How to Parent a School Kid

Dear Reader,

As I go through Charlotte Mason’s fifth volume, Formation of Character, I am up to the section on children’s intellectual development. As I have said before, though most of us here are probably homeschoolers, Charlotte does not assume such an environment. In fact, in this volume she seems to advocate a traditional school environment as the best one.

In the section we are discussing today, Charlotte says, “The intellectual training of the young people must be left, in the main, to the school authorities” (p. 196). Now of course I am not advocating an abandonment of homeschooling. Charlotte ran correspondence courses for those who were overseas or could not otherwise send their children to school so we know it can be done. I also think that she did not anticipate the state that our educational system has gotten into, both in terms of its academic quality and its complete lack of a Christian foundation. So while homeschooling as we know it does not seem to be something Charlotte anticipated, I hope that if she were here today she would at least appreciate the need that some of us feel for it.

Nonetheless, this post is mainly for those who are not homeschooling. Personally I think homeschooling is a wonderful choice and could work for most families, but it is not for everyone. But if one chooses for whatever reason to send their child to school, this need not mean that they are abandoning their child to the schools completely. In this section, Charlotte does urge parents to leave the intellectual content to the school authorities, but she also gives some advice on how parents can and should stay involved. Here is what she has to say:

1. Parents should not criticize the school: “to criticise unfavourably the working of the school, has a bad effect on the pupil––he learns to undervalue what his school has to give him, but gets nothing
else” (p.196).

2. They should know what their children are studying and take an interest in it: “It is important that parents should, so far as possible, keep up with their children, should know where they are and how they are getting on in their studies, should look into their books, give an eye to their written work, be
ready with an opinion, a hint, a word of encouragement” (p.196).

3. They should make it the subject of dinner table talk: “They may feel and show hearty interest in the matter of their children’s studies, and when the subject is less dry than the declension of a Latin noun may throw side-lights upon it by making it matter of table-talk” (p.196).

When they do these things, parents not only encourage their children’s intellectual growth, they also strengthen the family. Charlotte says, “the parents themselves keep their place as heads of the family. They keep the respect of their children; for once a boy begins to look down on the intellectual status of his parents, the entire honour and deference he owes them are at an end” (p.197). How often have you heard parents say that they just don’t understand the math their children are being taught in school, even elementary math? Or how often have you heard them say that when their children go to school they lose them? Charlotte would say that these two things are related. The child sees that their parent can’t understand their work and they lose respect for them which carries over into all aspects of the parent-child relationship.

To me, sending your child to school and still staying involved and keeping a strong family dynamic sounds a lot tougher than just homeschooling. I do have friends whose kids go to school, even public school, that seem to manage this, that even seem to have some of the best behaved kids I’ve seen. So I know it can be done. It sounds overwhelming to me, but I admire those who can do it.

Nebby

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