A HOME*schooling Inquiry: What is Your Child's PURPOSE?


[Note: 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.

3.1. "Passion" 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 be.

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 out!"

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."

Another "glint" 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 be created.

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.


click here to return to the videoblog