I’ve been considering how being in our particular family affects our girls’ education. I don’t know if this sounds familiar, but I always suffer from this lurking fear that I’m not normal. (Well, obviously, but maybe that’s a bad thing?) I’ve always told the girls that God sent them to me. So I started thinking about what I learned from my parents, who also have personalities and backgrounds and came from families.
Growing up, my mom always sat down for a few minutes before starting dinner to read a murder mystery or P.G. Wodehouse. From this, I learned:
- Adults read books for fun.
- Moms get to read, too.
- Leave your mother alone when she’s reading.
- Agatha Christie is awesome.
These lessons cannot be overstated, especially now that I am the mother. The temptation is to be always busy, always doing, always trying to keep up with laundry and dishes. But no – moms get to read, too.
Mom’s love for Agatha Christie, Patricia Wentworth, and Dorothy Sayers paid off when I went to college, by the way. Since I grew up around them, I read them too, and after I’d read like a hundred of them I had a rich cultural background for England in the nineteen-twenties, thirties, and forties. When I took a class in twentieth-century Europe, it made so much sense! The things I remember from that class are the ones that relate to period murder mysteries.
Would it have been better if I were like a girl I heard about who had such a phenomenal memory she memorized all her professor’s lectures? Well, probably. Was that going to happen? Yeah, no. Better to know and love the world of retro murder mysteries, and keep reading, than to forget everything once the test is done.
My granddad tells how his mom would read the world news with the kids and they would discuss the articles and look up the places on the map. It was perfectly ordinary and low-key, and then he would astonish his teacher and classmates at school because he knew things. (Shocker!) He developed this into a habit of being interested. One vacation, I remember him stopping at a gas station in West Virginia and asking a man what people around there did for a living. It never would have occurred to me to ask. I’d have looked it up on the internet! Granddad is one of the most fascinating conversationalists I know, because as far I can tell he cares about everything. From him, I learned:
- Interested people are interesting people.
Jonathan’s dad was a rocket scientist, literally. (Not a rocket surgeon.) Growing up he always heard about the high adventure that is building government spacecraft. The lessons he grew up with:
- Label your units.
- Force equals mass times acceleration.
- You can’t push on a rope.
Jonathan was telling me one time when his dad, just off-hand, was explaining how not to estimate numbers for someone. Say you are telling someone that the army has 1,074,234 people, the navy has 834,022, and the air force has 1,000,000. See that even number at the end? Even if it’s precisely accurate, it looks like a lie, and you’re going to have to present the numbers differently in order to be persuasive. Jonathan still remembers and uses that.
Most of my homeschool mom friends are terrified that their kids will have horrible gaps in their educations. And I’m not going to tell you not to worry about that, because actually you should worry about it, but also: don’t worry. One thing I notice about nearly all these stories of what we remember is that they happened outside of formal school. We learned things from our parents and grandparents just being who they were.
I try to bear this in mind as I rant about the sins of the last Hobbit movie in Meg’s presence and then get embarrassed about it. Or when I get excited over the Doctor Who/Murder on the Orient Express episode (which was a good one). It might not be educational, exactly, except that for me Tolkien was a gateway to history, poetry, comparative languages, and the love of myth, and perhaps he will be to her too. These are things she can learn because she’s my daughter. Other people’s daughters will learn other things. (It’s like that line from The Music Man: “Wouldn’t you rather she were reading Omar Khayyam than Elinor Glyn?” “What Elinor Glyn reads is her mother’s problem!”)
Normal is not my life goal here. I don’t even know any normal homeschoolers. As parents, as well as their teachers, we have something to give our kids that literally no one else can: a place in our family. What we laugh at, what we do when we’re playing, the books we read, the way we handle housework, the interests we pursue despite housework; these all teach them too. You were a person before you were a parent, and you’ll still be one after your kids graduate. Each parent and every family has specific things they do well, and we should go do them and enjoy them and be awesome at them. It’s alright to love Agatha Christie, or whatever. The kids will learn from that.