Wisdom and Virtue are Best Learned at Home — A Response to Criticism, by Amy Rose

We at Sandbox to Socrates are not in the habit of getting offended by strangers on the Internet. We don’t have time for it after our pressing responsibilities of rocking babies, singing nursery rhymes, going on nature walks, standing at kitchen chalkboards teaching sentence diagramming or long division, getting supper on the table, finishing tomorrow’s Hamlet lesson plan, driving our teens to work, washing dishes, spending a little time with our husbands before they fall asleep exhausted after their day, staying up a bit later to read Chesterton and nurse the baby, going to bed to do it all again tomorrow…no. We don’t have time to look for offense. Life is full.

Sometimes, however, offense finds us. As lifelong friends of the classical education revival and frequent readers and purchasers of CiRCE Institute’s work, we were astounded this week to see classical homeschooling attacked in a piece by CiRCE member Josh Gibbs, both in the article itself and in the subsequent discussion. As our staff discussed amongst ourselves the many fallacies in the author’s logic and information, we decided a response was required. The author seems to be whispering to potential homeschooling mothers that classical education is best left to the experts. “Don’t try this at home.” We refute this opinion with the best possible evidence: our own children, who have achieved their classical education at our own kitchen tables under our supervision. The veteran homeschooling mothers at StS are not sitting around wondering whether we will ruin our children if we homeschool. We’re looking at our grown children, knowing that we taught them well. We are here to encourage other parents who desire to do the same.

The following response is the reaction of just one of our contributors as she attempted to take in the dubious wisdom of CiRCE blogger Josh Gibbs’ A Regal Fantasy. While our website is committed to a secular-leaning inclusive perspective, this author is a Christian and is responding to the Christian language and references in Gibbs’ article. The original article, included in its entirety, is bolded and the responses are in normal typeface. All scripture quotes are from the King James Version unless otherwise noted. ~Editor

A Regal Fantasy

Your own child spilled off the cliff of the Empyrean into this land of exile and shall someday return to the throne room of God. In what manner should they return?
By Joshua Gibbs

Mr. Gibbs, when my son stands before the throne of God, he will come as a son returning to his Heavenly Father. As the child of the King, he will have gained some lofty titles: Joint-Heir with Christ (Romans 8:17), part of a holy priesthood (I Peter 2:5), a priest-king after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:21-25), a saint (Romans 1:7), and a pillar in the temple of God (Revelation 3:12) – but when he goes home, he will be going home as a son to his father. In all of scripture I can find nothing about earthly or spiritual monarchs as such greeting Jehovah in heaven on that footing. All must appear before the judgment seat of Christ (II Corinthians 5:10)…as men. They will be sons of God or not. Nothing else will matter about their station during their earthly life as nothing material exists beyond death. So what does this imagery of an abandoned earthly monarch have to do with us?

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On a Friday night, a stranger knocks at your door and puts into your hands a newborn. The stranger says, “This child is fated to be president of this country in fifty years,” then the stranger runs away, vanishing into the night.

Over the coming weeks and months, you don’t regard the newborn any differently than your own children, who are nine and twelve respectively. As the years pass, though, you come to think of the child very differently than your own.

Not according to the history and literature of the West. Ask King Arthur.

Leader of the free world, you think. The things I put into the mind of this child will someday come to weigh heavily on the heart of the man who makes war. The sense of fairness and justice I grant to this child will someday sway the imagination of the man who considers nuclear war, abortion, the arts, taxation and slavery.

You might think that, or if you are Sir Kay, you might send him out to tend the pigs and sheep because he lives here and there is work to be done. If you are Akki, you might set him to picking apples in the garden. If you are a fisherman who rescued the infant boy and his mother in their wooden box in the sea, fleeing for their lives, you might just teach him to fish.

What is man? Rather, what is the purpose of man? “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” according to the first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, said the whole duty of man is to fear God and keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12: 13). If the goal is for my child to know the Lord and make Him known, the manner in which I raise him will not vary, whether he is to be butcher, baker, candlestick maker, or king. Whether he is a manager on a construction job, a father in a home, a leader in a church, or governor of the state, his character will need to be of one kind if he is to be both righteous and effective.

If a stranger knocked at my door and placed into my hands a newborn with a prophecy, I would tell him that I only know how to raise children created in the image of God and their destiny is known only by Him. “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord…” (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT). “He changeth the times and the seasons; he removeth kings and setteth up kings…” (Daniel 2:21). Shakespeare acknowledged as much: “There is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will” (Hamlet, Act 2 Scene 5).

The Messiah Himself was placed into a humble home, not into a cradle for kings. He wasn’t given to a Lord High Chancellor. He was given to a mother. He was given to a family, to be raised with humble children as one of them. Tell me more about the education of Mary and Joseph, and of their great wealth to be able to send their son to the best schools. Jehovah God knew He was sending the Messiah to poverty-stricken carpenters who would follow their faith while eking out survival in an uneducated community. Yet that is where He placed the King of Kings for His childhood.

As I alluded above, this is an extremely common literary trope in the canon of the West, this idea of an infant monarch being stashed with humble folk for the duration of his childhood. We see it from Holy Scripture to Greek mythology to the early modern era to the post-modern era. People love this idea because it is true to life: Simple and good people are best qualified to raise someone else’s future leaders of the free world because they will bring him up along with their own children and according to their own home values. You assumed the humble folk would begin to treat destiny’s child with more love and care than their own. According to our history and literature, they don’t. They treat him exactly the same or sometimes slightly worse than they treat their own biological offspring.

Mr. Gibbs, as you are a high school English teacher, I’m sure names are already springing to mind, but in case they are not, here are a few: Sargon, Perseus, Alfred the Great, Arthur, Aurora, The Prince and the Pauper, Superman, Luke Skywalker, and Harry Potter. It’s 2014, and the world has largely forgotten Danae’s fisherman friend, Akki, and Sir Kay, but human nature is still quite ready to believe in the humble Kents from Kansas. Why? Because if baby Superman were dropped off on our doorstep we’d raise him the only way we knew how. We’d think in pity that even though he was special, the poor little thing deserved a proper Midwestern upbringing, the same as any child.

