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Children in lower income families who homeschool outperform public education. Even families making a combined household income of less than $35,000 per year outperformed public education by 35% in standardized test scores.

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According to Their Step: A Philosophy of Homeschooling

Sometimes inspiration comes from the most unlikely places. When I first began to search for a philosophy to guide me through my early years of homeschooling, I looked in all the obvious places. I combed through catalogues and library shelves, earmarked the books recommended by homeschool veterans, and dutifully read what each had to say.

Most of these resources were helpful, but I wanted to move beyond what curriculum to use or even the best way to use it. I needed an underpinning, a way to look at the whole educational process. What I already knew was that I didn't want to be a schoolmaster over my pupils. I also knew that my kids weren't robots or lumps of clay and they couldn't be programmed or molded by someone else's surefire plan to educational success. But that kind of guidance was what was being offered to me. Perhaps arriving at a philosophy of homeschooling would be harder than I thought.

Then one day, when I wasn't even looking for it, the answer jumped out at me from the most unlikely source: an ancient tale involving two estranged brothers and a couple hundred smelly animals.

It's an intriguing story. The two main characters are twins, but they weren't separated at birth. They were separated by greed and deceit. Jacob is the wily one and he cheats his brother Esau out of his birthright as the firstborn son. Years later, they have a dramatic meeting on the plains of ancient Israel and Esau forgives Jacob. (Perhaps Jacob's beefy peace offering helped a little.) Esau then invites Jacob - and his entourage of wives, children, and herds - to join him in his journey.

Esau is a big, burly guy and we assume he'd be traveling at record speed. So in response to his invitation, Jacob says: "My lord knows that the children are tender and that I must care for the ewes and the cows that are nursing their young. If they are driven hard just one day, all the animals will die. So let my lord go on ahead of his servant, while I move along slowly at the pace of the droves before me and that of the children..." (Genesis 33: 13-14, NIV)

Those who have read this story know that Jacob is still wily and has no intention of following his brother. But for the sake of the story, let's just look at what he is saying: "My lord knows that the children are tender...(therefore I must) move along slowly at the pace...of the children." Jacob is not forcing the children to keep up; he's taking his cues from them, moving according to their pace. That image began to burn in my mind.

I'm no Bible scholar, but I did find a metaphor emerging here. I grabbed some of my husband's reference books (he is a Bible scholar) and tried to get at the original language. Closer to the Hebrew meaning is this: "I will flow gently with the children, according to their step." Jacob already knew that going at Esau's pace would have never worked. But at some point he must have realized that even his step would have been too quick.

A closer look into the Hebrew word for "flow" revealed a secondary meaning, one that implies protection: carrying, feeding, and guiding. Jacob was protecting his flocks, mindful that animals driven hard - even for one day - would die. And he was also caring for his children, who, if pressed too hard, would surely suffer the same fate. Part of Jacob's role as protector was to nurture those under his care, to nourish them, and to gently guide them. The best way to do that was to "flow" according to their "step."

This story reminded me of a time when I was walking along the beach with my daughter, who was about three at the time. She would stop every minute or two to play in the water, pick up a shell or rub her feet in the sand. But I had an agenda; I wanted to cover as much ground as possible. So I kept pulling her along, telling her to hurry, admonishing her to catch up.

Then it occurred to me that my impatience was a societal one: We rush our children through life; we overschedule their every waking moment; we feed them facts and figures in order to cover as much ground as possible. So I slowed down to let my daughter explore and learned a valuable lesson.

I think Jacob may have been on to something. Perhaps my task is not to rush or to push. It could be that my task is to flow. After all, I'm a fellow traveler. And maybe, just maybe, my children already know the way.

Amy Hollingsworth received her B.A. degree in Psychology and English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her M.A. degree in Education/Counseling and Human Services from Regent University. Amy teaches Psychology at Mary Washington College while continuing to homeschool her two children, Jonathan and Emily. She has written extensively on homeschooling and parenting issues for several publications.

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