As I was making myself cappuccino this morning,* I pondered the excellence of my education. I was particularly thinking about how much halacha I learned in high school. I'm on a halacha group, and very often I know the answers to questions because of the halacha I learned in high school.
I wondered if I am depriving my children of this education. (I wonder this despite sending my oldest to a high school that was pretty similar to the one I went to, albeit not putting her in the honors Hebrew classes because I didn't want her under that stress and because in 8th grade she didn't have a love for learning that would carry her through hours upon hours of intensive skills work. So this is not even specifically a homeschooling question, it turns out.) I wonder if they are going to be "missing out" by not having the details of halacha tripping off their tongue. I wonder this as my two youngest have a picnic with the neighbor children, which they set up and cleaned up themselves, and my oldest son gets sick of the computer after three hours and is trying to figure out the best way to get some fluff out of the spring of a broken hinge. And I wonder this despite the fact that my son asked me this morning a theoretical question displaying an involvement in the sugya of "amira l'akum" that I don't see that often.
I chose to homeschool, I often joke with my daughter, because I am an "educational control freak." I had fantasies of passing on the tremendous repositories of knowledge and information that I have to my eager children.
The reality is much different. Yes, I am an educational control freak, but most of my education consists of "First, do no harm" (something I can barely manage) and of not teaching them. Not teaching nonsense, not having them spend hours on "academic" activities when they can be playing or exploring or experimenting or following the whims of their curiosity.
One of the bigger adjustments I've had to make in homeschooling is part of the reason why I had a hard time getting rid of old books my children never read or materials they never play with or experiments they never want to do. The idea that it is important to have space--to make space in our lives for them to fill with whatever--and that "whatever" will be wonderful and meaningful and expand their horizons and delight them. This idea competes constantly with clutter from my youth or even the present that was so meaningful to me that I yearn to give them, to hand it over the precious gift it was to me--so that they can reap the benefits it gave to my life.
But they don't want it. They don't want my gifts, my talents, my knowledge, my information. They want to march their own way, explore their own environment, to discover their own magic. They come to me with questions and I have a few precious seconds to give them dribbles and drabs of pieces of the giant gift I have for them: the sum total of my life experience that I want to wrap up with a ribbon and give to them, but which they only want a sprinkle of if it can be a bit useful in whatever they are working on.
I certainly shrugged off my fair share of my own mother's knowledge and experience (and, she will tell you, I continue to do so--the most recent example being that I still don't have my crockpot on a timer for Shabbos).
It's been and continues to be an adjustment that self-directed education means that the knowledge I have to impart is only the harmony to what they are learning, and only if they request it. Maybe it's even the background music, giving richness and grandeur and depth and framework. But the main music is what they make themselves.
*Yes, my youngest is 5, and I finally have time to spend the indulgent six minutes it takes to make myself coffee, and perhaps even the 15 minutes to drink it while hot.