Thursday, April 28

On Feeling Wrong

There's been an interesting discussion on my homeschool group's forum this month.  This question came from a first-year homeschooling mom who is trying to tread the waters of unschooling i.e.: detoxing her kids from the way of the system so that they can then move into their way of learning.  She asked,

"When does it stop feeling wrong?" 

"Wrong" meaning that uncomfortable feeling that we all probably experience when we realize our child isn't experiencing what everyone else's child is experiencing?

It's an interesting question to me for semantic purposes.  What does my new friend mean by "wrong?"  Not right?  Not right in whose eyes?  Not right for her child?  Not right in the global set up of society?  What kind of society?

I can't say that I have ever felt "wrong" for what I do.  I've felt unsatisfied, unqualified, and frustrated.  I've been impatient with the process and wished for the end result to happen way before its time.  I've wanted to give up, questioned my methods and philosophy, been jealous of other families, painted unrealistic scenarios of alternate choices.  In retrospect, I've even set myself up for failure and sabotaged my own efforts.

But I've never felt wrong.

My entire "career" I've actually felt right.  Right for the moment, right for the child, right for the end goal, right for his weaknesses, right for my passions, right for this season in life.  But the next moment, next child, next goal, next weakness, passion or life season... well, that is anybody's guess.  I don't go into the next moment a lot.  I can't rightly anticipate what it will hold.

We could define wrong using other terms: incorrect, unsatisfactory, perverse, mistaken, misguided, erroneous and so on.  But I think the definition in my friend's head at this point in her homeschooling career is probably, "bad."   "It's bad to homeschool my child and give them experiences that are out of the norm."  

When we start ascribing moral judgments on this amoral thing that we do, we can easily fall into the darkness of doubting.  All revolutionaries must feel it at some point, but the point where they succeed is when they grow accustomed to wrong feeling a lot like right.

I watched another TED video today on this very topic.  You can see it here:

Kathryn Schultz says this: "The miracle of your mind isn't that you can see the world as it is.  It’s that you can see the world as it isn't."

When we determine to homeschool our kids, we are seeing the world as it isn't.  We are projecting into the unwritten future what our kids will look like as a result of our intervention and involvement in their academic education.  We create a goal for them and move them toward it. They, of course, aren't always going to reach that goal, but that doesn't make us wrong.  It makes us, and them, human.  We envision things differently.  "That's why," Kathryn says, "we get things wrong."

But "the source and root of all our productivity and creativity" is our obsession with figuring everything out, our desire to get things right. That desire is evident when we see that the nation's classrooms are producing things that we don't think we can produce, so we enroll our kids.  But when the classrooms fail in productivity and creativity we figure out how to make those things happen and we bring our kids home.  It's the way we're made.  As co-creators, and I would say as co-creators designed by God, we continually seek the renewal of all things.  We won't stop doing it.
"When it comes to our stories [plot twists, red herrings, etc], we love being wrong.  Our stories are like this because our lives are like this.  We think one thing is going to happen and something else happens instead."   
I can't predict how my children will respond in retrospect or what effect my efforts will really have.  But neither can those who are publicly educated.  They may look at me in 10 years and say, "Mom you really screwed me up," or, "Mom, you were a visionary and a prophet," or they may be ambivalent and just go on with their life.  I think one of these is more likely than the other, but what I think is going to happen may not be what actually happens.  The outcome is completely not up to me.

But I don't feel wrong.  I feel charged with a vision and when I hit a bump that seems insurmountable, I turn.  Something else will happen.  And it will be right.

Wednesday, April 27

Cleaning up After Lent

This is only my second year observing Lent in any fashion.  Each year, I've taken something up for the season, something that I felt would draw out my passion for God, that would stretch me a bit and help me sense things anew.   These activities, to some extent, succeeded at reaching inside of me to bring out my true self that continually gropes for God.

The wider practice, of course, is to give something up for Lent; foregoing something enjoyable creates a void, one God longs to fill with himself.  Perhaps one year I will feel so moved.  It is certainly good to make that kind of room.  What I saw however, and only in some instances, were those who attempted the most difficult thing imaginable, tackling it as a personal record of sorts.  Or those who make Lent into a do-over, a chance to kick a bad habit.  Or even those who test God by giving up life-giving things like medication ...or marriage.   
"I understand the significance of self-denial but if we’re not careful, we can so easily just fall into religious practice for the sake of religious practice. If the goal is merely the giving up of something without taking up of something more significant, the focus is just merely on the stuff which we give up or really, the focus is on the practice of giving up something." -- Eugene Cho
During this season, I kept coming back to Jesus's words in Mark where he declares all food clean. "Listen now, all of you— take this to heart. It's not what you swallow that pollutes your life; it's what you vomit—that's the real pollution." 

