Thursday, November 13, 2014

Education: The Discovery of Our Soul

Long-time readers of this blog know that I believe strongly in education that goes beyond skills. I've written several posts that hit on this topic:
Today's post reformulates much of these ideas but from a slightly different perspective. What constitutes "ourself?" There are many voices in today's society that advocate "finding one's self." This usually involves recommendations to act according to our desires without regard for the feelings, opinions, or approval of others. In short, these people suggest finding one's self by acting on impulse.

But I think this is a very weak and inherently broken philosophy. After all, our impulses represent what we already are, not what we can become. Exploring impulse is not discovery but acceptance. 

On the other hand, I think the discovery of self or one's soul is actually described somewhat accurately in an episode of the Simpsons entitled, "Bart Sells His Soul." In the beginning, Bart sells his soul to a friend for $5.00 because he doesn't believe in such a thing. After becoming convinced that his soul is real, he spends the rest of the episode trying to get back the sale's contract he wrote up in order to recover his soul. After failing, his final act is to pray to God for his soul's return. At that moment, his sister shows up having acquired the contract for him.

As Bart celebrates, his sister says the following:
But you know, Bart, some philosophers believe that nobody is born with a soul -- that you have to earn one through suffering and thought and prayer, like you did last night.
The idea here is not that you find yourself or your soul by indulging in impulses. In fact, acceptance of impulse and your own personal status quo is to be soulless. Rather, the journey of searching for a self beyond what we were born with, a quest to find just what and who we can become, creates (or at least refines and magnifies) what we were hoping to find all along.

In my mind, that journey, that quest, is true and living education.

Consider, by contrast, our modern world where students only learn mathematics by force while complaining that it has no practical value. Or what of our history classes that encourage students to self-righteously condemn the faults and weaknesses of forbearers that dealt with more pain, suffering, and physical want than our soft, fat society could ever dream? How about students that graduate from tax-payer provided public high schools, have access to tax-payer provided libraries, and even attend college on tax-payer subsidized loans only to turn around and blame the system for not teaching them how to do their taxes?

Does that sound soulless to you?

Let me finish this post with a few practical suggestions for how to have soul-creating education.

First: demand challenges. In our home schooling, we have required the children to reach for very high goals. We give the kids the hardest versions of a subject that we think they can possibly handle. Sometimes we're wrong, and we have to reduce expectations. Most of the time, we find that the kids rise to meet the challenge. Beyond the difficulty of the subject, we require the best scores they're capable of. Most of the time, they're capable of A's and we demand that level of performance. 

Let me emphasize that we lovingly demand, but we demand nonetheless. We spend significant time explaining why excellence is important, comforting when there are failures, and providing suggestions and resources for their improvement. But we have found that the kids don't push themselves to their full potential on their own. Sometimes it is simply because they don't know what they're capable of. Other times, it is because they lack the discipline to push themselves without the proper carrot and/or stick. By requiring what we know their best effort to be, they force themselves to unlock new study skills, better methods for managing time, and endeavor to use resources (such as teacher) to better help them learn the material.

Second: broaden horizons. We also require our children to take as broad of a range of subjects as possible. But beyond the breadth of subject, we also require a breadth of appreciation and respect. Our children are taught that there is no subject not worth learning at least something about. 

Significantly, we teach this by example as well as by words. Mom and Dad are constantly reading about new things and learning new things. The kids observe that Mom and Dad can talk with anyone about almost anything. There isn't a subject that Mom and Dad don't want to try and learn about, so why should it be any different for them?

Moreover, Mom and Dad are constantly working to improve the home school. We've had to improve our grammar in order to teach grammar. We've had to improve our math to teach math. We've had to improve our Physics, Biology, and Chemistry to teach science. We've had to improve our patience to teach children period. We've had to improve our explanations and examples, our tests and exercises, and our planning and scheduling. The kids see this, and I think it makes them willing to accept our requirements for their education.

