Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Policemen or Encouragers?

Today's Carnival of Homeschooling references a riveting article at The Thinking Mother about a state proposal to ask homeschoolers to "monitor" or to "police" each other for educational neglect. Talk about poisoning the well!

I help to run a high school level homeschool co-op, and I have seen some pretty strange things at that level. Many parents simply feel overwhelmed and either consider putting students in public schools or sort of throw up their hands and abandon students to their own devices.

I am finding that it is indeed in our interest as homeschoolers to work hard at building a community of caring and accountability. Not just because the state will be encroaching for the slightest reason, but also because we need to encourage each other not to grow weary in doing well. Homeschooling is not for the faint of heart under any circumstances. But turning the homeschool community into a police state is not the answer.

Surely that concept of encouragement needs to be foremost, rather than an idea of monitoring. "Monitoring" and certainly "policing" do assume that those under scrutiny have done something wrong or are under suspicion of wrong-doing. However, "encouragement" carries none of those connotations, but cannot be done unless there is an appropriate amount of transparency between encourager and encouragee.

Building a community of encouragement not only effectively "polices" possible educational neglect, but also solves it within the community without state involvement.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Independent Movement

Recently, I've been asked how one nurtures children towards responsible independence, particularly as a home-schooler.

We all want children who exhibit a level of independence that allows them to move out into productive lives, but most of us haven't really thought about what we mean by 'independence' beyond a vague cultural norm. Often we miss the mark because we can't see it very well.

In our household, 'independence' is not merely being able to do whatever I want to do whenever I want to do it, which is what our culture tells us we ought to pursue under the heading of independence. It isn't even 'being able to take care of myself without help'.
With these definitions of independence, home-schooling would rightly be perceived as a hindrance to developing those qualities.

In our house, 'independence' means being equipped and free to serve those God has put within my sphere.

In these terms, home-schooling is the ideal laboratory for developing independence. In a home school, your community is present to sense and to mind all day, every day. It is a practice realm of manageable size, but it contains a wide variety of needs.

Some of those needs are so simple that the smallest child can meet them. And as soon as he does so, he realizes that he does not have to wait until he's 25 or 30 to make a contribution to others' lives. This is the first step towards independence. Real life begins right now.

Suddenly, learning becomes the means to improving one's ability to solve problems, to meet needs, to be useful. Learning that has immediate application to service is instantly engaging and endlessly delightful. The basic instinct of independence is developing the habit of finding ways to use what has been learned in order to help someone else.

Next time, we'll explore some methods to help children develop the habits and instincts for true independence.

To learn how this kind of independence is vital to earning college scholarships, check Countdown to College Launch: a Homeschooler's Guide to Winning Scholarships.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


It's time for me to update my blogroll in the next couple of weeks. If you would like me to link you to my blogroll, leave a comment!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Bread of Heaven

All Creation speaks to us of God and His works. That is why no occupation, no matter how mundane, is merely drudgery.

Others may feel trapped on a treadmill of meaningless repetitions, but children of the Creator should understand that it isn't a treadmill. It's the stairway to heaven. Every task can speak to us of something He has done for us or in us or by us.

It's a fractal universe. Every shape is made up of shapes just like the larger shape. Our gestures echo, in microcosm, His. He uses our own small hands to teach us the cosmic textures of spiritual realities.

Take bread. For most of the world, it's the strength-for-the-day staple. Bread and salt; the invitation to life. Bread is the foundation of hospitality. The aroma of baking bread draws us into "Welcome home!" and "Remember when?"

It is the mystery of secret growth; sin and righteousness, the Serpent's seed and the Church. Revolution hiding in plain sight. Penicillin and the death of men's plagues.

Bread is the appetizer for the Lamb's wedding feast. It is the memorial of Christ's ordinary, gracious, invitational, mysterious, nourishing, healing sacrifice.

Break it. Drink in the steamy fragrance. And, with the disciples at Emmaeus, recognize Him.

This recipe was a gift from a dear friend, who brought it to our Thanksgiving feast one year. Isn't female bonding all about food 90% of the time?

