Friday, February 23, 2007

The Siren of Self-Doubt

Of all of the various mythical creatures whose job it is to plague homeschooling mothers, one of my least favorite is the Siren of Self-Doubt.

This loathsome creature can appear for no reason, unlike the Goblin of Guilt. She can linger for whole semesters, unlike the Demon of Dread. And, unlike the Leprechaun of Laziness, she never appears, even for a minute, to be your friend.

Not that she ever appears at all, of course. If she did, I have a feeling she'd be a tall, thin spirit shrouded head to toe in the tattered remains of expensive sheets, her lank, dull hair hanging in tangled knots past her waist, two eyes blazing with accusation below a wide, smooth forehead, and a single bony hand with pointing finger visible beyond her shredded sleeves. But we don't see her; we only hear her.

She sings in a low, dry tone, like the last breezes of autumn shaking the few dead leaves still clinging to rustling branches. Her song never varies, and it strikes fear into the hearts of the homeschooling moms who hear it:

You could be doing better. You should be doing more.

As I mentioned above, she comes without warning. She tends to blindside you on what would normally be a good day, the kind of day when the kids are working diligently and the schedule has finally been unraveled from the tangled mess left by the last illness that swept through the family. But just as you're feeling rather pleased about things, you hear her song, and you shiver.

You could be doing better. You should be doing more.

Thoughts cluster in your brain. You think of your cousins' children who are in the fifth year of Latin by the time they reach the second grade. You remember the family you met at church who competes in the National Geography Bee; even their four-year-old can correctly identify and locate on a map the capital of Kyrgyzstan. You think of those people you sat beside at a Catholic homeschooling conference, whose seventeen-year-old has memorized the Code of Canon Law. Then you look at the simple worksheets your children are happily completing, and a feeling rather like despair chills you to the soul.

You could be doing better. You should be doing more.

Now a descant seems to swirl among the melody, a song of enthusiastic educators in pristine classrooms full of eager children who compete with each other to be the first to demonstrate differential calculus on a satin blackboard. You think of the couple you know who are both working full-time jobs so they can afford to send their kids to that pricey independent Catholic school, many of whose teachers have appeared on EWTN. The Siren's song begins to rise to its triumphant crescendo.

You could be doing better! You should be doing more!

At this point, you could give in to the feelings of desperation and helplessness. Or, if you're me, you fight back.

I remind the Siren that I'm not in this homeschooling thing because I think it's my job to turn out geniuses.

I remind the Siren that education has fundamentally changed since the days of the one-room schoolhouse, and that some of those changes have been for the worse. In fact, I tell her, the most pernicious difference is that we now seem to think that education is somehow the job of teachers or parents instead of recognizing that education is, always has been, and always will be the job of the student.

Teachers, whether they are homeschooling teachers or not, are primarily there to lead, direct, and assist the student in the business of learning. The most vibrant classroom environment imaginable will mean nothing to the unmotivated student; the tiniest of homeschools will be a world of information to the student who wants to learn.

My job is to teach my children how to learn, how to be creative, how to take responsibility for themselves and their own education. My job is to prepare them for the adult world, where you have to figure out on your own how to find out the things you need to know.

And to learn these things, it's not strictly necessary that they've mastered third-conjugation Latin verbs in second grade, or that they've any idea where Kyrgyzstan is (or how to spell it) by the time they're four or five. What is necessary is that they come to see learning as something vital to their lives, something that neither begins nor ends with school. In that department, we're doing just fine.

By this point, the Siren has usually fled, shrieking. She knows better than to mess with a redheaded mom in a testy mood.


matilda said...

This is so true and needs to be read by every homeschooling mom in the world. I know that there are others who will always do more, but it is not a requirement for turning out children who know and love their faith.

Karen E. said...

Great post. I wandered your way via Deep South Canuck, by way of Nutmeg, by way of trying to catch up on some favorite blogs. Too many good writers, too little time ....

Betty said...

I have just finished reading through all your "creature" entries and I am so blessed!

You have such a knack for depicting the creatures that haunt us. I've really appreciated your blog entries and have enjoyed your posts over at 4Real. Keep writing.

Grace & Peace,
Ana Betty