I have been homeschooling for twenty years, and I must say that our world feels more tumultuous, harried, frenetic, and down-right scary than it did when I first started. I have also noticed students in my classroom are stressed and overwhelmed by a variety of dynamics.
While millennials receive flack for being “snowflakes” or wanting warnings so that they are not “triggered,” the issues of our world must be faced, and this upcoming generation will be tasked with wrestling through and solving current and future issues. As teachers and parents, we simply must find a way to build resilience in our students and to provide opportunities to tackle the deep issues of life. Anything less is a disservice to them and our world.
I want to suggest four ways that parents and teachers of homeschool students can accomplish the goal of wrestling through uncomfortable, different, or difficult problems: create safety, welcome diversity, point to Biblical truths, and build tolerance to the unresolved and unfamiliar.
Create a Strong Thinker: Create Safety
While many may treat recent millennial dynamics with scorn, research shows that a safe learning environment is important for true learning. What does this mean for homeschoolers? It means physical safety, of course, but I believe it is more than that. It means security to be themselves and to express their true concerns, opinions, and beliefs. One aspect of homeschooling that becomes more pronounced as students become older is that the world is broader than what is experienced in the home, in church, or in co-op. Students begin to question and to think more deeply about issues and what they really believe as they grow older. Many of my students have commented that they appreciated being able to question or to think differently than the “party line” at church or in their peer group. Using virtual classes with Christian teachers is one way to provide such opportunities. Another way is to seek activities or clubs with leaders you trust to provide a safe and welcoming environment for your student. Teachers and mentors can affirm your student as they begin to bud and branch out. Without this experience, students lack an opportunity to honestly delve into ideas that puzzle them.
Create a Strong Thinker: Welcome Diversity
I am the type of person who gets stuck in a workout rut. Once I find something I like, I just do that over and over. I just do not like to try different things. Of course, what happens is that some muscle groups are not used, and my workout is not optimal.
The same phenomenon is present in education. We must use different neural pathways and think new thoughts to strengthen our abilities to think deeply. Doing the same thing, thinking the same thoughts, surrounding ourselves with people who think just like we think, circumvents a full mental experience.
As students enter late junior high and high school, it is important that they learn how to exist with others who do not always hold the exact same opinion about some issue that they hold. There is immense value in learning to present an opinion, to listen respectfully, to probe the question without defensiveness, to affirm the value of the thought process in and of itself and the innate value of the other individual. I have seen time and again in the classroom that students do not instinctively know how to do this. They must practice it.
To create opportunities for diverse thought, select classes that are discussion-based. Find teachers who encourage dialogue. For myself, I had to farm out many classes for my own children because they had already discussed so many things with me, whether it was symbolism in a story or a particular view of a historical figure, that it was important for them to match wits with another teacher or other groups of students. They already knew what I thought; they knew what their friends thought. I had to use online classes and live classes outside our immediate local area to promote diversity of thought and of people.
Create a Strong Thinker: Point to the Truth
I sometimes feel that there is a tendency to think we must “get serious” in high school. In the hurry of seeking a rigorous education, a course of solid biblical truth sometimes gets ignored. “Hey! We finished Awana. He’s memorized a ton of scriptures” would be a mistake as a governing thought. High school is NOT the time to throw out the Word. It is the time to bring out the Bible and ask how it can illuminate what is being discussed, examined, and contemplated.
A verse that has given me great comfort as my children grew older and began to openly question religious tenets or beliefs was Isaiah 1:6, “’Come now, and let us reason together,’ saith the Lord.” I love the mental image of the Lord allowing open discourse and inviting us to dialogue. The Lord doesn’t expect us to be robots with automated answers; as parents and teachers, we should expect and welcome the tension of deep questions with deeper answers.
Some of my favorite teaching moments have come in these types of discussions. I teach English, and so examining a story, a passage, a character, etc., is fairly easy to do. Modeling a habit of contemplating what the Bible might say is a critical skill that will reap a harvest over time. Asking these questions also helps students to learn to distinguish between what Scripture might say and what the author intended.
Again, seeking a teacher or mentor with a facility for guided discussion and with a solid grounding as a Christian believer is key.
Create a Strong Thinker: Build Tolerance
We are discussing the deep issues that students might wrestle with; what do we do, however, when we do not know the answers? What do we do with our students and children when the puzzle pieces are not fitting together nicely?
I assert that we must build up tolerance for discomfort and for learning from all sides. As an English teacher, I have noticed that students in junior high and early high school tend to have very concrete ideas. Black is black, white is white, etc. They tend to see very little gray. As students get older and mature, they start to discern that while much of the world is black or white, there certainly is a lot of gray, and other colors too. Issues are complicated, complex, and dynamic; if they were not, they would already be solved. Our nation continually grapples with abortion, healthcare access, immigration reform, foreign policy conundrums, domestic and international terrorism, gun control, ecological and environmental issues, racism, etc.
If we want to create deep thinkers, then we really need to help students tolerate discomfort in discussing such issues, as well as help them to understand from multiple avenues. One way to do this is to actively research, read, and discuss topics of interest to you, your family, or the student. Purposely select research works from multiple and contrary perspectives. Consider having family members or groups of students report back for larger discussion.
This link provides a listing of some resources for attacking difficult topics: Investigating Healthcare Issues.
Whether a student is a “snowflake” or not depends on the security, opportunities provided, and skills mastered during education. Not shying away from the tough issues and promoting a positive interaction among all learners while providing biblical grounding will result in confident individuals able to wrestle with contemporary problems and issues.
Jodi Guerra is an Instructor and Coordinator with Excelsior Classes, a consortium of online teachers dedicated to excellence in online instruction. She has been involved in the education of children and adults serving in public schools, private schools, and corporate America. For the last twenty years, Jodi has worked with homeschool students in private classes, tutoring situations, and in the virtual world of online education. She seeks to make every learning situation fun yet productive. Besides teaching, Jodi loves to read and finds both cooking and sewing to be creative expressions.