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The high school years follow their own space-time continuum. The four years from kindergarten to grade three are achingly slow at points, despite being chock full of hours spent learning to read, to count, to spell, to multiply, to stay on task. But high school… high school flies past you at the speed of sound, broken up only by pesky questions like, “Do you have enough math credits to graduate?” “Are you ready for your driver’s exam?” and “Are you applying to college, trade school, something else altogether?”
I’m living the phenomenon times two right now, with two high schoolers staking their claims at this moment in grades 12 and 10. As Mathaus closes out the years where I get to guide his journey, I’m lamenting so many of the same things I did when Mary Hannah was at the same place; namely, the fabulous books we never got around to reading that he will now discover on his own. It’s true. I am a selfish bibliophile who is not above a vicarious first reading experience, and have delighted in reliving Scout’s awe of Atticus, Santiago’s quest for the marlin, the slow ease that develops between Reuven and Danny. Over the course of his homeschooling career— and high school in particular— we have covered so many of the books that, I think, should be required reading for just about everyone, everywhere. But the truth is, there are more books than time. And books are not the only things worthy of exploration in the high school years. So the list must be curated, and while a homeschooling mother might give a deep sigh when she looks back and realizes that she has barely scraped the surface of the John Steinbeck catalog with this particular child, she must also admit that the best use has been made of the time at hand… and move forward.
Making the best use of those short years can be astoundingly difficult. First, how does one define “best use”? A friend recently shared that her homeschooled son, who is enrolled in a private school that meets one day a week to cover the bulk of core classes, has spent a chunk of this past year boning up on word roots and vocabulary because the school is SAT-prep minded. For that school, the “best use” of their students’ time is to drill with workbooks. Another friend told me that her son is headed to an automotive tech school after he graduates next week. They decided together that the “best use” of his time was to spend two afternoons every week running tools and helping sort parts at a neighbor’s repair shop.
Two totally different paths, two totally different ideas of what matter most of all.
Under our roof, we have as many paths as we have kids. And yet, for each one, we have made— and will continue to make— one topic a priority despite the fact that they will all end up traveling in wildly different places:
No matter where our kids end up in terms of vocation and calling, there’s one bit of background that we feel is absolutely essential to their understanding of the world in which we live, and that’s the work God has done and continues to do through His church. Yes, it’s something we to which we most certainly apply the Deuteronomy 11:19-21 model. But an entire year, drunk deeply at the right time stirs up so many questions, and leads to a faith epiphany that we have seen have absolutely transformative power in the lives of our teens.
This year, it’s Jack’s turn, and since I know what to expect, I’m quietly excited for him.
Jack has been raised, essentially, as a cradle Christian. Though Christopher was still attending a zendo when Jack was born, by the time he was five months old, his Daddy was sitting by me in church trying to sort through the ashes of the faith of his upbringing and the new calling he felt stirring in his soul. As such, Jack has had a pretty typical (some might say stereotypical) evangelical upbringing. He learned the AWANA Cubbies song before the alphabet. He has multiple Christian band t-shirts. He did multiple tours of duty in VBS. He’s been to WinterJam. He knows GT and the Halo Express, Jonathan Park, and the old episodes of Veggie Tales. He likes TobyMac. He was baptized in a river. He read most of the Knights of Arrethtrae series. He likes Blimey Cow (but mostly the old episodes).
And yet… ultimately, none of that matters. Not a single moment of the culture he’s been steeped in matters if he doesn’t rise up, on his own, and wrestle with the bigger issues of faith that will sustain him as Christian man in a world that is increasingly hostile to the ideals upon which his faith is based.
Enter the history of the Church, the foibles of man, the divine hand of God, the example of the saints, the bickering of believers, the nuances of doctrine, and on and on.
This is the stuff that makes you own your faith. This is the stuff that makes you understand why a band of guys would go to their (often) grisly deaths rather than deny that their friend Jesus was the Son of God. This is the stuff that makes you question the decisions of those around you when the Holy Spirit comes knocking. This is the stuff that you hold onto with all your might when everything around you is crumbling. This is the stuff that reminds you to give thanks when a moment takes your breath away.
Not everything in life is quantified by a score. There’s so much more to an education than a list of books read or of requirements fulfilled. The measurement of true knowledge gained so rarely shows up as a letter grade on a report card.
That’s why we spend one entire, precious, never to be recaptured year wrestling with the God’s design for His Church and our place in it: because it matters.