Third: owning our vision. In my opinion, this is one of the most under-taught skills of our modern society. The President of the Mormon church once said to the youth,
You are good. But it is not enough just to be good. You must be good for something. You must contribute good to the world. The world must be a better place for your presence.
I believe that many of those graduating from High School have a vision that is decidedly too narrow. I've been talking to a number of graduates or near-graduates in recent months and I am shocked at how little they seem to understand about the world they are entering. They make plans for vocations without understanding what is required to do well in them, they make plans for college without any idea of what career path they will pursue, and they expect that simply doing well in their school subjects qualifies as "having a plan."

In our home, learning to take ownership of one's one education is a significant emphasis. We teach the children repeatedly that they must figure out what they want, what is necessary to reach those goals, and what they need to do to get from where they are now to where they want to be. This discussion is repeated for issues such as career, college major, marriage, finances, and so forth. We continue to emphasize that school systems, including their home school system, are designed to be tools for them to achieve their own vision of their future.

Homeschooling this way is a lot of work. In fact, it's suffering, thinking, and prayer. But I know that I've found more of my soul, and had more soul to find, through all of that. And I believe that my children have also. And for that, I am infinitely grateful.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Returning to Blogging... I hope.

I miss writing in the Home-schooling blog, I really do. It's tough to find time though. This last year, we brought a 5th child into our home, I taught a graduate class on Network Security at Johns Hopkins, and I had several business trips out to California (including one where I drove the entire family out with me...). And, on top of all of that, we did, in fact, have very successful semesters with the kids' home schooling.

I'd like to write a few posts about a few topics, but I'm going to start with just an update. Hopefully, this won't sound like boasting. And if hearing about other people's kids bores you, now would be a good time to stop. But, if you'll indulge me, let me tell you about the kids this past year.

Alex, our oldest, is turning 13 in a month. This past year, he has achieved phenomenal growth in all areas academic, physical, and spiritual. Here are a few of his accomplishments:

  • He took a full SAT practice test from a Sylvan learning semester in May. For a 12 year old kid, his scores were not too shabby (notice, the percentiles are against high school seniors)!
    • Reading: 620 - 84th percentile
    • Math: 500 - 45th percentile
    • Writing: 490 - 51st percentile
  • He completed Algebra I and is now working on Algebra II through BYU independent study.
  • He took a film class with other home schoolers. Since then, he has put together a few films of his own (all stop motion at this point). Here are my favorites:
  • His writing has improved dramatically. He recently wrote a 5 page paper on the history of Texas that demonstrated better cohesion than anything he's done before.
  • He is taking a Latin class that includes both conversation and grammar. In a few months, he'll take the National Latin Exam.
  • After several aborted attempts at computer programming, he picked it up again two weeks ago and has started running with it. In two weeks, he's created some C++ programs including a "menu of knowledge" and dice rolling game. He's figured out most of what he's doing with little help or guidance.
  • He continues to learn how to lead music, play piano, and play saxophone.
  • This summer, he started doing distance running. He can now run 3 miles confidently!
  • He has taken his Church responsibilities to heart and is working very hard to be of service to the other youth, and fulfill all of his duties.
Drystan, 11, had also grown dramatically
  • After struggling for years with basic math, he is now doing really well in pre-algebra. He scored a 97% on his midterm and I expect he'll do equally well in his final exam next week.
  • He determined that he did not like Latin but he did find that he liked French. He is now making real progress in his French class.
  • His writing has also improved dramatically. He is currently working on a 5 page short story as a final project in his writing class. Drystan always had a knack for words and ideas; the improvement has come in his ability to express and organize them.
  • He has been learning how to take notes from his history textbook. This critical skill is enabling him to do a much better job preparing for tests and other evaluations.
  • He continues to learn how to play the piano and recently accompanied other children singing in his Church.
  • He also has started to learn the Clarinet. He, Alex, and I are working on a clarient-saxophone-piano trio.
  • He also began distance running and succeeded in running 2 miles by the end of the summer.
Kael, 8, really seemed to "wake up" to the world around him this past year. As if a light just suddenly turned on in his brain, he has been very focused on his school work and has has many successes.
  • He has been taking some special instruction from me using a book called "Calculus by and for Young People" written by The Mathman. I've tried this with my older two kids with mixed results, but Kael loves it. He has been figuring out the sums of infinite series and today figured out the sum of a fractal snow flake with only a little help. Lest you think we're skipping more basic skills, he also passed off his 12x12 times tables a few months ago.
  • He reads constantly and loves fantasy and adventure series such as Michael Vey, Percy Jackson, and so forth.
  • He is now learning cursive. He knows that when he can write a 2 page paper in nice, neat cursive, he will qualify for a school laptop.
  • He has been learning about the human body in our Anatomy class.
  • He has been reading the Old Testament on his own.
  • He is also taking French, and though his class is more basic than his brother's, he is doing quite well.
Saige, just about to turn 5, started Kindergarten a few months ago. And though she's just getting started, she has already started to read fairly well! She has also memorized the months, days of the weeks, and seasons. She is even doing some basic arithmetic. More importantly, she says she loves school and is demonstrating a real love for improving her brain.