At the age of three, the child sees a “Looney Toons” show on television, though you have not shown him any such thing before. You wonder, “Is this the kind of thing I want forming the heart of the most powerful man in the world?” You turn off the television.

Mr. Gibbs, have you raised a man yet? I have. Of all the mistakes I made, a little exposure to Looney Tunes was not one of them. We first met Rossini and Verdi, Wagner and Corot through Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, and Porky Pig. (In the hands of Blanc and Jones, Rossini’s Barber of Seville became The Rabbit of Seville, and everyone knows What’s Opera, Doc? Porky Pig frequently walked out in blue smock and black beret, easel and chair under his arm in the fashion of that forerunner of French plein air painting — Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot.) Of course, our studies of composers and artists did not end with Looney Tunes, but the laughter and fun are very precious memories. As the mother of four sons I prefer to teach and share with joie de vivre, and I want my sons to be hale and hearty men who can laugh at harmless amusements within their culture. If they cannot, of what use will they be to this world? If they are so hot-housed and removed from those whom they are to serve, they will be useless.

Have you raised leaders yet? I have. I can claim the precious privilege of understanding for myself how George Washington could be better educated than his men, and far more apprising of the grave responsibility they all faced, yet able to joke with them according to their sense of humor. He wasn’t talking down to them either. He was laughing with them.

When the child cries for a toy which has been stripped from his hands, you hesitate a moment before giving the toy back. Yes, you can give the toy back and spare yourself a splitting headache, but years on, will the world receive a leader who cannot counter the difficulty of austerity and asceticism? You deal with the screaming. For the sake of the world, you deal with the screaming. For the sake of just tribunals, you deal with the screaming.

Good parents do not spoil their children, whether they are raising future kings or future ditch diggers, sir. Good parents do not go out of their way to put their children through trials, either – in the godly home, the family endures hardships together. We teach our children to be stoic and brave by being stoic and brave when the inevitable challenges of life come to us.

At the age of four, the child lusts for every sparkling and glittering thing he sees in a mall. You decide the mall is too much… for the child to deal with? No, the mall is too much for the world. You find it hard to see the child as anything other than a fifty year old man, a man with missiles and nuclear submarines and trillions of dollars at his disposal. The child is a child and the child is not a child. The child is but a child and must be treated like an angel. The child is a man and must be treated like a monk, like an abbot. When the child lies, you correct world currency markets. When the child strikes a playmate, you cut off preemptive strikes and encourage leniency—the kind of leniency which spares the lives of women and children who know nothing of political science and prudence.

No matter who our children will grow to be, we teach them self-denial by practicing self-denial. The child’s father works alongside him and in the sweat of their faces they eat their bread (Genesis 3:19), and A Man’s a Man for A’ That. Each knows that if any shall not work, neither shall he eat (II Thessalonians 3:10), and they sleep well because the sleep of a labouring man is sweet (Ecclesiastes 5:12). The child learns to speak the truth because he knows full well the difference between virtue and vice. He learned it at his mother’s knee. He learns not to strike others in anger because the Son of God, when reviled, reviled not again (I Peter 2:23), and no man who is a brawler is fit to be a pastor in the church (Titus 1:7). He learns to show mercy because he has been shown mercy. These are home lessons of the most basic kind.

At the age of five, you weigh your options. You might send the child to the best school in town and eat less for the next twelve years, or you might educate the child yourself and spoil everything in the child which could rise like a seraphim to please a strange teacher. You might send the child off to doctors and philosophers, and the leader of the free world might know Latin and Greek and read Plato and Ptolemy and Euclid and Athanasius, or the leader of the free world might get a discount education or a free education and you could trust yourself to read good books with the child on the weekends, when you’re not too busy.

Education in a good home begins at birth. Mr. Gibbs, have you made the sacrifices to live on one scanty income and teach your children at home, believing that you owe it to them to pass on the great traditions and heritage of the West? I have. It wasn’t a bit of reading on the weekend in my spare time either. Latin, Greek, Plato, Ptolemy, Euclid, and Athanasius are well known to my son through my own diligence over the course of his life. I have not spoiled what is best in him, and I care nothing for the strange teacher deprived of his seraphim. What does that even mean, that my son would rise like a seraphim in a classroom somewhere if I didn’t hole him up at home? If Christ Himself does not glorify and sanctify my son, the teacher will never be able to do it. Education is not the means to salvation. It never has been. Even though I give my life to teaching my child to know God and trust Christ, and though I love him far more than any schoolmaster ever could, even I cannot save his soul.

At the age of six, the child takes up an interest in ninjas and mutants which have crept in from well-meaning but undiscerning friends from church. What will you say to the leader of the free world about mutants? Will you say nothing? And what will saying nothing to the leader of the free world about mutants mean when all the aberrations of society are banging on his chamber door for pure discretion and unlimited rights three decades in the future?

The father, the foreman, the governor, and the president all need to know what is good. Ninjas and mutants are of no interest to my family, but those shows aren’t really about real-life ninjas or real-life mutants, you know. They are childish entertainment. With proper education and example, children will grow to put away childish things (I Corinthians 13:11). As our future classically-educated President finds himself confronted with citizenship rights for cyborgs, he won’t think of childish ninja turtles even if he caught an episode or two at a friend’s house when he was six. He will think of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. He will consider the definition of man and the rights of man, two common themes of the Great Conversation, in light of the best and brightest thinking of the West.

And on and on.

But your own child was given to you with the same promise that the hypothetical child in the parable above was given to the hypothetical you. Your child is the leader of the free world, which is only to say the leader of their own self, their own family, their own society. You are raising kings and queens. Do you want kings and queens raised on cartoons or something better? Do you want the leader of the free world raised on Pop-tarts and pop culture, or something better?

I am not raising kings. I am raising men who will stand before kings and give testimony of the risen Christ (Matthew 10:18). I choose to raise them carefully through character training and classical home education as my duty, but I know that Christ does not need them to be so carefully prepared in order to save them. As the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians after listing their former sins and deprivations of character, “…and such were some of you. But ye were washed, ye were sanctified, ye were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ…” (I Corinthians 6:11). Any missionary or minister will tell you that a person raised in pop culture and paganism can be saved and made new. The pride of the classical schoolmaster might bristle, but history tells us that the leaders of the free world don’t always need him, anymore than the Savior of the world needs him. Some of the world’s most important leaders have often been self-taught or trained out of school; it’s an American truism. Abraham Lincoln comes to mind. God will use whom He chooses, and He will discipline and train His children, according to the Hebrew writer, with an education we could never preempt nor duplicate (Hebrews 12:6). Shakespeare again in Twelfth Night: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

I believe in teachers and in classical education. I have devoted my life to teaching my own children classically at home. But let’s not lose our sense of proportion about our own importance and worth.

