"Sit down and feed, and welcome to our table." -William Shakespeare

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Almighty Formula

Once, as a very new homeschooler, I attended a homeschool support group meeting and asked “a question” about math books. O boy, was I in for a shock.

I had about a dozen veteran homeschooling mothers- lovely, kind, generous moms whom I absolutely adore- jump down my throat and give me 12 different answers to my question. And after the meeting, several more gave me their “solutions”. “Do it *this way* and life will be great.”

Now none of those moms meant to overwhelm me. Or tell me what to do. But they were making what I consider to be THE fundamental mistake of homeschooling.

Calling on the Almighty Formula.

Everybody does it. Summer is the worst- your mailbox is flooded with a million (ok, maybe more like a trillion) glossy catalogs claiming to have the Almighty Formula for you. Right here, direct from God, all your answers in this box. Or look! Over here you can pick and choose from a wide selection of components and create your own Almighty Formula!

But let me share with you a little metaphor. Do you know the main difference between formula feeding and breastfeeding? Well, experts get together to create formula. They determine what a general human baby needs to *not die* and they try to cover all unknown factors (impossible), then they pour it in a can, slap a label on it, charge you exorbitant amounts of money for it, and you take it home. You mix it exactly the same every time and give it to your baby. But when you breastfeed your baby, what happens? Your body, and your baby’s body, communicate. Your body reads your baby and adjusts the components of your milk *every day*. And even hour to hour. Someone coughs on you, and your breasts know immediately that germ x is in the air, and automatically begins to manufacture the necessary antibodies. Human milk is alive.

Wow. What a difference. To me, a curriculum is the formula. Someone else made it. Someone else determined what “children”, in general, needed, and now they are trying to sell it to me. Not that curricula are all bad.

After all, there are cases where formula saves the lives of babies whose moms have died, or are physiologically unable to make milk, or choose for personal reasons not to nurse their babies. Thank God for modern technology, and I mean that. Feeding my kids a curriculum won’t kill them. Some children and their parents enjoy curricula, and if it works for that family, great! BUT-

But. But I trade a living relationship for a static one. (And please note I refer here to the actual milk, not the parenting aspect of my previous metaphor!) I trade the thrill of exploration and reciprocation for the (false) security of scope and sequence.

And if I may stretch some more metaphors- what if you read about some wonder food (on my blog probably- LOL) and it sounded awesome, just what your child needed. So you ran out and bought him a 9-month supply. But after a month you notice he has developed a terrible allergic reaction. Do you force-feed him the rest just because you paid for it and you don’t want to be wasteful? Or because you know it’s a good food, full of vitamin C, and your child is definitely vitamin C deficient, and maybe the reaction is a fluke? Or it will go away eventually?

Of course not. Er, I hope not.

When we look around at God’s creation, so much of it is self-regulating. Yet we feel the need to control. We think so much depends on us, when really it all depends on God. I would never tell another homeschooler what to do, how to do it, or how to solve her problems. But I would hope to empower her to find her own solutions. To encourage her that no expert knows her child better than she. That education happens everywhere, not just at the table, not just in books. That her child’s needs might not fit the scope and sequence charts, and that’s ok.

That’s the beauty and freedom you have, as a home educator.

“Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.”
-William Butler Yeats

(This was originally written as an article for a homeschooling website. The site decided it was too controversial to publish there. PLEASE NOTE that I do NOT intend this article as a criticism of formula-feeding mothers, or mothers who choose a preset curriculum. It is an opinion and all are free to take it with a grain of salt. Or a dozen. I am always interested in hearing your reactions to what I've written.)

"You can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time but you can't please all of the people all of the time."
-Abe Lincoln or Mark Twain- who knows!


  1. As a mother whose homeschool days are structured around a pre-set curriculum, I am totally not offended. I have great admiration and understanding about how you homeschool based on this analogy. And I SOOOO hear you on the simple question followed by a barrage of answers to use *this one perfect system.* LOL I'm glad not to be a new homeschooler now and try to taylor my responses to those who are to be gentle and encouraging! GREAT POST.

  2. All very true. It has taken me a long time to realize that I am
    Not failing myself and my kids if I don't follow a set curricula all the time. It is amazing what good that has done for my whole family!

  3. Oh, I am so glad to read this post. How I know what you mean! Yes, in the very beginning those veteran moms were just trying to be helpful, but wow, some of it felt like if I didn't homeschool this way or that way I would be messing my kids up for life...now, I always try to season my 'advice' with a "you will find what works best for you be it prepackaged curriculum or all homemade or whatever." And, hope and pray the new to homeschooling won't feel like they have to homeschool a certain way, because the beauty of homeschooling is its diversity. (imo)

  4. You might want to redo this one as a diaper analogy. Less controversy (still some, but less), waaaaaaaayyy more options, tends to involve choices from DIY to $$$, you can save them for the next kid, they can be a poor fit for your kid, people have their favorites which might or might not work for you, and if you don't work to fix a bad fit you and your kid could end up in deep poop.

    See? Just like curriculum!

    Heh, the analogy goes on and on, if you spent $$$ thinking you'd use them for 3 kids, you'll be more reluctant to admit when things aren't working, even if you don't use all of the diapers, you might be able to use the liners, you can change to new diapers anytime, you can go back and forth from cloth to disposables to EC as you need.