Review: God Schooling by Julie Polanco

I recently speed-read through Julie Polanco's book, God Schooling: How God Intended Children to Learn. It was both an easy and difficult book to review, and whether you like it or not, I will tell you why.

God Schooling book
 

God Schooling came at a time when I was (still am!) struggling with our homeschool. We were finishing our second year of homeschool, and I was planning for the third, and I had all kinds of doubt creeping in. Was I doing enough? Were the kids learning? Was I using the right materials? What was the purpose of homeschool, if we were just doing school at home? Was I ruining their joy of discovery and learning? Will they fail in life if they don't finish their workbooks? (followed by ooh, look at this new curriculum!).

But really. The Hubby and I had been having discussions about how our children seemed to be faring. The past school year was pretty chaotic due to changes in employment (from employed to self-employed); city of residence (almost 300 kilometers and a five-hour drive away from where The Hubby and I spent 69.77% of our lives, and the kids about 95%--we're gearing up for percentages this coming school year); life goals (we want to try farming, or at least do something to help local farmers, and to maximize produce); and industries (from IT and publishing to agriculture and education). As I was going through the past year in my head, I couldn't help but feel that we were failing the kids somehow. They still couldn't speak Filipino to save their lives; Breeze almost always had this mutinous look on her face when it was time to do Math; I'd go over Raine's Araling Panlipunan (social studies) worktext, and I'd see that she skipped over most exercises, and couldn't remember most of what she'd supposedly read. We didn't seem to be doing too well building character either. Other than faithfully making their beds as soon as they got up in the morning (1 point for Mommy!), they have to be constantly reminded about chores, they grumble when asked to do something,  all they want to do is read and play, and they were constantly bickering.

Were we really doing right by our kids homeschooling them?

And that's where Julie's God Schooling comes in. Meant as both a source of encouragement and a practical guide, God Schooling talks about how children grow and learn--but from a Biblical perspective.  I do appreciate this book, and I have gleaned so much from it. When Julie was talking about her initial homeschooling days, with all her plans and materials and her reluctant kids, I felt like she was talking about me. She spoke of not exasperating our children (Ephesians 6:4), yet here I was browbeating the girls to get their schoolwork  (and their chores) done. "We need to guard our relationships against losing our children to the enemy because of our zealous attitude about academics," says Julie. While a lot of us homeschool to give our children a 'Christian education,' our teaching and parenting styles may actually hinder that. Julie also speaks against a 'hollow and deceptive philosophy'--such as insisting that all 10-year-olds should know how to multiply, or starting formal education with 4-year-olds.  Ouch.

I was so engrossed in the book that I read by candlelight during a power outage.

This really struck a nerve, because we decided to homeschool because we wanted our kids to receive a customized education, one that was based on their skill levels and interests, while building the foundation of their character. Yet, as I mentioned earlier, it didn't seem to be working out that way. That's why i have been planning and gearing up for changes in the HP Academy of Homeschool Shmool (guess who named our school). The Hubby and I had already been discussing that this coming year, I would ditch the grade-level Filipino and Araling Panlipunan textbooks, and I would just teach the kids together, based on their strengths (they love patterns, and they remember a lot of factoids if it interests them) and interests (Percy Jackson, Warriors, books, and video games). Beyond that, though, I was still lost, unsure of how we will tackle the Department of Education requirements while ensuring that the kids' learning was relevant and enjoyable. How would we cover it all?

"History is not separate from science or geography. Science, technology and art overlap in a myriad of ways. Math and language arts are not subjects but skills used in all areas of life," says Julie. Traditional schools have compartmentalized learning, and we tend to do that in our homeschool as well. Julie advocates experiential learning, from actual life experiences. And I agree. Just this afternoon, the kids were helping me work out how many more yards of craft wire we needed to make the paper umbrellas that we would use for decorations at my grandmother's 'Singin' in the Rain' themed party. So that's Math, ecology (recycling paper catalogs), art, and event planning right there!

