Homeschooling Momma Bears

mama bear

What are you teaching your children?

I called the home of a student I had been tutoring to tell the parents that their son had plagiarized his paper. Never entering into these conversations lightly, first I do my most careful work to document the offense and make certain of my accusation. I hate this kind of conversation, but it is necessary. Yes, even homeschooled children sin.

I asked for a meeting with the parents and the student so that we could look at the work together and talk about a plan for getting him back on the right track. After a pause, the mother said, “I have to tell you I am really angry right now.”

“I understand,” I began. “I have teenagers myself–”

She cut me off. “No, you don’t understand. I am so angry at you right now, it’s a good thing we are not talking face to face.” Shocked, I took a few seconds to respond. We agreed that waiting a couple of days to before we met would be a good idea.

Mom and Dad came with their son, an eleventh grader. I won’t go into detail, but I will tell you that she was furious that I would accuse her son of plagiarism. When I showed her the bald facts, she still protested. “No one cares about plagiarism. It doesn’t really matter these days,” she argued. “It’s just another way to use research.” Even her husband looked sideways at her. What was she teaching her son at that moment?

It is admirable that a mom wants to go to bat for her son, no matter what. But there comes a time when reality dictates that the child must take responsibility for his own actions, and the parent must let those consequences take effect. This mom wanted to protest everything, including giving her son a zero on the assignment without the chance of making it up. When I told her that colleges will toss out a student who plagiarizes, she finally sat still. I have heard of Masters degree candidates who are summarily kicked out, unable to continue at any other college because of the blackened reputation they now had for the plagiarism on their record. And we could talk about the authors and journalists whose reputations have been ruined when their plagiarisms were revealed. That is reality.

I suspect–though I never had another conversation with that mother–that she was so wrapped up in her son’s schooling, mama bear with babiesshe took great offense at anything negative said about his work. I suspect that she took it very personally.

Being a momma bear is not a bad thing. Every child needs someone to be their best advocate. However, momma bears must know their limits, and they must realize that they are always teaching their children, in the words they choose, their attitudes toward others, and in the way they deal with failures and successes.

So I have some helpful advice for those momma bears out there–and you know who you are.

Help your child to own his responsibilities and his mistakes. Be realistic about the fact that  you are the parent of a sinner who needs your instruction and loving guidance. You will do him no service by covering up, excusing, masking, or downplaying his slip-ups. When will he learn from his mistakes, if it cannot be under your roof? Better that the plagiarism happened to my student at age 16 and under his parents’ authority, than while he is at college where his record could have been permanently affected. Or perhaps when he is on a job and falsifies or plagiarizes a report, and gets fired. Use that opportunity to discipline, correct, and point him in the right direction.

Be your child’s best advocate. Fight for the very best for her. Don’t settle for less. Investigate the options and be ready to change gears if something is not working. However, remain consistent with your child. I know a family who used three different math programs in one year because their child couldn’t “get” the math. That set the child behind considerably, and it took them a couple of years to catch up.

Be realistic about your expectations. Set attainable goals each year, or perhaps each semester. Review your goals. Set long-term ones as well, so that you know where you are aiming from year to year. Those long-term goals become more and more important the older your child gets. And by high school, your child needs to own those goals himself. If he does not, you both may be in for a load of trouble each year you try to homeschool him in high school.

Realize you cannot do everything, so instead do a few things well. The older your child gets, the more important this becomes. Over-committing your child to all sorts of seemingly good activities may look like fun at first, but it will only complicate your high school student’s life as he tries to study the basics and manage a half-dozen extra activities. Choose carefully, allow him time for studying, and give him time off to breathe. You do not need to fill all of his moments; help him to find a healthy balance of study and activities. This is especially important in high school when you must give him his basics plus an elective, build in time to study, and provide opportunities to serve others or develop leadership skills or sports. There isn’t a lot of time for all the extras you used to do when he was younger. This will teach him balance and perspective.

At some things your child might not be a shining star. Be okay with that, but continue to push for excellence when reasonable. Not every child is gifted in every area. Each child has his own special talents and gifts. If your child is only average academically, that’s fine. Encourage him to do it well and to learn how to work hard. Help him through some of the disappointments, and point him toward those things in which he does excel. Reality parenting means acknowledging the situation.

Don’t cheat your child by inflating her abilities. If your child is earning a low grade, leave it at that. One mom asked me, “If the tutor I hired gives my [high school] child a C, can I inflate that if I think she put forth good effort?” As the homeschool parent you are free to put whatever grade you want on your child’s transcript. However. Just ask yourself if the C was an honest representation of your child’s actual work. How would your child benefit from your inflation of that grade? Sure, she might get into that college, but based on whose grades and on what work? Does her SAT score reflect the C or the inflated grade? And have you done your child a disservice by falsifying what was the actual grade? Finally, what lesson did you just teach your child when you inflated her grade?

When you hire a professional tutor/teacher, seek excellence. Use your money wisely. Find someone with a reputation for excellence. Ask to see samples of the syllabus he or she has given students before. Look up reviews of the textbook he or she will use. If you are using an organization to teach your child, examine the organization’s reputation. Read reviews online if they are available. Talk with other parents who have used that organization, if you can.

Be firm. Be ready to accept tears and pouting faces on occasion. Work done well is often difficult, and the process can be painful or unpleasant at times. Schoolwork is not always sunshine and roses. The outcome, though, can be satisfaction of a job well done. Remember, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

I contacted the parent of a student who was barely passing my class, and with just three or four weeks of class left, I wanted to make sure we were doing everything we could to help this student to finish well. “That’s okay,” said the mom. “I’m pulling my child out of your class.” With three or four weeks left of class? “We want people to build strong character qualities into our children, and that is more important than a letter grade,” she said.

Is this an either/or situation, either you get character or grades? How about building character through the application of hard work? What about the lessons the parents taught their child by pulling him out of a class instead of allowing him to press on through the difficult circumstances into which he had gotten? What about finishing the job well, running the race to its completion, all of that? What about the character qualities of persistence and strong work ethic?

Be aware of what you are teaching your children, through those things you DO and what you AVOID doing. Both can send a very strong message to your child. And you know he is watching.

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2 Comments

Filed under Biblical Worldview, Classical Education, Education, Homeschooling, Parenting

2 responses to “Homeschooling Momma Bears

  1. Great advice! Thanks for the encouragement!

  2. I am a college professor of English, humanities, and communication. I work at a state college but we get lots of homeschooled students because we are local, conservative, and cheap. I’ve worked in Christian education, too. Thank you for this–massively. These laissez fair attitudes toward plagiarism are disturbing. My colleagues WILL fail and report a student for plagiarism. We take it personally–we are being lied to. I’m reposting this to my blog with my thoughts.

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