On a bright July morning in 2008, I was 8.5-months pregnant and very nauseous (always nauseous). We had also just moved, proving that difficult situations can always be made worse. But no matter. Our new house was perfect for us and today was designated the first day of school. I was determined, because I needed a month off post-partum. I gave the girls (aged 18 months and 3 years) something to distract them, and pulled out my then-shiny copy of Aesop’s Fables illustrated by Milo Winter.
It was time to teach someone how to narrate.
I’ll be honest: my firstborn is a naturally bookish child, just like his mother. I have often said he was God’s grace to me. He was just-turned-six and had been reading for three years. He was the easiest first student a homeschooling mother could ever have.
On that July morning, I had no clue what the next two years were going to be like. I didn’t know that I would almost lose the baby I was carrying during my c-section (he was tangled up in his cord very badly), or that I would lose half of my blood supply following that surgery. I didn’t know that I’d still be missing that blood six months later, and be very tired as a result. I didn’t know that before this baby was even a year old, I’d be standing over my husband’s ICU hospital bed, reading Psalms and David Hicks (yes, seriously) aloud to his comatose body because I didn’t know what else to do for him. I didn’t know I’d spend my second year of “real” homeschooling having to drive my husband when his friends couldn’t because his health problems caused the DMV to suspend his license for twelve months.
There was so much I didn’t know, especially that I needed an easy student oh so badly. But God, in His grace, like He often does, had provided for me in advance.
That easy student is going to be 16-years-old next week. He is still easy (unless you count driver’s training, or you think intensity is hard). He’s just about to finish his tenth year of AmblesideOnline, which has turned out to be even more wonderful than I’d hoped it’d be when Cindy Rollins introduced me to it a dozen years ago (it had only 6 years then and I assumed I’d have to figure out the upper grades myself when we got there).
When the junior high and high school years appeared, I assumed we’d use AO all the way through; we’d do all twelve years.
But that’s not how it’s working out.
Before I explain what next year is going to look like for my oldest, let me share a lesser-known Charlotte Mason quote with you:
There is certain knowledge, no doubt, which it is shameful not to possess, and, wanting which, the mind is as limp, feeble, and incapable as an ill-nourished body. There is also a time for sowing the seed of this knowledge, an intellectual as well as a natural springtime; and it would be interesting to examine the question, how far it is possible to prosecute any branch of knowledge, the sowing and germination of which has not taken place in early youth. It follows that the first three lustres [a lustre is French for “five years;” three lustres is 15 years] belong to what we may call the synthetic stage of education, during which his reading should be wide and varied enough to allow the young scholar to get into living touch with earth-knowledge, history, literature, and much besides. These things are necessary for his intellectual life, and are especially necessary to give him material for the second stage of his education, the analytic, which, indeed, continues with us to the end. It is in this second stage that the value of the classical and mathematical grind comes in. It produces a certain sanity of judgment, and therefore a certain capacity for affairs, an ability for the examination of questions, which are rather the distinguishing marks of the public schoolman, — not merely the university man, that is another matter, but the man who has ground through that Greek play which both Pen and the young Goethe contrived to get out of.
I love this quote, because it encouraged me to focus on poetic knowledge even in junior high and early high school, when there is so much pressure to specialize and analyze. And we’ve gone a whole year past the end of the “first three lustres” — he turned 15 at the end of his freshman year, after all. I still view myself primarily as a sower of seeds.
A little over a month ago, we became aware of a special opportunity. Eric Hall (who was featured in this episode of Scholé Sisters) announced that he was setting up a 2-year high school great books program for homeschoolers that will meet at our church’s office once per week. The total program will cover literature, history, Bible, and philosophy — there will be assigned readings throughout the week. Did our family want to join?
I was more concerned with what our son wanted. He’s a good kid, I thought.
His feelings surprised me. Naturally, he was interested in the curriculum. But being a scholar at heart doesn’t make him different from any other young man his age: he has a deep desire to be more with his peers — to read books with them (not me).
It looks like we’re unexpectedly beginning a weaning stage this year. Our tutor collection has officially added up — Mr. Hall and Mr. Thomas (Latin and Koine Greek) and Chad (more Koine Greek) and Rahime (math) are providing so many subjects that there isn’t much left for me to direct. I’m basically left with chemistry (boo), Ourselves, and a couple other things.
Oh. And all those other kids I have that will be glad for and, I think, need more attention.
Mr. Hall could never be a grind. He wears what David Hicks called the classical schoolmaster’s “wry smile.” But he will ask my son to work hard, to maintain his focus, to get through the Greek play or whatever else Goethe tried to get out of.
I always knew that Charlotte Mason was the ideal preparation for classical scholarship in the late teens and beyond. What I didn’t know that I was going to blink one day in 2008 and suddenly it’d be 2018 and we’d be ready for that.