the following was written in response to an inquiry by a mother, addressed
to an internet discussion group, regarding her relationship to the
education of her children. She was considering the possibility of
"home schooling" the children, but what she really
wanted to know involved issues such as: "Where do I start
in my participation with my children’s education?"; "What
is the best possible education my children could have, the one they
would love to have?"; and, "What relationship would
I, as a parent, love to have to the education of my children?"
As you will notice, what follows is not about "where" a
child’s education might best happen. By HOME
we mean a child’s purpose on
the planet or, if you will, God’s purpose for your child. Our
reference is to discerning and nurturing, educating that
child in such a way that both child and purpose are able to manifest
as fully, beautifully and joyfully as possible.]
You said you were "looking
for advice and suggestions on how to start homeschooling [your] children"
(ages 5, 4 & 9 mos.). You said you would like to know how to fit
home schooling into your day and get organized, and indicated that
you were "very intimidated by the thought of homeschooling."
First, it sounds as
though you already have "started!" You already have children,
and you have clearly given thought to the best education they could
possibly have. One of our young children, Johnny, and I recently went
to dinner with a woman who might be described as extremely interested
in home schooling. She was describing in detail how she intended to
proceed with her child's home schooling program. I suppose I should
mention that her first child is due to be born in a few months. Johnny,
who has been and is being home schooled, listened to her elaborate
plans, then caught her in a typically tractor-beam gaze and said,
"I think you should meet this child first!"
1. At its best, home
schooling begins in much the same way panning for gold does. Until
you see a child's INTEREST glistening, you can invest all the energy
you want, but you'll just be moving ... and maybe muddying ... the
waters of life which can be made to swirl around a child. I say "INTEREST"
instead of "interest" because human children, like human
adults, can get "interested" in just about anything, even
if the subject of their interim fascination has little to do with
them in the long run. Much of what has passed for "education"
involves insistence that children "pay attention to" things
which are merely interesting, instead of things which truly engage
the very fibers of a particular child's spirit. The result: many children
receive an education which might have been wonderful for someone,
but has little to do with them! It is no accident that children
trained in such a way so often marry someone "interesting"
(and later experience themselves "growing apart" from that
person) and find themselves dissatisfied with a series of "careers"
which, when they entered them, looked "interesting."
2. At the most fundamental
level, take a look at who you consider a child to be. Do
you think of a child as a "human" being, who will have the
various experiences human beings have, mental, physical, spiritual,
etc? Or do you consider a child to be a "spiritual" being,
here for the experience of being human? If you orient from the latter,
it will probably be easier for you to hold the possibility that a
child came here with what might be called a "purpose," an
essential experience which that child has every intention of creating
while here. This will give you a more useful "organizing principle"
for interacting with that child's education than, for example, somebody's
good ideas about a "curriculum for a child of a certain age or
grade!" The only thing which accurately allows prediction of
human behavior is purpose. People can be counted on to act
in manners which are faithful to their purpose, even if their chosen
actions are terribly "bound up." People cannot be counted
on to be faithful to other people unless that fidelity is
a function of their purpose, the essential thing they came here to
do. Much less can a child be counted upon to faithfully do such things
as homework assignments which are not deeply grounded in purpose!
Home schooling which is not about a particular child's purpose is
just like any other schooling: if force is exerted, even in the simple
form of subtle mental coercion, a child can often be made to comply.
Such a child is likely, though, to spend a great deal of time bored,
perhaps even consciously angry, and will not consistently find joy
in the process. This is not good news, to understate the matter, for
the "teacher" who attempts to impose such a system. Such
a child often does not like such a "teacher," experiencing
this person more as impediment than partner. As a parent who wants
the most loving possible relationship with their child, it is hazardous
to enter a "home schooling" relationship which is based
on anything less than the discernment and forwarding of a child's
purpose. Actually, it is hazardous to enter any relationship
on a lesser level than that! Too often, someone ... an individual
or perhaps an institution or "society" ... has an opinion
about who a child "should" become which bears little or
no relationship to a particular child's purpose. Those people and
entities tend to become "the enemy," and such relationship
as exists with the child tends to be filled with oppositions, enmities,
almost anything but the experience of profound partnership.
