers.


*Of course, religious people would urge you to think beyond the tangible and limited world that we see, and consider the spiritual world beyond — but that’s another topic to save for another day.

** It’s easy to get self-righteous and judgmental here. Remember to take the plank out of your own eye before you point out the splinter in your neighbour’s.

1 comment:

  1. I love your blog! I just wanted to let you know that we featured you in a list of 100 best Homeschooling blogs. You can find our article at the following link:

    We would appreciate it if you shared this with your readers, followers and fans. Have a terrific weekend!


Whatcha thinkin'? Don't be shy if you've got something to say!