Educating Sons

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Homeschooling sons looks different than homeschooling daughters or even a mix of both. I have asked my friend, Maura Timko to share her thoughts as she has some insights that will be helpful.

Including my husband, there are 4 men in my household (45, 17, 15, and 14), plus our 2 male cats. All men, and all their man-friends, all the time. I am very clearly outnumbered.

Now, my guys are very, very good to me, and I love them to pieces. I am thankful for them every single day. It’s just that living with a bunch of men presents its own, particular brand of interesting. If you are the only woman in your household, you’ll know exactly what I mean. I am reminded daily of my minority status by the myriad of male conversational topics (I-can-do-more-pull-ups- than-you-can), television shows (ANOTHER baseball game?), and animal-like eating habits (dirty gym socks + toenail = EEW! on the coffee table, next to the nachos). Sometimes, I’m convinced that I’m an alien. Or, that they are.

Homeschooling our family of 3 boys looks very different, in so many ways. I had a hard time deciding which one to address in my blog post. (If there is interest, I’d be pleased to address more of them.) I figured I’d start by putting the biggest rock into the jar first: It takes an all new level of emotional fortitude to have all boys. As a mother you must rise to the occasion.

If there is any squeamishness about you, Mom, it has GOT TO GO! Any (every?) gross topic is up for discussion, in great detail. It begins as soon as your boys can go out and find things: nasty bugs, slimy worms, and rotting road kill will always end up on your front porch. Magnifying glasses, large and small jars, and probes/sticks will all be necessary. Stuff will get chopped up and thoroughly examined, so buy a hose. You will need to pretend that the dead squirrel they just found near the curb is the coolest thing, EVER! And…any snake or lizard that they find WILL be coming inside, in a box, without a lid, as a pet. And YOU will be have to touch it.

YOU must grow a backbone. Fast.

Over the years, I have been mentored by the writings of Victorian-era educator, Charlotte Mason. One of the pillars of Mason’s approach to education is this: Children are born persons. They are to be respected. They have their own likes and dislikes, their own favorite things, and their own thoughts. My role as a “teacher” (or even as “Mom”) is more like being a facilitator or a coach: to respect the person that God has uniquely created them to be, and to “train up my child in the way he should go,” according to God’s plan, and not my own.

Boys need to be respected, especially by their mothers. It helps them to respect themselves, and to have a strong self-esteem. As a Mom, this requires a constant trust in the Holy Spirit to be the One to speak to their hearts, to sift truth from lies, and to form good opinions. Although I will never tolerate an ungodly opinion, sometimes my boys form opinions that differ significantly from my own. Part of this is their increasing need for autonomy as they grow into men – normal adolescent development. They may even change their opinion 6 months from now – also normal development. But if my son’s opinion differs from my own – I must be respectful.

As my boys have grown, I’ve seen this bringing-of-gross-stuff transition to their writing. My teen boys no longer bring slimy bugs to my door. However, if given the freedom to express themselves, they will write about things that stun me. They will explore topics, form opinions or create stories around violent things, taboo things, gross things, and shocking things. I have learned that what they are really doing is exploring their own minds. They are learning how to deal with a hard topic, and not be afraid. They are learning to hear and know the voice of Jesus. Again, Charlotte Mason reminds me that it is the Holy Spirit who is the teacher:

“This idea of all education springing from and resting upon our relation to Almighty God – we do not merely give a religious education…but we hold that all education is divine, that every good gift of knowledge and insight comes from above, that the Lord the Holy Spirit is the supreme educator of mankind, and that the culmination of all education is that personal knowledge of and intimacy with God, in which our being finds its fullest perfection.”

I’ve also learned a great deal from Julie Bogart, author of The Writer’s Jungle, and founder of Brave Writer (www.bravewriter.com), on this topic. Here is what Julie writes about respecting the thoughts and writing of our boys:

“…boys tend to write about violence, guns, war, attacks, violent video games, machine guns, and violence. Did I mention violence? I have to overemphasize that point because so many mothers have come to me horrified that what was actually lurking in their precious boys’ minds were thoughts of blowing up the world!

We mothers are extremely uncomfortable with these subjects. Boys seem to know it and when they write, they feel reduced…boys hate this restriction, but they also can’t articulate it. Our boys believe that what they really care, think and fantasize about is not acceptable to us. They become cut off from their real thoughts, opinions and beliefs.

Girls tend to write about relationships (no brainer, right?), horses, nature and stories of puppies and kittens. How’s that for stereotyping? But I’ve seen it over and over.”

It can be very hard to read the inner thoughts of your boys, to keep your mouth SHUT, and to trust the Lord with the process. It requires an emotional distance that I never realized I would need. Most of the time, the best thing I can do for my son is to smile, and say, “Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me today.” Stop and think about this for a moment: Wouldn’t you rather hear your son’s actual thoughts? Or will you settle for what he thinks you want to hear, because it’s more comfortable for you? I prefer to have a window into the hearts of my boys.

Julie continues, describing good writing as a kind of “undressing.” Good writing is raw and vulnerable. Now that my guys are older, I have found them to be more willing to write about hard topics than to have a dialogue. Writing seems to create enough of an emotional distance to make any subject approachable. Then, they can more safely explore what they think and how they feel.

Sometimes, but not always, they will allow me to read their writing. I never demand to see it. I try not to laugh, judge, or even to look shocked. I read everything very carefully, and I take my time. Sometimes, I pray. I give my feedback, which they really do seek, but it is never of a moral nature. If a moral correction is ever needed, the moment for doing THAT must be far removed from the actual sharing of thoughts – not while they stand naked in front of me. The best way to shut your son down, to ensure that they will never share their vulnerable thoughts with you again, is to be critical in that moment.

I must be the one with the backbone. I must trust the Lord. I must allow the messy frogs, and the dirty worms, and the icky bugs. I must allow my boys to think, to fail, to course correct, to repent, and to deal with the Lord on their own terms – not mine.

I’ve been visiting colleges lately with my eldest son. At many of them, I have witnessed the fruit of parents who have not permitted their children wrestle with their own thoughts. They have raised very smart kids, certainly – many have scored higher on the SAT than my son. But they have also raised kids who cannot decide, who lack vision, and have no idea how to think for themselves. I have seen these seniors, and their parents, attending college tours; the parents are asking all the questions, the students are pulled along behind. The parents are taken on tours, given information sessions, nice food, and meetings with the Dean. The prospective students are given cheap pizza and entertainment – bread and circuses. Sadly, most of them seem satisfied.

I’m not sure how education has come to this point, but we no longer respect the personhood of our young people – particularly our young men. It’s easier than growing a backbone yourself. Education has stuffed students full of information, at the expense of their God-given personhood.

One more closing thought from Charlotte Mason:

“Therefore, children should be taught, as they become mature enough to understand such teaching, that the chief responsibility which rests upon them as persons is the acceptance or rejection of ideas. To help them in this choice, we give them principles of conduct, and a wide range of the knowledge fitted to them. These principles should save children from some of the loose thinking and heedless action which cause most of us to live at a lower level than we need. We must allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and ‘spiritual’ life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.”

I am proud that my sons see through the façade, and are learning to think for themselves. It is the fruit of having trusted the Lord to deal with them directly, helping them sort through the hard topics. They are being transformed by the renewing of their minds. Sometimes, my back still hurts – I’m a work in progress, too.

I still have my hose ready – just in case.

This post was written by my friend, Maura Timko. These opinions are entirely her own. 🙂

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