Drudgery & Discipline

This is the second post in a three part series titled Discipline in a Love of Learning, Freedom Based, Interest-led Homeschool. You can read the first post here and my concluding post here.

Let's dive right in. My last post left off here:

Myth Two: If you are self-directed learners, and let your children largely pursue their own interests as their education, your children won't learn self-discipline. They don't learn to apply themselves to less-than-pleasant tasks. In short, they are not equipped for real life drudgery.

Before I answer this myth I must share something I found online recently which illustrates this idea to the extreme.

I came across this comment on a blog post about unschooling. I landed on this blog through some random internet wandering. It's not part of my usual circle.

Although this comment is somewhat extreme, I think it speaks, quite accurately, the fears people have about freedom education.

The problem that I have with unschooling is that school isn't just about learning, it's also about discipline. I think one of the most valuable things you learn in school is to get up in the morning and do something you don't want to do every single day. Unschoolers will bemoan conditioning children for the American work machine, but since that's the world they'll actually be living in, and most of us won't have the luxury of exclusively pursuing our interests into adulthood, this is a valuable discipline.

The commenter then adds...

Sorry, I wasn't trying to imply that school should be miserable, just that there is value to having a structured day and having to wake up in the morning and study math today even if it was art you wanted to do instead.

Another commenter:

There is also some value in learning to delay gratification. Learning to read is a slog, but being able to read is tremendous fun. Children aren't great at seeing the end-game; telling them that it'll pay off in the long run rings pretty hollow (at least, that's what I remember about being a kid) but showing them, over the course of years, that putting in difficult and sometimes unpleasant work really is worth the things it can accomplish... that's a very valuable lesson, and it's something I can't see them learning on their own.

I believe these commenters express something that many people believe. School is the training ground that prepares you for a life you don't necessarily want to live and forced academics is a great opportunity, and main vehicle, for character development.

Most people will never meet anyone who shows them otherwise (or will reject those who do). They will go through life thinking this is all there is - getting up in the morning to do something you don't want to do every single day, and therefore it is in their child's best interest to learn to do the same.

When I was growing up "school was my job". And "job" as a word, as an idea, as a concept, was not necessarily positive. Job was the thing you had to do whether you liked it or not. (By the way, I liked school. I love book learning, I'm social, and I'm always eager to please people, so school was a great fit.)

I don't have a problem with academics. But I question compulsory academics in a society where the success of its citizens, the longevity of the society itself, rests not on people having an acquired knowledge base (knowledge is free in our world) or following a set path (the Industrial model mindset is no longer the track to success it once was), but rests instead on people being empowered with a skill set of creative thinking, entrepreneurship, and leadership.

This is the complete opposite of being told what to learn. Our world needs self-motivated thinkers, leaders, problem solvers, do-ers and creators, not automatons.

In my next post I will share some ideas and observations on developing self-discipline around your interests, in a freedom environment (with the security of solid boundaries, see my first post). But first, I want to ask these questions:

Is this the life you want to live? One where you must do meaningless things every day that you don't like?

What if you did live your childhood getting up every single day (give or take a few days) knowing you had the power over your own days, knowing you could make your ideas happen?

What if you were taught, through healthy home life, how to manage your time and then given free reign within that time to do the things you loved, study what interested you, build what you imagined? What kind of adult would you be?

What kind of world would those children-become-adults create?

Would those children-become-adults be lazy no-gooders, unable to get out of bed in the morning, interested only in playing video games all day?

Or would these children-become-adults be empowered by years of personal decision making and experience - growing up in an atmosphere of unconditional support, clear boundaries, and positive role models - to seek after and make happen those things they want to accomplish in life?

(Hint: That last sentence is our educational philosophy, in a nutshell.)

Would these empowered adults be able "to fit" into a society of people who make themselves get up and do things they don't want to do? Or would they have the skills, knowledge and attitudes to create a new reality for themselves, and those around them, of passionate, creative, missional, and interest-led living?

I started this post with this myth: If you are self-directed learners, and let your children largely pursue their own interests as their education, your children won't learn self-discipline. They don't learn to apply themselves to less-than-pleasant tasks. In short, they are not equipped for real life drudgery.