3. It is an amazingly
easy thing to discern a child's purpose. I suppose it is good to know
how to do it, but once you know how, it is an easy thing to do. If
a person does not know how to go about this, it is probably because,
like so many others in our society, they have been trained to pay
attention to other and less useful things such as the child's latest
behavior. I can honestly tell you that home schooling our children
has been the easiest serious thing I have ever done in my life. Without
knowing about this discernment issue, and participating with our children
from this orientation, I am quite certain it would have been one of
the most difficult! I have no idea how much you already know about
"discerning a child's purpose" ... or your own, for that
matter! But you asked "where to start," and this is definitely
the place! If you are truly a novice and have not yet really developed
your ability to be discerning in this regard, I wish we could sit
and talk for about a day. Short of that, I can give you a few pointers.
is a useful clue when in the process of discerning a child's purpose.
The number one job of a home schooling parent is to watch like a hawk
for your child's moments of greatest passion, whatever the form that
passion might take. It is insufficient to watch for things which merely
draw your child's attention, or which your child "likes."
It may be useful for you to create in yourself an assumption that,
when life presents itself powerfully in your child's experience ...
whether or not that presentation "fits your pictures" ...
more may be involved than "accident." You might even want
to hold the possibility that "your child's purpose" may
also be "God's purpose for your child," or however you might
say that in your own system. Then you will be able to take your attention
off your own judgments of, for instance, whether a thing which just
happened is "good" or "bad." Instead, you can
put your attention on how the occurrence might be forwarding of a
profound purpose which is emerging in and through your child.
3.2. Example: Chris
is 3 years younger than Johnny. Chris' first truly "traumatic"
experience involved being present when Johnny tripped in our living
room, resulting in a nasty cut on the head (scalp wound, so lots of
blood, etc.). When Johnny was injected with pain-killer in preparation
for sixteen stitches, Johnny screamed in pain. Chris, horrified, cried
inconsolably. ("I could feel how Johnny felt" was the comment
made later.) It would have been easy to be upset, wishing Chris had
not seen the whole "traumatic" event, or etc. But consider
an event and discussion which occurred about a year later:
Chris asked me if
I was familiar with two well-known bank robbers from the old American
west (a tv program had mentioned them). When I said I had heard of
them, Chris asked if I had known that they had been brothers, and
that one brother had killed the other. I said that I had not known
that, and asked what Chris thought about that. Chris said, "I
didn't know a brother could kill a brother." Then Chris started
to sob. It was the most upset I had seen this child since Johnny's
cut head. I asked why Chris was so upset. Was Chris concerned that
one of the children in our house might hurt or kill one of the others?
No, Chris just thought that the idea of a brother killing a brother
was "horrible." We discussed the possibility that we are
all brothers and sisters on the planet and that people do, in fact,
kill one another. We went from there to a discussion of the fact that
everyone's body eventually dies. In turn, the discussion moved to
the possibility that, given the fact of death, perhaps the more interesting
question might be, "What do you want to do while you are alive?"
I told Chris I was really asking. Chris thought for a few moments,
then indicated a desire to help people. I said that was of course
a necessity in order for anyone to have any kind of satisfying life
at all, but HOW? After brief thought, Chris said, "Well,
for example, if people were in a dark room, I could bring them a light."
Chris was too young to have had any idea what this meant in a symbolic
sense. We then discussed the difference between an essence and a "symbol."
In turn, we talked about some of the ways a person might "bring
a light" to others, at an essential level, without such things
as candles or flashlights. The symbol for "bringing a light"
which seemed most to resonate for Chris involved music. Chris knows
quite well the contribution music can be to the quality of people's
lives, having both given and received gifts in this regard. Chris
is gifted musically, and has often seen the effect, for example, of
playing violin, cello or piano for less-than-happy people. The experience
of being present when Johnny cut his head and was stitched deeply
impressed Chris with the fact that it matters when another
person is hurting. You should see this child when Chris plays music
for people. He brings everything to it. Precisely as though
it matters, as though it may make a difference, bringing those listening
closer to an experience of joy than pain, of light than dark.
