The Tyranny of the Now

We live in an age of slogans and buzzwords, and their number is ever-increasing thanks to a shorter news cycle and access to instant media. It used to be that a slogan would last awhile, partly because we didn’t hear it all the time. But now, someone comes up with a slogan and we hear it twenty times a day on Twitter, ten on Facebook, four times on cable news, and once from our mother-in-law.

It’s only a matter of days before we’re sick of it.

I don’t know who coined it or when it became popular, but I’m thinking the phrase the “tyranny of the now” is way past its shelf date. But I’m going to use it anyway to describe what a homeschool mother feels like, oh, about the end of October.

You started school at the beginning of September. You were ready. You had things pretty well worked out for the year (or at least knew which direction you were headed), and all you had to do was execute. The curriculum would work out, the children would learn, and everyone would be happy, including the dog.

It was going to be so much better than the year before, because this year you had a better plan. And you were going to execute it better. And everyone was going to have a better attitude.

But here you are, only two months along, staring down Thanksgiving and thinking you were not only overly optimistic, but probably delusional—possibly even certifiable.

When my family was homeschooling, I would come home from work and my wife would be exhausted and discouraged. “I wanted to get two math lessons done today and try to get to history and I only got one math lesson done and didn’t get to history and I haven’t gotten to science in a week and they’re all going to be illiterates on Skid Row and we’ll have to spend our waning years bailing them out of the homeless shelter.”

And I would turn from my wife to survey the situation, and see only happy children, playing contentedly, apparently oblivious to the dire fate that awaited them in later life.

“Oh, and I burned your dinner. I’m going to bed now.”

Of course, as a competent, caring husband, I realized that all I had to do was give her a little pep talk, point out the positive side of things, and she would cheer up, and carry on.

I know. You’re wondering: “Who’s delusional?”

Actually, what I realized is that I had to let her vent (or cry, as the case may be) until she had it all out, and then she felt a little better. But more fundamentally, I had to take a role in the schooling, even if it was more on the oversight side.

My wife had the responsibility of administering things and was thereby caught up in the details in a way that, working outside the home, I could not be. Her tendency was to focus very closely on what she had gotten done on that day, and sometimes it seemed like it wasn’t very much. But that is partly because you never get much done in one day.

Your child’s education is a very long series of small steps. And so when you focus on just one of the small steps, it’s hard to be anything but discouraged.

I realized my role was to look at the long term, and to bring my wife’s focus back to the big picture. If you’re looking at the big picture, the fact that you didn’t get your science done that day doesn’t seem so apocalyptic. And when you get a little behind in history, you don’t feel so much like an adult who wants to run away from home.

My wife sometimes needed to have her focus brought back to the essentials. I would ask, “Did they do their math today?”

“Yes,” she would say.

“Did they do their Latin (or phonics, spelling, or penmanship if they were younger)?”


“And did they read something—a chapter from a book about history, or literature, or geography, or science?”

“Yes,” she would say again.

“Good job!!!” I would say as I headed to the bedroom to change out of my work clothes.

This didn’t always work, but it usually helped.

I realize now that I was having to buck her up like this partly because we didn’t have a great curriculum. We were not exactly homeschooling pioneers, but we did this early enough in the evolution of homeschooling to have received a few arrows in our backs. There just wasn’t the material available that there is now, particularly when it came to classical Christian education, which, when we were teaching our kids in the 1990s, was still just a blip on the homeschooling radar.

My wife wishes that she had had a program like Memoria Press now provides. If I had shown her an example of the day-by-day, subject-by-subject guidelines in Memoria Press’ Classical Core Curriculum, she would have torn it out of my hands and asked me where I had gotten it. A curriculum that doesn’t overload with unnecessary subjects, that focuses on the essentials, and that goes at a manageable pace would have seemed to my wife like manna from Heaven—and would have been a lot more helpful than my pep talks.

In the end, our children all turned out well. One is a software engineer with a wife and three children. One is a front-end web developer, also married. One is a special-needs teacher who loves horses and dogs, and one is a former philosophy major who helps run a road construction business. They’re all happy and well-adjusted, despite the tribulation of their education.

In reality, they ended up with a pretty good education. They were all required to take Latin, logic, and math, and read lots of books. But it sure would have been easier if we had had the guidance of an organized curriculum.

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