I wrote this post weeks ago, these ideas have been percolating for months, years even, as we have set up a home learning environment based on an interest-driven education philosophy (and coached other families in doing the same).

Imagine my delight then, when just this week I came across the thoughts of one of my favorite authors on the subject of drudgery.

One problem with the word work is that it has come to be equated with drudgery, and is considered degrading. Now, some work is drudgery, though it is not always degrading. Vacuuming the house or scrubbing out the refrigerator is drudgery for me, though I find it in no way degrading. And that it is drudgery is a lack in me. (my emphasis) I enjoy the results and so I should enjoy producing the results. I suspect that is it not the work itself which is the problem, but that it is taking me from other work, such as whatever manuscript I am currently working on. Drudgery is not what work is meant to be. (my emphasis) Our work should be our play. If we watch a child at play for a few minutes, "seriously" at play, we see that all his energies are concentrated on it. He is working very hard at it. And that is how the artist works, although the artist may be conscious of discipline while the child simply experiences it.

Madeleine L'Engle from Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

This quote is a great place to stop as it sets the tone for, and introduces some key ideas from, my next and final post in this series. I'll see you there...


5 December 13


Renee, this is an excellent

Renee, this is an excellent series. We share these same philosophies, but aren't fully aligned with them yet.  I have been thinking a lot about discipline lately as Z does really well at things that come easily to her, but doesn't quite know how to work at something that is a challenge. I know my role as mentor comes into play here, but I'm still figuring out how. Based on my school upbringing, I would sit down and read something over and over until I got it, or memorized it, but that's not working in this case. 

Look forward to reading the third post and sharing all three with Marc!

Choosing difficult over easy,

Choosing difficult over easy, really? I'm intrigued to read your next post. Thank you for your encouragement. What you say about letting her explore what she loves is intuitively right to me. I'm still reprogramming my thinking away from the "school" mentality.  I have tried backing off when we've hit a bump before and each time we pick back up something clicks and she gets it. I just want to make sure I'm cultivating in her the desire to work through challenges. 

It's funny you mention hearing my voice, because that is exactly what happens now when I read your words. I can hear you speak them to me, with all your inflections and passion. :) It was a wonderful blessing to meet all of you. And, your children's names come up often in conversation here. Thank you for sharing all your talents! Big hugs to all of you.

Love the quote; one of my

Love the quote; one of my favorite books. 

My first reaction to those commentors above is saddness, that they do not enjoy their life and are not pursuing their dreams because they are 'too big, too out of reach, to impractical'--they've settled and think that's just the way it is, for everyone. I don't want to live like that!

Now...a way to think about grocery shopping not being a drugery.... :)
Sarah M


Oh, Renee... so much good re

Oh, Renee... so much good re-education (or at least re-evaluation and reflection) happening over here. I hate to say it, but I definitely have thought about the concerns you've outlined in "Myth 2". I've thought very similarly to the commenter you quote. I think over the last year reading your blog I've seen examples of the opposite of these assumptions... and also that we shouldn't necessarily be worried about the things we're worried about (i.e. if we don't want to--or don't want our kids to--join the rat-race, why push them--or ourselves--to prepare for it?) I do think that as a larger society (or I guess our respective countries/communities) we need to consider the questions you pose (about where we're going and what we want our kids to prepare for and whether we are meeting those goals). I think that the saddest part of school reform (not really what you're talking about, but an interest of mine) is actually the lack of true reflection (are we really just preparing kids for college or are we preparing them for a greater life?) Anyway, these are all questions you ask, so I don't know why I'm re-hashing them (I guess because I love that you're asking them!!!) 

I do hope to go back to that last post I commented on at some point, but one of the things I was going to say in responce to you was that I think empowerment--helping kids feel that "they can do it"--whether that be change the world, follow their wildest dream, or do both (as when they're doing one they're probably doing the other). I think that that is the greatest loss that comes with traditional school... and it's not something I have the answer to. (Obviously.) Ah and commenting on learning styles--I'll have to go back!

