Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Homeschooling with an Iron Fist

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NC Wyeth - By Unidentified photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

NC Wyeth – By Unidentified photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Why are you homeschooling – really? Be very honest with yourself.

I have the utmost admiration for the hard work and dedication of the homeschooling parents I have met, and despite all of our different methods, the one thing we share in common is a passion to do what is best for our kids. This is not to say that non-homeschooling parents are less dedicated – of course they are. But I will be the first to admit that homeschooling parents tend to have strong opinions about how things ought to be – and this is also one of our weaknesses.

I recently read a fine article by Josh Harris called “Homeschool Blindspots,” which is a very honest appraisal of what went wrong in his own family’s homeschooling experience. He shares very important insights about how his own high expectations and need for control really only served to alienate his son. As a pastor, he related his vision of an ideal upbringing for his children, based on Biblical values, but realized later that he was more concerned with outward appearances than with building genuine loving relationships. His children had become “projects;” a reflection of his own worth as a fatherly role model.

Many parents are guilty of this, myself included. We have visions of our perfect family, of our perfect kids, and how the outside world will perceive us. It’s understandable really, when you think about all the work you do everyday: what do you have to show for it? Your only “result” is your children, and what will people say about you if they turn out badly? We want to be proud of our kids – to hold them up and say “Look what I did!” The temptation to tweak and mold our children to fit our preconceived notions is always there, like an artist working on a sculpture.

N.C. Wyeth, the famous American illustrator and father of painter Andrew Wyeth, homeschooled his children with an iron fist. He was not motivated by religious ideology, but rather a romantic Renaissance vision of perfect childhood. He controlled everything his children did, yet his aim was to make them more creative and original than the other children in public schools. Only the “best” books, poetry, music, toys, art and art supplies were allowed. He even controlled their play, much to the annoyance of all the children. Andrew later wrote, “Pa kept me almost in a jail, just kept me to himself in my own world, and he wouldn’t let anybody in on it. I was almost made to stay in Sherwood Forest with Maid Marion and the rebels.” Fortunately, since Andrew was the youngest child, his father had either given up or grown tired of controlling everything, so Andrew had a bit more freedom than his harassed siblings.

The point is, it doesn’t matter what your reason is for homeschooling, if the reason is getting in the way of building genuine loving relationships with your kids. And genuine relationships are based on trust, not control. Now, I’m not saying that parents shouldn’t have any control, because kids actually like to have some structure. Sometimes it is comforting to have boundaries – and different kids will crave different levels of freedom. But here are some clues to let you know when your personal vision has taken over, at the expense of all else:

  • Do your kids feel comfortable talking to you? Are they ready to share their feelings with you?     (If so, that means they are not afraid of your judgement.)
  • Do you have a vision of what your child could be? Can you let it go?      (If so, that means that whatever your child becomes is up to her, and that is OK)
  • Do you have any hobbies or interests, or a life that does not revolve around your kids?    (If so, that means you are not living your life through them)
  • When was the last time you really laughed?    (It’s best not to take ourselves too seriously – a light heart loves best!)

Probably the best way to tell if you are over-controlling is if your kids are rebelling, and then it is time to do some serious soul-searching. Try to understand your motivations. How much are you influenced by other people’s opinions? By your own upbringing? By idealized visions of perfection? The thing is, it never works to try to “fix” someone else. We can only fix ourselves, or try, and spend the rest of our time loving our fellow imperfect beings the best we can. Unconditional love* for our children is more powerful than any form of discipline or training program, because it will help them stand on their own, with full faith and confidence in their own worth – not forever looking to us for approval.

