I am not classically educated. Not even in part. But I want to be. In these first few posts I’d like to give you an idea of how I got to the point where I find myself, where I hope to go, and the path that I intend to take. I say intend, because I’ve read just enough good literature to know that this path is likely to fork several times along the way. This blog is mostly for myself; a tool of discipline. If you ask anyone who knows me they will tell you I am an extreme extrovert, so if there is even a chance that there is one reader out there following along who might, at some point, write a comment and engage with me in conversation it will motivate me to keep reading, writing, and talking. In short, this is an attempt to turn my sometimes unchecked nature toward a good end.
My wife and I were both educated in what I would call average American public schools from kindergarten on through undergraduate and post graduate studies. To be perfectly honest I was pretty antagonistic toward other options. For various reasons I was not interested in private school or home school for our kids and viewed most alternative methods to “modern education” to be some combination of elitist, hippy-dippy, antisocial, etc. In retrospect, this bias was odd considering I began taking serious issue with public school policy as early as high school. But alas, public school was the best (really only) option in my mind as our own kids began to reach school age. We even made a move to a neighborhood with “better” schools that were all within walking distance. Public schools with the best path to college were the goal, and we were willing to stretch and pull in other areas to get the kids there.
The boy, our oldest, is what many would think of as naturally academic. He picked up things like letters and numbers easily at home and did well in public school. He had good teachers. He loved them. We loved them. But he was ahead in math and by second grade that began to be a problem. He was doing work a grade level up and that was the most they could give him. So he was beginning to get bored and restless which becomes an order and discipline issue in a class of 20 seven year olds. The teacher offered to assign him harder work if we wanted to bring it in, but otherwise there was nothing more she could do. By this time our middle child was in school and we began to question whether our kids were getting the best we could give them.
I say “we” but that’s not really accurate. Here we come to the beginning of my confession and repentance in this saga, a theme that will no doubt continue to appear in this space. I was on the periphery of my children’s education. I knew some of the issues and had strong opinions, but was content to maintain the status quo with our children assuming it would sort itself out, while at the same time happily railing passionately against the failures of the system as a whole. When I look back at how willing I was to engage in the public discourse, where people are cheering or jeering (equally euphoric to the perpetual extrovert), about the failures of the system all the while being fairly indifferent to what was in front of me, to what was mine to care about, I am ashamed. So when the first conversation happened it went something like this:
“Honey, I’m not sure I actually want to, but could we talk about possibly trying home school?”
“We don’t need to talk about it; I know I don’t want to.”
“Will you at least consider talking with me about it?”
“No. I know I don’t want to do it so there is nothing to talk about.”
“Well, will you pray about being willing to talk with me about it?”
“YOU WON’T EVEN PRAY ABOUT POSSIBLY BEING WILLING TO TALK WITH ME ABOUT IT?!”
Husband of the year. I know there is danger for this confession to come across as wallowing or, conversely, to be an attempt to show off how penitent I am, but neither is my purpose. I share this here because I don’t think I’m alone. The structure of our modern society makes it very easy for parents and particularly dads to be hands off in the education of their children. This is a problem that can even be exacerbated in homes that follow a traditional structure with Dad at work and mom at home. There are practical, on the ground, realities of our lives that make fathers’ engagement difficult, but circumstances are not an excuse for abdication of responsibility. I can no longer ignore that ultimately my wife and my children are entrusted to me. I am accountable for the time I have with them and that includes my children’s education. That is a truth that comes into sharper focus as my understanding of education broadens. Stepping into that reality will take different shapes for different families. For me it starts here. One of my great hopes as I pursue a classical education in this space, and in a wider community, is that we can together weave the philosophical and practical aspects of fathers leading their families in a lifelong education toward virtue and wisdom, beginning by setting a good example.
As I step out of the confessional let me come back to the story. About a week or so after that compassionate and fruitful conversation, I was feeling sufficiently guilty about how I had hurt my wife and reluctantly said we could talk about it. Unbeknownst to me she had been researching and praying in the interim and, as she tells me now, as soon as I said we could talk about it she knew she wanted to do it. So she poured out her heart and asked if we could give home school a try for a year and see how it went. I’m not sure if she just caught me on the right day, or I was just indifferent enough that I didn’t really want to argue about it. I’d like to think that I realized, in the moment, that it was more than a whim, that I had a rare moment of clarity and realized this was coming from a deep place in her and I should trust that. But that may just be how I want to see myself that day. Whatever it was, I ultimately acquiesced, all the while thinking, “She can handle elementary school no problem, and I’m sure we’ll put them back in school by junior high so they don’t miss out on all the things we can’t offer them at home.” Like a good hearted, but naïve, Hobbit I had no idea what story we were stepping into.
I’ll pick this up in my next post, but I just want to mention before I sign off that if home schooling isn’t what you’ve chosen, I hope you won’t check out from this blog just yet. While some of what I say will be in the context of home schooling our kids, that won’t be the crux of the discussion in this space. But the decision to home school plays a big part in my journey toward classical education, so I couldn’t really tell my story without including it. My purpose here is to recover as much classical education for myself as I can, hopefully in a community of like-minded people. I hope you’ll join in.