The Journey of Scholé Education
Learning is a journey. Back in my college years, as I backpacked in the mountains of Wyoming, I embraced the idea that the journey is just as, if not more, important as the destination. As I reflect back on my own learning journey this past year, particularly as it pertains to leading a Scholé Group, I am struck by the many ways I was tempted to rush that journey, and expect an arrival at some smooth-running, perfectly integrated, beautiful, deep, classical co-op ideal. If we consider eternity, there really is no destination of education, no point of arrival. Will we not be forever going deeper and growing closer to the author of it all? Scholé education, then, is really a way of living. It is “a long obedience in the same direction,” as Eugene Peterson writes.
Striving (what irony!) to lead and teach from a place of rest has revealed to me several paradoxes. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a paradox is ”something (such as a situation) that is made up of two opposite things and that seems impossible but is actually true or possible.” I found myself facing the following paradoxes numerous times this year. It was helpful for me to process them in writing.
Scholé takes time, which may mean less rest.
It hit hard when my then ten-year-old observed, “Scholé is not restful for the mom!” I was in the midst of working with several other moms to start up a rather large Scholé Group of 24 families. It took a huge investment of time and mental and emotional energy to get the group going. One of our leaders, also a trained midwife, observed, “This is like having a baby. It all seemed nice and beautiful back when we were imagining and planning for it. At this point, we just have to push the baby out.”
The creation of a learning environment that is peaceful and restful and invigorated with zeal takes time—time for learning, time for listening, time for planning and re-evaluating, time for communication. The irony is that the time investment to cultivate scholé for a learning community has the potential to take away from the scholé experience at home. This hit home when my children, tired of the endless phone calls related to our Scholé Group, began to hide the phone.
I don’t have an answer for these conundrums. I want my children to have a beautiful education. I want to share that journey with others. I also want to be present for them at home. Ah, Lord, lead me! Let me rest and trust you with all these desires. Let me set aside the less important for the more important, both at home and related to Scholé. Mary, not Martha.
It seems an important thing to remember for moms desiring the best for our children, moms who get excited by many things, is that the learning journey, for us as well as for our students, is a “pedestrian journey” (Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book). We put one foot in front of the other as we learn together. Learning is a lifelong endeavor, and we do not have to figure it all out in one or two years. Our children do not have to learn everything there is to know in 12 years. We are modeling and living with our children the process of growth in the right direction. We are journeying together through the wilds of nature, the pinnacles of great ideas, the forests of great literature, the swamps of tough new concepts. We sight together the splendors of math and physics, of proportion and art. We don’t do this in a one-time fly-by, but we do this one step at a time, regularly dipping into these aspects of Creation.
The homeschooling parent has many demands that seem to compete with this steady learning. Children with learning challenges, health problems, financial demands and limitations, basic household needs that require time, and dinner and dishes and laundry. Everyday.
The homeschooling community has many demands as well. Not only are there interesting academic subjects to delve into (my favorite part), but there are diapers to be changed, bathroom breaks to attend to, recess times to oversee (my least favorite part), and interpersonal conflicts to reconcile. A restful learning environment is served by a solid infrastructure and maintenance. Without this, disorder quickly takes over. We experienced this in our Grammar School lunch times this year. Not having a cafeteria area with tables to eat lunch in, our families used picnic blankets in the gym. Eating surrounded by active play and balls flying led to disorder and chaos. We are seeking to remedy this by having a more defined eating time in a smaller space. Families bring picnic blankets to eat on, and we put something lovely to see and hear on the projector screen, such as classical music performed by an orchestra. Then, we are able to dismiss students to a variety of play areas supervised by a parent. It is notable to see how free play can quickly devolve. Children need coaching and supervision. This means parents need to be tuned into their little ones. They have little time to connect with other parents in the community during the day. Yet that parent-to-parent connecting time is important.
Saying “yes” means saying “no.”