*Side Note: Lest I forget to mention it, unconditional love is not the same as “smothering,” because those parents that smother their kids are really living through them, in an attempt to fulfill their own complicated needs. This is a good way to raise military leaders or dictators though, such as Hitler, Stalin, Douglas MacArthur, George Patton, FDR, Nietzsche, and others. The authors of Cradles of Eminence, a study of the childhoods of more than 700 famous men and women, found that “When the mother-dominated and mother-smothered are considered as one unit, they include 64 percent of the military men, adventurers, and dictators . . . These children described their parents variously as adamant, bossy, strong-willed, overanxious, overprotective, overpossessive, interfering, and especially as dominating.” (p. 131 of 2nd Edition)

 

What the World’s Best Basketball Coach Can Teach You About How to Homeschool

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John WoodenThe late John Wooden was a highly esteemed coach who built up the UCLA Bruins into a powerhouse team with 10 National Championships. The Sporting News named him “The Greatest Coach of All Time” in 2009, and he wrote several books about his principles of coaching, success and leadership. There is a lot we could learn from him, but the wisdom I’d like to borrow from him today is about the way he taught athletes during practice.

He used what is known as the whole-part-whole framework: first introduce the big concept, then break it down into smaller parts, then put the parts back together after they are mastered. Wooden carefully planned all of his practices, using 3X5 cards to keep his drills and teaching points in order. He was adamant about the fundamentals of ball handling, and took the time to teach his players exactly how to do each move, routinely demonstrating first the right way, then the wrong way, then the right way again. His feedback to the players was short, concise, and packed with useful information related to the task at hand.

He also kept his practices moving along, keeping the players focused and alert, with the first half devoted to new material and the second half devoted to repetition of previously learned skills. He believed that his players must be able to perform the fundamentals so well that they don’t need to think about them. Then, during games, their attention could be focused on the dynamics of the court.

John Wooden’s methods worked spectacularly well in basketball, and I think they could work equally well in any teaching environment. But the thing to remember is that he didn’t teach his skill drills in isolation. He taught them within the context of something the players cared about – basketball.

A lot of the skills that students are expected to learn in school, such as reading, writing and multiplication, are indeed fundamental and require lots of practice. However, teaching them in isolation, with one workbook for every subject is hardly ideal. Teachers are then forced to find some external motivation such as bribes, praise, or punishment  to keep the kids’ attention.

The better way is to teach basic skills within the context of something your kids already care about or have an interest in learning. This is really pretty easy when kids are little. Have you ever used the “Five in a Row” curriculum series developed by Jane Claire Lambert? They are an excellent example of using something a child cares about, in this case a wonderful storybook, as a starting point to teach various skills or concepts. My family LOVED using these books, and I was sad when we outgrew them.

Another thing we used were certain Scholastic math skills books because my kids thought they were fun. They loved outlandish word problems, riddles, and games. Educational software games were a hit too.

It gets harder to do this as kids get older because you probably won’t find prepared lesson plans full of advanced skill-builders in the topics that your kids most want to learn about. In this case, you might have to come up with your own 3X5 cards with ideas for practicing the fundamentals – this is the virtue of “Unit Studies.” You might be able to find pre-packaged unit studies that suit your student, but be wary. I’ve seen a lot of dull stuff out there, clearly written by people who don’t have a passion for the topic.

Better yet is to work with your student to craft your own unit study. Take whatever they are passionate about, say fashion, and brainstorm ways your child could practice some of the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic. Along the way, there will undoubtedly be a smattering of history, geography, sociology, critical thinking about media and pop culture, and who knows what else.

John Wooden was able to keep the same stack of 3X5 cards and use them over and over again because he always had students who were interested in the same thing: becoming better basketball players. You will not be able to do that because your kids will all be motivated by something different. But you can use the same framework of whole-part-whole.

Can you think of ways to teach skills within the context of something your child is already interested in learning?

Depth vs. Breadth

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Buckminster Fuller

Buckminster Fuller

 

C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis

Eccentric visionary Buckminster Fuller believed that universities spend too much time graduating specialists when what we really need are generalists. Furthermore, he believed that all children are born with the natural instinct to think and learn holistically, and blamed society for interfering with this natural tendency to instead promote specialization (see his “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth” for more info here).

C.S. Lewis however thought that we did a great disservice to children by trying to teach them about too many things instead of focusing on teaching a few things very well. He wrote:

“In those days a boy on the classical side officially did almost nothing but classics. I think this was wise; the greatest service we can do to education today is to teach fewer subjects. No one has time to do more than a very few things well before he is twenty, and when we force a boy to be a mediocrity in a dozen subjects we destroy his standards, perhaps for life.” (see citation below)

I think they both made good points, but in reality we need both generalists and specialists. We need generalists like Steve Jobs or Leonardo DaVinci who can make the connections between widely disparate subjects such as art and science, in order to see something new. But we also need people who are really, really good at what they do, even if that means they don’t know much about anything else. I don’t need or want my surgeon to be a generalist, I want him or her to be the best specialist I can find.