Education becomes nothing more than an idol when we start to believe that, through it, we have the power to determine and control the spiritual destinies or future earthly course of our children.

Your own child spilled off the cliff of the Empyrean into this land of exile and shall someday return to the throne room of God. In what manner should they return? What kind of upbringing is appropriate to kings and queens? Why are kings and queens given special treatment while young? And why should your own children not receive the same? Rulers must be “habituated to self-respect,” as Edmund Burke says in his Reflections, or else they have no sense of what might be lost if they fritter away their years.Too glibly we speak of “a child of promise.” If you knew your child would someday rule a nation, would you raise them differently? However you would raise a child to rule… this is how you must raise them anyway.

The royal interest returned on an investment into the education of a king… it is yours for the taking. If you would not raise a queen on cartoons because you fear a zany crown, then neither raise your own child this way. If you would not raise a king who patronizes mediocre artists, then do not fill your home with mediocre art. What kind of table manners ought a queen have when dining with foreign dignitaries? Incline your own child to care about the polity of dinner.

You might think I’ve been agreeing with you all along without knowing it, that I have colossally missed the point because I am obviously also calling for equality in child rearing. But while we might generally agree on how to raise children in this culture (from good books to table manners) I think you’ve got the wrong end of the stick as to the “why,” to an almost fatal degree.

You want the children of shepherds to be raised as if they were future monarchs. I want the future monarchs to be raised as if they were shepherds. History and, indeed, God Himself are on my side in that. Why was Jesus placed in a humble home? King David, Gideon the Judge, and Moses the Hebrew slave were all raised in the meekest of families and then called to take up their tremendous positions of leadership. Home is the seat of training in character, faith, philosophy, and leadership and is by no means in opposition to Burke’s call for that habituation to self-respect so necessary for future leaders.

In “Sin No More,” Rémi Brague suggests the universality of the command to keep the Sabbath points toward the aristocratic blood of all men. God commands that even strangers and foreigners and slaves be treated like gentry on the last day of the week. In the end, everyone is free. Everyone is folded into the leisure of the ruling class, because the privilege of the aristocracy is an icon of humanity, not an icon of wealth.

God claimed the Sabbath before He made kings and taught us to rest as He Himself rested after creating the world. We are not like kings when we take our Sabbath rest. Kings are like the humble and obedient people of God when they take theirs.

For this, no matter how poor and powerless we are, we must crown our children early.

I am not here to crown my child. I am here to crown my Lord with many crowns and to teach my child to do the same. Therefore, as a Christian classical educator, I cannot accept the imagery and metaphor of this article. I am repelled rather than inspired. We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation – that is glory enough to aspire to without seeing ourselves as keepers of children more special than average. We’re not here to raise hot-housed prigs who have been so preciously kept, unfit to live among the common man and enjoy simple pleasures of life with those whom they are sent to serve. We are here to raise humble, wise, brave, and faithful people who identify more with shepherds and prophets than with the kings of this age. Their heads may be full but so are their hearts, filled with love for God and for their fellow man whom they believe to be equally created in His image.

12211601494_8a0a5dcb15by Amy Rose–Amy Rose was a middle child growing up in a trailer park in the Midwest with talented parents who struggled financially. Her future life was easy to imagine until one magical day when she was thirteen her fairy godmother gave her a box of oil pastels and a vintage textbook titled, “England in Literature.” Suddenly the entire wealth of riches found in the history of the West became to her a Holy Grail.  So she grew up and learned how to classically educate her own children who all turned out to be geniuses or at least mostly teachable.

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Living a Beautiful Life…Before It's Too Late, by Genevieve

 

“Don’t turn on the news and kiss my babies for me.” My entire perspective changed with that one phone call. Almost two thousand innocent people lost their lives that Tuesday morning; what if one of them had belonged to me?

We had only been homeschooling a few weeks. I had read every homeschooling book I could get my greedy little hands on. I had a plan, and my plan included an hour of SAT test practice every day of high school. I was certain that high test scores combined with a solid early foundation would ensure my children’s success.

But what if?

What if it had been one of them? What if their lives had been severed that morning?

What if I did everything the experts encouraged? What if I planned every moment of their lives in preparation for that perfect test score, that coveted acceptance letter, that full ride — but their lives were cut short? It happens every day. Teenagers die of illness or car accidents all too often, right at the moment when they are to reap the rewards of all their labors.

I made a promise that day. I would not sacrifice my children’s childhood preparing them for an adulthood that may never come.

My goal was no longer to give them a successful future life. I wanted to give them a beautiful current one. We skipped school that day. Instead, we spent the day in the sunshine, on the patio, painting Halloween decorations on wooden boards we hauled out of the trash. As the children painted, I thought about my promise. I could never forgo Latin and Logic and books by the greatest writers who ever lived. What could be more beautiful than those?

I could balance them, though. I could fill our days with meaningful work,

arts

and crafts,

music

and travel,

sports

and healthy food,

time with family

and time with friends.

Almost thirteen years later, I have graduated two children and have another with one foot out of the door. It’s time to evaluate my methodology: Have I reached my goals?

“Are you doing what you want, Sweetheart? Are you happy?”
“Yes, Mom, very.”

 

*featured photo by Gretchen Phillips*

Genevieve–is a former public and private school teacher who has five children and has been Genevievehomeschooling for the past thirteen years. In her free time she provides slave labor to Dancing Dog Dairy, making goat milk soap and handspun yarn, which can be seen on
Our Facebook Page and at Dancing Dog Dairy .

When Homeschooling Isn't Going Well: 101 Questions to Ask Yourself, by Sheryl

 

We’ve all had those awful homeschooling moments. The ones where you look around at your kids and realize that everyone is going through the motions, but their education isn’t where you want it to be. Tears are flowing, projects are left unfinished, grades drop, and your visions of the perfect homeschool vanish.