There are so many things to learn. Wonder is around every corner. The number of languages to learn and books to read far outnumber our capacity to consume. I can quickly become an educational glutton. A scholé approach emphasizes quality over quantity. In order to lead and coach our child into an experience of the ecstasy of mastery in an area of study, we must say no to other excellent things. Many great options vie for our attention: Bible studies, sports, excellent music lessons, clubs. How does one choose?! Counting the cost of each is so important. Saying “yes” to excellent things may draw our families and our children from the best. In my own family, we have had to weigh participating in wonderful evening athletic activities, or even a girls’ Bible study, with the goals we have for being together as a family, reading literature together, and moving at a slower pace. It’s amazing how quickly you can give away your family life to numerous great activities. And don’t we know that boredom is the gateway to creativity? We have to press through boring Saturdays or Sunday afternoons now and then. Otherwise, what might we miss?
Here is a practical application: Much of the Classical Education renewal movement has emphasized memory work in the “grammar stage” of a child’s education. This is a wonderful thing. Many of us have seen the benefit to our children (and ourselves) in memorizing worthwhile content. Hooks are put in place on which to hang future learning. Who doesn’t thrill to come across in an unexpected context some information about Charlemagne, or some other historical figure, and find you already know something of that person and have a framework in which to place your new knowledge. It’s FUN! There are so many great things to memorize, though. It is very easy to put so great an emphasis there, that other areas begin to suffer.
I found, for instance, that the time it was taking for our children to memorize and truly master our body of memory work was taking valuable time from the reading and enjoyment of good books. I didn’t want this to continue, so I made adjustments. This didn’t mean throwing ALL memory work out, but apportioning things more appropriately to my particular students. Our appetites must be tempered and balanced with the limitations given us by our creator. Time, health, attention spans, financial limitations. Rather than seeing these things as obstacles to our lofty educational goals, perhaps we ambitious moms might see them rather as the curriculum, or “course,” the Lord has set for us on which to run with our children. If we can submit to what the Lord has given us, and allow the circumstances he’s placed us in and the particular children he has given us to raise, we can move steadily forward, following in his footsteps willingly, rather than needing a “bit and bridle” as does the stubborn donkey in the Proverbs.
Good is the enemy of great, and so is great the enemy of good.
Perfectionism both drives and strangles. In our homeschool group, we have some talented and visionary people. Coming together as a team of five co-leaders has been a beautiful thing. Co-leading has balanced us, individual weaknesses set off by another’s strength, collective wisdom enriching the direction of the group. Another benefit is we can help to rein each other in as we become ambitious beyond our capacity to execute. The challenge is, it all takes time and discussion. We have to hold in tension making our co-op better and more beautiful with being satisfied with “good enough.” In this tension we are invited to humility, trust, and accountability.
When you can see great, you want to get there! When you can see it in so many areas—the opportunities for beautiful integration, excellent field trips, completing an entire book, covering Shakespeare—you can become quickly overwhelmed. Just recently I recognized the strangling feeling of perfectionism. Scholé Homeschool Center of Harrisburg has great stuff happening. It isn’t perfect. It could be better. My co-leaders, other parents, and I can see areas that could improve! We also have serious limitations on what we can do and what time we’re able to invest. Those limits ARE part of OUR course, or curriculum. It helped me, when I recognized that feeling, to remember all that IS good, and that there is NO perfect education, anywhere. The Lord is over and under ALL. I can set aside my fearful striving and follow him again, one step at a time.
In conclusion, paradox seems to me an invitation to live in reality. As a believer in Jesus, I am called to follow him. As I trod along with him, I am better able to live, as he did, in the tension between the beauty and glory of what is possible and the reality of people bent by sin. In the end, this leads me to consider one more paradox: perhaps, when it comes to education and learning, the journey IS the destination.
Carolyn Baddorf homeschools her three children alongside her husband, Rob, and helps to lead a Scholé Group in Harrisburg, PA. Having spent time as a missionary kid in the jungles of Indonesia, she feels at home in the wild and loves an adventure.