Cultivate healthy skepticism

Published by Lori Pickert on November 28, 2008 at 05:14 PM

The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases. — Carl Jung

In homeschooling, the work of educating our own children is so rich, so challenging, so ever-changing and ever-evolving, you would think we would be so busy managing our own individual children with their unique talents and temperaments that we wouldn’t have the inclination, let alone the time, to judge others.

But so many people tend to extrapolate outward from their own individual experience and dictate what others should do. So many are sure they have the answers not just for themselves but for everyone else as well.

I never want to pretend I have a recipe for raising perfectly educated, perfectly happy children. I don’t have that. I can share ideas about what I know to be true for me, and I can share stories about what I have personally observed with my own children and with my students.

More than anything, I want to encourage other people to treat the experts’ opinions more lightly, take their own personal experiences more seriously. Nothing bores or irritates me more than a purist. Reggio educators talk about being like bees gathering pollen -- take what you learn back to your own home and make your own honey.

You can pick up a book and follow directions, but if you always take someone else’s word about what is best and what will and won’t work, you’re tentatively shuffling along wearing a blindfold, fearful of banging your shins on the furniture. To experience something yourself is to truly earn the knowledge and own the learning process. Isn’t that what we want for our children? Be less afraid of doing the “wrong” thing and more satisfied with accumulating experience.

The experts’ words and works might be full of inspiration, but don’t be afraid to go home and play with those ideas. I don’t want a program that is delicate and has to be fussed over like a hothouse flower. If ideas are too fragile to hold up to a little play and experimentation, are they sturdy enough for everyday use?

Value your own experiences, including your mistakes. Give weight to what you know to be true. Just because another person is brilliant or admirable or successful doesn’t mean their way is right for you. The most important thing is to find your own way. That process, that work — educating ourselves about what the experts say, experimenting freely with ideas and concepts, weighing the evidence, choosing the most promising path, reevaluating and making modifications as necessary — is the most valuable thing we can give our children: the daily example of a self-teaching, curious learner, not afraid to make mistakes, keen for adventure, proud of hard-won success.

I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it. — Thoreau


Comment by skye on November 28, 2008 at 10:25 PM

Finding our own path, what makes us us can be harder than following what the guy in fronts doing but oh so much richer for everyone. Thanks for this great entry I will be reading it again & again.

Strength and peace to you and your grandmother as you journey through this difficult time.

Comment by Kathy on November 29, 2008 at 12:12 AM

Thank you so much for stopping by my site and saying something because it led me to your great blog! I'm loving reading everything on it! ;) I so agree with this post. I'm always telling my boys we are like scientists, when we don't get the results we hoped for, we keep on experimenting. Sometimes, we still don't get what we were looking for but we had fun during the journey. :) And each project/experiment always leads to something else.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 29, 2008 at 12:16 AM

thank *you* skye -- for your contribution to this blog and for your kind thoughts about my grandma. :^)

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 29, 2008 at 01:49 AM

thank you, kathy! i appreciate that. we try to cultivate the same attitude -- life is our laboratory, and we‘re quite tolerant of a mess. ;^) and each project/experiment leading on to something new .. that’s exactly the road we travel, too. :^)

Comment by Thimbleina on November 29, 2008 at 02:31 PM

It took me quite a while to realise that you do not need to follow other people's advice word for word and that you should take what suits your family's needs, but parenting and helping children to learn things is a steep learning curve

Comment by Ali on November 29, 2008 at 03:06 PM

I guess that's the difference between someone who follows and someone who thinks. I have a friend with whom I can sound ideas out, things we've read and then discuss the relative merits of them. This helps us to find our own way, through putting them into our own words and sizing them up against other arguments. We have tried to closely study Reggio, Steiner and Montessori as well as the English Foundation stage in preparation for homeschooling our children and we have been able to take something positive from each, creating our own unique method which is in fact constantly evolving anyway.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 29, 2008 at 04:04 PM

I think sometimes we are drawn to a particular bundle of ideas that’s been labeled; it resonates with us, and we think, “This is it!”

Then, maybe it starts to pinch a bit or something rubs raw — it’s not a perfect fit.

And if we think it can’t be modified to suit our needs — if we treat it like a raw egg, something that will break if we try to mess with it — then we have to toss it out and start looking for a whole new philosophy.

When really, we should feel free to mold and carve away at these approaches. That’s what inventors do — they take the old and add something new. It makes no sense to wear a shoe that doesn’t fit ourselves or our family, just because it’s the best one we’ve found. I think it’s our job to work and work away at making it fit right, and if that means taking it apart and figuring out what works and what doesn’t, then that’s what we need to do.

I’ve seen philosophies applied to urban schools where teachers were not encouraged to take their own students’ daily lives and unique issues into account … That makes no sense to me. No more than a family who is thinking something is wrong with *them* if a certain approach doesn’t work as well as they think it should.

thimbelina, you are so right — it is a steep learning curve! the youngest children benefit from it, i guess. ;^)

ali, that is exactly what we all need — someone to collaborate with.

Comment by Prairie Chick on November 29, 2008 at 07:41 PM

Oh.... am I loving this or what??? What a fantastic blog... love your thoughts here and other places, definitely going to make this a regular stop. May you heal in heart (grandma) and body (cold), enjoy that book!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 29, 2008 at 08:41 PM

thank you! :^)

Comment by Abbie on December 1, 2008 at 07:08 PM

What a great Thoreau quote!

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 1, 2008 at 07:20 PM

ah, he’s my favorite. :^)

Comment by Kim Anderson on December 2, 2008 at 06:34 PM

Found you on the Carnival of Homeschooling. What a treat! I take your point about forging the path that is best for you and your children. Too many folk want a simple recipe, a step-by-step formula. Life is bigger than that!

But that doesn't mean that we can't and shouldn't learn from each other's experience. We need perspective and ideas - grist for the mill from others who are on similar journeys. That's what I love about the homeschool blogging community! We can encourage without imposing rigid solutions.

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 2, 2008 at 07:28 PM

hi kim, thank you for visiting. sharing experiences is a far cry from dictating how others should teach and learn. a good teacher remains a student. once a person takes on that role of expert and begins dispensing prescriptions for success, that’s when i hope a healthy skepticism kicks in.

Comment by rebecca on December 2, 2008 at 07:46 PM

That's so true. I had so many preconceived notions of what our homeschool would look like and feel like, and it just keeps morphing as we go. I love it. The one thing that seems to hold is that my children learn best when I'm sharing from my own continuing education--what I read and think and take interest in. They can't help but be drawn into it.

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 2, 2008 at 09:47 PM

rebecca, yes, i experience the same thing all the time! if i really want them to do something, there’s no better way than to do it myself.

Comment by Kate on December 4, 2008 at 01:41 PM

Your blog, and especially this post, is truly inspirational. My children are not homeschooled and I try to treat the education that they receive at school as a base, a starting point for further exploration. However, I do feel that sometimes I spend a lot of time "deprogramming" them, convincing them that it is ok to go in their own direction. I love that you push back against people trying to develop a checklist of all the right things to do. In my life I have learned more from my mistakes than anything else and the reminder to give my children the same chance is a powerful one. Thank you for a great post!

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 4, 2008 at 02:29 PM

thank you, kate!

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