Fortunately, it seems that people naturally gravitate towards one or the other. Those kids who become fixated on a topic early on and never seem to want to do anything else are future specialists. Alexander Graham Bell, Pierre Curie, Albert Einstein, Walt Whitman and Louis Armstrong were all like that. If they were growing up today, we might have called them “geeks” in the sense that they were obsessed with their personal interests.

Those kids who seem interested in a wide range of topics but have trouble choosing just one might be future generalists. Thomas Edison, Agatha Christie, John Muir and Benjamin Franklin were like that.

So, how should you approach this dilemma as a homeschooling parent?

We don’t want to peg our kids as either specialists or generalists because we might be wrong, and it’s not really fair to label our kids with any preconceived notions that might limit what they believe about themselves.

I will propose two solutions . . . and the first is this: let your kids guide their own studies. If they are interested in a million different things, just roll with it and help them find the books or other resources they need to satisfy their curiosity. The same applies if they are only interested in one topic. Just keep feeding them more complex material as they need it.

This was the case with my son who is obsessed with programming and math. I had no idea what resources might be best for him to learn, but he knew. He researched all the books, tutorials, and online courses available to him and made up Amazon wish lists of bizarre titles, such as 3D Math Primer and Real-Time Collision Detection, for his birthdays. He definitely went into DEPTH with his programming studies.

We also covered other topics, because they were required by college admissions offices and my son wanted to go to college. However, these topics, such as English Composition, never fired him up the way programming did. This doesn’t mean he was completely oblivious to the outside world though. This is because of my second proposed solution: Living Books.

Living books, or those books written by talented authors with a passion for their subject, expose readers to meaningful context and information in a BROAD range of subjects.

One of my son’s favorite books was The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, not because he was particularly interested in serial killers but because of the historical context of the events surrounding the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. This led to an avid interest in Edison, Tesla and other inventors; along with other books set at the turn of the 20th century involving science or the rise of industry. This didn’t make him an expert on any of these subjects, but the books he read pulled together strands of world events, geography, business, science, ethics, history, economics, and others in a way that was enjoyable and memorable for him.

This doesn’t mean that every kid would like these sorts of books, but there are wonderful living books available for every possible interest. It’s just a matter of hunting them down. Here’s a few good online sources of inspiration:

The great thing about reading good books is that they introduce new ideas and topics to the reader or listener in a way that is meaningful, and thus more likely to be remembered than a textbook. Of course, a work of historical fiction will not be as thorough as a textbook, but if it leads your child to new interests or inspires deeper thinking, I’d say that’s a win.

Let your students choose which subjects they want to explore deeply, and rely on well-chosen living books to provide some breadth in their studies. I think Buckminster Fuller and C.S. Lewis would both be satisfied with this compromise.

 

Citation:  p 112-113, C.S. Lewis. Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. New York 1955.

This Rap Song Says it All

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If I could pick a theme song for Legendary Learning, this just might be it (please note that there is some foul language, and mistakes with the transcribed lyrics, but the message is there):

I’m not usually a fan of rap music, but these guys have a gift for lyrics and rhythm that make me want to stand up and cheer.

I was first introduced to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis the same way so many other people found them, through their immensely popular “Thrift Shop” video on Youtube (my son told me I HAD to see it). I loved it, and started checking out all their other songs on Youtube, which convinced me to buy their new album The Heist.

So why does this particular song resonate with me? Because it reminds people that no one is born talented. We all are born with certain gifts and natural inclinations, but it takes a lot of work and practice to turn those inclinations into something big.

The title of the song, “10,000 Hours” is borrowed from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success, in which Gladwell highlights the extraordinary advantages of culture and timing in predicting success. He also argues throughout the book that it takes at least 10,000 hours of practice for anyone in any field to achieve recognition in that field.