What's more important than the accomplishments, though, is the people our children are becoming. In the last twelve months, our family has strengthened in unity, love, and mutual appreciation. We're still far from perfect, but we keep getting better. The happy results we've seen in our school endeavors are an example of the blessings we've received from learning to work together, struggle together, go back to the drawingboard together, trying a new experiment together, discussing goals and plans together, making mistakes together, apologizing together, and just being grateful together.

Our homeschool is going to be changing soon. Alex is planning to go to public high school next year. There's a really interesting Law and Public Policy magnet in our county that he is applying for. While he will be missed during our chaotic school days, I am so happy that we have developed strong bonds, strong minds, and strong spirits before he goes.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Best. Week. Ever.

My wife and I have been homeschooling almost since the day our first child was bon. We started teaching our son Alex, born in December 2001, simple ASL signs as a baby. By the time he was a year old, we were doing flash cards with him. Eleven years, four children, and three states later, there is a lot of homeschooling water under the bridge.

To be honest, I would say that homeschooling has been harder and less successful than I anticipated. I believed that, because curiosity is natural in children, developing a love of learning would come easily to my kids. But my oldest challenged my idealistic beliefs by having a natural low level of interest in most subjects and had to be dragged and pushed to work in just about everything.

I also believed that mathematics would grow and flourish in our home given the background of the parents. My second son challenged my ideas about that too. He struggled for the longest time to handle any of the most basic arithmetic concepts.

When we began talking about homeschooling as younger parents, I believed that I would help the older children become independent learners so that I could give the younger children the same time and attention that the older ones had. But the older children have been really needy to such an extent that children numbers three and four have been left a lot to their own devices. As a consequence, they have learned to read at a much slower rate and a later age.

Worse than all of these issues is the fact that I have not been the teacher that I wanted to be. I have yelled too much, become frustrated too quickly, and not given near enough love.

Of course we have had good experiences too, and I have posted many of those here on this blog. Those bright points have kept us going through the hard times.

Overall, things have been improving too. For each of the last three years, each year was better than the last. I found hope, and took comfort in the improvement I could see happening. But I still felt like we the parent/teachers were trudging up a hill, spending enormous amounts of effort to get the children engaged in their school work.

We started our new semester this week and we knew going into it that it would be tough. For the first time, we would be trying to have multiple classes running at the same time for three different ages. For science, the kids are studying physics meaning that it has to work for the oldest (who is in algebra and can do the homework) all the way down to the youngest that can not read the text well. There are a lot of assignments to keep track of, a lot of work needed from the parents, and a lot of participation required from the children.

On top of everything, Amy is 20 weeks pregnant...

Needless to say, we set some low expectations for the very first week.

What happened was nothing short of miraculous. Despite a few "attitude" flare-ups early in the week, all four children settled down into their school work. Only the oldest two really have "homework" and they got it done each day with almost no parental babysitting. They completed their math assignments, they completed this history assignments, they completed their penmanship assignments, and they read their literature. Not only did they do their assignments, they actually did them well!

