“We didn’t set out with a list of reasons we would homeschool in high school; rather, we pursued a life we loved” (Leigh Bortins, The Conversation, 6).
Recently, I was listening to a sermon by Pastor Francis Chan. He made a statement that stuck with me even though I did not immediately understand it. He said, “Live your life in such a way that it demands explanation.” At first, I thought he meant something along the lines of, “Don’t be ordinary.” But his true point was about being willing to take risks for God that do not necessarily make sense to the modern world. Daring to pursue Christ even through an unconventional approach was the heart of Chan’s encouragement.
It reminds me of homeschooling. When I am asked where my son attends school, I brace myself, prepared for a wide range of possible reactions. As I begin to explain our family’s choice to homeschool, I recognize that I may be congratulated or castigated, considered a kook or assumed to be Mother Teresa. My questioner may even be stunned into silence, choose to end the conversation right there, or quickly change the subject. Regardless of the response, these exchanges often leave me feeling at a loss.
Despite the growing popularity of homeschooling and the good news that I have to share, my explanations always feel inadequate or somehow lacking. No one could truly understand the wonder, the beauty, the hard and soul-stretching work of homeschooling unless he too has traveled that path. As Francis Chan encouraged, my life does demand an explanation. Yet, I am not sure I have one ready.
This year we started high school and if there ever were a time for me to get my explanation right, it is now. In the early years, people awarded me warm and nurturing smiles when I shared that I was homeschooling my elementary and middle school students. I could see them nod smartly and they seemed to imagine me as a modern day Little House on the Prairie teacher. I was doing a good thing. Saving my kids from all those busy worksheets and bullying. But now, the stakes are higher. High school is serious. In my experience, when I say that I am homeschooling my high school student, people tend to believe I am plain crazy.
In an effort to fuel equipping for high school this year, I will be reading and writing my way through Leigh Bortins’ latest book, The Conversation. This volume is her third book directed at the ages and stages of learning: grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric. The Conversation is dedicated to the high school years and preparing our students for launching and for life. If you haven’t read her earlier books, The Core, for the elementary age years and The Question, for the middle school years, these are excellent resources to guide you along the path as well.
I am studying this book because I want to cast a big vision for high school for my family. I desire a deeper, richer, and broader experience for my students than can be found in a classroom; I want more for them than my own high school experience offered. My memories are of much energy spent on things that did not matter: being popular, hanging out with the right crowd, wearing cool clothes, and maintaining appearances. I want our high school to emphasize the eternal both in our relationships and in our academics; we will focus on building up truth, beauty and goodness for Him.
My hope is to emulate the ideas Leigh Bortins shares in the introduction of The Conversation. She says she pursued a life her family loved. She talks about creating a big classroom for their family. This classroom is where they explore life not only Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., but also on vacations and with mentors, church friends, neighbors, and others God brings across their path.
She recalls great conversations held with her children. She shares seasons of walking alongside them as they discussed big ideas and explored important life lessons and values. For me, the privilege of engaging in these conversations as a family is the true fruit of homeschooling. The times when I feel most satisfied with homeschooling are when we can deeply explore issues raised by current events, ideas encountered through books we have read together, or the ways our faith affects the way we see the world. These great conversations are what fuel my heart for homeschooling.
Lastly, Mrs. Bortins shares that real-life opportunities are what will prepare our children for launching into the world. Her mindset helps me move past thinking about preparation as something to be found only in the four walls of a classroom. Truly, if we are preparing our students to be in the world, they have to have experience it in what she calls “God’s classroom.”
Recently, at a favorite restaurant, my son was examining the Sunday newspaper that someone had left behind. He was reading an article and asked me to explain how to understand the layout and navigation of a newspaper. It reminded me that in our technology-saturated world, students do not often experience a printed newspaper. I smiled and explained how to appreciate the layout of the paper and find articles that are continued past the page. He pointed out the parallel structure in the article that he had been studying as one of our writing devices. As we left, he asked if we could please watch a Latin video that night from a new series I had recently purchased.
When I feel overwhelmed by the challenges of homeschooling, it is moments like these that remind me education is so much greater than crafting a strong transcript and stuffing my kid with extracurriculars. My hope is that my son develops a passion and a hunger for life and learning only satisfied by the wholehearted pursuit of our Creator. My prayer is that he will grow deeply rooted in Christ this year through the treasure of our God-sized classroom. My desire is that he will keep asking me questions and that we, as a family, will continue to have great conversations about everything.
The next time I am asked where my son attends school, or even when I am asked why we have chosen to homeschool, I want my answer and our lives to point to the Answer. As our family pursues living a life worthy of explanation, I want it to signify something deeper and more profound than merely our chosen method of education, as important as that is. My hope is that this journey transforms our walk as a family, so that we are equipped and available to extend His love to all we meet.
Won’t you read along with me? Each month I will be writing and sharing a few nuggets from select passages of The Conversation. I will also be sharing questions to ponder, ideas to consider and journaling prompts to explore. You can order your copy of The Conversation from the Classical Conversations Bookstore, and I hope you will join me again next month as we learn to think of the high school years as an invitation to pursue a life we love.