Working 10,000 hours isn’t a guarantee of success; there are plenty of poor souls who have worked at least that long with nothing to show for it. But if you look at any acknowledged expert, whether in sports, the arts, business, medicine, science or whatever, they will have spent an average of 10,000 hours to get to that point.

There are a lot of factors in success, but hard work seems to be the one that most people try to skip. Macklemore is now delivering that message to every young person who listens to him. He talks about the long grueling hours in his mother’s basement (how many great ambitions must have started in the basements and garages of this world!), the struggle to improve himself, and his dedication to becoming a musician. He also takes a shot at “No Child Left Behind,” suggesting that the school system did not expect much from him, especially with his low SAT scores.

In Macklemore’s words: “Take that system. What did you expect? Generation of kids choosing love over a desk. Put those hours in and look what you get. Nothing that you can hold, but everything that it is.”

I like it.

Halloween Rant

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You know what drives me crazy? Super short, sexy, “flirty,” nurse/nun/pirate/prisoner/cop/whatever costumes for women. I have nothing against a little glamour, but those costumes are just too obvious. Everybody likes to get attention, and showing off a lot of skin is a guaranteed way to get attention, but in a superficial, fleeting way. It’s like swearing. Some people swear excessively to get attention, like novice comedians and insecure teenagers. Other people swear with restraint and imagination, like Shakespeare and Mark Twain.

It especially pains me to see teenage girls dressing in skimpy outfits. Last weekend, I was in charge of picking up my daughter and a friend from the Homecoming Dance, and while waiting outside with all the other parents, I watched the steady stream of exuberant kids funneling out of the gym doors. The standard dress that probably 80% of the girls wore was a skin-tight, strapless, sequined tube dress that barely covered them. Worst of all was their obvious discomfort, as they kept tugging the top up and the bottom down as they walked. I can’t imagine how they danced in those dresses – or in the 3 inch spike heels they wore. Why on earth would they wear these outfits? The usual teenage girl Halloween costumes are just as bad. I recently saw a costumed group of girls hurry in to the grocery store to grab some snacks. One of the girls was in a sparkly bikini with white high-heeled boots and a giant pink wig, despite the fact that it was only 60 degrees outside. I’m not even sure what she was supposed to be – maybe a pop star?

WHY are moms buying these blatantly sexy outfits for their girls? I just don’t get it. With young kids, it seems that Halloween is a great excuse to dress up as a favorite character or take on a new persona – something funny or spooky or powerful. Maybe as girls get older, the new persona they want to try on is sexy. With boys, it just seems to move on to more funny/spooky/powerful. Maybe this is a natural progression, but this doesn’t mean girls (or boys) should just blindly follow along with media stereotypes. With no other guidance or role models, how else will kids know what it means to be sexy or powerful? How else will they know that the secret of both is really self-confidence? As with so many facets of growing up, mentors make a huge difference. The adults (including those in the media) in a child’s life are always teaching, whether they know it or not.

It is very important to have real people in your life who are strong, confident, compassionate, and self-aware. These are the people who will show your kids what is possible and the true way to achieve it. Even if you are already a great role model, it’s always helpful to have more great friends and family because you know that teens don’t necessarily aspire to be just like mom or dad.

My kids have known a variety of teachers, coaches, and other inspiring adults throughout their lives. Our family is also blessed with the great friends we have met through the Coast Guard and rock climbing. They have been a terrific influence on all of us. And let me tell you, women rock climbers are no push-overs. The strength, courage and focus they have developed over years of climbing carries through into everything else they do. I’m so glad that my kids have had a chance to see a different feminine ideal than the one portrayed in music videos.

Needless to say, my daughter won’t be dressing up in hardly anything this Halloween. I think she’s planning some kind of Steampunk Hogwarts combination. I’ll be dressing up as a rock climber.

 

Searching for Wild

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Every night in my little neighborhood tucked between a wetland and a hay field, our resident pack of coyotes comes out to throw a party. I never get tired of listening to them, and wonder at the huge variety of yips and yowls they exchange. My beagle doesn’t seem at all interested in them though. I would think that though she doesn’t speak their language, she ought to at least pay attention to her distant canine relatives. But no, she only barks at other dogs. Sometimes we scoff at her for not wanting to get her feet wet, or for curling up on top of a pile of pillows to take her nap, but she has her moments of wildness. Squirrels usually do the trick. When she catches the fresh scent of rodent, it drives her mad!  She strains at the leash, alternating between frantic snuffles along the ground and baying her heart out. If we let her off the leash, she would charge into the underbrush and never stop. It’s hard to resist the call of the wild.