A paper umbrella made from recycled magazines and catalogs, which the girls have been helping me make (they folded the paper circles)

Seriously though. Julie's words were echoing my own thoughts. I want to slow down; I don't want to rush through our curriculum because the school year was ending. As Julie further says, bombarding them something new every day doesn't mean they are learning new things, but they are not learning deeply, if at all. Religiously following the curriculum and schedules--while letting us cover a lot of material and finish the books and lesson plans--doesn't allow the girls to learn at their own pace, and to really understand the topic. I want to slow down. The Hubby and I have discussed that if we homeschool throughout high school, that would give us the time to go at a more reasonable pace while developing our girls' interests (Breeze goes training for wallclimbing at least twice a week, and we are looking for a writing mentor for Raine), and we'd still be able to get the girls ready for lives as productive adults.

All that said, the book is also a call to unschooling, albeit God-led unschooling--and this is where my struggle with the book comes in. Unschooling, according to Julie's reference Pat Farenga, is "learning that is interest-driven, child-led, natural, organic, eclectic, or self-directed." And while she advocates giving the children freedom to choose what to do with parental parameters, this still does not sit well with me.

While we do allow our kids to choose what certain topics they would like to study, we still cannot allow them to take that much of a lead. At this point, their self-direction takes them to sometimes frivolous things. Sure, Breeze has her for-fun research on gemstones, precious metals, taxonomy, and her other passions-for-the-moment. Raine also writes with style and voice seemingly above her grade level. But there are things that they need to learn, that they would not choose to learn on their own. They also need to learn that there are things that they have to do even if they don't like to. Perhaps as they get older, we can be more relaxed with our approach, but I still think we need to take the lead.

Another unschooling point that I am struggling with is this: "[Unschooling] casts off grade levels, grades,tests, scope and sequence, records, scores, and all the other trappings of school that we have been brainwashed into believing are necessary," Julie says. "Let's cast off all this nonsense and just live life together more fully. Let's read together, play games together, make things together, sell things together, go places together, talk and laugh together, explore together, and build our relationships with each other. God told us to teach and train our children. We can do that within the context of life."

I do agree with her. I do--but to a certain extent.  Julie says that grades are artificial measures of effort, and therefore do not measure anything. This may be true, in a sense. Traditional grades may not show what goes on behind the scenes, the effort put in or the actual learning that takes place. But this is why we homeschool. So that we can give a more balanced assessment of our child's learning.

I would love to have more journeymen options here in the country. In my travels, I've spoken with people from countries who value craftsmen and those that work with their hands. I've heard learning a trade can get you far, and that going to university is not necessary (unless you want to). Unfortunately this is not the case where we live. College degrees still reign supreme. I am hoping that by the time they reach adulthood this would have changed. We are seeing new opportunities coming up, and we are continuing to pray for guidance and God's leading for the girls.

But, I believe that grades, at least here in the Philippines, still have a bearing on our children's future. This is why The Hubby and I give importance to objective assessment, and being guided by the requirements of the Department of Education. Good grades will still get them into good colleges, which will open the doors for better jobs, or better training and opportunities for networking and entrepreneurship.

Or I could just be the stereotypical Asian Tiger Mom.

There is so much more that I want to say about Julie's book; a lot that I agree and disagree with. And that's a great thing. God Schooling: How God Intended Children to Learn is a book that really makes me think. It challenges my beliefs and has given me a different perspective on our homeschool journey. And one big take away from this book, one that I totally agree with and am grateful to be reminded of is this: pray and ask God to take control of our homeschool. We have been led to homeschooling, and sometimes I forget that God is part of our schooling. For that, thank you, Julie.

One of the passages from Julie's book that stayed with me. God knows what He's doing!

I really recommend this book, whether you are new to homeschooling, a veteran, or just curious about homeschooling. Other homeschooling parents have read this book; click below to read their opinions.

 

God Schooling: How God Intended Children to Learn {Julie Polanco Reviews}
 

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