When my crew is in the thick of homeschooling, it is easy to just put our “noses to the grindstone” and do the next thing. I focus on getting work done but rarely question the work itself. This has come to some disastrous results. At one point, I suddenly realized that I had been reteaching my daughter how to count to 10 for years. Something was wrong. I had to put everything on hold while I spent time in agonizing self-reflection to pinpoint how to proceed with getting her learning disability diagnosed and altering all of our lessons to reflect reality. It was a harsh change from my dream of what school would look like, and it was apparent that something needed to change. But what?

Self-examination is required if we are to look critically and find the source of the problem, but true self-examination is difficult. It requires us to analyze every aspect of our approach, including our methods, assumptions, and biases. It requires deep honesty and a courageous willingness to challenge our own beliefs.

Nobody likes to have their assumptions challenged, and we certainly don’t want to have our self-assessment reveal that we are contributing in any way to our children’s struggles. It is easy to avoid doing this work, but challenging our assumptions, objectives, and yes, even homeschooling itself, will push us to become better.

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Get a pen and notepad or download our assessment form. We are going to mercilessly examine your school. For each question below, you will look at the following areas.
You will need five columns.

1. The original question

2. What are your assumptions?

3. In what do you base that belief?

4. Should you challenge this belief? If so, how?

5. To do.

Okay, ready?

The basics: Academic Reassessment

    • Are you on track to complete the school year?
    • Look at each subject independently. Are your kids struggling or mastering material?
    • What methods are working best?
    • What causes the most tears?
    • What creates the most joy?
    • How do the kids feel about school in general? Are they excited, content, anxious?
    • What one subject do you most feel that you need to tweak to fit your homeschool?
    • What is holding you back?
    • What do you really not want to change?
    • What materials did you pay too much for?
    • Look at each outside activity independently. Is it a good fit for your child?
    • Are there any signs of learning disabilities? What are they?
    • What subject are you not spending enough time on?
    • What subject are you spending too much time on?
    • What should you drop entirely?
    • Do you know your children’s learning styles? Do your lessons reflect this?
    • Is your record keeping system working well for you?
    • Are you pushing or challenging your students?
    • Are your children exploring on their own?

Leave room for imperfection. Not all students are capable of straight As, and purchased materials don’t come with charts that factor in exactly how to handle that month of drastic illness you suffered. It is okay to not be perfectly in sync with where you want to be, but strive to find a balance point.

Home Reassessment

    • In general, how is your home running?
    • How many days are you out of the house?  Do you feel okay with that number?
    • What one area are you struggling most in? (cooking, cleaning, laundry, time management, outside activities)
    • Are you delegating well?
    • Are your school supplies well organized and easy to reach?
    • Is there clutter that is distracting you or the kids from schoolwork?
    • How well is your routine working for you?
    • What time of day is best for your students? Worst?
    • What doesn’t work well for you as the teacher? As Mom?
    • Do you find yourself scrambling right before lessons to find the supplies you need?

If your time management is out of order, take a moment to do a bit of backwards planning and see where your time hogs are. This will help you to determine exactly what to keep, what to drop, and where to buckle down and simply work faster.

Relationship Reassessment

    • Is there a specific subject, topic, or time of day that seems to create the worst attitudes?
    • Are you feeling distant from any of your children?
    • How well do your children interact with one another?
    • Is your child’s relationship with your spouse positive?
    • Are there discipline issues that you need to focus on?
    • Are the kids healthy?
    • Would you describe your children as happy?
    • Are there any physical or emotional impairments that should be considered?
    • What is the role of religion in your home? Is this helping your relationships?
    • Are you demonstrating good manners and consideration?
    • Do your children have friends who are a good influence?
    • What are you doing to help your children to build strong friendships with others?
    • Are special projects and field trips helping or hurting your relationships?

Self Reassessment

How is your own attitude? Our kids feed off of our energy, and our attitude can set the mood for the entire family’s day, week or even year. Remember, be completely honest with yourself while doing this assessment. Our kids learn more from what they see us do than what they hear us say.

    • Are you healthy?
    • Would you describe yourself as happy? Would others?
    • Are your daily actions demonstrating what you believe to be true?
    • Are you available to help with lessons when needed?
    • Does being needed frustrate you?
    • Are there changes that should be made in your diet or exercise routine?
    • What are you most afraid of? Is that fear impacting your life right now?
    • What methods or materials are you using simply because they are easy?
    • What are you neglecting?
    • What one thing should you stop doing?
    • Is there one subject that you can delegate?
    • What distracts you?
    • Are you hovering or empowering?
    • How comfortable are you with the amount of preparation you need to do?
    • What are you doing really well?

The hard part: Goal Reassessment

These may seem like fluff questions, but they are really at the heart of the matter.

    • Why are you homeschooling?
    • What is it that you want to achieve at the end of your child’s school career?
    • Is your child on track for college entry?
    • What should your child know by the end of this year? Be realistic and specific.
    • What teaching philosophy do you believe in most? Do your lessons reflect this?
    • If you could pick only one priority, what would you teach your kids?
    • Are you accountable to anyone?
    • What is the most important change you need to make?
    • Is homeschooling right for your children?

Just do it

This is where the rubber meets the road. You now have a list of things that you would like to improve. Things that can help revitalize yourself, your home, your school, and your kids. It’s a long list. It is challenging, and it may involve some pretty major changes.

At this point you must remember that the purpose of re-assessment isn’t to point out all  your failures or inadequacies; it is to find the areas where you can make positive changes. None of us feel like we are “doing it right.” We are all concerned that our child isn’t progressing perfectly in one subject or another, and we all have areas in which we need to improve. No one is capable of making giant changes all at once. Choose just a few areas that you feel will be the most beneficial to your kids’ school experience and focus on only that.

Reassessment is just the first step in the process.  Are you ready to find out what changes you need to make?  Download the assessment form and get started.

 

Sherysheryll–Sheryl is living her dream in the house on Liberty Hill where she is a full time wife, mother, and teacher. She is passionate about turning children’s natural curiosity into activities that will inspire, enlighten, and entertain. Learn more about her adventures at libertyhillhouse.com

A Step Off the Bow, by Briana Elizabeth

 

A few years ago, I dropped history as the spine of our homeschool.

