The Sweet Taste of Comparison
- Monday, August 29, 2011
Florida is well-known for its citrus fruits, Maine for its cranberry bogs, and the state of Washington for its apples. Georgia is home to world-famous peaches, Hawaii to pineapples and guavas, and Michigan to blueberries. Each of these fruits symbolizes the state in which it is grown. Even my own humble little Midwestern yard is known—at least by family, friends, and the UPS driver—for its edible landscaping: blueberry and raspberry bushes amongst the flower beds, apple trees in the backyard, and an abundance of strawberries lining the sidewalk.
And yet we know that oranges are different from cranberries, apples don’t taste like peaches, and pineapple is served differently from blueberries. We accept those differences and don’t try to force the flavor or uniqueness of one fruit upon another. We relish the variety.
So why do we as homeschoolers spend so much of our lives comparing ourselves to others—and usually feeling like we come up short? The simple answer is that it’s human nature, evident since the book of Genesis. Our children compare without ever being taught. “His cookie is bigger than my cookie.” “But Jared gets to go to the library. Why can’t I?” We adults compare ourselves too. “Their grass doesn’t have any dandelions.” “He gets four weeks of vacation. How come I only get three?” And unfortunately, we homeschoolers compare our families and our teaching methods with those of others. “Their son is already reading.” “I notice they have switched to XYZ math curriculum. Hmmm.”
There’s one sense in which comparison—or at least something akin to it—isn’t always inherently bad. It’s our attitude and what we do with the results of our comparison that matters. We can grow through looking at another family and how they are different, how they educate their children differently. Looking to others can spur me on to improved homeschooling, more godly character traits, and a better life. But comparison can also be a dangerous, negative way to do school and ultimately to live. What are you going to do with the results of your ongoing comparisons with others?
The Downside of Comparison
Anytime we make comparisons, we are allowing the possibility of the seeds of discontentment or pride to have a foothold in our lives. Think of another homeschool family you know, whose children are about the same ages as your children. Imagine a conversation with them, one in which you ask them to name all of their curriculum, what pages they are on in each book, and how their children are progressing in each subject.
Two responses are possible:
*Their answer reveals that their children are way ahead of your children in studies. You end up feeling discouraged.
*Or their reply shows you that your children are ahead of theirs in terms of learning. You begin to feel a tinge of pride.
In reality, when you compare your children’s progress with that of others, it’s likely a mixed bag; yours are probably ahead in some places and behind in others. But isn’t that the beauty of how God has created each of us? And isn’t that one of the distinct benefits of homeschooling—that our children become the uniquely gifted people God has created each of them to be, minus the shame and the labels that often come from the comparison that is intrinsic in institutional schooling? For example, when my son was “late” to learn to read, no matter what methods or techniques I used, comparison was inevitable. (I grew to be able to question the terms “late” and “early,” by the way.) How I responded to his level of progress peaked and valleyed; sometimes I felt content, but often discouragement and even envy entered in.
This type of comparison has a distinct danger. As I look to other homeschoolers, do I rely too heavily on my friends’ ways of teaching? What if I use their homeschools as a yardstick by which to measure mine? What if I let comparison become my way of operating and my main means of feeling good about my children?
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