Who Controls Your Homeschool?

There is an old adage that warns: “The more you use your power the less you have.” Seems like a reasonable  statement, doesn’t it? Thomas Jefferson applied that principle to government power. Leadership experts apply it to business management. I’m going to apply it to homeschooling.

No one has more power than a parent.

In the natural order of things, we do need a lot of authority to provide for and protect our children. Humans are quite helpless at birth, and instinctively cling to adults for care and guidance. But over time, children have to start doing more and more for themselves. The tricky thing is figuring out when and how. We’re not like birds who somehow know the exact right time to push that fledgling out of the nest or stop supplementing their offspring’s feeble hunting attempts.

Humans are more complicated than that, and I suspect that every situation is different. But the one thing I’m certain of is that we all learn better when we have some control over it. Learning is an inherently personal activity, like dreaming or thinking or believing. We adults will naturally pass along some of our own thoughts and beliefs, and we will naturally teach our kids a great many things about how to live in this world. But for active, purposeful learning, it is best for the student to direct his or her own education.

I know that sounds really bizarre to some people. How can kids know what they are supposed to learn? They are so young and inexperienced. But the real question should be: why is a kid supposed to learn a certain thing at a certain time? Maybe it makes sense in a public school where administrators must try to educate a lot of students at once. Here, curriculum becomes an issue of management and efficiency. Of course schools want their students to learn a lot and be successful in life. They are generally run by very good and dedicated people. Unfortunately, the best way to learn for kids is not the most efficient way to teach for teachers. It’s a lot of work supporting a child-directed curriculum. Every child is completely different, with different strengths and interests. Who has time for that? Parents do.

That’s the greatest benefit of homeschooling – a curriculum custom-made for each child. But if you want to take homeschooling to the next level, let your child choose their own way and what of learning. Let them have control.

This doesn’t mean you need to let them have control over everything. None of us have carte blanche to do as we will. There are always chores and obligations that we would rather not take care of, but we do, and kids should too.

But learning is different. As Leonardo Da Vinci put it: “Just as eating against one’s will is injurious to health, so studying without a liking for it spoils the memory, and it retains nothing it takes in.” We cannot make somebody learn something. We can make them take a test or fill out a worksheet, but we can’t make them remember the material. We can try to control what goes in kids’ heads, but we are only fooling ourselves to think it works. So stop wasting everybody’s time and just enjoy the true process of learning.

Where do you start?

Start where your child is. Ignore your own wishes and hopes. Pretend you don’t have any. Start where your child is. It’s easier if your child is young because they haven’t forgotten curiosity or their natural drive to learn. Just support what they are doing or what they want to know. Take them places, check out books from the library, play games, read aloud, have fun, go outside. If your child is older and more suspicious, my advice is the same. Start where he is. Does he like playing video games? Let him teach you and play with him. Does she only want to read fantasy novels by the woodstove? Let her! If you back off and don’t pressure your kids to “be productive,” eventually they will. They can’t help it. The only way they could resist the urge to learn is if they believe someone else is making them.

If you have always kept close control over your child’s education, they may wonder why you have suddenly backed off. Go ahead and tell them. But explain that just because you are not going to control their education doesn’t mean you are not interested. You are still there to help them find resources or mentors or outside activities. You will still be there to answer questions, talk, and . . . teach, if they want you to. You will still need to keep records of what they are doing. When schools or colleges ask for a transcript it will be your signature at the bottom of the page. But if your kids want to go to college, it is up to them to plan a college prep curriculum. You can certainly help, as an “academic advisor,” to find out what they will need to reach their goals. But the great thing about self-directed education is that once a kid is used to being in control, they take control. They will study the things that are boring in order to achieve a greater goal. They don’t see themselves in the passive “receive” mode of education; they see themselves as the active creator of their education.

A student who has been told too much what to do, and resents it, may comply in action but not in spirit. They may even rebel. The more power we try to use, the less we have.

If you would like to learn more about how successful people such as Thomas Edison, Andrew Carnegie, John Muir, and others controlled their own education, check out my book!

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