As part of Chris'
home schooling participation, Chris has been learning to play three
musical instruments. Chris set out to practice all three instruments
daily (as of this writing, not a day has been missed in over seven
months). Practice time ranges from about 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 hours per
day. Not that it is about watching the clock ... rather, it is "to
Chris' satisfaction" with each instrument. It is not about "getting
Chris to practice," or any such nonsense. Nor was it a parental
suggestion that Chris take up an instrument, or a second or a third.
As happens around "purpose manifesting," remarkable teachers
have been drawn to Chris. Chris has played piano 4 years, violin 2
and cello 1. As may be obvious, none of this is difficult on Mom and
Dad. Mostly, we get to enjoy the music. There was, of course, that
brief interlude during which Chris managed to extricate a sound from
a 1/4-size violin which seemed to be a parody of bagpipes. And there
is the matter of driving to lessons, although whatever that asks of
us is more than offset by seeing the intense relationship between
Chris and teachers who are as much as half a century older, lessons
which sometimes last up to two hours because neither teacher nor student
has any inclination or willingness to stop.
Far from being "difficult,"
participation in Chris' home schooling is inspiring to all six of
us in the family. Speaking for myself, Chris inspires me to press
forward with those things which are deeply self-expressive from my
own point of view. Chris is six years old, by the way, our youngest.
A fellow from the
phone company came to our home a few days ago to install an extra
phone line so I could send this to you (we have not, until now, ventured
onto the internet, etc.). We had a wonderful conversation going with
him, and Chris and Johnny played instruments for him during part of
the time he was working. When he finished his job, he thanked them
deeply. He explained that he is Seminole and that, to his people,
it is considered a rare and beautiful gift for a human to be able
to give the gift of music to another. His eloquence in expressing
obviously deeply-felt appreciation moved both Johnny and Chris to
tears. He asked me to follow him out to his truck, where he made a
gift to each of the children of a beautiful cedar-bead necklace. He
said he had been moved to carry the two necklaces, but had not, until
that afternoon, known why. Johnny and Chris were again moved to tears,
and have worn the necklaces almost constantly, except during sleep.
4. Sometimes people
are inclined to dismiss our experience with Chris as the exception
to the rule, a function of Chris' being "gifted." But Chris
is only functioning in the way all children - and adults!
- are enabled to function when the thing they came here to do, their
purpose, is encouraged to flourish. Chris has genuine gifts ... but
gifts, in the truest sense of the word, only exist in the
domain of a child’s profound purpose. That is the only place
children are ever "inspired." In the absence of
participation in the domain of their profound purpose, the most children
are likely to be is "interested" or "competent"
or other words which are commonly used to describe lives lived in
a less-than-miraculous space.
4.1. Example. Another
of our children, Lindsay, is also home schooled. Some of Lindsay's
main "homework" has been to attend the public schools. A
gifted actor, Lindsay showed one of those "glints" at age
12, having noticed the possibility (during a class which encouraged
the writing of scripts) that "a person can write their own script
in life!" Of course, at age 12, such an assertion shows up more
like an inquiry than an answer. In pursuit of such an inquiry, what
better place to observe human scripts than a public high school?!
This youngster, at age 15, travelled alone to London and studied acting
at OperaFactory; at 16, was accepted into a program at The American
Academy of Dramatic Arts and was off to live in mid-town Manhattan
(again solo) for a summer. When a parent chooses to focus on a child's
purpose and assist in bringing that purpose forward, that parent is
released from bondage in such regards as "are [we parents] the
best ones to do the teaching [of a particular subject matter] to this
child?" It gets the ego right out of the equation! With an eye
toward purpose, the full resources of the community can be
brought to bear. "Schooling," when it occurs in the formal
sense, need not only occur "in one's house." It becomes
less important to be "the one" who teaches a particular
child than to discern who the perfect teacher(s) for a child might
Perhaps you will only
"home school" one or two of your children (now using the
phrase "home school" in the way it is typically used, where
education mostly occurs at the children's house). Wherever your child
receives the various components of education, a parent can still remain
totally responsible for that education, and even accountable
for such aspects as are appropriate. Of course, this approach also
opens the door to regular inquiry on the part of parents (and children!)
as to where and with whom education might take place, for example,
from one year to the next. This allows a wonderful flexibility, and
takes into account the great variety of resources which can be tremendously
useful to children's development at various times during their educational
process. It also gets past the nonsense that parents can only treat
their children "equally" if they provide a more or less
"identical" experience for each child. I have seen many
"home schooling" parents "beating up on themselves"
(mentally and emotionally) because, while they were absolutely called
to "home school" one of their children, they were not
similarly moved with regard to another child or children. At some
point, it is useful to hold the possibility that the highest expression
of "treating all children equally" may entail being equally
discerning as to the best teacher(s) for any individual child at any
point in their development!
