A Tale of Two Schools

Today, I tried to find a context that would awaken the joy of discovery in learning a new language. I gave my students a printed-out version of the famous children’s story, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle in Spanish– a beloved story that my kids grew up on. I thought that many of them would recognize it. I gave them only the Spanish words. Then, I read the book slowly in Spanish, and had students fill in the English translation above the words as I read, trying to guess at the meanings.

I explained this was a more realistic exercise in learning a language. Usually, language is going on all around you. You’re immersed in it. Then, you’re given a visual clue or a quick hint by someone else as to what a word means. Making guesses and recognizing patterns is a natural process of learning something new.

You wouldn’t believe the resistance I received. Instead of remembering a good story, most had never seen it. Instead of enjoying learning the language in a context, they complained it was too much Spanish, complained I was treating them like little kids, complained that their brains were closed to Spanish, complained, complained, complained. They spoke out of turn, and wouldn’t relax about the fact that I didn’t want a word-for-word translation. They asked questions like, “Do we have to do this?” “Can I take this home and do it on my own?” “How many points is it worth?” “Are you going to grade it?” “Why do we have to do this?” My personal two favorites were: “I’ll just copy my friends’ paper,” or “This is so stupid, why do you have to talk in Spanish all the time?”

 I was exhausted by the end of the day.

I had a few kids who loved it – they had either read it before, enjoying the nostalgia, or they were exchange students. One student from Norway smiled the whole way through, noting how fun it was. They must begin training them very young to love languages in other countries. It seems in America, we’re raising our kids to despise other languages.

I tutored math for an hour and a half.

Then, I went home.

The girls and I ate dinner together and I asked them how they did at school. It was their third day home alone, schooling themselves til we get them enrolled in school.  Both Elsa and Greta needed help on a few problems in their math. They had done the assignment and just wanted to correct what they had gotten wrong.

Let me repeat that. My 11 and 13 year old assigned themselves work in the math book, read the examples and directions, did the assignment, corrected it, and requested my help to find what they did wrong in their assignment.

Then, they showed me their writing on the ancient story of Gilgamesh.

Let me explain more fully. My 11 and 13 year old read a section on the ancient story of Gilgamesh, wrote a key word outline, created a one to two-page summary of it, edited it themselves, rewrote it, and asked me to do the final editing before they produced a final draft.

All this without any instructions that they had to do it.

Learning is natural – a way of life. Learning is cherished, desired, sought after. Imagine! Hating learning doesn’t have to be a rite of passage.

Then, we cuddled up on the couch to read Augustus Caesar’s World. Elsa crocheted while Greta lay on my lap, eager for closeness after a day apart.

I felt refreshed.

I considered the spitballs that flew across the room earlier that day why I tried to manage 38 teenagers in a hot room. I thought about the large football player that tried to hit a much smaller boy in the face but ended up spraining his arm instead. I remembered the referral I wrote for a girl who wouldn’t stop arguing with me about how she wasn’t talking and doesn’t deserve to move to a different seat.

Then, I thought about sending my girls to school.

I don’t believe it will hurt them – unless the football player misses and accidentally gets one of the girls instead. I think they’re strong enough to handle it.

It’s just a waste of time.

During dinner, we discussed ways to not waste time. Continue reading books on their book list, ignore the badness, focus on the good – write, produce, create.

Elsa is so far ahead in math. It annoys me they’re going to test her and take the credit. That rankles in my gut a bit.

But this is what the culture says to do. Put your kids in school. Get a job. Work for the house left empty at home. Shuttle them to activities. Feel isolated and apart from them during the teenage years. Squelch the rebellions. Endure the arguments. And then they’re gone for awhile. Go into debt for their weddings. Have them move in with you a few times. Then, babysit their kids until they’re school-age. And the cycle begins again. Yep.

And people always say I’m crazy for homeschooling.

I don’t think so.



  1. I agree kids do love to learn. I have just spent the most glorious, excepting the few fights, two days off. My boys have transcribed parts of the Bible without complaining. Nikolai who is a struggling reader according to school didn’t miss a word and is an amazing speller. It disgusts me that because he is thoughful and not fast he is not as good as others. Max is excited to move on to the next passage and he writes neatly, with thought. He doesn’t hurry like he does with all his schoolwork. He is diligent and thoughtful. They spend the majority of their day outside. They help me dig leeks and carrots in the garden for dinner, play football, climb trees and ride bikes. And we speak Russian, just tidbits but they long to be fed the language. We talk about how great it is to have those two days. I have the time to make an amazing breakfast each day and dwell over my cup of tea instead of downing it in six seconds flat so I can hurry myself and them out the door. I long to escape this system. I dream of it. I write my ideas in my journal and then I pray about those ideas. How many of us long to get out and return to a simpler life? I think we all do.
    Your girls will be fine because you will continue to buck the system and do things your own way. That is the key. Those will still be your biggest successes.


  2. They will became tainted if they go to public school. What an investment you have put into your children through your consistent and loving nurturing and the multitude of positive emotional and physical empowerment you have embellished upon them. This is such a critical time in there growth. You are wise in wanting to continue the same encouraging path in leading your children to a whole and successful life. The foundation you and Paul are providing for your children is what God asks of you. Stay confident in this. Yours is the life that should be the normal in this world, not the other way around. He delights in you…..


  3. You said, “Learning is a way of life” How right you are, again, getting to the kernel of what is important, or distilling all these experiences into this simple truth. And being a truth, it will prevail, even through ‘this next ordeal’, which I hope and pray is resolved soon. I keep seeing Miss Edna, from the incredibles, chastising Elastigirl, telling her she knows who she is, she knows how strong she is, and she knows how to remind Mr. Incredible of who he is. But they still need to battle syndrome to do it. Cheesy metaphors aside, this return to the classroom for you and the girls, is part of the battle. It is only going to serve to empower you, not diminish you from what you know to be true and believe to be important. I know this blog started with a potential travelogue premise, but maybe the harder work is to chronicle exactly what you are writing about at this moment. Instead of fleeing the dragon you are staring him down. YOu are in a battle fighting for the intellectual and spiritual freedom of your family in this culture. I know you will win. Be steadfast. We are in the same battle, lets remember to pray for eachother. Love, Robin


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