I know, I know, this is a controversial thing to do amongst classical homeschoolers. If you would permit me to explain why….

books

It started as most life-changing things do, as a trickle. There was a huge thread on a classical homeschooling board about philosophy, literature, history, and homeschooling. Then there was the book I was reading, The Philosophy of Tolkien by Peter Kreeft. And, finally, there was a catechism class I was teaching, and that is where all the pieces started to come together.

It was a class of about sixteen eighth graders. All public school children, stuck with me, the homeschooling mom. They were a rowdy bunch, but my way of teaching is to have discussions with them, and for the most part, they were happy with that. As discussions go, there were rabbit trails, and personal anecdotes, and the volley back and forth of ideas. Of course as a teacher, I bring in references to other things: science, literature, history–whatever would elucidate my point, and to make an abstract more concrete for my students. At that time, the CCD class was in the medieval ages, exploring the idea of social justice, and I threw out a reference to Robin Hood. In return, I got a blank stare. Hmmm. I asked if they’d seen the Disney movie, and sang a bit of the Chanticleer’s song. Nothing. “Stealing from the rich to give to the poor?” I asked. A few eyes lit up; okay, we might be getting somewhere.

That whole discussion eventually set me on another path of discussion and into a thunderstorm of thought. Did they know fairy tales? I asked what fairy tales they knew. Not many. From there, I started asking about books, and apart from new modern hits, they had read almost none. This is why teaching them was so hard. I would bring up a well-known reference, one that should be a culturally understood reference, and they didn’t know it. It had been happening often enough to be noteworthy, and I wasn’t making the connections of why, but as I kept asking, the whole of it was becoming overwhelming. It would be no exaggeration to say that they had to start with nursery rhymes to backfill why they didn’t know.

I actually went home after that class and drank. I had just spent an hour with children who had no literature in their lives, no connection to the inheritance of Western Civilization they were a part of, no idea who we were as a people, and no poetic imagination.

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I started asking my children, do you know Little Red Riding Hood? Pinocchio? The Steadfast Tin Soldier?

Their answers weren’t much better. But why? I mean, I’m a homeschooler. How did we end up with this huge, gaping hole? Shame on me. Then I realized, we had ended up here because historical literature had always been a priority, pushing out classic literature. At one point, I had five children under five, plus the older two whom I had pulled out to homeschool were in older grades, so that when we ‘started’ schooling we jumped in at fourth grade and seventh with nary a nursery rhyme to be found. Then, when I was done with their schooling for the day, and taking care of the littles, you can imagine what extra reading got done. “None” would be the right guess. I had left that portion of the older children’s education up to the public school.

So, out of my reaction, we dropped history.

For us, it was the right thing to do. I am only one mom, their only teacher, there are only twenty-four hours in a day, and I need to sleep. So did they. I couldn’t have five separate read-alouds for five different grades. Because I wanted what we read to matter, it couldn’t be swept away in an ocean of three hours of daily reading; it would all get mushed. So something had to be prioritized, and literature was what I chose. Why? What I was reading gave me the answers.

“Philosophy makes literature clear, literature makes philosophy real. Philosophy shows essences, literature shows existence. Philosophy shows meaning, literature shows life.” Peter Kreeft, p22 The Philosophy of Tolkien.

And, a few paragraphs later he says, “Literature incarnates philosophy. You can actually see hate when you read Oedipus Rex. You actually hear nihilism when you read Waiting for Godot. As the acts of the body are the acts of the person, as a smile does not merely express happiness (the nine-letter word does that) but actually contains it, so literature actually contains or incarnates philosophical truths (or falsehoods).”

“All literature incarnates some philosophy. All literature teaches. In allegory, the philosophy is taught by the conscious and calculating part of the mind, while in great literate it is done by the unconscious and contemplative part of the mind, which is deeper and wiser and has more power to persuade and move the reader. Allegory engages only the mind while great literature the person, for allegory comes from the mind, while great literature comes from the whole person.”

“Literature not only incarnates philosophy: it also tests it by verifying it or falsifying it. One way literature tests philosophies is by putting philosophies into the laboratory of life, incarnating them into different characters and then seeing what happens. Life does exactly the same thing. Literature also tests philosophy in a more fundamental way. It can be expressed by this rule: a philosophy that cannot be translated into a good story cannot be good philosophy. “

Peter Kreeft, pg 22-23, The Philosophy of Tolkien, emphasis  mine.

Can’t historical literature do that? Yes, it can. But choices had to be made. Caddie Woodlawn or Narnia? Guns for General Washington or Pinocchio? Toliver’s Secret or Little Women?

All of them are good, but what is best? Choices had to be made.

Did I want them to learn history through historical fiction books, or did I want them to learn everlasting truths through literature? Could the historical fiction do both? Yes, it can, but it doesn’t always, and those classic children’s books were classics for a reason: they embodied human nature, they fed the moral imagination, and they nurtured poetic knowledge.

Most classically home schooled children will pick up Robin Hood when they study the medieval ages, so again, why was I bothering to drop history as our spine? For me, it was where the emphasis was put. And, I have to say that as they enter the middle grades and high school, literature and history re-intwine, but in a different way.

Then I started learning about Humane Letters. My intuitive decision to drop history as our spine was right. As I learned later, it was right because I needed to replace it with Humane Letters. Humane Letters is the study of philosophy, history, theology, and literature.

“Truth is symphonic.” said Hans Urs von Bathazaar.  The symphony is the whole of Humane Letters; philosophy, history, theology, and literature.

At this point, though I know there is a difference between the Humane Letters and the Liberal Arts, within the classical homeschooling community (outside of Norms and Nobility) I’ve rarely heard either of those terms differentiated. I would love to hear a discussion on the terms and their implementation with emphasis on curriculum choices in the classical homeschooling community, but that’s a discussion for another day.

With a liberal arts emphasis you also eventually hear of Adler’s great books or Dr. Senior’s ‘good books’. From reading his books, I don’t think Dr. Senior would recommend Adler’s idea that the Great Books be read apart from instruction or in a vacuum. He was much more of a Christian humanist.

