Habit Formation, Homeschooling, Middle School
Comments 2

Professing and Practicing by Lisa Cadora

As some of you in this Charlotte Mason community know, my husband and I have been home-educating two 13 year old girls this year for their 8th grade year. One is my niece, and the other is the daughter of a dear friend and CM kindred spirit. I cannot thank these two sets of parents enough for allowing The Reverend and me to have these delightful creatures in our home this year, and I hope and pray that this experience has benefited these girls, their future education, and their families as much as it has blessed us.

Having NEVER homeschooled before in my half-century long life as a professional educator, I was thrilled with the opportunity to do this, and, at the same time, wracked by apprehension at the prospect of taking on the sobering responsibility of teaching them, parenting them, feeding them, and living our lives before them. “Why?” one might ask, “You’re a PROFESSIONAL.”

All manner of issues of life and learning, of practice and theory, are called up by the term “professional”. This year has led me deep into the thicket of the relationship between what one knows ought to be and what is, between what we profess and how we live. As any of you who have children—either those who you have created yourself or those of whom you have been given charge—will attest, this is where the proverbial rubber meets the proverbial road.

And what have I discovered?

1) The line between real life and school can get thin.  I had heard the CM-schooled young adults speak of this at our last gathering at Gardner Webb, and it invigorated me. The Reverend and I are thinkers, readers, discussers, and so it is not unusual that the girls would have witnessed us in a back-and-forth about x issue. What was new is just how much of what was on the agenda (scope and sequence) for the girls could fire up some neural activity in their ersatz parental units.  What I hope this taught them is that most matters of life are indeed an on-going discussion in an effort to get the articulation right and strive for the practice to follow suit, or to adjust the articulation according to what is discovered in the practice, which brings me to …

2) There is a need for PRACTICE and not only information acquisition in learning. I think this is what Charlotte Mason had in mind when she talked about the discipline of habits. Far more, however, than getting straight on what one SHOULD do, it is the day-to-day actual DOING of what one determines is right. As Barbara Brown Taylor so helpfully points out in An Altar in the World,  “Wisdom is not gained by knowing what is right. Wisdom is gained by practicing what is right (Taylor, 2009).”  Typically we ask students to sit for seven hours a day while we turn a fire hose of information on them when there is no fire to put out, which brings me to …

3) We place a weird premium on so much of what classical Christian educators would call “grammar”. As long as what is deemed as “learn-ed” in the general culture has to do with the accumulation of decontextualized facts regarding this and that, I am in favor of teaching, say, how to rationalize the denominator when numbers under radical signs appear in it. But, in matters quantitative, I am far more interested in whether or not the girls have a sense of  what it means to earn and save money, how much is accumulating in their savings accounts, what interest it will draw, and what the practice of tithing might teach them. I’m interested, too, in what they realize it means to work for far less remuneration than would be traditionally expected—or none at all—, and how they will spend accumulated savings responsibly.  Where is there room for this in the way we traditionally school? Which brings me to …

4) Is it fair to ask students to venture into realms so theoretical in nature that they cannot possibly get any intuitive traction afforded by a real-life application? I think this may be a sin, actually, in that it could be an affront to the Incarnation. Education is for real life in a real world, for creaturely stewardship of creation, not for trafficking in smooth theoretical parallel universes. While I loved many things about the Jacobs’ Elementary Algebra text we used, I seized at several of the word problems that, in the end, required that the authors know the answer to begin with in order to be able to construct the actual “problem”, thus rendering it an inauthentic exercise for the girls. Which brings me (although not as obviously) to …

5) Thirteen year old girls thrive on social connection. Both girls were in possession of certain technological devices that enabled them to stay in touch with their friends back home. The Reverend and I quickly saw the need to put boundaries around the use of these lest the friends be ever with us, not as co-participators, but as distractions, beckoning the girls to give their attention to other things during lessons, on car rides, at the dinner table, on the babysitting jobs, at worship, etc., robbing them of valuable interactions with people of other ages, namely adults. Once we put these boundaries in place, we saw them enjoy and seek out the company of other adults who invited them into their own real lives of raising kids, running a household, recreating, etc. Indeed, I realized that they were being incorporated into a much richer life of our church and neighborhood than they would have been had they had only “youth” activities and their peers endlessly available to them.

I have two more weeks with my wonderful girls, and, while I am sad to see this year with them end, I am infinitely grateful to them and to their parents for allowing me to experience more deeply and, in some instances realize for the first time, several things I knew of only “professionally” up to this point, thus renewing and deepening my admiration for all educators—home and school—who strive to truly educate in ways that bring together what we know and what we do, what we “profess” and how we truly live.

© Lisa Cadora 2011

This entry was posted in: Habit Formation, Homeschooling, Middle School


Carroll Smith has spoken on various topics related to Charlotte Mason. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and enjoys working with children, teachers, college students, and Charlotte Mason Institute. He was a teacher and a principal for 21 years before coming to Gardner-Webb University where he has been for six years. Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, he attended East Carolina University for his undergraduate degree and his master's in school administration. He completed his terminal degree and wrote his dissertation on Charlotte Mason at Virginia Tech. Carroll enjoys reading, gardening, and discussing ideas with friends. He and his wife, Andra, and their two young adult college-age children, Corban and Anna, enjoy living, working and playing in North Carolina.


  1. Linda says

    Thanks Lisa for sharing your journey and thoughts. I so agree about homeschooling needing to be authentic with life, and what they learn to be of Value in a much more broader, real life setting. I also love your comments about their experiences being so much richer when inclusive of others (adults) and not restricted to peers. Our own family homeschooling journey, and my changing thoughts on the What, How and Why of Homeshcooling over time, resonates strongly with your thoughts!
    Regards, Linda.

  2. That is excellent. Lots of that went on in our home that just has one 13 year girl left while her 4 older brothers have left the coop ! I marvel at those “professionals” who taught a classroom everyday with time limits, etc.. because I found that if a book was being loved, by all means go to it and READ. I wish I had had that opportunity. Hope you know about Kahn Academy online to help with that Algebra!
    See you at the conference!

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