I think humans are like that too. We may not feel the urge to chase squirrels, but we are always chasing something, always looking for that thing we lost. Maybe it’s the adrenaline rush of fast cars, mountain climbing, or skydiving. Maybe it’s the peace of quiet forests, desert landscapes, or rolling meadows. We crave excitement, escape, beauty, mystery, and all the other things that represent wildness.

Children are closer to it than we adults. For them, the whole world already is exciting. Have you ever taken a walk with a toddler and had to stop every few feet while she stooped to investigate a snail or flower or lichen or funny clicking sound? Small children live through their senses. Any abstract thoughts are expressed in their imagination and play. It’s a joy to watch them at this stage. Why then, do so many adults rush children to grow up? Or keep them sheltered away in romper rooms cleansed of dirt, germs, stickers, bugs, or any other semblance of nature?

I am one of those who thinks it is because we distrust nature. If we don’t force children to stop playing and do their work, how will they ever learn it? If we don’t protect them from nature, they might get hurt. Dirt is just something that must be removed. And so it goes. And so children forget where there wonder began, and spend the rest of their lives looking for it.

Perhaps that is why we have art. Poets can sense the truth of something just out of reach and try to capture it in words. Artists don’t just paint likenesses of people and fruit bowls, they compose visions of pattern and light and emotion that help other people see what they see. Musicians play, dancers twirl, actors cry, and writers struggle because they are grasping for that wild world outside of ordinary reality. One could argue that the best artists have found it. They channel wildness to the rest of us. It is really the source of all creativity.

As parents, the best thing we can do to help our kids develop creativity is not to squash it in the first place. Let them be children as long as it lasts, because it won’t last forever. They will move on when it is time. Let them be outside as much as possible, using their senses, playing, and getting dirty. Hopefully when they do grow up, they’ll keep a little spark of wildness inside them, like a bit of wolf inside the heart of a pup, and the world will always be a wondrous place.

Standardized Education is Not the Answer

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Changing the paradigm of education; I LOVE this message! And I love the artist who does these white board videos – check it out:

What’s so Scary About Critical Thinking?

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By now you may have heard of the most recent Texas GOP Platform (.pdf download here) that kicked off such an uproar. The particular section that caused the most controversy reads:

Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

Makes your jaw drop doesn’t it?

However, a spokesman for the Republican Party later retracted the part about “critical thinking skills” by saying, “that it was an oversight of the committee [Education subcommittee], that the plank should not have included ‘critical thinking skills’ after ‘values clarification . . . And it was not the intent of the subcommittee to present a plank that would have indicated that the RPT in any way opposed the development of critical thinking skills.” (Source: TPM Muckraker)

OK, fair enough. But really, the education section of the platform is barely over TWO pages long, and neatly organized into short 1-2 sentence statements. How hard could it be to proofread? It seems like their true regret is choosing the words “critical thinking skills” instead of calling it something else. Educational jargon drives me crazy. So, what is it really that the Texas GOP is opposed to?

They refer to Outcome-Based Education (OBE), which is a broad name for the type of controversial school reforms sweeping the nation in the early 90s. The basic idea was that instead of measuring a student’s academic performance through inputs (hours in class, texts used, grading to the curve), students would be measured by attainment of various learning outcomes determined by the States. It sounds reasonable, but the problem was getting everyone to agree on what those learning outcomes ought to be, and figuring out how to measure them objectively (click here or here for further info on the controversy). Instead of concrete outcomes such as “Demonstrate finding a percentage of a number,” States often came up with vague social and ethical outcomes such as “positive self-image” or “appreciation of diversity in others.”