Because the older two did most of their out-of-class work without needing oversight, we were able to give the needed attention to the younger two. We were worried that our third child would resist reading the history assignments based on his summer work. Nope! He has cheerfully read those assignments, begged for math homework, and practiced his piano. Our little three year old girl has demanded worksheets, flashcards, and other school work.

Who replaced my children with these Stepford kids?! What in the name of Cthulhu happened here?!

Honestly, I don't know if the whole semester will go this way. Maybe we had one really good, lucky week. Maybe the stars were aligned for one brief moment. Maybe I'll spend the rest of the semester tearing my hair out.

But whether it is only for a week or the next ten years, I really believe that this success is the culmination of years of working together as a family. I have had to learn how to be better than I was, and the kids have had to learn to be better than their genetics. We have all had to learn how to forgive each other, acknowledge our failures, and try again (over and over).

We have lived by faith, believing that by struggling together, we could eventually reach a higher plane. In a lot of ways, we felt that we "not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them..." Now, for at least one week, we have been blessed to actually experience the happiness and success we have been working for.

What is really cool about homeschooling, though, is not the successful week. The real miracle of homeschooling, I realized, is that we have an opportunity to build our family together. As fantastic as this week was for everyone, it was sweetened by the years of working that has preceded it. The tears, pain, worry, sorrow, prayer, arguments, frustration, repentance, and forgiveness are bricks and mortar in this think we have built. As a family, we have saved up the funds together, sacrificing a lot of short term convenience and comfort, in order to cover the price of success.

Yes, homeschooling has been, is, and still will be hard. But the real beauty of the experience, is that we can fight our way through those difficulties together.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Educational Sovereignty: Why I Support a Parent's Right to do a "Bad" Job

Homeschooling parents put up with a lot of stupid comments. The one we hear the most is, of course, "but what about socialization?" But along with all of these silly "concerns" about educating at home, sometimes the "compliments" can be frustrating as well. I get this one a lot:
Well, you are doing homeschooling right
This comment usually comes after I have demonstrated by every possible metric how my children are outpacing their public school peers. Having acknowledged that they cannot find any "deficiencies" they then follow this comment up with something like:
But not every homeschooling parent does as good of a job as you do
Using reasoning such as this, they argue that all the bloated bureaucratic regulation on homeschooling is necessary to keep the "other" families from screwing up their children. These people are often surprised when I reply:
Actually, I support a parent's right to provide their children with a very poor education
At this point in the discussion I am usually assaulted with a whole host of reasons why I am wrong. "In today's globalized economy, they'll be unable to compete!" "Democracy requires an educated populace, so it is in the interest of the state that the children go to school!" "These kids will go onto welfare and we'll have to support them!"

Of course, the fact that these concerns apply to a greater percentage of public schooled students is generally missed by the speaker.

But the failings of the public schools are not the point of today's post. I am driving right at the heart of homeschooling problems and deficiencies. I repeat: I fully support a parent's right to provide their children with a very poor education.

For me, it comes down to one simple belief.
Force is inherently dangerous
Most people in today's civilized, politically correct age do not like to think about the fact that every law or regulation in society is maintained by force. If you run a red light, a police officer will force you to pull over. If you steal from a store, the police will force you to go to jail.
If you do not send your kids to school, the government can and will take them away from you.
What is so frustrating about our society's acceptance of this use of force is the inconsistency. Why is enforcement of education "for the good of the children" acceptable, but not the enforcement of stable families? For example, I think that, in two able-bodied families, children are better served by one parent remaining at home full-time than by any amount of money made by two incomes. Should children be taken from families where both parents work?

How about divorce? I think divorce is so damaging on the children that parents with at-home children should not be able to get one, except in instances of abuse. Should children be taken from families that divorce?

Or how about video games, movies, music, food, exercise, and so on? Should we pass laws about how much, and what kinds of each of these things are "for the good of the children?" Should children be taken away from families that let them play too many video games? That watch too many movies? That watch movies with violence? That watch movies with sexual content? That listen to explicit music? That eat too much junk food? That don't eat their vegetables? That don't do enough exercise? Should every child have a social worker assigned to make sure they get to bed on time?

