Daring to be mediocre

I recently attended a homeschool convention, one of the largest in the country. While I noticed many of the usual things–moms with rolling carts and rows of little heads following behind, little boys carrying wooden swords, little girls donning brightly colored…um…aprons and bonnets–I also noticed the plethora of educational material being sold to homeschool families. Not all of it excellent.

Yes, that is the purpose of the convention, for sellers to market their wares. And yes, this is an enormous group of homeschoolers ready to purchase next year’s collection of curricular materials. But not–absolutely not–is all of that material well done. Nor does it push students toward excellence. At best, it reaches the merely mediocre.

I’m not sure what came first–the poor curriculum or the parent who didn’t want to buy the best out there. Some of it has to do with money. But some, I am convinced, has to do with not wanting to challenge those little sweet children to work hard and do their best.

As a mom, I have heard my fair share of whining (and not all of it from my children). Plenty of times I have caved to that high-pitched, foot-stamping, grouchy-faced I-don’t-wanna. But not when it really mattered in the big picture. In the big picture, we were there, digging in our heels, telling them they were going to work on that hard math until it was done right. Digging in to tell them to rewrite that essay until it shined. Refusing them a coveted TV show until the science was studied. Withholding car keys until the grade was raised.

And when it mattered, we sacrificed and found them quality education where we could, when we could. In our patchwork quilt of educational choices, sometimes we didn’t always make the right decisions, but we were quick to change course the next year in an effort to find them the challenge they needed. Not all of their challenges were pleasant for them. But in the doing, they pursued excellence, and we pushed for it in them.

I wish I could challenge every homeschooling parent–AND other-schooling parent as well–to buck up and be unafraid to do what’s hard for your child. What is your end goal? It has to be excellence, doesn’t it? I’ve asked that question of many, many parents about their children. Some don’t have an end goal in mind, just keeping their heads down to get through one more year. Enduring the sour scowls and moaning meemies while simplifying the load just to get their children off their backs. I’ve watched them take their children to low-goal-setting homeschool co-ops where well-meaning moms teach subjects they might have once studied themselves. I’ve been asked to teach at such co-ops only to be rejected, told that my style of college-prep writing instruction was too hard for their high school students. They just didn’t want to make their children work that hard.

Set high goals for your students, and keep reaching. Don’t give up. (Real story, honest!) One parent told me, “We had a bad experience back in third grade with an English curriculum, so we haven’t done much writing since then.” How old is your child now? “Seventeen.” And he hasn’t written an essay yet. And he wants to go to college. When was reality going to sink in? At that point it was MY hard job to tell the parent that her son was not going to be ready for college in a year.

(Another real story!) Another parent asked, “Is that class going to be fun? My daughter only wants to take classes that are fun.” How old is your daughter? “Going to be a senior.” You have never challenged your daughter to enjoy the hard work. Remember, sister, that labor was hard when you delivered her? Was the hard work worth it? Of course! Why not allow her to do hard things once in a while, reaping the fruits of such labor as she goes along?

Parents: dare to reach for the excellent, the difficult. Challenge your child to work hard and to enjoy the doing of it. Hebrews 12:11 says, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” I want to produce in every child that satisfaction of a difficult job well done, having reached higher than he has done before. That’s why I ask my seniors in Rhetoric to write a 15-17-page thesis paper–and then defend it in front of their peers. And they do it well!

I want to see curriculum that stretches the mind and the imagination. Find material that reaches beyond your child’s abilities and urges him to grow. Set the bar high and run beside him as he pushes to get over it. Discard the simple, the “five finger grammar method” or whatever else is cheap and simplistic. Go for the challenge and avoid the mediocre.

See related posts here and here.



Filed under Biblical Worldview, Education, Grammar, Homeschooling, Literature, Parenting, Rhetoric

11 responses to “Daring to be mediocre

  1. Emily

    I needed to read this today. Good stuff!

  2. I want to thank you for pushing me and making me write that 17 page paper! And I know my mom is grateful too. When i got to college I was astounded by seniors who got Cs in the freshman orientation class. Most of my peers had never written a paper longer than 5 pages, and we were at a liberal arts university. Because of the blood, sweat, and tears in high school, i never blinked in college. Well, in a graduate-level statistics course I did cry, but I still made it out with an A-!

  3. One thing to keep in mind, is to temper all that hard work with love and encouragement. It also doesn’t hurt to keep tackling hard things yourself. Our children learn by example. It spurs them forward when they see their mama pursuing things as well. One day our children will thank us. Great post!

  4. A thoughtful post! I would say for us, that excellence is not the main goal, but secondary to that of producing well-rounded, wholehearted children who love their Creator. In saying that, we certainly aim to cultivate an environment of learning in our home that is both challenging and enjoyable for all of us. – Victoria

  5. Shelly

    I appreciate this timely post as we are praying about next year for our son, who gives me a very hard time when I challenge him. I surrendered half way through the school year and enrolled him in our church’s private Christian school. He is happier, but I am left feeling like I gave up, or questioning whether or not I was realistic in my expectations. You have given me something to think about.


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