It's not what we put in, or fail to put in, ourselves that moves us closer to God; it's what comes out of us. What draws us closer to him are the acts of devotion that we create, not necessarily the disciplines we follow.  

I have two friends whose Lenten practices inspired me.  One decided to give up yelling.  Another determined to give up ingratitude.  Perhaps I courageously could have followed suit with something from Jesus' list? "It's what comes out of a person that pollutes: obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness—all these are vomit from the heart. There is the source of your pollution." These are examples of the things that come out of us that wreck us, that cloud our ability to see truth, that make us impatient with the process of God.  These are evidence from our hearts that what we really believe is that God's love ends.  These are precisely the kinds of things that God wants to transform and clean up and bring to himself for renewal.
‎"The practice of entering into the Lenten season has often been reduced to the question: “What are you giving up for Lent?” ... The real question of the Lenten season is: How will I find ways to return to God with all my heart? This begs an even deeper question: Where in my life have I gotten away from God and what are the disciplines that will enable me to find my way back?" -- Ruth Haley Barton
Now that the celebration of Easter is upon us (should Easter have an end?) I find that I am staying in my vein of Lenten practice:  listening more intently to what I think the Father is saying.  I do not feel as if Lent was just a season for holding my breath until I can go back to what I once knew, or was.  Spiritual activities ought to grow us more deeply in our love for Christ, enabling us to better sense his presence from that point forward.  They are not temporary interruptions in our otherwise predictable patterns.  Easter is a celebration of the new creation.  Let it be so in me.  

Tuesday, April 26

Time Alone with TED

My husband is off to Q Portland 2011 today. Our whole team of TNL pastors are attending the conference and I look forward to the energy and inspiration they return with.

Since we at home are on Spring Break, he took my youngest two sons with him to Oregon so they could play with my parents for a few days. My oldest is in school and I stayed behind in Denver to care for him and hang out in the evenings. The two of us began our morning at Starbucks for some hot chocolate -- good start before I dropped him off at school. He hopped out of the car and said, “Go have fun, Mom!”

So, what do I do for fun? I bet you can’t guess.

I came home to watch TED lectures online. Call me whatever you’d like, but I’ve always wanted to just sit and absorb some of these ideas. Today’s the day!

I watched this one and was inspired:  Dan Pink on the surprising science of motivation.   If you don't want to spend 18 minutes watching it the gist is this, "Rewards narrow our focus and restrict our possibility... they only work in a narrow band of circumstances." While he wasn't taking it this direction, this applies to education as much as it does to business. The rewards we offer our kids for completing a task, a lesson, a project are typically extrinsic and unrelated to the actual task. i.e.: "If you memorize the Bible verse/poem/Gettysburg address you can pick something out of the treasure box."  This creates a situation where my son's mind can actually only focus on the reward. The task becomes a secondary and much smaller slice of his focus, so he'll forget the Bible verse once he gets the reward. There's no connection, no buy-in on his part. I might feel like a cool mom-teacher, but he didn't actually learn anything.

Dan Pink also said, "If/then rewards destroy creativity." And I'd have to say that based on my experience, this is unequivocally true. My sons will do the minimum it takes to get the reward; and the product won't be colorful, personal, or though provoking. If I want my child to truly engage in something, I can't hold a "carrot" out for him hoping that he'll be inspired. He'll only focus on reaching that carrot when what I really want is for him to experience the journey to new knowledge.

Inspiration begins within. Dan pointed out that "unseen intrinsic drive matters." For instance, letter grades are essentially a carrot. If you answer everything correctly, you get the carrot. You don't want your grade to fall, so you continue to answer correctly. In this instance, answering correctly doesn't come out of a bubbling well of inner passion. It's only a means to an end. In order to think creatively you have to develop something else in the process besides its end.

Some studies are showing that these extrinsic motivators actually make productivity and creativity decline. So what are we left with? Pink says this:
  1. Autonomy - the urge to direct our own lives.
  2. Mastery - the desire to get better and better at something that matters
  3. Purpose - the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. 

