I’m going to be honest: chapter two, entitled “How the Dialectic Teaches Families To Wrestle,” scares me a little bit. I’m not at all sure I’m ready (or even capable, honestly) of doing the “wrestling” of which Leigh Bortins writes. I sometimes tease Steady Eddie about his practice of employing the Socratic method when he’s discussing something, but really, I do find it annoying sometimes. (I’ve concluded that what this says about me is that I’m stuck in the dialectic phase myself. Eeeek!) I definitely can appreciate the necessity for this–after all, if we’re going to the trouble of educating our children at home, then shouldn’t we want them to be able to think at the end of their schooling? Still, though, quite a few things Leigh Bortins says ended up consoling and encouraging me a little more than scaring me, so all in all I appreciate the chapter. It definitely makes me think, too! This is what I hope to do with my children:
What if your now-teenage daughter begins to ask questions about ideas with which you disagree? The topic might be evolution or a form of religion or a political position. If you tell her that the idea is just plain bad and that she should stay away from it, what is her first instinct? To sprint toward it full speed. But what if you encourage her to study it with you? But asking good questions, you can help her to reach an informed conclusion about the subject. You can point her toward trustworthy authorities on the subject. You can help her to consider both sides as she forms her own opinion about it.
What is more, she will be able to claim the opinion she reaches as her own because she walked toward it step by step; she will know the route you traveled to get there, not just the destination. In a very real way, you are teaching your child to be the driver, no longer just a passenger. Like those early driving lessons, it is a little scary. Sometimes you may need to screa, “Brake! Brake!” Sometimes you may have to grab the wheel. But your goal is to relinquish more and more control as your child learns how to navigate safely. You can only do that by respecting her questions and encouraging her to face them without fear. (23)
I’m learning more and more as my children grow just how much of parenting is really out of our control. It’s tough. All we can do is love them, pray for them, and do the best we can in our raising and teaching of them.
So far, chapter three, which is merely a collection of FAQs, is my favorite in the book. (And yes, I realize I haven’t read that far into it.) I read this chapter while Steady Eddie and I were on a quick trip in celebration of our fifteenth anniversary, and I read whole paragraphs aloud to him. (I won’t even address what the fact that I read this on an anniversary getaway says about me. 😉 ) So much of this resonates with me. I found Bortins’ description of her own rather unconventional education amusing and interesting. One of my favorite parts in the chapter is about teaching our children to judge well:
The point is that life requires us to use judgment–to answer questions or respond to choices in a manner that reveals the tension of conflict and the harmony of peace. Many seem willing to pay any price for peace in order to avoid conflict. We need more Patrick Henrys to ask us, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God!” Although you will find people who must win at any cost and relish conflict, most folks would rather leave well enough alone. But living does not allow me to leave well enough alone, because my job as a mother is to teach my sons how to use judgment, which does not necessarily mean keeping them safe. Good judgment can cause us to lose friends, employment, and reputation. Good judgment can be as dangerous as bad judgment in a world that just wants us to get along and not make waves. (37)
That last sentence is especially scary and convicting to me.
I also love the subject on which she ends chapter 3: the purpose of education, which is the pursuit of virtue:
Remember, the trouble about learning to ask questions is that you’ll ask questions. No more accepting the status quo. No more doing what you are told. Know thyself, and be prepared for a life of conflict. C.S. Lewis called man “a glorious ruin.” The more questions we ask, the more ruins we will find in need of repair. But the entire adventure is glorious.
And, might I add, scary. 🙂