Been There, Done That: The Seasonal Post on Choosing Curriculum

This time last year, I sat with several syllabi from a well-planned curriculum (or two). I had enrolled my oldest in a "homeschool school." I was all set to use someone else's plans for everyone in the family. I reasoned that this decision would free me up to devote more time and energy to household tasks and babies. This decision was a holy one. At least I thought it was.

I cracked open my brand new planners and began to plot it all out, pulling from all the various pages and texts in those various syllabi. Then, the tweaking crept in. I substituted a little here, a little there. I recognized that I didn't have certain books, but I did have worthy substitutes. Scratching, switching, tailoring, tinkering...and so it went, until I recognized that it would indeed be simpler to plot out my own plans and then to pull from those as the year progressed instead of forcing a fit.  And "the homeschool school" had no problem with my tinkering. They understood that my son had special needs and that the program they mapped out wouldn't suit him at all. I was free to sustitute as I saw fit--just as long as I recorded everything and submitted it to them. Perfect, I could still do all the work I'd been doing all along, only now I could pay for the privelige of filling out more paperwork.

Did I mention that I was pregnant as I discovered all of this?

I use the word "discovered" loosely. To discover it would mean that it was the first time I happened upon the knowledge that I just don't do well with someone else's plans. The truth is, I'd "learned" this about myself several times. Only this time, I had come at it from a different perspective. I was caught up in the counsel of people I respect and quite taken by the idea that this would indeed give me control over my large family, the relationships that matter most, and my home environment. All that if I would just take school out of a box.

I took a walk and had a long talk with a friend whose house is always perfectly clean and beautifully decorated. She shared the relief she had in knowing that when she chose her curriculum seven years ago, she'd never have to choose again. Every summer, she opened the box with the sun on it and rays of light shone in her house (well, maybe not that, but close). I didn't give too much thought to the fact that she had a third the kids I do and she hadn't been pregnant in ten years. Nope, it was that sunny box that made her house clean and kept her laundry current.  That box put her in control.

But there is no syllabus that cleans one's house, folds one's clothes, or talks to one's husband. It didn't take me too long with those boxes to learn that they were not the right fit for me. For us. It was better in so many ways for me to use the abundant library in my own home, the resources I already had, and the enthusiasm for writing curriculum with which I'd been blessed to create our lists and plans. I knew I'd over-plan (I have managed to learn a few things about myself along the way, not every mistake do I make over and over again). But I also knew that in those extensive booklists, there would be something for everyone and a safety net should life heat up in other areas. (And Whoa, Nelly, did it ever!)

I am not in control and I won't ever be in control.

 The lesson I learned last summer--for the first time--is that homeschoolers can feel very passionately about their curriculum choices. They can give them moral weight and equate them with holiness. And they can see them through absolute lenses. In black and white, with no shades of gray. Many a happy homeschool support group has been rocked to its core by disagreements over curriculum choices.

Homeschoolers tend to be a passionate bunch. That's a good thing. It takes passion to carry us through something that is so set apart from the mainstream that it can be lonely and alienating. Our passion can blind us though. It can make us tend towards sweeping judgements of each other. And it can be misplaced.

There is more than one way to do this home education thing. More than one way to do it successfully. Success itself is measured differently in different families. I didn't go to any conferences this year (to speak or to listen). I haven't read any catalogs. I'm determined not to try to persuade a single soul or to give specific curriculum advice. It's a year of quiet.

So, here's my answer to the swelling number of emails asking me how to choose what to teach: pray about it, research your options, know what's in all those boxes, pray about it,  talk to your husband, pray about it, and then trust God to lead you in the right direction. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. You'll know when the yoke fits. And when it does, don't let anyone tell you that it's an inferior yoke. It's the yoke God himself made for you. Grant grace to your neighbor; trust that she is doing what she  believes in her heart of hearts to be the right thing for her family. Pray for her and bless her for her earnestness. Be her friend-- because homeschooling friends who stick with you over the long haul are rare and treasured blessings.

It's all good.

Or at least it all can be if we let it.