So, I've been thinking more about the women I've met this fall, the ones who take care to repeat at every meeting that "character is more important than academics," as if the two were in opposition. I've been trying to understand not just what makes them say that, but what makes them say it so many times over.
It's a warning. It took me awhile to figure that out. It's also an educational philosophy, and that's where I get hung up, because as an educational philosophy I disagree with it, even though as a statement by itself I think it's true. So I get tangled up in the educational philosophy side and spit out lots and lots of words trying to cut myself clear of the brambles.
But lately I've been thinking, Okay, I disagree with their methods. I get disturbed when I see veteran homeschoolers advise new ones "not to worry about academics" and "academics will come; don't worry about them" and "put away the books till after Christmas and concentrate on deschooling your child" and "cooking and playing is school" when the child is old enough to read and figure. But . . . what makes them do that? What makes them so scared? What am I missing?
And I don't have a firm answer. But I'm beginning to have a theory. And it goes back to the point where I agree with them: character is more important than academics. And these women - who have more experience than I do - consistently act like academics are an enemy to character, or at least, a potential one. I don't see it that way, and that's where I start getting riled up. All my life, academics has led me closer to God, has made me see new ways to live my life well, has introduced new beauties and truths to my eyes . . . it's never been in opposition to character or Christianity - even when I was taking classes from professors and teachers who were opposed to Christianity. I still dove into the new knowledge, certain that all truth was God's truth. The academics, the intellectual life, always led me closer to God and not away. So I've been having trouble understanding these women.
But, I remembered something important: my experience isn't everyone's experience. And if these women are so set on seeing academics in conflict with character, that must have been their experience at some point. My impression, also, is that it's not academics itself that's the problem, but that, at some point, their zeal for academics led them to neglect some other part of parenting.
And that, finally, strikes me as a problem that could be particular to homeschooling. If you are playing this dual role in your child's life, if you are both Mother and Teacher, well, then it's possible to get those two roles out of balance, and I'm beginning to think that that is what they're trying to say when they keep urging me "not to get hung up on the academics". I think that they're talking about a focus on schooling that eclipses our duties as Christian parents.
And I can see how that would happen. It's easier to check academic skills off of a list than to pay attention to all the multitudes of little moments that form a child's character. I can see how you could get lost in the one to the detriment of the other, simply because it's less daunting to attempt to teach a child algebra than it is to teach that child to love Christ.
(Not to mention - and I keep coming back to this - that you have more control as a teacher than you do as a disciple-maker. You can probably force someone to learn math; you can't force anyone to become a Christian. And that powerlessness is scary. It could make you run in the other direction, in fact, towards something that you can control.)
And if it's a warning not to let a secondary duty distract me from a main duty, then I welcome the warning.
I still have trouble saying that it's okay for your child not to learn, when you have taken responsibility for seeing that she does. I still think that putting academics in opposition to character-building is making the apples to fight the oranges. I wish that they didn't see it that way; I think it leads to academic laxity that is irresponsible.
But I am glad for the warning against distraction, against substituting one good (academic achievement) for a better good (Christian character). That's something I can understand.
And I'm glad to understand these women better . . . if I finally am understanding them.
So, what do you think? Am I closer to understanding what they mean by it, do you think?
Peace of Christ to you,