I remember living in Washington State while all of this was going on and was dumbfounded that the State would presume to collect information on the feelings and beliefs of our children, and then decide if they were enlightened enough to get a diploma (or even a driver’s license). It’s not that I was opposed to self-esteem or appreciation of diversity, or any of the other politically correct platitudes the Board of Education dreamed up. I was opposed to the State telling my kids what they could think and believe (even if I happen to agree with those things). So, I can relate to the Texas GOP platform on that issue, except that I don’t believe students need to have any fixed beliefs protected. Brainwashing by parents is just as bad as brainwashing by the State. This world is full of opinions, and we all need to learn how to listen and think objectively. Drilling down on one worldview isn’t much of an education.

What about the “Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification)” that the TX GOP opposes? The term “Higher Order Thinking Skills” seems to have started with an educational psychologist named Benjamin Bloom who developed his Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives in 1956. Here’s a representation:

In 2001, some former students of Bloom revised his taxonomy to look like this:

Notice the difference between Bloom’s initial use of nouns to the revised version which describes the progression of thinking skills using verbs. Also, the revised version seems to condense synthesis and evaluation into one level and places “Creating” at the top of the thinking skills progression. These charts generally represent the process we all use to learn something new. Here’s a few more terms to help describe Bloom’s original taxonomy:

Knowledge: collect, label, read, describe, match, retell, name, copy, enumerate

Comprehension: compare, contrast, explain, discuss, estimate, group, paraphrase

Application: use, illustrate, solve, teach, modify, demonstrate, report

Analysis: arrange, connect, divide, infer, discriminate, focus, prioritize, compare, contrast, correlate, diagram

Synthesis: compose, generalize, modify, invent, plan, substitute, create, adapt, formulate

Evaluation: assess, compare, decide, rank, test, conclude, judge, criticize, defend, persuade

Most educational experts seem to agree that the top three levels of Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation represent “Critical Thinking Skills,” and that we all need to have more of those. I guess I will take the Texas GOP at their word that they also are in no “way opposed the development of critical thinking skills,” even though it says so in their platform statement. Maybe the problem is that they lumped “values clarification” in with “Higher Order Thinking Skills,” which represents a whole other pile of educational jargon.

In brief, values clarification is another school reform measure that started in the 1960s with the intent of helping kids with their moral development. Teachers were taught not to hand down their own morals though, but to help draw out the child’s own personal values through a technique of open-ended questions like Socratic Dialogue. Of course, this just makes everybody mad, but especially people with firm religious beliefs. With “values clarification” there are no absolutes, just moral relativism and a definite slant towards humanism (click here for a critical essay by Apologetics Press).

So, I can see why the Texas GOP is not in favor of “values clarification,” but it really has nothing to do with critical thinking. I think they just lumped all the school reform of the last 40 years into one big pile and set fire to it, but when everyone screamed and pointed, they noticed the priceless antique critical thinking skills sticking out and rushed to grab it, only a little singed.

Now that we are all so relieved, I think I’ll do a post about critical thinking next time.

 

Is Homeschooling Good or Bad for Introverts?

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Introvert

Lighthouse Keeper's Cottage, Cape Florida Lighthouse (Wikimedia Commons)

In 2nd grade, I used to fantasize about having a wooden shed about the size of an outhouse around my school desk, with a window facing the teacher and walls all around me. I thought all the children should have their own little sheds – wouldn’t that be great? We could even have our own mini refrigerators and bookshelves and comfy seats, all tucked away in the privacy of our personal little classrooms. It never occurred to me that the other kids might not like this.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have friends or sat lonely on the sidelines during recess. It wasn’t that I had horrible classmates or any traumatic experiences. It’s just that I felt really comfortable being alone. I’m a classic introvert. Being alone recharges my batteries, while socializing gradually drains me. I like to hang out with friends and family, but after too long I feel exhausted and have to be alone again.

I worried about that when I made the decision to homeschool my kids. Was I overlaying my introverted preferences on to my kids? My oldest and youngest are most definitely extroverts like their father. They THRIVE on attention and socializing.  Was I going to cramp their style by keeping them at home?

I made a dedicated effort to get them out of the house, playing with other kids, but we also played together a lot as a family. I always gave them the choice to go to school if they wanted to, and they both tried it, but found that the social advantages didn’t make up for the boredom (although my youngest is now enjoying her charter high school for the arts). As teenagers, they found friends through sports and extracurricular activities.

