A Charlotte Mason Education, Citizenship, Homeschooling, Mason Graduates
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What Would You Attempt to Do If You Knew You Could Not Fail? by Hannah Schaefer Ezell

Today, as I write, there is a rain falling outside of my window here in Mission Viejo California. It is finally autumn here, in this world that is so strange from the one I grew up knowing in Birmingham, Alabama, and so very different from the freezing falls of Denver, Colorado where I did my first two years of college. One of the most frightening things about moving anywhere, for me, is that it might not rain. Honestly, I’d lost most of my hope that it would ever rain in sunny California, but here I stand corrected.

Maybe it’s a little odd that upon moving to sunny — indeed nearly tropical — California, that I would be sad that I’d lost the rain, but rain has held a personal promise, for as long as I can remember, that God is there, that He loves me, and (especially when I am here where the rain never falls) that I am walking His path.

Today it is raining, and I thought of you, my dear family of strangers and friends. Because rain always makes me feel unstoppable, and a question accredited to Robert Schuller  came to my mind, and I thought I would ask you. Schuller asks, “What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?”

My first answers were the answers of a child, “I would fly around the world and save every single good person from the bad people;” and “I would dance with the New York Ballet;” or “See every single inch of the world.” As I started to mature, my answers became a little more heartfelt, if less exciting.

I grew up in the Schaefer household believing that this question wasn’t a mere question, but a challenge. What would I do if I couldn’t fail?! You mean what can I do if I give it my all. Failure isn’t a possibility if I’m serious about the goal. So I danced for 16 years, and we took every opportunity to see what world lay just beyond our little Birmingham reach. We toured art museums and took classes for book making and for painting. We gathered on the back porch in the morning and we studied History, Philosophy, Geography, Grammar, Science and Art. Oh, and it rained, in the spring and in the fall it rained big drops and I can still feel the assurance as strong today, that if I continued on this barefooted-back-woods-walk way of learning, I would be unstoppable.

When I turned 18 I moved to Denver to study on scholarship at the University of Colorado based in the city. My mom still says “I have to remember that if I give them wings, they will fly” and I did. After two years in Denver Colorado, though I planned to stay the entire four, I felt and knew that they were not meant to be. So I came home to Birmingham for a year, to marry a boy I’d grown up with in church and in my homeschooling circles. A month later that boy went to war in Afghanistan. “What would you do if you could not fail?” I asked myself the question often throughout the deployment. My answer was always the same “I would make it through this single day,” and day by day, we did.

Happily, I moved again, here to Southern California to be with my husband who came home uninjured, by the glory of God alone. In January, I am starting at a new school, from where I will graduate in a year’s time as a French Chef. So now, the answer — on some days — to my question is simply that I would make the perfect flaky croissant (and also save all the babies in China, and be a big girl when the doctor has to give me a shot… etc. etc.).

I look at what lies ahead in my life, and I sigh with an awkward remorse to confess to all of you valiant and brave homeschooling parents. I never planned on homeschooling my kids, not in all my life up to this point, but, What I would now do, if there was no chance of my own failure is this? I would raise my own (one-day -very-far-away-I mean-that-I-have-no-intention-of-having-anytime-soon) children, in the same way I was raised. I would school them by the soft and gentle path of Charlotte Mason. My children will delight in morning time. They will learn through their own thoughts and the thoughts of their peers, while they are guided by teachers like the ones I was given, so that when they grow up, they will be their own selves, to take up the challenge and to attempt what may seem impossible. For, I don’t believe they can ever be fully themselves if I haven’t given fully myself, as my own parents did all of my life.

In a year I will be a chef (one of my side “yeah-that’ll-never-happen” dreams), I will be married, still, to the man whom I am made for and who is made for me, though he will probably be somewhere away again. In the many years to come, we will follow dreams and visions we have built together, and in many many years, we will raise our own, together, as we were raised ourselves. If I knew I could do anything and not fail, that is exactly what I would wish to do.

Some people’s answers are so amazing and much less selfish… I really have to tell you about them:

I know of a girl from my church out here who moved to South America at nineteen (she is twenty-one now), has adopted eighteen children in the name of the Lord, and runs an orphanage, teaching and caring for children that were considered too low for attention. (Sound familiar?)

I babysat for a man who picked up a literal cross and took a step off of Hollywood Boulevard some forty years ago. Since then he has walked through every single nation in the world ministering the gospel through war zones and hostile areas. At 20 years old, he didn’t think, “This step and then the world.”  It was just, “This one step.”

There was a man I know who spent three years cooking for the army in the South Pacific throughout World War II, sending money home and saving and saving and saving. He was shipped home just before Christmas of his last year, He barely missed his train to make it home for Christmas day, so he hopped a ride in a truck and trudged a weary way home making it just in time to see his family. With the money he saved he started our family business. Not only did he make his way home, he made his family a way so that we’d always be able to make our way too.

Lastly, I know a lot of boys who enlisted into a brotherhood with one goal in mind: the safety of our country. Victory is their goal, and death is of no consequence. I have to tell you that they live not in hopes that they don’t die, or don’t get hurt; they simply live to not fail you or each other. I dedicate this ChildLightUSA entry to the 25 men of our battalion who never came home.

So now I thought I’d ask you. You see, it’s raining, and rain reminds me that nothing is impossible. So if you could do anything at all without failing, what would it be?

© Hannah Schaefer Ezell 2011


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. Daisy says

    I was born in Alabama (rain), went to college in Seattle (rain), and now live in Bakersfield, CA. I FELT this post as I, too, look out at the gift of rain this morning.

    Beautiful post.

  2. Sherry Thrasher says

    Thanks so much for this wonderful reminder of dreams and hopes and possibilities. I was about your age when I decided that I wanted to be a mom teaching and learning at home with my, one-day children. At that time it seemed an impossibility… just a dream. Now 20 some odd years later, I find myself staring in the face of two almost grown, beautiful daughters who I hope will look back on our time at home in the years to come with fond memories as they reach for their dreams.

  3. Oh! That I would not fail my children. That they would rise and call me blessed because of how the Lord has worked in our lives, and not spend their adulthood complaining about my faults. That I *would* give them wings. That in so much as it is in my control, they would love the Lord with all of their being….and that God would be glorified, and other lives would be affected by the life of my family.

    But for today, that all the to-doing (laundry and math and shopping) would get done, and that the atmosphere of our home would be peace and love and joy and learning in spite of this to-do list.

  4. Kendra says

    “We gathered on the back porch in the morning and we studied History, Philosophy, Geography, Grammar, Science and Art.” What a sweet, inspiring picture. And what a lovely, safe place to be cultivating those big dreams.

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