This is the good news for homeschoolers. At our very core, I think we agree that these are the goals we strive for. As much as my son in a classroom wants to learn toward mastery, his mastery will stop at the end of the school year. -- I remember being in middle school and throwing out all my folders at the end of the school year. The school even provided the big trash cans in the hallways.  But my son at home can keep pursuing an idea, a craft, a problem, until his thirst is quenched.  Mastery is a big buzzword in homeschooling because that is our goal.  Grades are not. Autonomy is what we hope to move all of our children toward as they grow in maturity.  But if you release a little more to their direction, they'll have more to actually take on.  And if you align what they are learning with their own individual purpose, that God-given bent that is different for each of them, you'll have an inspired, passionate student (who will naturally move toward autonomy and mastery).

Take this final portion of your school year to re-examine your methods through this lens.  Is what you're trying to accomplish in agreement with these three areas in the life of your child?  If not, give everything a tweak.  Give them 20 minutes to do anything they want, read or study anything they want, build anything they want and see what they move toward.  Throw a problem out for them and see how they'd solve it.  Or give them a project day where they can take anything from your study that week and turn it into something tangible, self-directed, self-created.  It may just be the thing that they remember forever.  No treasure box necessary.

Saturday, April 16

Spring Break Starts Now

We are now commencing our two week spring break tradition.  With Easter being so late this year, perhaps we'll actually get outdoors while we're off.  But who knows.  In fact, the best part of our break this year is that I haven't scheduled it to death.  We have things to do this Wednesday.  And that's about it.

I'm wondering if I'm shooting myself in the foot by not having a game plan [insert saying about idle hands here].  Perhaps I should feel compelled to clean the oven or sort the clothes in the boys' closets?  But it's Holy Week.  And I want to leave room for the mystery.

During our second week I'll actually have four days at home alone.  Dh is taking B and S to visit my parents while he attends Q in Portland.  I'm staying behind with J who is attending a charter school.  My job is to take him back and forth to school each day and then hang out with him in the evening.  But while he's away, I have those four days all planned out... gym, coffee/lunch with a friend and some very specific writing time.

Perhaps I know that since two of my boys will be gone soon, I am leaving room to just enjoy them.  They are the sweetness in my life.    Case in point:  that picture above?  It's what I get when my boys ask if they can pick blossoms from our crabapple tree.  I get the entire branch.  Boys and spring just go hand in hand.

Monday, April 11

Money Unit for Elementary

This is our last week of school before we take our Spring Break.  We're finishing up a unit on Money and this is some of what we've covered:
  • We found a very cool online site at  It teaches B about spending, saving, and investing by way of some really fun games and strategies.
  • Aside from that we've worked through the Kids Money Book that I found at our library (but can't locate on Amazon to link to).  It's taken him into big ideas like inflation and recession as well as more easily grasped topics like credit and ATM's.   It also covered the history of money.
  • I printed out some blank checks and a register and gave him bills to pay.
  • We're reading Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen aloud and learning about some fantastic economic principles as we go.  I highly suggest it for 3rd grade and up.
  • Tomorrow we'll toss in some geography and highlight what other countries call their money.
  • Everyday, he has the opportunity to "earn" money as we completes his school tasks...about $10 a day. At the end of each week I've given him a couple bills to pay, had him save 10%, give 10% and then I set up a little "store" that he can choose to shop from or save his money, or give more.  The giving money will turn into actual cash and be given away for real this week. The second week, I also gave him the option to borrow money if there was something he really wanted to buy, but the credit card bill would come the following week.  He chose not to overspend or borrow.  That's my boy!
  • We set up a grocery store and I had him attempt to guess what the prices for each item would be (Mountain Dew was worth $5 to him!).  Then he practiced making change with his brothers.  
  • Naturally, we've done many, many money word problems.  
  • We're finding verses in Proverbs that talk about money and think through their principles before he copies them down and illustrates them.  
  • He is mastering some vocabulary such as counterfeit, value, currency, money, and denomination.  
  • This week he is writing a "how to" essay entitled "How to Save Money to buy the Lego Star Wars Death Star."  I'm using his interests to help build up his weaknesses.  Having him write anything is a challenge.  But he's been wishing he could buy the Death Star for a couple years now so he's inspired.  Last week we did a graphic organizer of his ideas and this week he's doing the writing.  
It's been a good study and while I'm a little tired of picking up all the play money laying around I think that B really has a grasp on what good stewardship looks like and I see him putting his knowledge into practice.