Also, my experience with discipline (interesting to me at least--smile): my parents were quite strict when I was younger and have certainly loosened as we've gotten older--we really have no major behavior issues now (at least as far as I can tell--I guess that's easy for me to say). I was also in daycare/pre-school/elementary school, so I guess that set some of our boundaries as young children (my mom did breast-feed but my parents weren't attachment-y at all, as far as I can tell). The more interesting part is now: my parents have definitely loosened up on most boundaries, but they never had boundaries with school ( they weren't strict about homework when we were young, they trusted us to do it, they didn't push extra supplements and we only had tutors when we truly needed the one-on-one learning environment and they didn't feel they could help). But now, they've tightened the reigns. Not on me--I can spend all my time typing comments here (smile)... because they know I'm self-disciplined to do school-work and I have a history of getting things done. But for my brother (and my sister to a certain extent), they have put in a lot more structure. (It's mostly because he won't do/put time into school work in favor of things like watching ski films.) Lots of nagging. I look at my parents as people really, who have the best interests for my brother. And as individuals struggling to do what they believe is the best was to set him up for a happy life in which he can contribute to and help others. And yet, I question their actions. And I think they do too, and I understand that's hard for them, too. 

I have to say, it seems to be helping... but with what? He gets the work done, and I believe he's feeling more accomplished, and even enjoying school more (because he's doing the work more thouroughly)--all good. But is he loosing a sense that he can do it himself? Is he loosing time to his genuine (strong) interests, like adventure film-making? What is more important? And then I have more questions and thoughts... which will be about 3 more paragraphs (they're about how it impacts children's thoughts of themselves to transition out of a traditional school that's hard for them and into another learning environment....), so I won't go into them here, but maybe another time.

Also, my mom and I were talking a few weeks ago (this is a comment relating to the "my mothering is good enough" post) after going to watch a man talk on parenting and child psychology. She was saying how she thinks that there really is no one "right" way and that she worries that that was not the message the speaker was saying. I referenced you saying that you thought the basis of parenting is really building a relationship--she (and I) agree. (Smile.)

I loved your update post on your AT hike! Can't wait for the vid. series! I'll think about questions I have. 

Thanks, Renee! It was a lot

Thanks, Renee! It was a lot of fun to get your comment--yes, I love Aviva Romm, too! I found her through your twitter feed, I think. So thank you for that, too! :)

The flip side of myth 2 is

The flip side of myth 2 is the assumption that academics themselves are deadly dull, especially math. What power could we unleash in our world for STEM subjects if we assumed they were fun, interesting, entrancing games?

This has been such a great

This has been such a great series Renee!  When I think back to when I was young, I think of my parents as being self-directed learners.  My dad was always interested in something with history, books, and religion and how it applies to our lives.  My mom was taking classes in photography, caligrophy, ceramics and other hands on type projects that my sister and I were able to go with her to or she showed us what she was learning. Thier love of learning and dicipline to do the hard stuff and showing us that work can be enjoyable is what has helped me and my sister to share this way of learning with our families. 

You have shared some great thought provoking questions, things that I have thought about, but not taken a lot of time to dig deeper into.  I'm looking forward to your take on how to put it all together. 

I recently left the classroom

I recently left the classroom after nine years of teaching middle and high school English. There were a number of reasons I left, but one was exactly what you pinpointed. It was so hard to 1. create a classroom experience where I could make learning meaningful when there were a number of factors constantly working agaisnt me and 2. I couldn't guarantee my own children would be taught to love learning. I feared they would be taught to just get through it. Homeschooling, at this point, is the only option I see for our family to make sure all of our days are spent learning and doing what we enjoy. 


Automaton?! I Remember that

Automaton?! I Remember that from Hugo! Great movie. But in regards to child-directed learning, I have to say that in fine tuning our educational philosophy, and simply watching our kids learn through projects of their own devising, I have been thinking more and more - what is the point? Why bother doing any school at all when they seem to learn just fine on their own, or simply by answering their questions? I don't think at this point that we will ever be true unschoolers, but I absolutely value and respect their methods because they work! And in learning about it, my school-loving self is learning how to welcome and encourage the self-directed learning processes of my children.