Johnny and Chris have
shared a brilliant piano teacher, who told them that, eventually,
their fingers should function on the keyboard like independent ballerinas.
Some months ago, Johnny said, "It is almost as though my fingers
have developed independent brains." I said I could relate to
that: as a youngster studying violin, it seemed my fingers had independent
galoshes! I am definitely not the one to teach these children anything
in the domain "music" ... except perhaps appreciation.
Nor would I be the
best person to teach Lindsay acting. Lindsay is not merely a "competent"
actor; "inspired" is definitely the better word. Passionate.
And, in turn, "highly intentional." Despite being popular,
Lindsay chose to forego "partying" for a number of months
prior to leaving for New York, in order to work at a job which paid
for most of the program and housing, and to read plays by such as
George Bernard Shaw and Sam Shepard, to give Lindsay an "edge"
in New York. It can accurately be said that, from Lindsay's point
of view, Lindsay is 100% responsible for her own education. Since
we parents are also, from our own points of view, 100% responsible
for Lindsay's education, we share an experience with our child which
might best be referred to as "partnership." The partnership
in which we participate occurs within the larger context of purpose,
which is, of course, larger than we are as individuals or collectively.
This approach also allows the assumption that there are other people
out there who are fully our "partners" in bringing purpose
forward, whether or not they happen to be "relatives."
At one point, Lindsay
became "rebellious" about being trapped inside an "irrelevant"
high school experience. We talked that afternoon about what Lindsay
considered to be her purpose. In short order, Lindsay noticed
the possibility that the school could simply be considered a resource
which could forward that purpose, rather than an institution which
had a purpose of its own which could swallow not only Lindsay but
Lindsay's purpose itself. Lindsay's choice was to let the school know
what it would take to forward her purpose. In short order, the school
agreed (this did not involve conversations between parents and school
... Lindsay totally "carried the ball") a structure could
be created which would allow Lindsay to graduate in 3 years instead
of 4. She was willing to take advanced college math courses in order
to achieve that goal, which would allow her earliest possible entry
into a university with a spectacular performing arts program. Lindsay
was able to do the demanding work required in the math program NOT
because she is "gifted" in math (merely talented or competent
here). As has been said in many ways, the universe aligns with purpose.
It seems too early
to tell whether acting is a tributary in Lindsay's life or the river
itself. Perhaps Lindsay is having a deep experience of a metaphor
which will allow her to assist others in the creation of the most
satisfying possible "scripts" in their lives.
As parents, the issue
could not be more straightforward. We could have, for example, created
ourselves as substantially upset at the issues which were suddenly
in front of our noses which I described above as "rebellion."
But (as with my earlier account of Chris' "trauma" in seeing
Johnny's head wound): if your attention stays on purpose,
it can be noticed that events we (in our infamous "human wisdom")
deem "traumatic" or "rebellious" may have a totally
other, and perhaps extremely positive, import. In other words, we
may enable ourselves to see beyond those "realities" which
are merely "apparent." Most of us, after all, were trained
to first use our creative power to pick up a negative filter and then
stare out at life. If a person is committed to looking at life through
a negative filter, home schooling a child will not be a good
idea. Of course, having a child may also be problematic!
Home schooling a child gets part of life right up in your face on
a somewhat perpetual basis, a constant invitation to see life as negative.
If we leave our children's education to others, a lot of "content"
will not be so "close to home!" Which is one reason so many
parents don't attend parent participation nights at their children's
schools. The greater the participation we choose with our children,
the greater the likelihood of our encountering content in life which
does not "fit our pictures," or seems negative in some other
way. With Lindsay, for instance, there have been many incidents of
trying out some new "script" which was not, to understate
it, on our "approved script" list! "Purpose" gives
an organizing principle around which it becomes more likely that we
can see the possibility that the lives of our children are "working
Like the rest of us,
Lindsay is most assuredly here to attempt to "make a difference"
in people's lives, including Lindsay's own. She is very bold in this,
willing to go to great lengths (arguably even to be "at risk")
in pursuit of making a difference. It was amazing to me how many people
"reacted negatively" to the notion of allowing so young
a child to live, unaccompanied by a parent, in London and New York.
