The Ownership Principle
- 2010 23 Apr
It has set the course for entire nations. When permitted to reign, it has changed lives and created fortunes for millions; it's given general peace and prosperity to countless more. What is this very simple concept? Ownership.
As a worldview, capitalism is based completely on private ownership, while communism abolishes private ownership in favor of collectivism, which stresses human interdependence over private independence. When I think of collectivism, I think of Hillary Clinton opining that "It takes a village to raise a child." One core reason for homeschooling our children is the belief that it is our God-given responsibility to raise them, not that of the secular village. If you are homeschooling, you are deliberately taking ownership of your children's education and training. I highly commend you for this decision, but it does have its price, as does anything commendable.
Perhaps the most common lament I hear from homeschooling moms is, "I just can't do it all! I'm exhausted, burned out, and if I have to make one more lesson plan or correct one more math paper, I think I will jump off the proverbial cliff!" Of course we get tired and worn out when we are constantly in the driver's seat of our children's education; homeschooling is not a job for the faint of heart whether you school one child or ten.
What I would like to share with you in this article is the single most important life-changing tip I could ever give. It is simple, yet so many parents miss it because education just is not done this way in a public or private classroom. Mass education does not lend itself to individualization, and giving a child ownership of his education is as individualized as it gets.
The Key to Motivation
If you homeschool, you have taken ownership of your children's education. However, that doesn't mean you have to do all the work and be a teacher in the same sense as a teacher in a classroom. Children in a classroom are dictated to; the teacher tells them to do something, and they may or may not do it to the best of their ability. We've all been students in a classroom, and many factors determined how successful we were—or were not—at the role. The onus is on the teacher to present the material, see that most of the students grasp it, and then move on to the next thing. This same pattern is repeated for 12 long years—unless you have a teacher who does things a little differently.
In the fifth grade, I had a science teacher by the name of Mr. Richards. Mr. Richards didn't think it was his job to throw information at us, have us take notes, and give a test at the end. He would have us sign "contracts." If you wanted an A, you would research certain topics and do certain experiments, and the bar was set at a particular level. If you didn't want to work that hard, for a B you could do fewer activities; for a C you did fewer still. He gave us class time to work, and he was there to answer questions, but for the most part, he gave us the materials and stood back and let us go.
I always went for the A. Most of my fellow students did as well. Why? Because we were in the driver's seat! Sure we wanted A's, and once we saw what needed to be accomplished to achieve that goal, nothing could stop us. We loved working independently and seeing our grades be a direct result of our efforts. I still remember doing research on Albert Einstein and explaining the theory of relativity in my little fifth-grade vocabulary.
I had a desire to achieve in an environment that allowed me, the student, to take ownership of my science education. Incidentally, Mr. Richards was also the only teacher I ever had who invited his students and their parents to his home. He took us on nature walks and shared his knowledge hands-on. So he wasn't just abandoning his students to fend for themselves; he merely taught in more ways than one.
What does it mean to give a student ownership of his education? It means the student knows what needs to be done, and he does it to the best of his ability, asking for help as needed. We as parents choose the curriculum and provide an environment conducive to learning, but the actual process of learning and absorbing information is literally up to the student. You can lead a horse to water, after all, but you can't make him drink. What will make the horse drink? Motivation. The key to motivation is ownership.
We give our students their books, their workbooks, and the other stuff of learning, and then we allow them to work as independently as possible and move at their own speed. Short-term goal-setting is essential at the beginning of a quarter, but once the parent and student set the goals, the student is free to jump out of the gate and run at high speed, not held back by micromanaging.
I don't know about you, but I don't like to be micromanaged. I once worked at a call center in the cell phone industry, and the company I worked for kept statistics on everything imaginable. We were monitored on how many calls we took per day, average time spent per call, and the number of times we handed a call off to technical support; our calls were dissected by the "Quality" department, and a passing average had to be maintained, not to mention log-in and log-out times being scrutinized. While companies need to have standards for performance, this under-the-microscope approach causes the employees to feel less than trustworthy. We do the same thing to our children when we dictate the minute details of their homeschooling day, not trusting them to be able to accomplish much without our direct input and teaching. Why do we do that? Probably because it is all we have ever known ourselves.
When students know where they are headed, when they have a plan for an upcoming period of time, they do not need us standing over them, controlling every little detail such as where they do their work, what subject they must do first each day, or when they may take breaks. When we give our children control over as much as we possibly can, a magical thing happens: they begin to take responsibility for their education. Their education becomes a direct product of their own effort instead of the effort of their teacher.