I wonder how many homeschooling parents are introverts? I would have loved homeschooling as a child if there had been a choice. Maybe that is one of the reasons it appealed to me as a parent (but it’s certainly not the only reason).

I also wonder if it would have bad for me to have been homeschooled – maybe I wouldn’t have ever gotten used to be around a lot of people.  It’s hard to know for sure, because you can never go back and live it both ways. But introverts aren’t anti-social, they just prefer smaller groups of people and more alone time than extroverts do.

My middle son is somewhat introverted. He likes to be around people, but stays on the edges where he can watch and listen. He doesn’t need to be the center of attention. I remember bringing him to a preschool once for a visit when he was three. He had been used to a toddler playgroup, but this preschool class was crowded with boisterous kids running around having a great time. My son was horrified. I watched his eyes and knew exactly how he felt. So he has chosen to homeschool his whole life and has never once been in a regular classroom until Community College. He played with neighborhood kids and had regular sports and other activities, but he really prefers conversations with small groups or one-on-one. I don’t think homeschooling has hurt his social skills, but it made it harder to find people with similar interests. Not many kids (or adults for that matter) want to talk about economics, math or programming languages, so he had to stick to video game and media topics. He can hardly wait to go off to a four year college this Fall to meet more kindred spirits.

Maybe those folks who worry most about socialization are extroverts. To them, it must seem like torture to be at home all day instead of being surrounded by other children. Or maybe they are introverts who always wished they were extroverts like the popular kids at their schools. But as long as homeschooled kids are not isolated, and have opportunities to make close friendships and acquaintances, there’s a lot to be gained from the time and space to be themselves. Instead of worrying so much about fitting in or pleasing other people, kids can think their own thoughts and do their own thing.

Homeschooling offers introverts a better balance of alone time with together time, kind of like my imaginary little classroom shack. True extroverts will probably need a lot more social opportunities, not just with other kids, but adults too. It’s not hard to find homeschool groups these days to fill up your schedule with field trips, park days, special classes and other activities. If anything, it’s easy to over schedule our kids. We just need to pay attention to how their batteries are charged and keep things balanced out.

What do you think? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How does that affect your thoughts about homeschooling?

How Do You Get Kids to Try Hard?

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Do you ever worry about your kids’ lack of drive? Oomph? Follow-through? Do they forget about taking out the trash or doing their assignments? Do they avoid work at all costs? I worried about that, too.

After all, hard work is important. As I was doing research for my book, one of the things that struck me about each of the people I studied was that they were all so determined. They were diligent, hard working, and didn’t give up after failures.

For example, Andrew Carnegie had a very disadvantaged start. He was a dirt poor immigrant from Scotland, whose father, a weaver, had trouble learning a new trade once machines took over the job of making linens. The family was just barely scraping by and Andrew went to work in a bobbin factory as soon as he could. It wasn’t long before people noticed his hard work and “pluck” so he was given more responsibilities and opportunities. He worked his way up to messenger boy and a telegraph operator and eventually became a superintendent of the Pittsburgh division of  the Philadelphia Railroad Company at the age of  18. There he learned as much as he could about business and money, while making friends with very influential people. He started companies, made investments, and eventually became very wealthy.

Andrew and Thomas Carnegie, image from Project Gutenberg

The story of Andrew Carnegie is classic rags to riches, and we all love those kinds of stories – so why isn’t everybody like Andrew Carnegie? Admittedly, he had good timing by being involved with the railroad and steel industries just as they were beginning to take off. But there were other boys in Pittsburgh who were there at the right place at the right time as well. What did he have that the other poor boys in Pittsburgh did not? I don’t know the stories of those other boys, and for all I know, some of them might have turned out very successful as well. But I do know that Carnegie worked his brains out, and then worked a little bit more. He always seemed to take that extra step. When he was a messenger boy, he decided to learn every street by heart so he could deliver his messages more quickly. He learned the names and faces of all the prominent businessmen so he could deliver messages even while meeting recipients on the street. He made a very good impression wherever he went, because he tried so hard. He also kept learning, paid attention, borrowed books, and copied the manners of the “educated” upper class.