Cheese Bread Knots


10-11 cups white flour

4 pkgs. Dry yeast

Heat in saucepan until just warm:

4 cups milk

12 oz. Swiss Cheese

1 cup sugar

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter

2 tablespoons salt

Combine milk mixture, flour, and 2 eggs. Beat for ½ minute at low speed of mixer. Beat at high speed 3 minutes. Stir in enough flour to make a soft dough, then knead until smooth and elastic (5-8 minutes).

Shape into a ball and place in greased bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled (1 ½ hours). Punch dough down and turn out on floured surface. Divide dough into four equal pieces. Shape each into a ball. Cover and let rest 10 minutes.

Roll each ball into a 12x16 inch rectangle. Cut crosswise into 6x1 inch strips. Tie each strip into a loose knot. Place on a greased baking sheet.

Cover and let rise until doubled (about 40 minutes). Bake at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

These freeze well.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Comfort and Discipline

In my mother's home there hangs a mysterious pen and ink drawing. Two overlapping faces. A weeping toddler rubs his tear-stained cheek on one side. On the other, a dark wolf snarls out at us. They share an eye. They are the same face.

As parents, it is important to remember that sometimes bad behaviour comes from physical or emotional pain rather than from bad character. And it is important for us to learn which is which.

I knew a toddler who had chronic urinary tract infections. She had no vocabulary to describe the agony she felt. She just screamed and cried for the slightest discomfort - a wrinkled sock or a tight waistband. It took some time for her parents and her doctor to discover her illness, and meanwhile, no amount of reproof could stop the screaming. When the illness was treated, the child became a cheerful, reasonable, delightful person.

While pain should not be allowed to become an excuse for inexcuseable behavior, godly discipline must take circumstances into account. Comfort must be as present to sense as firm, familiar boundaries. If a child knows that Mommy always puts him down for a nap when he is irritable, perhaps the nap is exactly what he is asking for when he throws a tantrum. The embrace of a familiar routine and expected cause-effect relationships are part of the comfort we can offer to those who are hurting.

However, we must take care to keep in mind the whole object of discipline.
Discipline should restore the soul, not woodenly apply the law. We need to lean on the Lord to show us when to address the wrong first and when to address the wound first. Setting up a test of wills which the hurting child will fail again and again in her wounded state, is abusive.

And is this really so different from our dealings in our adult relationships? Consider this bit of wisdom from John Piper:
"Let us learn to discern whether the words spoken against us or against God or against the truth are merely for the wind--spoken not from the soul, but from the sore. If they are for the wind, let us wait in silence and not reprove. Restoring the soul, not reproving the sore, is the aim of our love..." A Godward Life

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Fellowship of Suffering

"Wherever you are spiritually whatever you have been through emotionally, you are already wrapped in the Lord's embrace. Held close by nail-scarred hands." ~ Liz Curtis Higgs~

I believe in a sovereign God. So when I look around (or inwards) and see all the suffering, it is often difficult to reconcile His power with a loving God. Surely a loving God who is all-powerful would do something to relieve the suffering of His people.

But no. Our suffering is called chastisement. It is given by God Himself, according to Scripture in order to strengthen us and to lead us to greater understanding.

Psychologists tell us that this is exactly the argument of an abuser. An abuser, in the midst of his torments, tells his victims, "This is for your own good."

So what's the difference? The difference is the Cross. Our sovereign God is also a suffering God. One who has taken on Himself, undeserving, all the destructive power of Hell.
He endured infinite torment, closed in a frame just like mine, to crush the head of the serpent. To draw the deadly poison from pain. So that now, the suffering He serves us is in the character of the pain inflicted by a surgeon saving the life of a cancer patient. Or of an Olympic trainer preparing an athlete for victory.

Christ Jesus does not view our suffering from a safe distance. He does not even enter the suffering with us.
He is there already, waiting for us to join Him in the 'fellowship of His suffering'.

So when you find yourself tossed into the furnace, expect two things. Like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, expect to see Him there, and expect your bonds to go up in smoke.

I commend to you a study of Hebrews, where Jesus' identification with us in suffering is explained as a supreme credential qualifying Him as our High Priest.


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