I don't know what I'm doing

I don't know what I'm doing
Chiron I ain't, so I find people to be my Chiron. Detail from "Jason and His Teacher" by Maxfield Parrish, 1909.

Today is the third anniversary of our starting homeschooling, back in 2019. I still don't know what I'm doing.

When Wanda was younger, she had some moments of doubt on her birthdays. She's generally not prone to magical thinking, but when she turned six, she was disappointed to find that things had not instantly become easier for her now that she was older.

I explained to her that it's normal to feel weird about being six. She'd only been six for a matter of hours, after all! She may not feel like she's good at being six until much further into her year of being six, maybe not even until the the end of the year of being six. She had, however, had a lot of practice at being five, and had a lot to be proud of for that. Being six didn't need to feel right or comfortable for a while, and that's okay.

There's a lot of that in homeschooling. Homeschoolers are are a terrifically doubt-plagued bunch. Homeschooling forums are chockablock with posts openly asking for scrutiny of the choices they're making or considering. "Can I do this? Are we spending enough time on X? Are we spending too much time on X? Is this the best curriculum I could be using? Are there things I'm leaving out and don't realize? Am I screwing my kid up??"  

As you gain more experience, the doubt doesn't go away—what happens is you get better at being comfortable with the doubt. The doubt is healthy, and appropriate.

What we do with that doubt, as homeschoolers, is we turn to people who know better than we do. We turn to experts, we turn to people with the experience we lack.  

For instance, I don't need to be an expert in mathematics—I have a curriculum created by people who are passionate about teaching math, people who were mega-mathletes themselves, and have years of experience supporting the next generation of mathletes. The curriculum has everything I need to help Wanda understand the math in front of her.

This is true for other curricula: many are created by people who have deep expertise in the subject matter and in pedagogy. Some even provide scripts to guide me through teaching the material. (Some curricula have a flimsier foundation, written by folks whose experience or training I feel are insufficient, and I don't buy those ones. Avoiding them isn't hard.) For the most part, the pool of expert-created secular curricula is deep.

The curriculum is just a start. We extend our learning with books and videos created by experts. Especially when it comes to learning about varied cultural and historic perspectives, we seek out materials from folks as close to those cultures and histories as we can.

Beyond the subject-matter materials for Wanda, there are plenty of teach-the-teacher materials out there, too. I've been able to learn a ton about how the human brain learns, and techniques to support learning, thanks to books written by brain researchers and pedagogy experts.

Beyond the materials, there is a lot of help out there for the general overall execution of homeschooling, thanks to veteran homeschoolers who generously share what worked (and didn't work) for them. Online and in person, I have access to plenty of folks whose homeschooled kids are now in college and adulthood. Much of homeschooling is about community, and it's natural that these folks stick around after their primary job is done, to help those of us coming up behind them. I hope I'm able to do the same when the day comes.

I don't shy away from the answer, "I don't know." Because of that, I'm able to continually model curiosity for Wanda: admitting ignorance without shame, being open to growth, having humility, and seeking answers. That's at the core of great learning.

I also get to model how to be a discerning consumer of information. Whenever we turn to a new resource, whether it's a curriculum, book, or video, Wanda's first question is, "Who wrote this?" She is picky about where she gets her information.

I'm not even the ultimate authority on Wanda... she is. I hope I never trick myself into thinking I know what I'm doing, and I can't imagine I could ever trick myself into thinking I'm doing this alone. I'm doing this with a massive amount of help from people who know a lot more than I do. As we start our fourth year of homeschooling, I'm excited about all the things I still don't know that I'm going to learn in the coming year, and beyond.

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