Saturday, March 25, 2006

Well-Trained Mediocrity

I have always "loosely" followed the Well-Trained Mind. I read that from many homeschoolers all over blogs and message boards, and I guess for those of us who characterize ourselves in those terms it means we follow the outline of the book as closely as we can without going crazy, tweaking the curriculum choices as needed. I started out seven years ago with the best of intentions. I made the binders for the Grammar Stage just as outlined in the book, and faithfully went about reading two-page spreads in the Usborne world history encyclopedia, having my child(ren) make pages for what they had read, narrate back to me what they remembered, complete "What We Did" pages for science and "What I Read" pages for reading. We were really clicking along!

And then we got to week two...

As the years progressed, we got busy, my husband experienced health problems for a season and required surgery, we moved into an apartment and built a new home, we began traveling internationally and, as happens in most homeschools, life took over. Last year, exasperated, I realized that I had lost control of school. I felt (with good reason) that my kids were lagging behind in certain subject areas. We took trips to West Africa and China and, while those were incredibly and unspeakably enriching experiences for my kids, I succumbed to jet lag, lethargy, and perhaps maybe even brief(albeit mild) bouts with depression for periods upon our return. I saw our academics slipping further and further behind and felt increasingly guilty and overwhelmed. We weren't keeping to a schedule or doing much academically at all. I finally worked up the courage to confide in other homeschooling friends. I needed a good kick in the pants to get me back on track. What I got was well-intentioned encouragement to, basically, stay the way we were and not feel so guilty. "Don't worry, I'm sure they're fine." "Just look at the experiences they have had!" "You're just used to your kids always being ahead, now they're just 'normal.'" "Don't be so hard on yourself."

I have this on my mind today because this week I had the opportunity to speak with a friend who called me, specifically because she knew I would "shoot straight" with her. She has had a year similar to mine last year, has some well-founded concerns about her kids' progress and wanted someone to help her see where she could get back on track. I did shoot straight. I did offer advice. I helped her see how it wasn't as far gone as she thought it was, but made honest suggestions for how (as I saw it) she could work now and plan for next year to get back on track. It's not hopeless, but it does require effort. Our conversation prompted me to get out some Susan Bauer and Jessie Wise conference tapes and listen to them to get "re-inspired." We can do this! God can and will "restore the years the locusts have eaten."

Why are we so afraid to "speak the truth in love" in this area? Especially when someone's asking us to? (Like I did.) Sometimes it's NOT "okay." Things have gotten SO much better for us this year, simply because we got on a schedule. I try to make one day look as much like the next as possible. I have concentrated more on the basics. I have prayed God's character for our homeschool: diligence, order, excellence, love. It is still a daily battle to keep things on an even keel, and with our recent trip to France, our schedule has been interrupted (and Mom has had jetlag!) But, it's better. I still refuse to lower the bar and accept less than what I feel my kids are capable of and what I feel I've been called to do. As long as I'm not adding unnecessarily to what He's called me to do, His yoke is easy, His burden is light. God not only requires excellence, He also enables it.

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