My daughter will soon begin her 6th grade homeschooling year, which gives me pause for serious reflection. I vividly remember being 12 years old. This was one of the best times of my life. I was a precocious kid in many ways. In fact, in my turbulent 20s I sometimes longed for the wisdom that I possessed at the age of 12! I was studious, creative, and very religious at that stage of childhood. I knew my own mind, and I proceeded through life with intense purpose and joy.
I spent long hours exploring the woods and creek behind our home, often in the company of my dog, Elsa, a best friend who we had for only a short while before she died of heartworms. I listened to music, recording my voice (on a tape recorder!) singing along with the likes of Olivia Newton-John and Anne Murray. I thought that I sounded just like Olivia! I was an avid reader and enjoyed drawing, writing poems and stories, and gymnastics. I had a nice circle of friends and loved the Girl Scouts.
My family went to a charismatic Christian church where we danced and clapped along with a live band, and where bursts of speaking in tongues, prophesy, and interpretation were common. I would speak in tongues in the privacy of my bedroom, but I told my parents about it, and they were somewhat concerned. We had previously attended the very conservative, traditional Church of Christ, so this was new territory. I also woke up each morning hoping to no longer need glasses, as a youth leader had testified to the healing of his eyesight. Faith healing was a mainstay of this new church. (At the age of 47, I still need glasses, and bifocals at that!)
Life was full, meaningful, and simple in those days. But it was also the beginning of changes that brought on insecurity and confusion. Sixth grade was the year that I moved up to the Jr. High School. This was the first time that students changed classes for different subjects. I felt so big. I was at the top of my class. I literally fell out of the school bus into a ditch once, because I was wearing clogs and couldn't see over the top of my miles high stack of homework books (pre-backback days!). My best friend and I were competitive with one another, and the same boy decided he liked both of us. This was the point where I began to lose some of the innocence of childhood. In a relationship with this boy, I had my first experience of getting spiritually lost.
When you homeschool, these types of pressures can be so much less. In the school atmosphere, issues of popularity, drama with friends, and the distraction of the opposite sex make academic studies practically secondary. This only intensifies with the higher grades. The long school days (and school year), with homework and associated extracurricular activities, also render life as secondary. A family life, a personal life, a spiritual life--all are sacrificed on the altar of school. And the meaning of education has been so drastically altered from its origins as to be unrecognizable. Even a homeschooling parent, especially one who went through the public school system herself, has to work hard to pull focus on what matters.
In my mind, the 6th grade was a pivotal turning point. Academic subjects became more distinguished and rigorous. I believe that this was the year when I really began to relate my identity and worth as a person to being a "super smart" student. This defined me. The boy that liked both me and my friend even gave me the nickname, Brains.
I want something different for my daughter. While I loved life at age 12, the memory also triggers feelings of pain and regret. Sure, suffering in life is unavoidable, in the general sense. We have to carry our crosses daily. But at age 12, those crosses should be light. Innocence should be preserved.
I had been thinking that this 6th grade year should mark a similar transition for my daughter to the one I experienced in school, with an increased focus on productivity, on hard work that will eventually, supposedly lead to material wealth. But I had forgotten about the classical ideal of education as the encountering of Truth, Goodness, & Beauty. How could I, a staunch proponent of Charlotte Mason, have so easily fallen off the wagon? It just goes to show how deeply the indoctrination of government schools goes.
Learning as leisure is exemplified in the Greek word and concept of schole (accent mark above the e). Schole is the basis for the Latin schola; in English, school. This doesn't mean that education should be very easy and filled with unproductive amusement. Rather, learning as leisure is a deep well that feeds the soul. The schole ideal encompasses an education of the entire human person, not merely the process of acquiring skills and memorizing facts. Seeking Truth, Goodness, & Beauty for their own sake was the basis of classical education. Learning arithmetic, Latin, or any other subject was a means to that end.
In modern times, we have a new model of education in the U.S. known as Common Core. The associated curriculum "standards" put the focus on the rules, rather than the Beauty, of the English language; and it envisions literacy as merely the comprehension of "informational texts", as opposed to the classical model of losing oneself in the worlds of literature and the great minds of humanity which serve to connect us all.
My child's sixth grade year will be one which continues in the depth and breadth of a Catholic Charlotte Mason education, the perfect model of schole if ever there was one. Beezy's childhood will continue to be just that--a childhood. Learning as leisure, centered upon faith formation, will be the supreme rule. After all, as our Lord himself proclaimed, "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light."