Of course, they were simply viewing life's content through a negative
filter. I suggested to them that it might be more hazardous to attempt
to intervene between Lindsay and the existence which is, for her,
so clearly purposeful. If we take the time to discern our children's
purpose and, in turn, allow their gifts to flourish in the soil of
their enthusiasm and joy, we increase the probability of seeing our
children live inspired lives. A life lived in such a way seems to
draw to it an astonishing range of support, from the widest array
of sources. Perhaps this is one reason "home schooling"
has been, in our experience, such an easy thing in which to participate.
5. I have the thought
that, if I speak of another of our children, I may be seen as "bragging
on our children," or some such. But what I am attempting to do
here is brag on possibility! "Home schooling" did
not arise, not really, because we Americans have a broken educational
system. It has arisen because our system has done such a spectacular
job that, having climbed up on the ladder it represents, we can see
even further into the possibility of educating a human being, taking
part in assisting each other ... including all our children, in making
the biggest difference it is possible for them to make while here
on the planet. I was riding in the car with Johnny about three years
ago, after we had been out together for the evening. In an expansive
mood, and very much present to the joy of our relationship, I asked,
"Do you think there are any other parents and children who have
as special a relationship as we do?" In typical Johnny fashion,
the response: "Well, if by 'as special' you mean 'as good as,'
I would say no, there are none. But if by 'as special' you mean ‘better
than,’ I would say God and Jesus." I assure you, my friend
who elicited this letter with her question, I had not taught this
to this youngster. (Whether I "should" have taught this
to Johnny is an entirely other question ... but I had not ... I suppose
I might have, had I ever thought of it, but it had frankly never occurred
to me to think of that relationship as a "role model" for
parent-child relationship!) Included in Johnny's very early reading
was the version of Old and New Testaments presented in The Beginner's
Bible, from which had developed Johnny's concept of "the
ideal relationship between parent and child."
occurred when Johnny met John Henry Hodges, that extraordinarily-committed-to-children
ragtime piano player at "Coca-Cola Corner" in Disneyland.
That meeting was the genesis of Johnny's musical studies (piano, 6
yrs., cello, 2 ... Johnny, also musically gifted, was in turn an inspiration
to Chris). For Johnny, though, the enthralling thing was the amazing
relationship which could be created between people with the vehicle
"music." Truly Lindsay's sibling, Johnny is interested in
"scripts," but with an emphasis on relationships which can
For instance, we discussed
how wonderful it was that Ted Seuss Geisl had used his life to write
all those extraordinary stories which Johnny and other children have
enjoyed so greatly. We also talked about how special it was that TSG
had used his life to create himself as "Dr. Seuss!" At age
5, on being told of the death of Ted Seuss Geisl, Johnny became quite
teary-eyed. I don't think Johnny was aware of what "death"
was ... I suspect, given our lives, Johnny thought (until then) that
TSG would of course (eventually) come to visit us, and that he would
be able to meet and talk with him. Johnny stared off into space for
a while, then said, "You know, when I get older, I'm going to
take his place." Within an astonishingly short time, Johnny was
able to read proficiently. His recent reading list (about three years'
worth): The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures
of Huckleberry Finn, Steinbeck's translation of Mallory's Le
Morte d'Arthur, Roots, the full Mallory; then Barbara
Tuchman's A Distant Mirror: the Calamitous 14th Century;
The Complete Sherlock Holmes; Travels with Charley;
The Canterbury Tales; Troilus and Cressida; The
Iliad; The Odyssey; and Johnny is currently reading
Don Quixote de la Mancha. My role? Johnny reads some of these
to me, particularly when we are driving from place to place. Humorously,
Johnny has already read several books which I purchased years ago
but never read (or never finished). It is a formerly-unimaginable
gift to have them read to me by one of our children instead of having
read them to myself earlier!!!