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In his article The Great Books: Enemies of Wisdom, Frederick Wilhelmsen brings a strong argument against the Great Books and, in turn, against some of the neoclassical homeschool curriculum.

“But behind these pious intentions [the Great Books]–as good as they might be– repose three presuppositions, sometimes not expressed formally, but always exercised in the classroom: (1) disengaging the meaning of a text equalizes philosophizing; (2) the teacher is little more than a midwife whose role consists in leading the student to read texts and who is supposed to disappear, so to speak, behind the texts; (3) these books speak to the reader across the centuries altogether without any need to locate them within their historical contexts. Wisdom is not in the professor and wisdom is not in the tradition; wisdom is in the Books.

Let me attack these presuppositions in turn:

(1) Intellectual delicacy is needed to understand that the first prejudice is a fallacy. The understanding of the meaning of a text is not equivalent to the exercise of what Dr. Joseph Pieper felicitously called “The Philosophical Act.” Quite evidently, no one can become a professional philosopher who has not mastered the skills involved in reading a text. But a scholar who is not a professional philosopher–for instance, an intellectual historian–can do this very well without his being able to affirm the truth or detect flaws in a philosophical argument. Philosophical reasoning, on the contrary, consists in forming presuppositions into premises yielding conclusions. This habit is by no means reducible to the first set of skills. The philosophical act, therefore, can be exercised upon a text, but it does not have to be: it might be exercised on the report of a text, on a problem presented in isolation from texts, or on any issue which demands philosophical penetration.  The explication des texts hunts for “meaning” not “truth.” “[snip] The great books approach tends inevitably towards producing the skill needed to read intelligently a philosophical work, but it does not, of itself, help turn a man into an incipient philosopher.”

(2) Weighing the second prejudice, we must note that the very location of philosophy as a discipline shifts from the personal nourishment of habits of thinking about the real mastery of a number of philosophical classics. Concerning this latter, little need be said; Bergson once wrote that it takes a lifetime to master as many as two great philosophers and the very best we can do with the rest is to gain a gentleman’s awareness of their role and importance within the development of Western intellectuality. It were better to know one of them thoroughly than to know all of them superficially. No deep principal guides this observation: it is based simply on the economy of time given an undergraduate in a handful of courses dedicated, in a hurry, to his philosophical education.  [Multum non multa?]
[snip]

St. Thomas Aquinas spoke of a kind of sin – probably a minor sin – which is “curiosity,” wanting to know what may be worth knowing in itself but which is foreign to the destiny a man has given his own life. He was thinking of the cleric who ignores the things of God and busies himself with “pure” philosophy. But long before Aquinas, Plato pointed out that a mark of the philodaster, the false philosopher, was his knowing “many things” but knowing none of them in depth.”

[snip]

(3) Weighing the third of these prejudices–the conviction that books make sense to students without being located within the historical context that gave them birth and in abstraction from the living tradition in which they play their part–we must note that a kind of philosophical fundamentalism asking to its religious counterpart has insinuated itself into many departments of philosophy given over to Great Bookism. Yet very few, if any, philosophical masterpieces speak by themselves to the contemporary student. This is specially true when they are read, as they are, in translation.” pg 328

Please, go read the whole paper. I have brought out what is relevant to this article, but the whole is full of gems.

I must admit that when I read this, I had three reactions. The first was great sadness–where do we go to receive this education for either our children or ourselves? Secondly, I rolled my eyes. How does Wilhelmsen propose we begin to rebuild this lost education? Who are the rebuilders? How do you rebuild the educational system of an entire country? And thirdly, I was angry because it seemed he would have us burn all of the good for the pure. Nevertheless, I agreed with his diagnosis.

So, how do I apply what I’ve learned?

I adopted the curriculum put forth in David Hick’s Norms and Nobility. A friend who read it, and who classically homeschools, described it as elegant. It is.

I will write about the practical changes I made in my next blog post.

Briana Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.

What Is This Rest, And Where Can We Find It? by Briana Elizabeth


There have been a few blog posts around the internet lately on a phrase that Andrew Kern is famous for, “teaching from a state of rest.” It’s one that has left many a homeschooling mother scratching her head for hours; frankly, I’ve only been able to understand it as a few ideas have come colliding together in my own heart. Though there are many soft and grace-filled posts on the state of rest out there, this is not one that is soft. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adopted sons, and partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life. Sometimes grace comes in the form of a clue-by-four: this post is for those who need a little more definition in how this works out in our lives, people like myself.

Other blogs have wonderful posts on this idea and how to attain it, but I’m going to come at it from another angle: that rest starts with observing our unmet expectations and what those expectations mean, and what they shine a spotlight on. I’ve written before on Sandbox to Socrates about homeschooling being a spotlight on what can be wrong in our households; in this case, homeschooling can be a spotlight on what is wrong in our hearts.

There is a great homily on Audio Sancto called  Sloth: the Vice of Homeschoolers. When I didn’t understand the meaning of the word sloth, I was pretty taken aback by that title.

sloth

noun ˈslȯth, ˈsläth also ˈslōth

: the quality or state of being lazy

: a type of animal that lives in trees in South and Central America and that moves very slowly

Sloth is often summed up as laziness, but a truer definition is not doing what we are supposed to be doing, when we are supposed to be doing it. The cure for being slothful is knowing our place (you will hear more on that in the audio homily), which is doing what you are supposed to be doing, when you are supposed to be doing it.

Meaning, if your house is spotless, but the children’s education has fallen off the pier, that is sloth. If you have been running around like a chicken with her head off, but you are supposed to be resting, you are being slothful. If you are bound up in unmet expectations of your child’s education, are buying heaps of curriculum in hopes that it will be THE thing that gets them into Harvard, if your heart is anxious (when you are supposed to be resting in trust) you are being slothful. If you are piling worksheet after worksheet in front of your child because more of any work = success, you might be slothful.

Sometimes when sloth doesn’t look like laziness, it is shining a spotlight on our idols. What makes us anxious? Impatient? Angry? Bitter? Most of the time, it is unmet expectations. Unmet expectations of what? That our children would be gifted students and they are ‘only’ average? That the work would be easier? That our days would look like some fictionalized ideal in our heads? That the monotony of the day wouldn’t make us think that if we were out there, with a career or job, we would be doing something useful with our lives? That someone, anyone, would be a better teacher than we are?

