Thursday, August 6, 2015

A Way to an End

(I apologize for the rambling nature of this post. Sometimes I just write to make sense of my own thoughts, and this is one of those times.)

I had a conversation with one of my homeschooling sisters a few weeks ago. She was talking about how she pictures how she wants her children to turn out as she sets her parenting and homeschooling goals.

"I don't do that at all," I said.

She seemed genuinely puzzled by this, and protested, "But surely you must! How can you homeschool without picturing the end result you're working towards?"

I could see that to her, this was a natural thing to do for anyone who is serious about parenting, which she rightly assumes I am. But I had to answer,  "Really, truly, I don't. That kind of thinking doesn't come naturally to me at all. I live more in the moment than that."

I sensed she still didn't quite believe me. If she had believed me, my credit would have gone down considerably with her.

If I had been good at thinking on my feet, I would have explained that I don't see it as my role to determine ahead of time how my children should turn out. I believe God has a plan for them, and he has a role for me (and motherhood is a big role!) in His working out of that plan. Their own God-given personalities and preferences will play a big part as well. So will their own choices, for good or ill.

My concern with envisioning an end "product," if you will, is what happens when your children's own plans begin to conflict with yours. You could argue that your vision for them is good and godly. We may be older and wiser than our children, but we're still human. We have blind spots, and our view is limited. I would worry that in working toward our own end goal, we will grasp desperately for control when God's plans (and our children's dreams) end up looking different than ours.

The truth is, I just don't have the "envisioning" gift. Cooking seems to be the only thing in my life where I can naturally picture the end result before I begin. Perhaps that is why I have justified this way of thinking about my children. But maybe my sister is strong in one area (envisioning the end result and working towards that), and I am strong in another (respecting my children as persons), and we both need some balance.

I was reading in Charlotte Mason's Home Education this week (I'm doing a quick read-through of volume one again as my second child reaches school age.), and came across this statement that reminded me again of the conversation I just mentioned:
"Method implies two things --a way to an end, and step-by-step progress in that way. Further, the following of a method implies an idea, a mental image, of the end or object to be arrived at. What do you propose that education shall effect in and for your child?" (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1, p. 8)
I have a lot of respect for Charlotte's opinions, and when I heard her say practically the same thing as my sister, I sat up and paid attention. I appreciated that she clarified what she was saying with her question. I may not be able to form a mental image of the "end to be arrived at," but I can answer the question "What do you propose that education shall effect in and for your child?" I am not doing this without goals.

And yet my goals are not specific enough to form a clear picture. I just can't imagine my children as 20-year-olds yet. I think they will still be themselves, and I hope I will have had a role in helping them to develop self-discipline and a foundation of truth, goodness, and beauty. I pray that they will know and love God, even as I recognize that this is something only the Holy Spirit can work in their hearts. I resist trying to see more clearly than that at this point. I think the things they will love and the things they will be good at will become more obvious along the way. I think they may go through some turbulence in their teenage years, like many teens do, and I hope we will be able to see it through and trust God to work it all out.

I think I am emphasizing something else that Charlotte Mason recognized, even though she believed in developing this mental image that I seem so incapable of (and resistant to) having:
"But the educator has to deal with a self-acting, self-developing being, and his business is to guide, and assist in, the production of the latent good in that being, the dissipation of the latent evil, the preparation of the child to take his place in the world at his best, with every capacity for good that is in him developed into a power." (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1, p. 9)
Both of these quotes from Charlotte Mason are in the context of the difference between a method and a system of education. My understanding is that the main difference between the two is that a system is one-size-fits-all --put the child in, get the educated citizen out-- while a method recognizes that a child is a person and is concerned with helping him become the best person he can be. Both do work towards an end goal, but one seems much more open than the other. It's that openness that I'm leaving room for with the lack of clarity in my picture of the end goal.