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Unexpected lesson

Doing my best to stay out of the way of learning. Homeschooling often consists of providing the feast and biting my tongue while my kids form their own relationships with great ideas.
Doing my best to stay out of the way of learning.  Homeschooling often consists of providing the feast and biting my tongue while my kids form their own relationships with great ideas.
Girl Reading Under an Oak Tree, 1879  by Winslow Homer


My eldest daughter has been reading Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man. She’s also decided that would be her poem to memorize this month. (Not the whole thing, just a couple of sections.)

I was asking her about it today two days ago in lieu of a written narration, because Tuesday is still Tuesday, dangit. (Tuesday is so Tuesday that it bled over into Wednesday and I’m just now getting this out.) She’s been impressed with Pope’s brilliance and ability to put this philosophical argument into couplet form as well as with the argument itself. The writing is beautiful and compelling. She said (my paraphrase), “I was reading it thinking how wonderful it was and how I agreed with everything, and then I had to stop myself and ask, ‘Wait. Do I agree with everything?’ It’s so well written that it’s easy to just agree without really thinking his arguments through and analyzing them.’”

And more powerfully (and probably more thoroughly) than any explanation I could have given her of the power of persuasion or the dangers of propaganda, she got it. She now has personal experience with how compelling a persuasive argument can be as well as what it takes to apply reason to that argument. Like Harry Potter in The Goblet of Fire, she’s had to fight off the imperius curse herself and thus understands it better. (I’m not arguing Pope, who was wise and correct about many more things than I’ll ever even comprehend, was a dark wizard. But whether we agree with him or not, we should agree because we believe his ideas are correct, not because they’re pretty.)

Homeschool mom, if you’re worried about teaching high school, don’t. I couldn’t have taught her that if I tried. We spread the feast; we provide the environment; we help them develop the habits of learning. But ultimately, we just get out of the way while their amazing brains make connections and create beauty and learn on their own.

If you’re worried about not knowing the text or not being able to analyze some weighty tome. Stop. Spread the table with the great books and establish a setting where truth, beauty, and goodness can be pursued, and then get out of the way! You don’t have to explain to your kid what X means. Even if you know what X means, that will be of less value to your child than what they are allowed to discover on their own.

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Mainly what we have to do is get out of the way. Oh, sure. We can ask questions to help kick-start their own analysis. If we notice their interests or affections heading in a certain direction, we can litter their path with literature or art or whatever that they can collect on their journey. But asking a question or handing them a good book to read will have a far greater impact than giving them a detailed analysis.

So what do we ask? I particularly like the Lost Tools of Learning Topics of Invention and Andrew Kern’s “should” question. I like the questions Sarah MacKenzie recommends, and we have about 20 of these bookmarks flying around. I got another great set of bookmarks as a bonus on the narration episode of Pam Barnhill’s Your Morning Basket. (Aside: I highly recommend the Circe podcasts, Sarah MacKenzie’s Read Aloud Revival, and Your Morning Basket.)

So there is work to be done, preparations to make, things to print and laminate and lose and reprint and relaminate. But mainly we just need to be amazed and honored by the privilege of watching our kids learn.


P.S. I have not read Essays on Man. I would like to read Essays on Man, but I don’t have the time right now or for the foreseeable future. I’m too busy making sure my kids have the space to read it. It’s okay; I’ll get there eventually. There’s no deadline on learning.


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