To know God and to make Him known.

What I Teach When I Don't Get It

I loved teaching logic to my girls. I spent multiple years teaching logic as a Challenge B tutor and I mastered the subject (at least to some degree!). Revealing the patterns and intricacies of the subject was exhilarating for me, and I felt equal to most of the students’ questions. I even achieved the level of understanding necessary to explain the subject in multiple ways, so I never felt in need of ammunition for waging the war of mastery alongside my student. I believe I taught them to love—or at least appreciate—the study of logic; I know I taught them they did not need to fear it!

It is easy to teach that lesson when you “get it” yourself. However, what do we teach our students when we don’t “get it”?

When our students study that which we know, love, or have proficiency in, we feel equipped to help them grow in knowledge and understanding. We love passing on our wisdom and there is joy in the journey. When they tackle subjects that make us cringe, the trip sometimes takes a darker turn.

I remember when we began to study formal debate during the Challenge years. I never participated in formal debate as a student; I did not know a 1AC from a 2AC, and “topicality” and “inherence” were mysterious concepts beyond my grasp. When my girls asked probing questions about how to construct their arguments, I felt unequal to the task of explaining off the top of my head. I was anxious to “do the right things,” teach them correctly, not make mistakes, get it right the first time, grasp all the nuances immediately, and be successful! Frankly, I felt defensive! How was I supposed to know how to do that? What were they doing on community day that my girls came home so ill-prepared to tackle the assignment?! 

I passed on quite a few of my less admirable reactions….I complained about the lack of information:  Where were the notes? Why isn’t there a text?  What was the tutor thinking to turn them loose with so little understanding? I moaned about my lack of preparedness to tackle something “so unfamiliar”: I don’t have time, I don’t know where to start…..

Then, I watched my girls absorb my attitude. They decided they were being asked to do the impossible; it was obviously someone else’s responsibility to teach them how to learn this new skill and if they weren’t getting what they needed from that someone, they couldn’t be expected to learn. That had become my unintended lesson, taught when I didn’t “get it.”

The realization that even unintended lessons are learned by observant students brought me up short. What did I want my daughters to know about learning something new or something hard or something intimidating? I wanted them to remember that we know how to learn! We begin with the grammar, we ask good questions, we try to make connections, we continue to practice, we give ourselves permission to fail, we ask for help, we do not blame someone else, and we do not give up!

What we needed to do was remember why we began the homeschool journey: not because I knew enough, but because I loved enough. I loved them enough and loved learning enough to pursue knowledge, understanding, and wisdom with my girls. I trusted the classical model enough to believe that mastering the grammar of a subject would lead me to the understanding I sought. I needed to put aside my fear and once again find joy in the journey.


CATEGORIES: Articles, Classical Christian Education, Dialectic Stage (ages 12 to 14), Grammar Stage (ages 4 to 11), Homeschooling Life, Rhetoric Stage (ages 14 to 18)

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