Schooling in the Spirit


We are on the verge of doing the happy dance around here, because we’ve walked through the valley of the shadow of CC’s Challenge 1 class, and we are conquerers!

CC is over for the year, but my daughter is still plugging away.  She is ten Algebra 1 lessons away from looking back at her freshman year and declaring, “It is finished!”  With that in mind, I have a few thoughts for those of you who are thumbing through your Challenge 1 guides and are experiencing weak knees and shaky hands at the look ahead:

Therefore, strengthen your listless hands and your weak kneesand make straight paths for your feet (Hebrews 12:12a, NET)

The Challenge guide may be the curriculum, but don’t forget that as a parent, YOU forge your own path.  Maybe your teen has zero outside activities: no soccer, no baseball, no ice skating, no art classes, no piano lessons, no speech and debate clubs. Maybe your family takes zero vacations through the school year. Perhaps your teen has laser-guided focus and is able to independently complete all school assignments listed in the guide by 3pm every Friday.

But I’m here to tell you…we were not that family.  We forged our own straight path.

Last year, in addition to Challenge 1 course work, we did the following extra-curricular activities (plus church, movies, dinners, and other family activities):

  • Took a Labor Day trip to Houston
  • Started going to speech and debate club once a week
  • Started going to an outside science course (my daughter loves science) once a week
  • Ice skating lessons five days a week
  • Southwestern Regional Championship Skating Competition
  • Took the PSAT for the first time
  • Got glasses
  • Practice Debate Tournament/Round Robin
  • Held the debate club Christmas party at our house
  • Hosted 2 family gatherings for Christmas at our house
  • Got the Flu, Type A (only my husband escaped this!)
  • Competed in the Frisco Speech/Debate tournament (a three-day affair)
  • Competed in the Austin Speech/Debate tournament (a five-day affair, with travel time)
  • Competed in the North Carolina Open Speech/Debate tournament (and turned into a mini-vacation, a week’s worth of travel)
  • Began ballet class for ice skaters
  • Twelve Private Debate Coaching sessions
  • Six Private Speech Coaching sessions
  • Dance lessons for upcoming Homeschool Prom
  • Competed in the Houston Speech/Debate tournament (a five-day affair, with travel time)
  • Competed in the Wylie Speech/Debate tournament (a three-day affair)
  • Protocol — dinner and the opera
  • Texas Christian Homeschool Prom
  • Visited family in East Texas for Easter
  • Competed in the Regional Invitational Speech/Debate tournament (a four-day affair)
  • Experienced grief at the loss of a close friend’s younger brother in a tragic accident
  • Experienced grief upon finding out my father has cancer
  • Visited family in Austin for a cousin’s college graduation

In other words, we lived a crazy, harried schedule where some school work was completed in odd hours and other school work was scrapped altogether.  Three days out of seven were spent out of the house — CC one day, science/skating another day, and speech/debate club another day, so Saturdays (and some Sundays) were school days around here.  I made adjustments to the guide, sometimes on the fly, based on what we had going that week.  Yes, it was hard for me to do this because I still like crossing items off lists.  I admit it.  I’m a list checker.  But for my sanity’s sake, I had to let that side of me sulk and wring hands while the practical side of me slashed assignments and revised others.

For example,there were several weeks when I had my teen do only the practice math problems and the relevant problems in the mixed practice (I know, I know…that’s heretic for die-hard Saxon math fans.  It’s a good thing I’m not a fan!).  There were some weeks when she had to re-take a math test because I needed to see if her mistakes were careless errors or a gap in understanding.  Due to both of us having the flu, I didn’t make her write the Born Again essay.  She read everything on the book list except Starship Troopers because it happened in the middle of a speech/debate tournament and I figured the fact that she has all episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek Voyager, Star Wars, Firefly, and Doctor Who practically memorized meant that her science fiction awareness was definitely up to speed.

For Old Man and the Sea, I had her do an impromptu speech rather than write an essay because, once again, a speech/debate tournament intervened…and there was another essay somewhere in the mix that I let her skip because she needed time to write her speeches and complete her Illustrated Oratory boards.

With each adjustment I made to the curriculum, I did my best to communicate with her tutor so she’d know what my teen would or would not have completed for sharing in class.  In planning each week, we made sure she read everything because I wanted her to be able to contribute to class discussions.

