Chronic comparisonitis (writing and homeschooling)

Kids learn by comparison. They learn to walk, and talk, and use a fork by watching their parents. As a child grows older, they learn to read and dress themselves and drink soda (or kombucha) and eat steak (or chitlins) and watch football (or Doctor Who).

This is just how human beings are wired. We learn by comparing ourselves to others. We pit ourselves against other people, against animals, against the environment, against the stars, in our struggle for mastery and knowledge. This is one of our great strengths as a species.

It’s also one of our downfalls.

The Realm Makers writer’s conference is this weekend. It’s been out of the question for me for the past few years, but I still watch wistfully from the sidelines as all my friends get together for what amounts to a retreat. There’s fantastic teaching. There’s costumes. There’s a nerf battle.

It got me thinking about the way we writers compare ourselves to each other. The trouble is, being a writer is like rally racing. You don’t race the other drivers. You race your own best time. On the surface, we know that. But underneath, our nature is urging us to look at other authors’ writing, or their sales, or the size of their Twitter following, and wonder why ours isn’t so good.

Now, if we take it as an opportunity to learn, then comparison is fine. Everybody needs better tools and techniques–its how you grow. But so often we use it to feed our envy and pride.

I’ve been reading a stack of homeschooling books from the 90s in preparation for this school year. Every time I read one, I get monstrously discouraged. Finally I asked my mom about them, since this was the way her generation thought. These books trumpet the same things:

  • Have as many children as humanly possible (the Quiverfull movement)
  • Homeschooling is the Path of Righteousness
  • Mary Pride says that working outside the home is bad (see The Way Home)
  • Embrace the chaos!
  • We’ll make the colleges accept us!
  • Extra-curricular activities!
  • Socialization!
  • Be more! Do more! Check your blood pressure!

homeschooling-zombie-apoc

I grew up in that school of thought, and I don’t like it. Comparing myself to that, I’m the biggest underachiever on the face of the earth. I don’t want as many kids as humanly possible–five is about as many as I can manage. Homeschooling works for our family, but it’s not for everyone. Working outside the home is necessary for survival (especially if you’re a single parent).

Mom pointed out that there were women who killed themselves and their kids because they couldn’t measure up to these teachings. The Quiverfull movement is horrible and is being taken apart for the cult that it is. Too much comparison. Too much groupthink.

zootrip2-tigers
Tigers at the zoo enjoying frozen meat popsicles. They were more comfortable than the humans. It was like 110 that day.
zootrip2-splashpad
Best part of a hot day at the zoo–the splash pad.

So I look around to see what my generation is talking about in homeschooling. The big deal for us is special needs. Autism, ADHD, Aspergers, everything that can go wrong with a child’s brain. There’s a big move toward simplicity–in learning and living. People still have lots of kids, but it’s not the virtue that it once was. Instead of magazines, there’s blogs and bloggers. Many of the modern homeschoolers were homeschooled as kids, but not all. It’s a movement that has grown beyond Christians and into mainstream. (There’s homeschoolers who … GASP … aren’t Christians!)

So I’ve been grappling with not only comparing myself to others, but the clear outcome of groupthink. I have at my fingertips the thinking of twenty years ago, and the results. All I have to do is look around at my peers. In particular, the adults at Realm Makers who as kids were denied fantasy and science fiction. As backlash, they’re walking around in costume and quoting Star Wars.

I guess what I’m seeing is that life has to be about balance. Protect your kids, but not to the extreme of never letting them glimpse real life. Let them read Narnia, but let them read Harry Potter, too. (As kids fantasy goes, Harry Potter is absolutely benign. Christians scream about it, but nobody ever dissects the weirdness in Madeline L’Engle or the So You Want To Be A Wizard series.)

So I’m going to continue with my simplistic approach to homeschooling. I’m going to read aloud Harry Potter, Little House on the Prairie, Wheel on the School, and the Magic Thief.

As John Taylor Gatto points out, every teen is taught to drive a car. It’s a hugely complex task that, if done poorly, results in DEATH. But every teen is taught to drive within a couple of weeks, and they will successfully perform it for their whole lives. Why must math or grammar be any different? They’re just tools to perform a task. In real life, if you don’t know the equation to calculate the diameter of a circle, you look it up. But knowing how to look things up, and where, is the trick.

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4 thoughts on “Chronic comparisonitis (writing and homeschooling)”

  1. You know what? You should write a book on homeschooling. I wish I had a book like this article when I was home schooling but of course, like the pioneers we are the ones with the arrows in our backs. We did get colleges to accept our kids, we did for all intent and purposes, change it so the second generation home schoolers could experience freedom without the threat of jail time. We were the ones who homeschooled with the drapes drawn and the fear of the knock at the door. I rejoice in the freedom that you have. I also love the fact you have the freedom and the wisdom to see what me and other women did not.
    As home schooling Mom who started in the 80s, I was making it up as I went along. Every day, I wondered if I was ruining your life. Scaring you for life was more like it. I am so happy that all of our children are exemplary adults. Gifted individuals. I will quote another John Taylor Gatto ““Genius is an exceedingly common human quality, probably natural to most of us.”
    Not homeschooling, not having six kids my life would have been so empty. But because for that little window of time we did think we were changing the world one baby at a time. I will still say that too now it is your generation who has the ball. I hope as you think, and plan and imagine, you can see what it was we were trying to do and look a little more kindly at us in the future. We were the first generation to recognize we were giving birth to geniuses and through our sacrifice God would be glorified. Which was all we wanted to do. Well me anyway. Great article I enjoyed it. Of course guilty of all charges. 🙂 Since those are my books. It is really interesting for your viewpoint. It is a gift to me as well.

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    1. This blog post came out a lot more critical-sounding than I intended it. You know you did something right, because homeschooling is alive and well–we didn’t grow up and put our kids all back in school. Just a lot of ideas have changed. I think the trials of raising special needs kids is more widely talked-about and pandered to. I’m more criticizing the authors who pushed some of these more damaging ideas. You broke out of it and got blackballed for a while, but it turned out that it was a good thing you did. 🙂

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  2. As a Christian, I am absolutely baffled that so many others dislike or even ban Harry Potter. I can’t imagine completely BANNING a book or type of literature in my household. It’s not a good teaching strategy and it just goes against every aspect of free will I believe in (and that God gave us). Besides, HP is more than just a good story, it’s a Christ allegory! Come on, people!

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    1. Yeah, there’s way more damaging books out there. Like the appalling messages in the His Dark Materials trilogy. It was almost as popular as HP, yet I saw, what, three articles breaking down how bad it was?

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