So, having made the argument that the government should keep enforcement out of people's lives, people often ask me if I draw any lines on what families can and cannot do, and what they can be required to do. Of course I do:
Government force in the home will do damage and should only be used when the current damage is worse
When I have these discussions with others, I wish that I could bring up Blackstone's formulation or our founding fathers' distrust in government in general. It would be great if we could discuss John Locke's ideas on the rights of man that shaped our declaration of independence. The core of the issue of who can decide how my children are educated was debated extensively more than two hundred years ago as our federal and state governments were forming. If we could build off their experiences and their ideas, it might help fame the discussions today about the dangers of government and individual liberties.

Unfortunately, I have to debate these issues with people educated by the government. Now there's something that should be illegal.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Homeschool Humor: Can you have a Punchline without a Bully?

Adult: How many homeschoolers does it take to change a light bulb?
Homeschool Mom: Just one, I guess...
Adult: Yes, but what about socialization?


Two women sat outside an office at the headquarters of a school district. They both had appointments with the same official, but a school shooting had caused a delay. In the mean time, they began to chat with each other.

"I'm here to submit my application to teach at this school," said the first.

"Wonderful!" the second responded. "What made you decide to be a teacher?"

"Well, I wasn't very good at math or science, so I chose education."

"I... see," the second said with some hesitation. "And what is you want to teach?"


"I love history! Do you have a favorite era?"

"Well," the first admitted, "I don't really know much about history, but I look forward to teaching it. I love spending time with children."

"Uh... that's nice," the first said and went back to the book she was reading.

After a short silence, the first woman turned back to the second and asked, "and why are you here today?"

"Oh, I'm here to submit my paperwork for homeschooling my children."

The other woman's eyes widened in shock. "Are you serious?! What makes you think you're qualified?!"


Public Schooled Kid: Hey, can you spell "ICUP"?
Home Schooled Kid: Uh, sure... I... C... U... P....
Public Schooled Kid: Ha ha, get it?
Home Schooled Kid: No...
Public Schooled Kid: I See You Pee?
Home Schooled Kid:  That's a bad joke.
Public Schooled Kid: Well, it's funny... at my school.
* This "joke" brought to you word for word from our family's excursion to the community pool


A homeschooling mom went in for a hair-dressing appointment with a new hair dresser. As they began chatting, the mother mentioned that she home schooled her children and the hair dresser obviously disapproved. Still, the mother went on politely and cheerfully about the kids progress. She detailed their achievements and the fact that they were several grade levels ahead in most of the subjects. Then she listed off all the museums, cultural sites, and geographic landmarks they had visited.

Still unimpressed, the hair dresser asked, "So why aren't you at home teaching your kids right now?"

"We finished our school semester already."

"Before the public schools get out? That should be illegal!"

"Yes, that's the great thing about America. It doesn't matter that I have a bachelor's degree and my husband has a Ph.D. Nosy neighbors with a cosmetology degree think they know what's best for my children."

Reader: "Uh... this isn't really a funny joke."

Author: "Yeah, I know. But it's true. And you have to laugh about it because crying doesn't help."

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Opening my Ears to Public Schooling Parents

I have come to realize that I have been very arrogant about my education opinions. Indeed, I am so convinced that public education should be avoided at all costs that I just nod and smile when a parent tells me how wonderful their child's school is. What is wrong with me? Surely this many parents that love their children would not intentionally give them a poor education, right? Should I not assume that if a large number of otherwise sane people are all making the same choice that there must be something rational about their decision?

I certainly have not been listening to these friends, family, and associates of mine. So, I hereby resolve to pay closer attention when somebody tells me how much they like their child's schooling. With that in mind, consider that the National Education Association tells me that "asking questions is an important part of listening." Following their advice, I have developed the following questions to help me listen to parents that like their children's schools.