Carnegie would never have been as successful if he hadn’t tried so hard. Again it strikes me – why isn’t everybody like that?

My kids have had their share of laziness, forgetting chores and other unappealing tasks, but they do know how to work hard when they set their minds to it. I wondered if this would be enough when they went off to “regular” school and had to do so much more homework along with all their other activities. But they have handled it amazingly well, maybe because they’re not sick of school yet. However, they can’t understand the attitude of so many other students who sleep in class, or goof around, or don’t pay attention. They bring me stories of how frustrated they are when working with some group projects because there are other students who just won’t do the work. They will agree to something but not deliver. Or they will deliver the bare minimum. Then my kids are stuck putting the whole project together on their own. It could be that these kids would work really hard outside of class, or for something they cared about. But it still begs the question: why do some people try hard and others do not?

I’m sure there are not any perfect answers, but based on what I have learned from the lives of successful people, I propose four reasons:

  1. Positive Attitude – People have to believe that their actions make a difference, and that there is hope for a better life. I think that most of us pick up the attitudes of those closest to us as children, so if our friends and family have positive attitudes, it will rub off. We also need to feel worthy or loved in order to face the risk of failure.
  2. Interest – In order to try hard, one first has to care about the outcome or at least care from a sense of integrity. So even if a student doesn’t care about a particular geography project or chemistry lab, they need to at least care about fulfilling a task they have agreed to do. But it’s always easier to work hard on a job that interests us.
  3. Ownership – This goes above and beyond just working hard. A lot of poor souls work hard with nothing to show for it. It’s also about going that extra step, learning to do something better or different. For this, a person needs to feel ownership of his or her own work. If they are waiting for someone to tell them exactly what to do, then they have given up ownership. It’s amazing to me that society claims to value initiative, yet tries so hard to make citizens obedient instead.
  4. Mentoring – People, especially children, need examples of what is possible. They need to know that success is possible, even for them, and they need to see what it looks like to work hard. Andrew Carnegie’s mother was a great mentor, extremely hardworking and resourceful. She was always looking for opportunities to improve their situation, and was willing to try new things. If his mother had given up, or felt like a victim with no luck, as if there was no use trying, how might Andrew have been different? He also had mentors as he grew older: all of those businessmen who were impressed by Carnegie’s “pluck” shared their experience and knowledge with him, and offered him opportunities he may never have had on his own. Carnegie also credited his childhood heroes of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce for the examples they set. Whenever times were tough, he remembered their stories and tried to emulate their courage and character, thinking to himself, “What would Wallace and Bruce do?”

As parents, the main things we can do for our kids is to love them completely; and model a positive attitude and strong work ethic. If you are reading this, then hard work is probably already important to you, but remember to keep it positive. We can also give our kids more ownership over their projects and work. If they mess up, they will generally learn more from their mistakes based on natural consequences. If we nag, criticize or punish, then that means we have taken ownership of their problem. If they ask for our help or advice, that’s different. But otherwise, allow your kids the dignity of believing they can do the job, and a chance to do it however they see fit.

One example of this is grades and school work. I’ve generally let my kids have a great deal of control over their curriculum and daily work. If they don’t want to do their math, they don’t have to. Really. But eventually they always start worrying about getting behind and decide to do the work anyway. And no, I don’t taunt them with dire warnings of failure in life if they don’t get good grades. I just have a firm belief that it is up to them, and they can be successful no matter what they decide. They have a complete sense of ownership over their education, and it shows in the way they get their work done.

The thing that we as parents don’t have much control over is interest. Our kids might have a great attitude and sense of ownership, but if the subject is really dull, they still won’t work as hard as they will for something interesting. But I don’t think that’s a terrible thing. There’s no need for any of us to knock ourselves out over every little thing. I may have to remind my kids to clean the bathroom, but they will do it, and then they’ll work for hours to make sure their own pet projects are done right. It’s important to be selective over how we spend our time. You will be amazed though at the difference it makes, just letting your kids make those decisions for themselves. Give them time. Give them space. Maybe a few stories about William Wallace and Robert the Bruce wouldn’t hurt either.