Self-learning is an outgrowth of educational ownership, and coupled with mastery (not moving ahead until the material is learned to an A-level), it yields excellent results. But we have to trust our children. The more they see that they can succeed on their own, the more this ownership principle becomes a mindset that propels them forward. The outcome for the homeschooling parent is a lessened load and happier students.
Ownership Changes Everything
When my oldest son, Nick, was a senior in high school, he drove one of our family cars regularly because he had a part-time job in town. I had to nag him about leaving his debris lying around in the collectively owned car, everything from soccer balls to empty Sonic drink cups to stinky gym socks. If I needed the car, I knew I would need to have him empty it for me first. At graduation later that year, Nick purchased this car from us. Guess what he did within 60 minutes of ownership? He de-junked it, washed the windows, vacuumed the interior, and shampooed the carpet! We still laugh about it as a family, but this little vignette is a perfect example of what happens when ownership comes into play.
You may be thinking, "But Joanne, you don't know my kids. They would never do their work on their own. They barely get it finished with me standing over them all day long as it is." Ah, but therein lies the problem, and it is not necessarily an educational problem. If children require constant monitoring and cajoling to complete their work, a deeper issue exists. Perhaps an attitude or a heart issue is at play.
Children from about age 8 should be able to do their work with little intervention from a parent. Does that mean we abandon our kids to their own devices? Absolutely not! We interact with them constantly; we just do not monitor every minute they spend doing schoolwork. We are trusting them to do their work to a mastery level, and they are reciprocating by working to the best of their ability. The good news is that when a student is given the necessary books and tools, and when he is given the freedom to work independently, he has motivation from within to achieve the best educational results possible.
The ownership principle works in other areas of family life as well. If your family is like mine, oftentimes a board game is brought out, played with, and left out for all to step over and on. Or a puzzle is completed on a table, and no one is inclined to put it away. Instead of nagging, what has helped in our household is to give these items an owner instead of having them be owned by everyone. I recently bought the game Mouse Trap and gave it to Lydia, age 10. Others may play it if they ask her permission, but they must agree to pick up all the pieces and give it back to Lydia when they are finished. Good-bye common property; hello ownership principle. Works every time.
What does giving ownership look like in the day-to-day workings of homeschooling? It goes without saying that children must first have a maturity level matched to the expectations we have of them. I do not expect my 7-year-old to plow through her schoolwork unassisted each day. No, instead we work together, and I go over what we will be doing together. I help her understand the lessons, and then I step back and allow her to do them. I also check her work for her.
My 9-year-old, on the other hand, works almost totally on her own. She knows how much work must be done in each subject each day, and after chores are done, she goes up to her room and does her work, taking breaks as needed. She checks her math, and I look over her work from time to time. Last year I looked over her shoulder a bit more, but I can ease up in this area as she becomes more responsible.
There will always be a need for accountability, but what that looks like for each child will vary. I reserve the right to pop into my students' rooms at any time and quiz them on what they have been learning. If they do not know the answers to my questions, we have a problem, and adjustments are made at that point. In 15 years of homeschooling, I have had to tighten up on a child only twice—so far. I do remain vigilant, as accountability is necessary in the checks-and-balances scheme of things.
When a student hits ninth grade, a magical thing happens: suddenly he can see the end, and with that vision comes resolve. The student begins to check off courses completed from the list of graduation requirements, and somehow seeing the end lightens the load psychologically. My high schoolers need almost no input from me once we have set quarterly goals together. I collect the info for their transcripts and check in on them from time to time, and they do the rest. It is that easy. My role has gone from that of teacher in the early elementary years to that of coach from the middle school years and up. I am on the sidelines cheering loudly, praising accomplishments, encouraging and praying the student on to the next stage of life, post-high school.
When students own their education, they carry the burden and they do the work. Their motivation is the feeling of a job well done, which will undoubtedly spill over into every area of their lives. I encourage you to give your children as much ownership of their education as their age and ability dictates.
Just as a capitalistic society is economically more productive than a socialistic society, so a student's educational ownership results in a higher yield of interest and performance. Allow the ownership principle to work for you, and homeschooling life as you know it will change dramatically for both you and your students.
*This article published on April 23, 2010.
Joanne Calderwood has worked with children for 22 years, initially as a classroom teacher and most recently as a mom. She's the author of I'm the Mom; I Don't Have to Know Calculus and The Home School STUDENT Planners. Joanne speaks, consults, and cherishes being a wife to Tim, her husband of 25 years, and a mom to her eight children. Visit her at www.URtheMom.com.
This article was originally published in the Mar/Apr 2010 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. Sign up now to receive a FREE sample copy! Visit www.HSEmagazine.com today!