  1. How many reports have their been at this school of abuse by teachers and abuse by students? Every parent should be concerned about the statistics of abuse in public schools. I cannot even talk about sending my children to a school without knowing what has been reported there, what was done about those reports, and what is being done to keep my children safe in the future.
  2. Are children at this school punished for religious expression? In particular, I would not be comfortable sending my child to a school that might expel them for affirming they believe in a moral code.
  3. How does the school view your child's civil liberties? While the Supreme Court may have struck down a school's authority to strip search your child (Clarence Thomas dissented? What the heck was he thinking?) the attitudes remain. Schools can track your child's every move at school, track how much your child is eating, and even occasionally track what a child is doing at home. My requirements are that a school must inform me of any and all tracking policies, not interview or search my child without a parent or family lawyer, and absolutely not keep tabs on my children's activities away from school.
  4. Do the teachers and other staff remain politically neutral and do they refrain from using children in political operations? Unfortunately, most teachers in the United States belong to teacher's unions. While these have a whole host of problems for education and financial reasons, it also tends to exert a politicizing influence on both the schools and the school children. I do not approve of my children being used by the school to influence politics one way or another. And I sure as heck don't want my student harassed by a teacher for wearing a shirt with a political candidate's name on it.
  5. Does the school have a negative environment for the "smart" kids? In the UK, one survey found that many children underperformed to reduce bullying. In the USA, a study at Purdue found that gifted children were more damaged by bullying. Obviously I am concerned about bullying for any reason, but I do not want to send my kids to a school that peer-penalizes achievement.
  6. What are educational interests, achievements, and successes of the teachers? Statistically, those pursuing education degrees are the some of the least academically successful students entering college. In a disturbing parallel, they also have some of the highest grade point averages in college. These indicators are far from perfect, but it reinforces what I have experienced in general that many educators are not academically driven. I do not believe a school can be "good" if it is staffed by underachievers. I have a growing suspicion that schools eliminate acknowledgements for achievement not for the students, but based on the low value they ascribe to success.
  7. What is the mathematics instruction like at this school? The United States is failing, failing, where mathematics is concerned. Much of our competitive edge as a nation is based on science and technology, but we are not training our children with sufficient mathematics to enter those fields. According to a 2007 book by the National Academy of Sciences, only 15% of high school graduates had sufficient math to pursue and engineering degree. The same book revealed that the USA now graduates more performance arts majors than engineers and that China produces more english-speaking engineers than the United States. At your child's school, who is teaching the mathematics, what is the curriculum, and how is it being taught to your child?
  8. What is the history and civics instruction like at this school? Nearly 200 years ago, a Frenchman named De Tocqueville visited America and said, "I scarcely ever met with a... citizen who could not distinguish... the obligations created by the laws of Congress from those created by the laws of his own State ; and who... could not point out the exact limit of... the Federal Courts and the tribunals of the State." [Democracy in America]. Now, if our forefathers before the advent of public education could know their civics at this level, why can't we? Perhaps worse than teaching nothing is teaching the wrong thing. I need to know if your school teaches that the Supreme Court "tells if laws of the United States are fair or not."
  9. Do the teachers at this school know how to help kids successfully fail? When I speak of failure, I am not even talking about failures as consequences for poor choices and behaviors (which some schools are doing away with by adopting "no-fail" and "no penalty" approaches). Rather, I am talking about earned and successful failures that result from hard work and dedication. I want a school that gives my child assignments that are just beyond their capabilities. I want them to have assignments that they cannot possibly succeed in completing the first time. I want teachers that can work with the children to learn from the failure in order to move on to more meaningful successes.
  10. In what way does the school and its teachers attempt to help children learn critical thinking, reasoning, and judgement? I have in my possession an SAT prep book that gives suggestions on how to write essays for the test (said essays are graded, in part, by high school teachers). The essays that they showcased as being "high scoring" were terrible. They relied on emotional arguments and unverifiable "personal" experiences to support "feel good" conclusions. To help me understand the type of reasoning developing at your child's school, please show me some writing samples. 
  11. What vision does your child have for their development into an adult and how is this school helping them realize this? Of course most children before the age of 8 have no vision of the future, and children before the age of 12 have only a limited grasp. But my expectation of a "good school" is one that helps a child develop their own long term goals for themselves and then provides resources and guidance in achieving them. Certainly if a teacher "...can't take things as seriously..." with 18 year old seniors, something is seriously, fundamentally, and dangerously wrong.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Dictionary Condemns Much of Modern Public Education