Speaking of discussions, I have two words to illustrate difficult discussions: Billy Budd.  If CC could eliminate one book from the reading list, I hope it would be this one.  This short story by Melville is so over-the-top symbolic that even I found myself doing the teenage eyeroll.  The cumbersome prose is best understood when it’s read aloud, so I highly suggest purchasing an audio version.  Or, you could do what I did and read it out loud to your teen when she cries and complains that she can’t get past the first paragraph and can’t understand the British accent of the audio version.  Trust her.  She really can’t!  We hated it, but we loved hating it together.  As I read it out loud to her we took the opportunity to make fun of Billy Budd’s overly angelic character.  (By the way, if you happen to LOVE Billy Budd, no offense intended!).  If Billy Budd is in this year’s reading, I suggest you tackle this book together, over the summer.  Here’s a look at why:

But are sailors, frequenters of fiddlers’ greens, without vices? No; but less often than with landsmen do their vices, so called, partake of crookedness of heart, seeming less to proceed from viciousness than exuberance of vitality after long constraint; frank manifestations in accordance with natural law. By his original constitution aided by the co-operating influences of his lot, Billy in many respects was little more than a sort of upright barbarian, much such perhaps as Adam presumably might have been ere the urbane Serpent wriggled himself into his company. (

Arugh!! Billy Budd was without sin, like Adam before the serpent?  Just wait until you read about his masculine beauty and his “welkin-eyes” (welkin means blue, as the sky).  You’ll do a teenage eyeroll, too. 

With all the juggling we did this year, I must confess that by the end, we both felt frazzled and used up. I worried that somehow I’d cheated her by not making her stay up until 3am so she could check off every single assignment in the guide.  When I didn’t make her do the American Government re-writes, did I deprive her of learning?  Did she have understanding of the Marshall Plan, the significance of Brown vs. Board of Education?

And then I read her government essay, written as part of her final exam, and I realized I had nothing to worry about.  She learned, even with our crazy modifications.  With her permission, I share it with you:

Over the years, America has been named ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave.’ Curiously, when these words were first written in the poem ‘The Defense of Fort McHenry,’ America still allowed slavery. When the Civil War ended and the slaves were freed, we called America the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave,’ but men were still denied the right to vote based on the color of their skin. When we decided that the right to vote could not be denied by race or color, we called America ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave,’ but women were still treated like property until years later. Finally, with all people over the age of 18 allowed to vote, it would seem to finally, be the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave.’ Unfortunately, this is not the case, and the struggle for freedom continues, albeit in a different way.

The U.S. is slowly but surely becoming a police state. A few months ago, police threw a young woman to the ground for jaywalking in Austin. More recently, federal agents attempted to forcibly take land a Nevada man had been ranching on for years, though they stopped when locals formed a militia to protect the land. And, of course, the government owns our houses and property — if we don’t pay (taxes) to live at our house, we promptly have it stolen away. In some ways, the U.S. seems more like a dystopian society than ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave.’

Fortunately, there is hope for our nation yet. America is famed for her ability to change, peacefully, with new leaders, laws, and Constitutional amendments. We may not be ‘the land of the free,’ but we are still ‘the home of the brave.’ If people speak out, bravely, it may be possible for the voice of the people to override our faux ‘freedom’ As long as we are not silent, there is hope for us yet.”

There is hope for all of us in the homeschooling trenches.  We are forging our own paths as God calls us.  Walk in the Spirit as you make those curriculum adjustments to fit your family, and you will find peace.

A verse that the pastor read today really jumped out at me as I contemplated this year, the school years ahead, and my manic desire to check boxes off a list.  In Galatians 5:18, we see that

If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (NET)

In context this verse is talking about how to walk in the Spirit as we war with our fleshly desires.  And I realized…just now…that my list-checking desire is not a fruit of the spirit.  It brings me anxiety and consternation. It’s caused strife, hostility, jealousy (as I see other parents and teens somehow managing to do all THEIR CC work), and outbursts of anger — and right there, in black and white in God’s word, I see that my tendency to cling to the checklist is a fleshly desire.  I’ve put myself under condemnation that is not necessary.

This year, I cut down the curriculum and made adjustments to the Challenge 1 assignments as needed, but inwardly I worried and fretted about not being able to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s.  My goal for next year is to walk in the Spirit and pray God’s Word while I make those adjustments so that rather than experiencing guilt and condemnation, I will experience the blessings of true freedom in education. God’s got this education thing covered. From her last essay of the year, about self-growth, my daughter wrote:

And I knew that I had learned two invaluable skills that would help me down that long, winding road to debate stardom: not only did I learn to work at things that I hated, but I also learned to love things that are difficult. These are two skills I will always strive to keep.

No, I did not follow the Challenge 1 guide to the letter.  Yes, my daughter learned anyway. It’s time to come out from under the law, strengthen those weak knees, and forge ahead.

2 thoughts on “Schooling in the Spirit

  1. Excellent post. I used to be checking continuously this
    blog and I’m impressed! Extremely helpful
    information specially the final phase 🙂 I take care of such information much.
    I was seeking this particular info for a very long time.
    Thanks and best of luck.

  2. Oh, your Challenge posts do my heart good! Managing this course with extra-curriculars that take us out of the 3 days per week, too, and my own health issues… well, I’m so glad that I found someone that relate and has made it through! Thank you for sharing!!!!

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