Thursday, August 26, 2010

Looking at the Positive of the TJEd Principles

By Julia Hathaway

As I've been browsing what others are doing in their homes with A Thomas Jefferson Education and reading various posts and blogs concerning this philosophy, I have been amazed at how many of us are lamenting over the education of our children. I know the discussion groups are great for seeking answers when we hit road blocks; however, it seems all too common to see questions like, "How do I do this?" and "Struggling mom needs help!" and "Why can't I seem to get this right?" Believe me, I've asked the very same questions this past year. I think asking these types of questions are necessary in understanding TJEd for ourselves.

I've had an epiphany. Too many of us are focusing on our weaknesses, on our failings based on what we think is "right." When we focus on these negatives we leave very little room for the energy needed to fully implement these amazing principles. And I believe that the reason we focus on our shortcomings or try too hard to "do it right" is because of the "nots" in the principles. I suggest that we spend more time working on the DO's rather than the NOT's of the 8 Keys of Great Teaching.

#1 - Classics: Seek out the benefits of reading great classics. Discover the classics for yourself and with your family! Establish a core classic on which to base your family values and beliefs, a standard to follow. My favorite quote from Rachel DeMille goes something like this, "Once you've read 5 classics in math, 5 classics in science, 5 classics in literature, 5 classics in history . . . you won't be asking how to do this. You'll be asking different questions, better questions." Texbooks? Textbooks still have a place in the TJEd home. They can still be used and considered classics if used wisely and timely OR if there just seems to be a perfect textbook for your family (or even ONE of your children).

#2 - Structure Time: Observe your family's use of time. What is the natural ebb and flow in your home? Follow those signs to create and environment for learning. Does your family learn best in the morning or the evening? Where do family chores fit in in the structure? How much time do you allow for learning, or is the time all filled up with activities and multiple cirriculums that there is no time for self-educating? These are improtant questions to ask when exploring this key. As for content, there are times when you do need to plan the conent. Little Suzy is really interested in bugs. Don't just expect her to learn about them all on her own. As the parent/mentor, we need to be handing them the tools. This is also what Kidschool is for, a time to teach them something you feel is important or exciting. Yes, planning content is important, but it's the TIME that really matters when inspiring children to learn.

#3 - Mentors: What do professors do best? They lecture. I recently learned that a lecture in the "old days" meant that the professor was the only one with a book (because of scarcity of books) and the students listened and learned from him. If we apply that definition to lecturing now, then it is appropriate to do so now. Our view of professors now are simply teachers who stand in front of a classroom while the some 100+ students vigorously take notes. Mentoring is a much more personal experience. Great teachers and mentors guide their students & followers naturally. There isn't underlying pressure to perform ata certain level. Be a mentor, someone your child can come to with questions and problems. Mentoring is knowing the needs of your students and leading them there.

#4 - Inspire: Let's face it - - there are things that need to be required in life. But again, the focus really should be on inspiring, not "not requiring." I have felt guilty at times when requiring anything academic from my children. I don't think that is the essence of this great key. My husband has coined his own term for this, 'Inspire IN the Require." And that is what we do in our home. We require daily reading, writing and math. We follow math cirriculums for the most part, but every once in awhile we "take a break" and read some inspiring math books or play some cool math board games with the intent to light the spark. Inspiring children to learn is harder than simply requiring the next lesson in the book, but I can testify that our relationships are stronger when I'm focusing on the inspiration rather than the require . . . without feeling guilty about the things I do require of my children.

#5 - Simplicity: This one speaks for itself . . . and it's one I'm still working on. :-) Keep it simple, but if you do have one complex and exciting lesson or outing planned, enjoy the moment. Don't let the projects or the field trips or the discussions become a vice in your experience. Cutting out unnecessary things in your home and in the lives of your family help with this tremendously.

#6 - Quality: Expect great things! That's all this is saying. Don't settle for less than your very best. This principle starts with chores when the kids are young and then expands into their studies as they get older. To me this also suggests looking at the greatness of your children rather than their faults. Expect them to be great and they will naturally and happily rise to that standard!

#7 - YOU: Ahh . . . The illustrious "You, Not Them." This is a biggy for me. I've heard a couple of people say, "Am I really supposed to just ignore the children?" or "I've done my schooling, it's time for me to now focus on my kids." This is true. Most of us have "been there, done that." But that does not mean our learning has come to an end. Actually, for me, after college is when it really began! Some people are okay with leaving their children to their own exploring (probably more the unschooling approach), but we each need to explore this one in a very personal way. Without a selfish attitude about it, we need to ask ourselves, "Who am I?" and lead by example as we mothers pursue our talents, strengths, and studies.

How I look at this is not with the perspective of "ignore the children," but rather, "don't forget yourself in the process." If you want to read great books, read great books. This doesn't mean you need to be reading Euclid if Euclid doesn't interest you. If you want to learn how to eat healthier, by all means do it! If you want to be outdoors, head on out (just be sure to take your family). Focusing on your talents, strengths and studies is following this principle. Just be sure to discuss and involve your family in the process (again, another purpose of Kidschool).

I also see this principle in the light of focusing on YOUr family rather than the THEMs out there in the world telling you what you must do to educate your children. Listening to yourself and creating a learning environment for your family is a huge part of the "You" principle.

#8 - Secure: Here I could just repeat my last paragraph as well as the paragraph on simplicity. We need to focus on what is right for our individual situations. Many people write/say that they "feel these principles are right" and yet are still very hesitant and stressed about "doing it right" or "messing it up." This is why we need to focus on the positives.

As I've looked back over the years, I've realized just how much I have been following these principles almost without even knowing it. Maybe not the same way as others, maybe not perfectly, and definitely with a lot of mess-ups. But, it's only when I start comparing myself to others that I become confused and doubtful about these principles. There were a couple of hard years there when it was all about the requiring. But that's okay. I needed it then. There have been months where I've been more stressed than secure. There are days when chaos seems to "rule the nest." These days, months, years do not mean I'm failing and that I will never raise great children. They're just pauses. And when I focus on the positives - - Secure, You, Quality, Simplicity, Inspire, Mentors, Time and Classics - - I am more secure, I am more inspirational and I am more able to mentor my children in the directions they need to go.

Julia Hathaway is a homeschooling mother of 5 and has a bachelor degree in Marriage, Family and Human Development. See her stuff at