Out of curiosity, I headed over today to and looked up "education." This was the first definition:
The act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.
If you think about this definition for even a few seconds, you will quickly realize that what we focus on in public schooling today is, at best, just the first of these three components. To whatever extent public education defenders might argue that the other two are included, only the first is at the center of our public debates and the only factor being measured.

How does one teach reasoning? How does one teach judgement?

How does one prepare intellectually for mature life?

I am not sure how qualified I am to give a comprehensive answer but I can say with certainty that these are objectives within our homeschooling world-view. Our entire education approach is focused on developing reasoning and judgment, and for preparing our children intellectually for mature life. Because we know that if we succeed on those two fronts, acquiring knowledge is pretty easy.

One example of this is in how we allow the children to "fail." I have written about this before many times (for example, here and here). We give our kids things they are not completely ready for and then carefully monitor their experience. Most times, they get something out of it but fail to really complete it successfully. But that failure allows them to understand the assignment better and to do it again more correctly.

Alex read a book this past semester for his history class called Why We're All Romans: The Roman Contribution to the Western World. I assigned him a two page paper about which of the nine major categories of Roman contribution discussed in the book (e.g., law, engineering, etc.) affect him most. Specifically, he was to consider each contribution in turn and think about arguments for and against. He has been working on this paper since early April and has had to re-start it multiple times.

Why? Because he keeps trying to answer the question he wants to answer rather than the question being asked. He wants to write about paper about what he thinks was the "coolest" or most interesting parts of Roman History, not what has affected him most. He just could not seem to imagine comparing one argument against another. No matter how many times we discussed it, he would go off and write it the way he wanted to. I fully acknowledge that it is difficult for an 11-year old to do this kind of reasoning. And I also acknowledge that it is obviously beyond him.

Or rather, it was.

Finally, this morning, I again asked him about his work on the paper. He told me he had created two voices inside his head. The one voice argued for one topic, the other voice argued for the other. My 11-year old allowed each one to make arguments for their own point of view and then he decided which one he thought was the strongest. After two months of frustration (he never likes to be told to start over) he finally caught a vision. But he could not have understood what it was I was trying to get him to do without some hard earned failures first.

Could I have "imparted" the knowledge to him? Certainly! I could have sat him down, given him a sheet of paper, and had him write out all the pros and cons to each chapter. I could have forced him to argue for each one, walked him through the process of picking one to write about, and guided him in selecting his evidences for inclusion in the paper.

Would he have learned something about making persuasive arguments? Yes. And I could have checked off another box on a list somewhere of things I need to make sure he knows before he leaves home.

But where, in any of that, would there have been the "preparation intellectually for mature life?" Would he have learned anything about himself? Would he understand, deep in his gut, the difference between answering the question asked and the question desired?

As I said earlier, however, I feel that these questions are quite big and far beyond my capacity for a simple answer. So, to my readers, what successes have you had in teaching your kids about preparing for life, or about reasoning and judgement? If you have something to share that is bigger than fits conveniently in a comment, let me know and maybe I can arrange to post your thoughts as an independent entry to the blog.

I would look forward to some other feedback.
This blog is about education in general but is largely focused on home schooling and home education.

In case you didn't catch it, "type h personality" means "type homeschooled". As I explain in the original post, this title was originally meant to be derisive, but I liked it and have converted it, in my own mind, at least, into all the amazing things I see home schoolers do every day! Go Type-H'ers!!!!

(Note on Copyright and Usage: In addition to the posts themselves, various educational materials will be posted on this blog. You may use any materials developed by the authors for non commercial use provided that you give appropriate credit. In coming days, all content herein will be marked as Creative-Commons-Non-Commercial.)