Do we have more pride in our teaching ability, rather than trusting our children’s needs being met through us? Are we anxious and fearful of doing the wrong thing because everyone else is doing something different? Comparisons lead us to constantly question ourselves and the paths our families are on. Are we questioning our vocations as mothers and homeschoolers because the outside world looks prettier and more rewarding when our egos are are bruised because we’re ‘just’ stay at home mothers?

Look, sometimes we DO need to just clean up the house, and get the meals on the table, and put our noses to the grindstone, to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps because we’ve fallen. But even then, there is rest. There is rest because of trust. There is trust in the calling, in the vocation in our lives that is marriage and the upbringing of our children; trust in the love of Christ because he will not lead us astray; trust that when we DO get off track, He writes straight with crooked lines.

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In the end, with sloth it all comes down to ego, to what we think what should be–and wasn’t pride the first sin? Us forgetting who God is and our place. In Him.

So. How do we teach from a state of rest? By repenting. Sometimes when we think of repenting, we think of sackcloth and ashes. But that’s not what it is. It means to turn around, to change your mind. Doesn’t that sound much easier–to walk toward something better? But part of repenting is acknowledging that we need to change our minds. Let’s not be so stuck in our ways that we are unable to change our minds.

“‘The beginning of salvation is to condemn oneself’ (Evagrius). Repentance marks the starting-point of our journey. The Greek term metanoia…signifies primarily a ‘change of mind.’ Correctly understood, repentance is not negative but positive. It means not self-pity or remorse but conversion, the re-centering of our whole life upon the Trinity. It is to look not backward with regret but forward with home–not downwards at our own shortcomings but upwards at God’s love. It is to see, not what we have failed to be, but what by divine grace we can now become; and it is to act upon what we see. To repent is to open our eyes to the light. In this sense, repentance is not just a single act, an initial step, but a continuing state, an attitude of the heart and will that needs to be ceaselessly renewed up to the end of life. In the words of St Isaias of Sketis, ‘God requires us to go on repenting until our last breath.’ ‘This life has been given you for repentance,” says St Isaac the Syrian. ‘Do not waste it on other things.’” Met. Kallistos Ware

Homeschool Lemonade, by Emma

 

When life gives you lemons…

This has been a hard year, probably one of the hardest of my life. We’ve had many losses and a great deal of tragedy in our family. We have come together as a family and have grown stronger, and I believe homeschooling has greatly contributed to this strengthened family bond.

My children are young, both elementary-aged. During this hectic, crazy year, they coped by sticking to our routine. Get up in the morning, sneak past Mama to play with the dog (while Mama pretends not to hear them). Grab a snack in the kitchen. Play for a bit until Mama drags herself out of bed. Start lessons, have breakfast and continue on with school. School usually ends around eleven, and the rest of the afternoon is spent reading, playing games, or sometimes watching a movie. It’s quaint, peaceful, and serene, the exact opposite of all the craziness going on around us. I am so grateful for the peace.

I sit here, trying to imagine what the year would have been like if the kids had been away at school. I picture tired children, stress, rushing around, and a disconnected family. I’m grateful for one less thing to deal with on my plate.

So once again, I am reminded to be grateful for the opportunity to stay home with my babies, and to teach math using princess dolls while dressed like a princess. To read Pinocchio while snuggled on the couch. To receive mid-day hugs and kisses when life becomes hard.

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Emma has been married for 7 years, and is mom of 2, plus one once-crazy dog. She’s been homeschooling for 3 years now in NC. In addition to being a wife, mom and educator, she is also a Graphic Designer.

In the Beginning

by Briana Elizabeth

There’s always chaos in the beginning. The universe, Genesis says, was formed out of chaos. It’s no different with homeschooling. So, if you’ve decided to homeschool, I congratulate you on your life changing decision. It is still a brave and wild thing to do, and, because I want you to succeed, I’m going to lay some tough love on you.

First, I will tell you that I was the most disorganized person ever, and if you had told someone twenty-two years ago that I would have seven children and be organized, they would have split their face in half from laughing so hard. I was also the least patient, and cared not one whit about making a home, let alone homeschooling. So, I’m going to begin with some bold truths as I’ve learned some hard lessons, and I want to save you that pain.

Homeschooling will exacerbate your family’s problems. It’s like a magnifying glass, and you need to expect this, so that you know it’s not the just the decision to homeschool that’s made you all feel the pressure of close quarters. You need to know this upfront and really look at your family life and parenting style truthfully. If you are a yeller, there will be even more yelling. If your house is disorganized, you will become even more disorganized. If you lack habits of timeliness, then you will fall behind and be late even more. If dinner time comes and every day you are staring into the fridge, wondering what you will feed the family, that will now happen with every meal, because now you will have them all home for every meal.

The good news is that the good habits and virtues will also be brought to the forefront, but since you have all of that under control, I’m just going to give you the pointers I wished I was given those many years ago.

 The first rule of homeschooling in our house is “Begin with the End in Mind.” Now, that can mean planning, as you start with what you want your child to achieve by their 12th grade year and work yourself backwards with a schedule, or it can simply be a way to make sure that you have controlled what you can control during the day so that your day ends in peace, thus promoting household harmony and good feelings about homeschooling. You are going to have to do this school thing day after day, year after year (perhaps), and when you start going to bed hating the fact that you have to get up the next morning and teach your children again it will be impossible to maintain any sort of peace.

Look, God took chaos and ordered the universe. We are not God, and our universes are much smaller, but we can order our homes, especially with His help. If I, the most disorganized (yes, ask my mother) yeller can learn to keep a home that is reasonably clean and ordered with some ‘pretty’ thrown in for good measure; if I can learn to bridle my tongue, I know that God works miracles and can do the same for you. But, a warning, things may look worse before they get better.

So what can you do to manage the daily chaos that will happen when your family is together most hours of the day, most days of the year?

Like all famous generals, you need to have a plan.

Homeschool is about order and wonder. Without order, there can be no wonder. That is not my idea, it’s a very old idea, but it’s a very good one so I’m bringing it out and dusting it off.