And, in regards to self-discipline, I absolutely see how learning to focus on one's interests teaches discipline. People naturally want to learn and to enjoy creating something with their minds and skills. Even if some so homeschoolers do use some parent-directed learning, we can learn a lot from the success of unschoolers. This is a much needed and we'll-written series!

This series of posts is

This series of posts is stirring up a lot in me.  It has made me realize that as a result of my public school upbringing, I learned academic discipline. I am very good at being a student, at getting good grades.  But after graduating from college, and now raising a young family, I feel lost in a lot of ways.  And your post is making me realize that is because I never learned personal discipline, outside of school.  I was such a serious student that my parents let me out of doing chores.  And I feel totally lost around the house- with cooking, cleaning, etc.  And just in general, out in the "real world".  Because all my upbringing taught me was how to be a good student, and there is so much more to life.  Big realization. 

I'm not sure but I think a

I'm not sure but I think a schooled child can keep his or her love of learning intact.  I see a lot of dual-mind thinking, especially in North Americans: either we homeschool or our child will lose all interest, or we school or our child will not know how to operate in the wide, wide world.  What about a child who goes to school but through careful parenting keeps his or her curiosity alive and well?  I have a child who has gone back and forth between homeschooling and schooling.  I won't go into the details but we have led an unschooling lifestyle from the time she was born, but for various reasons/life circumstances/unexpected bumps in the road she has spent several years in school.  And school has been mean to her.  She has lived through all those terrible scenarios any homeschooling mom could dream up, including a threat to her life at age 9 by a girl who must have been very deeply disturbed.  Here she is, though.  An incredibly interesting, endlessly curious, hopelessly poetic, artistic, empathetic young woman who is an absolute pleasure to be around.  Sometimes she wants to cry because school is so boring.  (I suspect she has chosen to continue -- because it's her choice -- precisely to show herself she can do it despite the social difficulties she has faced/faces) But every day she comes home and teaches herself several somethings new.  One day she came home and said, "I want to learn what I want to learn!"  And I asked her what those things were.  She replied, "Robotics, aeronautics and programming."  So I looked up what we could do and one of the things I came up with was an aeronautics diploma program for kids 13+.  The exam is in May.  This will enable her to receive assistance from the state to pay for her pilots license.  Just a few of the afterschool topics of yesterday and today have been the death penalty, the Hippocratic Oath, the negativity that seems to permeate the world -- and her theories about this (incredibly insightful and deeply felt) -- and psychology and the different spheres in which a psychologist.could operate.

So perhaps parental attitude and strong opinions about how a child should or shouldn't learn impact heavily on how a child develops?  A parent's strong opinion has a tremendous impact on a child.

Also, what do you think about Jesus telling us that the only way up is down?  Is there room for down in homeschooling?  In the homeschooling mom's idea of how things should go? Just something to ponder.

Sorry, I had some thoughts

Sorry, I had some thoughts flowing on this last night but my little one was needing me so my comment ended up a bit muddled.  I'm not sure I can do better this time.

First, the reasons for choosing school can be so much more complex than needing a free babysitter.  In our case, a couple of the reasons were my cancer and my eldest's tendency to lose large chunks of her father's (and grandparents') language when not immersed every single day, which was inevitable since she was living in a third culture.

Second, it seems to me that many of Jesus' parables (as well as several Old Testament stories...and, well, his whole life) speak to us of the need to first fail or suffer or in some way become the lesser one in order to enter the Kingdom he spoke of. 

I suppose what continues to strike me in your blog and others on this topic is a tendency to at least seem (italics) to want to create the ideal conditions -- and, also, in some way distance oneself from the masses (we are not that; we don't do that).  And what I'm saying is that perhaps failure is a requisite; perhaps going deep into the worst facets of society is beneficial in some way (I know it has been for my eldest).  Where is the room for failure, rejection even, in homeschooling?  I'm not saying there isn't any.  I'm just asking myself this question.  Yes, self-discipline may come from pleasure but it can also come from failing over and over again.

Gotta go.

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