According to Their Step: A Philosophy of Home Schooling
- 2003 22 Jan
Most of these resources were helpful, but I wanted to move beyond what curriculum to use or even the best way to use it. I needed an underpinning, a way to look at the whole educational process. What I already knew was that I didnt want to be a schoolmaster over my pupils. I also knew that my kids werent robots or lumps of clay and they couldnt be programmed or molded by someone elses surefire plan to educational success. But that kind of guidance was what was being offered to me. Perhaps arriving at a philosophy of home schooling would be harder than I thought. Then one day, when I wasnt even looking for it, the answer jumped out at me from the most unlikely source: an ancient tale involving two estranged brothers and a couple hundred smelly animals.
Its an intriguing story. The two main characters are twins, but they werent separated at birth. They were separated by greed and deceit. Jacob is the wily one and he cheats his brother Esau out of his birthright as the firstborn son. Years later, they have a dramatic meeting on the plains of ancient Israel and Esau forgives Jacob. (Perhaps Jacobs beefy peace offering helped a little.) Esau then invites Jacob - and his entourage of wives, children and herds - to join him in his journey. Esau is a big, burly guy and we assume hed be traveling at record speed. So in response to his invitation, Jacob says: "My lord knows that the children are tender and that I must care for the ewes and the cows that are nursing their young. If they are driven hard just one day, all the animals will die. So let my lord go on ahead of his servant, while I move along slowly at the pace of the droves before me and that of the children ... "*
Those who have read this story know that Jacob is still wily and has no intention of following his brother. But for the sake of the story, lets just look at what he is saying: "My lord knows that the children are tender ... [therefore I must] move along slowly at the pace ... of the children." Jacob is not forcing the children to keep up; hes taking his cues from them, moving according to their pace. That image began to burn in my mind.
Im no Bible scholar, but I did find a metaphor emerging here. I grabbed some of my husbands reference books (he is a Bible scholar) and tried to get at the original language. Closer to the Hebrew meaning is this: "I will flow gently with the children, according to their step." Jacob already knew that going at Esaus pace would have never worked. But at some point he must have realized that even his step would have been too quick. A closer look into the Hebrew word for "flow" revealed a secondary meaning, one that implies protection; carrying, feeding, and guiding. Jacob was protecting his flocks, mindful that animals driven hard - even for one day - would die. And he was also caring for his children, who, if pressed too hard, would surely suffer the same fate. Part of Jacobs role as protector was to nurture those under his care, to nourish them and to gently guide them. The best way to do that was to "flow" according to their "step."
This story reminded me of a time when I was walking along the beach with my daughter, who was about three at the time. She would stop every minute or two to play in the water, pick up a shell or rub her feet in the sand. But I had an agenda; I wanted to cover as much ground as possible. So I kept pulling her along, telling her to hurry, admonishing her to catch up. Then it occurred to me that my impatience was a societal one: We rush our children through life; we overschedule their every waking moment; we feed them facts and figures in order to cover as much ground as possible. So I slowed down to let my daughter explore and learned a valuable lesson.
I think Jacob may have been on to something. Perhaps my task is not to rush or to push. It could be that my task is to flow. After all, Im a fellow traveler. And maybe, just maybe, my children already know the way.
*Genesis 33: 13-14 (NIV)