By: Sarah Kaye
Every fall I experience a romantic fantasy of how our new school year will go. The intoxicating smell of fresh paper from all the new books lined up on my kids’ shelves acts like a mind-altering substance that erases memories of past foibles and failures. I am filled with excitement for the fresh new beginning that lies ahead.
But then we have the actual first day of school. Or the second, or the tenth, or whatever day it ends up being when my beautiful fantasy noiselessly wafts away and is replaced by the reality that this homeschooling thing is doggone hard work.
The temptation is to simplify. I could convince myself that the elusive romantic daydream is actually possible if I were to find the “right” curriculum approach, or the “right” materials. I could spend years switching programs to make the vision a reality.
But then I would miss something very important.
When I think of my perfect homeschool daydream, I am reminded of the Shire at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. The Shire exists in that same sort of hallowed dreamy state that I find myself creating every August as I plan for our new school year. It is pristine, perfect, untouched, and delightful. There is no knowledge of the rocky days ahead. The Shire is beautiful because it is untested.
The beginning of any great story has this same quality. The opening lines draw us in and make us curious about the journey that lies ahead. Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, Pride and Prejudice, and Moby Dick all have amazing first sentences. Each time you return to those opening lines, you sense the same excitement of having everything in its place just before the actual story begins.
But if all of these stories remained in this opening state of perfection, there would be no story. We would have no great epics to astound us with the human capacity for heroism, or no great tragedies to convince us of the human capacity for suffering. Remove the challenge, the conflict, the struggle or the journey, and you lose the heart and soul of the story.
This is the reality that hits as we progress through our school year. We begin to live the story that this year will be. We begin to see the challenges that each member of our family will endure, struggle with, and hopefully conquer. Some years these challenges are school-related; some years they are not. We cannot change the tests that arrive; there is only the choice to face them or not.
When we expect our school materials to free us from challenge, struggle, or hard work, we are missing what our children need most. They need to be tested. They need the opportunity to become more than what they currently are. Frodo had no idea the impact the ring would have on his life when it first arrived. There are many times he wished he had never seen it. And even when he returns to the same beautiful Shire, it is different because he is different. His journey has made him so. This is what we want education to offer our children. It cannot be done if we are not willing to let the story unfold.