Incidentally, it took
almost nothing to teach Johnny to read. We sat together some, but
the motivation was so strong that he caught on quickly. I suspect
that if we had not "gone with the flow" of Johnny's INTEREST,
attempting instead to teach reading by using "children's books,"
we would still be working on "basics!" Johnny is nine now,
by the way. We have learned that children charge through materials
which forward the things they are passionate about ... certainly something
that every good teacher knows, but equally certainly not the foundation
upon which we have constructed the education of all children. For
Johnny, if a book has something to say about what humans have created
in the way of relationship, how it is available for us to participate
and make a difference with one another, Johnny becomes deeply engaged
with that book. In a similar vein, Johnny is particularly interested
in music through which people can really connect with one another.
He had a fascinating discussion with one of his teachers in which
Johnny expressed an unwillingness to spend time learning music which
is not a thing of beauty to Johnny and to those for whom Johnny is
playing the music. Johnny is flatly not interested in the superficial,
whether in literature or music, even if the more complex expressions
are, in theory, "over Johnny's head." This is a wonderful
example of the fact that humans are not their minds but, rather, their
spirits. Johnny's spirit is simply attuned to the complex fabric from
which can be woven extraordinary relationship; thus, his rather "young"
mind simply rises to the occasion.
I once overslept,
and when I awoke I assumed Chris (then age 2) would have a very
wet diaper. When I asked, Johnny explained that they knew I had been
"working hard and was very tired"....so Johnny (then age
5), had changed the diaper. Johnny proceeded to change most of the
non-poopy diapers until Chris, mostly due to Johnny's gentle coaxing,
was potty-trained. At approximately the same age, Johnny pretty well
took over the job of feeding Chris until past the noon hour, specializing
in various nutritional delights which did not require use of the stove.
Johnny has continued to be quite self-expressive in participating
in the relationships which show up in the immediate vicinity. Our
family is fascinated by who Johnny might be becoming. There has been
an early inclination toward musical composition and essay writing.
It seems far too early, and certainly unnecessary, to reach strong
conclusions. It is an amazing gift, though, to be able to watch Johnny's
gifts emerge, and to be able to be a resource toward the fulfillment
of Johnny's purpose. Again, although we are utterly engaged in "home
schooling" this child, it asks remarkably little of us to participate
in his educational experience.
6. As a parent, you
are in ideal position to be attuned to your children's respective
purposes. At least you are in ideal position if you can stay out of
the trap of "how your children 'should' be!" Much
more powerful: how are they, really, and toward
what purpose might they be that way?
I suspect, though
I can "prove" it only by my own observations over a period
of time, that profound purposes run in the same family, although they
often manifest very differently from generation to generation and
family member to family member. Therefore, it is extremely important
for you, as a parent, to know what you are truly passionate
about, what essential things you are deeply committed to. It has been
amazing to me to notice how many people are aware of the "symbols"
they have chosen toward making a difference, yet are utterly unconscious
of the essential commitments from which those symbolic choices are
made. In this discussion, though, lies the possibility that it is
truly not an accident that your children were put around you,
and that it may be available for you to play a wonderful role in the
development of their fullest possible self-expression while they are
here on the planet.
I have the thought
I have gone on too long with this, so perhaps these last comments
can be taken up at another time. Also, remind me to tell you, if you
are interested, about Polly, our other child, and the emergence of
the phrase "silently loud."
I hope I have succeeded
in suggesting that "organizing your day" need not be of
great concern for you when you venture into home schooling. When their
purpose is allowed full play, children are as relentless as the ocean
... you do not need to organize your day or even your life for the
ocean to be the ocean or for your child to be who your child is. Instead,
you will be able to choose the orientation you would love
to have to the surging energy, variously-manifesting as it tends to
be, which is the life of each of your children. Perhaps you will find
yourself swimming in the middle of that energy, as we do in the presence
of Johnny or Chris reading to us or playing their instruments, or
attending one of Lindsay's plays or talking with Lindsay about the
scripts being encountered and tried on for size, or Polly creating
the space of and demonstrating the possibility "silently loud."
At other times, you may choose to stand somewhat apart, as one might
when watching the ocean from the shore. The joy, though, is immense
when your pole star is participation with your children in furtherance
of the emergence of their respective purposes ... and even your own.
to return to the videoblog