A Chat with Barbara Shelton
A Form+U+la for Real-Life Homeschooling
One of my favorite homeschool quotes has come from homeschool mom, author, and speaker Barbara Shelton: “Real-life learning is any learning that happens in a real-life setting, for real-life purposes, in a reallife manner.”Isn’t that liberating? Haven’t you always known that to be true?
In states that have a set number of required hours to account for, many parents worry about what in the world they are going to do to fill up all those hours when, on many days and depending on the ages of their children, academics may be completed in 2-3 hours. Doesn’t real life count for something? If only we could get it through our poor public-school-saturated brains that life is the major portion of homeschooling, wouldn’t we be much more relaxed and confident? We would enjoy the freedom to branch out and learn, as a family, a far more varied and creative way to incorporate the subjects into our real-life education.
Then there are the worries of moving from the elementary years into the junior and senior high school years. Isn’t there a difference in how we must instruct our students? Shouldn’t our students be much more concerned about being “serious”in their studies and leave all the creative, fun ways to learn behind?
Not according to Barb.
Let’s sit back and take the time to listen to a seasoned (since 1982) homeschool mom who has mastered real-life homeschooling and learn a few things ourselves.
I eventually—and slowly—began realizing they were learning not only “just as much”as they would have had I used a prepared curriculum, but MORE!—and in ways that were so much more enjoyable, productive, and conducive to retaining and internalizing what they were learning! SO much STUFF is poured into children’s heads that will never be used, never associated with anything in their real life, and therefore not retained, even if it IS valuable. (And much that’s taught in school is NOT!) As parents, we need to trust the God-given ability—buried alive in most parents—to determine what is valuable and needful for our child and what is not. I call this a God-ordained “scope and sequence.”…
As time went on and I saw the “fruit”of how we were approaching learning—that my kids were not getting burned out—I started realizing that my “failure”was not just an accident; that because God was not calling mo to do the “school at home”thing, He was therefore not giving me the grace to do it! This was both a revelation AND a relief to me!
And here is a huge KEY: It will look different in every family, and even with every child! If we think we need to “do school”exactly like the schools are doing it, and jump through every possible hoop to fulfill every requirement we come across, we will only burn out and never see the wonderful fruit in our children’s lives and hearts and characters that we so desire to see. This is because we will have placed “the system”as our master, and, as we know, man cannot serve two masters. And “the system”is a hard taskmaster that will only keep us out of the “Promised Land”that God uniquely designed for each family! Here is what one homeschool mom just wrote to me: “I have just recently become acquainted with your work. It is revolutionizing our home!”
And, in case you have a child in a private school and think, therefore, that none of this is applying to you, think again. “The system”is exactly the same. The only difference is that the curriculum has been, for the most part, “Christianized.”And it’s possible that the peer influence is even worse, as often the kids in the public schools who are the most incorrigible are sent to private school as a last-ditch effort. The external rules are tighter, but that doesn’t change a child’s internal nature, his heart, as “the law”simply has no power to do so! And so, when the teacher is not nearby, the values of the children are still continually seeping to and through each other.
Or worse, because kids often are not able to verbalize or even recognize the dangers of some of the things they are hearing, you may not even be aware of the underground roots of deception and unbelief that are slowly, insidiously entwining their way around and taking root in your child’s heart. …
If you are still feeling unsure about this, John Taylor Gatto, New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991, said something very profound about this:
Don’t be fooled into thinking that good curriculum or good equipment or good teachers are the critical determinants of your son’s or daughter’s education. All the pathologies we’ve considered come about in large measure because the lessons of school prevent children from keeping important appointments with themselves and with their families to learn lessons in self-motivation, perseverance, self-reliance, courage, dignity, and love—and lessons in service to others, too, which are among the key lessons of home and community life.
Are you seeing that, no matter where you are, gaps will be left? YOU, the parent, have been given the authority to decide, as you follow the direction of the Lord, which gaps are the most important, and which gaps will be left!
It’s highly likely that much of the education your child would receive in a public or even the best private school would leave many gaps that will be needed for the future God has in mind for your child. And that is because “real life”is a major gap the schools have no way of filling. …
One is that these programs tend to get us dependent upon the school system for the education of our kids. When we are connected with them at all, we tend to see them as “the authority”and see our own role as greatly diminished.
A second reason is it also creates dissatisfaction in children with their learning at home, since there is a continual contrast, and the public school setting naturally has an abundance of glitzy, “pleasing-to-theflesh”features, not to mention an abundance of kids—which may or may not be pleasing to our flesh, but commonly is to kids. The “social butterfly”type loves all the choices for friends; the “class clowns”love the large audience; the quieter types like the opportunity to be invisible and “blend in”and just observe the whole scene.
There just really isn’t anything—in my very biased opinion—that can be better done in the classroom than at home! “Real life”—based at home—is the original and best place to learn. School is a “cheap imitation.”So when we imitate school, we are really just imitating the imitation!
I don’t think we’ll get rid of schools any time soon, certainly not in my lifetime, but if we’re going to change what’s rapidly becoming a disaster of ignorance, we need to realize that the school institution “schools”very well, though it does not “educate”; that’s inherent in the design of the thing. It’s not the fault of bad teachers or too little money spent. It’s just impossible for education and schooling ever to be the same thing.
It saddens me to see parents who feel confined to an educational experience that is less than God desires for them simply because they believe the “experts”have more authority over their child’s education then they do! I want to quote what our daughter, Sharnessa, had to say a few years ago about her high school education:
It feels so good to be getting freed up from the idea that education always has to look like school. I used to look at what my friends in public school were learning and felt intimidated because I wasn’t doing the same workbook-type stuff. But now I’ve discovered that I can learn the same things—and more—in much more creative ways. … The more I’ve gotten into it, the more the fear of not learning enough goes away.
But, of course, she was just brainwashed.