The Home School Court Report
No. 2

In This Issue


The Last Word Previous Page Next Page
by J. Michael Smith
- disclaimer -
Putting a Priority on Relationships
J. Michael Smith
J. Michael Smith, president of Home School Legal Defense Association, speaks with a homeschool leader at an HSLDA conference.

We’ve reached the time in the school year when we can start to wonder whether it will ever end. I realize that not all of us are wondering that, but some are.

One of the dynamics in a homeschool that can lead to this kind of thinking is when a child begins to assert his personal views about education, even coming to the position that he doesn’t actually need to study certain subjects because he feels they are not that important and not that interesting.

This can sometimes be such a source of irritation and contention that it begins to impact the relationship between the child and the parent-teacher. My family had that experience years ago.

Before I share that experience, I need to ask this question: are relationships more important than being right, or is being right more important than relationships? I’ve noticed that people’s answers tend to depend on whether they are more relationship oriented or more task-driven. Regardless of which term describes us best, we need to recognize that our personality traits, values, and worldview affect our analysis of this question, and then we need to carefully think through the consequences of our conclusion and subsequent decisions. That’s the only way to make the best choice for our own situation.

Now back to my family’s experience. One of our children, on reaching the teenage years, decided that algebra was irrelevant and unimportant. After all, what practical value did it have? Well, my wife and I insisted upon continuing to pound algebra into this child’s brain—a pounding that met with much resistance and certainly affected our relationship with this child in a negative way.

I agreed to take on the responsibility of making sure our teen accomplished the assigned algebra lessons. Each evening I would come home to enforce our algebra requirement. The problem was, when I took Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and geometry in high school, I didn’t learn anything. I then avoided math like the plague. Being a business major, I never took any higher math after high school. An additional problem was that I tended to agree with our student that algebra was pretty much irrelevant. But the right thing to do was to make our child learn algebra and be obedient.

The frustration and disharmony continued to mount. Relationships were breaking down.

Finally, my wife said to me one day, “I’m not going to destroy my relationship with this child over algebra. What should we do?” I agreed that our relationships were more important than our student’s completion of algebra, so we’d let the child get the best of us on algebra.

This student went on to college, continuing to avoid math like the plague. This worked the first two years, but then our child declared a major in finance and learned that taking calculus was necessary to obtain a degree. At first the child was upset that we hadn’t insisted on algebra during high school, but then the motivation set in. Our college student pulled out that high school textbook and attempted to learn enough algebra to be able to test straight into calculus without having to take any prerequisites.

On the first aptitude test, our student missed being able to take calculus by one or two questions. After an appeal (remember this is a strong-willed child), the college allowed our student to take the test a second time. And guess what? The student tested straight into calculus and earned an A- in the course. I consider that a miracle.

There are two morals to this story. First, at times relationships—especially relationships with children who are beginning to assert their own thinking—can be more important than being right. The truth is, without good relationships with our children, it will be difficult to positively impact them regarding the values that we believe are important.

Second, motivation is the key to really learning. (Have you noticed that sometimes moms learn more than their children in homeschooling, because moms are more motivated to learn?) After we have taught our children the basics, the best education we can give them is to try to instill a love for learning. For that to happen, we have to demonstrate that motivation in our own lives and teach them how to think effectively: analyzing issues critically but not judgmentally, understanding a proper worldview behind ideas, and recognizing the consequences of our actions. In the process, as we communicate well with them and others, we teach them how to communicate with others.

As we all know, home education is much more than academics. Wouldn’t it be tragic if at the end of our homeschooling experience we had a smart child, but one who did not want to spend time with us? Let’s not miss out on one of the greatest benefits of homeschooling—the ability to spend time together and build strong relationships.

May God continue to bless your efforts to develop deep, positive, and enduring relationships with your children.