The biggest piece of wisdom to share with you about the ordering of your homeschool is that teaching is a full-time job. Meaning, you can’t stop your teaching to go dust the living room. You will then pick up a basket of laundry and end up on the second floor, putting it all away, and then you will find another thing that has to be done and there will be no schooling done the rest of the day. So, rule # 1 is that during school time, no chores get done. Obviously, if you have one child in kindergarten, your hours of schooling will not be like mine, which run from about eight-thirty in the morning until about four in the afternoon with a lunch break.  So, if you adopt that rule, you can automatically see how everything needs to shift to accommodate the time you are schooling.

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Beginning with the end in mind, you need to get the house under control so that you are just maintaining order once school is done for the day. If your kids are old enough to help and aren’t helping, this is the time for them to learn how. Their future mates will thank you for these habits!

If you have children that are old enough to fold laundry, then by all means, show them how. Fifteen minutes of folding before school starts in the morning is a lot of work done. If another is old enough to learn how to use the washer, again, by all means, show him how. They are not incapable, and you underestimate their ability if you don’t give them the privilege of helping the family in such a fruitful way.

Now is also the time to teach them how to load and unload the dishwasher. In our house, the dishwasher is run three times a day and that job cannot go to me all the time or no teaching would get done.

It is a grace and a blessing to teach your children to serve each other this way. Charity begins in the home. The bonus is that when they leave your house for college, they will know how to do their own laundry. Call it home economics and give them credit for it, even.

Now is also the time to wrangle the household schedule. I’m not talking about who has karate or soccer or piano, I’m talking about how you order your day. Don’t worry, I didn’t have a schedule, either, when I started, but this is easy to accomplish.

I start out the night before by making sure my coffee maker is ready in the morning, so that all I have to do is hit the button and go back to bed while it brews. If you have a timer on yours, bonus! Really, the day just is nicer when you aren’t waking up to have to clean the coffee pot, and work around a huge sink full of dishes.

When I get up to get some coffee, I stop at the washer and throw in a load. My reward for this first task is coffee.

As I sit and drink my coffee, I look over my planner and see what’s to be done that day. I also check my menu and before I even make breakfast for everyone, I make sure I have everything I need for dinner. Did you get a little scared there? Don’t, this is the easiest part, but the part that matters the most in the ordering of your day.

My second golden rule of homeschooling is to make sure you know what is for dinner by 10:00 a.m. The application of that rule has saved me from more catastrophes than I would want to list. How do I do that on a daily basis? I make a weekly menu with the weekly sales flyer in hand, and I shop by my menu. That way everything I need is in the house, because another “time suck” is running to the store to get last minute items. That happens occasionally, we’re human after all, but I cut the chances of that happening with a menu.

 So, drink coffee, look over the day, and start dinner. That sounds crazy, but think of this: If you were leaving the house at 8:00 a.m., and would be walking back in the house at 6:00 p.m., what would be the first question from everyone in the house when you got home? “What’s for dinner?”  And you’d learn quickly that you had to have a plan for dinner for when you got home. This is the same. The kids are going to wake up, the day is going to start, school will be rolling,  and before you know it, school will be over and you will be tired. The kids will want to go off and play, and you will not want to haul yourself to the store or think about what you are going to make. This way, you finish school, you roll right into dinner, and everything is under control. Chaos is kept at bay. Then dishes get done, people relax, and you’re ending your day on a peaceful note, which makes your getting up and doing it all over not such a grueling task.

 Which brings us to my third rule of homeschooling: You must read their books. You can skate by a year or two when they’re young, but the snowball effect will start and by the time they hit high school and if you haven’t read one book on their list (begin with the end in mind) you will hardly be able to catch up with them. How do you have a conversation about a book if the book hasn’t been read by both parties? Yes, there are all kinds of shortcuts around this, curricula made so you don’t have to read them, but you didn’t get into homeschooling to shortcut, did you? Look, this is the education of your children, and these books that they will be reading will shape them. They can fill out questions and write paragraphs or papers about them, but the real learning is when two people discuss the book. Not only will the book become a treasure to them, but sharing it will build your relationship. And that is priceless. Add to that when the siblings read the same books and say, “Oh, wait until ninth grade and you read The Once and Future King!” That stuff is magic. The conversations that happen after a few children have read the stories, and the anticipation of joining the familial club of those who have read the story. Truly, it is the magic of family and life and of people who love each other. So, at the least, stay a full year ahead of them so it gives you time to ponder the books and the ideas contained within. When you connect ideas and authors, you don’t leave their education to happenstance and formulas. They will get the best they possibly can from you if you do this one thing alone. That’s not to say it will all fall to pieces if they have to fill out questions on some books because there was a family crisis, but don’t let that become the norm.

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My final rule is to find friends and carve out some time for yourself and your mate. Take up a hobby. Make sure you take time to reconnect with your spouse. Homeschooling is a lot of sacrifice, and the payoff is far off. Your marriage and your self cannot be left to rot as martyrs to homeschooling. Education is about instilling a liturgy of life and a culture of learning that will hopefully be passed down through generations of your family. This is heady stuff. You can’t give what you don’t have, so the cultivation of your own life cannot be left as an afterthought. You also can’t place the weight of decompression from this on your mate. I mean, yes, by all means, they are a parent also, but you don’t want your spouses arrival home to nothing but a litany of offenses of the day and complaining. And you will complain because homeschooling is hard. Parental discipline and decisions are a shared responsibility, but your spouse who also has worked hard all day and dealt with disappointments doesn’t deserve to be the sole bearer of your venting just because they are also parents. This is where friendships with other homeschooling parents are so valuable. It may take time to find them, and now a days we sometimes find these friendships online, but don’t stop seeking them out. And the friendships online can be just as, or even more valuable. You need them, and they need you.

You can do this, really. There are tons of us out there doing this now, in all walks of life. If I can, you can. I remember when I was going to take the test for my driver’s license, and I was terrified, my mother said to me, “There are terrible drivers out there. If they can get their license, so can you.” Truly, if I can do this, so can you, so take heart, adjust the sails, and start forth on this incredible, life changing, utterly fulfilling journey.

Briana Elizabeth is a wife, mother to seven children ages 23 to 7, and caretaker of one Amazon parrot, two dogs, and two cats. When she’s not planning lessons or feeding people, she paints, knits, and writes. You can follow her blog at www.justamousehouse.blogspot.com