Friday, November 4, 2011

Slow Homeschooling?

I started writing this on Friday afternoon, after a week of homeschooling.  At the time I was experiencing a slightly jaded feeling I recognize.  It happens every year sooner or later.   It doesn't matter HOW I'm homeschooling that year.   However I start, I always feel enthusiastic and competent for X amount of time.  Then we get to the end of the week and I realize the inspiration is trickling away. 

I've homeschooled long enough to know that inspiration isn't everything.   With everything important --- your faith, your marriage, your writing, your art or music, your marathon, your studies, your medical treatment -- you get to the ebb tide, the restless or stalled  times when what you are doing seems torturous and burdensome.   Or there are those other times, when it's worse than drudgery; when what you've done so far seems to mock you, because you realize you aren't coming even close to what you envisioned.

Does that mean it was all worthless?  One learns that the answer is no.   You keep at it, and you end up with something not quite what you hoped and dreamed, but something solid.

Still, I've learned with the practice of my Faith that though inspiration and feelings are by no means essential to true devotion to God, still, it doesn't do to just pretend they are unimportant.   I can accept deprivations from God because  I  know He has a purpose, but it seems like a sort of dishonesty to pretend they are trivial.   They hurt.

 Also, desolations (in spiritual terms) or a fume of burnout smoke (in homeschooling terms) can be a symptom of something that is not quite right.    It's like pain when exercising.  There is "good pain" that means you are growing and that "bad pain" you shouldn't ignore, or you store up more trouble for yourself in the future.   It can help you realize that something has gone off track, so that you don't keep going further and further off. 

But that isn't what I was going to talk about, not exactly.

Rather, I was thinking about the art of slow reading.  I started thinking about it after I confessed I had read 153 books in 9 months.  That's a lot of books.   I like fast reading.    It's my speed of choice.  But I thought I should try to slow down, so I was collecting links on slow reading.  Here's a few:

Slow reading:  the affirmation of authorial intent 
(Who would have thought that slow reading could provide an antidote to deconstructionism?)

The art of slow reading
(Is internet skimming hurting our brains?  Probably. )

Going back further in time:

Lectio Divina

and in the old days, before the printing press, school was mostly Lectio --basically reading from great authors -- and memorizing, reflecting upon and learning how to understand what the readings were about.

This still isn't really what I was going to talk about.

Thinking over WHY I feel sort of restless, beyond that it was a bad food week, I have a cold, and the days are getting shorter -- I realize that I always get to a point where I feel like what I am doing isn't enough.  We are proceeding, but slowly.   There is more that COULD be squeezed into the day.

This is the state of mind that I cultivate some unschooliness to combat, because I know it's a deception.  Quantity isn't of first importance.  My homeschool is not a factory.   I know that, because some of our most idiosyncratic, quirkily paced years actually turned out to be some of our richest.   In retrospect, which makes it harder, because it didn't always show up at the time. 

In trying to think this through, I started thinking:   If there is something called Slow Reading, and it's a Good Thing, could there be something called Slow Homeschooling?

Certainly, slowness is a vanishing quality in our world; everything else conspires to hurry us along.   It's hard to even muster a case for it, but when "slowness" is celebrated nowadays, as in Slow Reading or Slow Food, or Slow Language, it is talked about in terms of individuality, and reflectiveness, and focus.   Those are good things.

In that case I should probably keep trying to do what I think is important and not let that inevitable flat feeling stir me into a hastier speed that will become careless and un-deliberate.

As I write this, I ask myself whether I'm just looking for a way to take it easier than I really should.  And sure, that is always a temptation.   But I'm trying to pinpoint something different -- a habit of waiting, thinking things through. dwelling on a book, accepting that we don't have to have a giant stack of accomplishments in order to be successful.

The purpose of the teaching of slow reading is to allow us to enter into conversations with the authors of great works -- those authors whose distinction is that they afford us the opportunity to think things that are worthy of thought.

The teaching of slow reading, therefore, is an experiment that aims beyond itself. In itself the practice of slow reading intends to create occasions for joining in conversations with (not just about) some of the most powerful thinkers who have ever lived -- not merely to learn what they thought, but to think with them and learn from them. But the aim of slow reading beyond itself is to consider whether the practice of slow reading might foster the recovery of a certain art of conversation: that in which listening holds at least an equal place with speaking.
Since homeschooling is so intrinsically connected with reading, listening, conversing and thinking, then surely some of what Lancelot Fletcher says about slow reading also applies to my pace of homeschooling. Charlotte Mason says (about preschoolers, but surely the need doesn't disappear at the same time as that first front tooth is lost)

“In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mother’s first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time.”

Part of this, it seems to me, is not to rush through our school times; to give them a chance to be suspended in time,   Or as a Montessori article puts it

The Greeks had a name for it-Kairos-- a quality of time without measure. We all know it. The artist and writer know it. We are baffled by it when we ask, "Where did the time go!" after we lose ourselves in a book or in a labor of love. Kairos time returns us to the young child's time without measure, where freedom of movement and freedom of choice-the time-honored icons of Montessori theory-are not hampered by artificial blocks of time, as in traditional school environments.
I really want my kids to have that sense of freedom from time in our homeschool.  I really admire homeschoolers who are always busy driving their kids to activities or doing multiple clever, energetic things in their homeschools, but I can also see that some pauses and spaces can be a positive thing, too, even if in a less obvious way.

A couple of related posts I found at other blogs:
  1. Slow Homeschooling from God Made, Home Grown
  2. The ultimate burnout survival guide, from Conversion Diary


  1. I try this too, your insight helps me. There are times when an interior alarm tells me... slow down... and other times when we need a bit of 'action', so to speak. We need to 'listen', well, I DO! :), if we listen, our body, mind, and heart, will tell us what way to go and will dictate the speed.

  2. My dh always talks about plateaus. We may have a huge learning curve where we literally gulp it all in and then we plateau as we assimilate and absorb, letting it all settle. time is so essential, large chunks of time for connections.

  3. You had so many wonderful things to say in this post. I love what you said about ebb tides -- there is a lot of wisdom there. I also love the Montessori quote and the last paragraph of your post. Sometimes I think the pauses and spaces are where most worthwhile learning germinates. Food for thought ...

  4. Silvia, that's a good point that there are times that require action, too! Sometimes I notice we are getting sluggish and complacent and need something to wake us up.

    Recently I've been spending a few minutes upon waking up thinking "What does God want us to do today?" Seems to help me put first things first and decide if we need to be energized or if we need to go slower. My kids have noticed a difference.

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments everyone; as usual, they help me understand better what I'm trying to say : ).

  5. Willa - do you mind if I share this link on Facebook? I have a friend on FB who has had a tough couple of days with homeschooling. From previous conversations, I know she tends to push her child through work (he is very bright).


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!