From the time I was pregnant with my son Sean until he was a toddler, if you had asked me what I wanted him to be when he grew up, I would have told you I wanted him to be a Renaissance man. To me, the term Renaissance man means a person (male or female) who has a deep and nuanced knowledge over a broad range of fields. It refers to a person who is literate and can express oneself through writing, speaking, or both; a person who is a creative thinker; someone who is not necessarily an athlete but who is comfortable with his own physicality. And I expected him to be social, it never even occurred to me my child would not be the extreme extrovert I am. It was the dreamy sort of fantasy a mom with her first (and it turned out only) child has.
The dream didn’t survive toddlerhood. It was during toddlerhood that I realized Sean had his own dreams and personality, and it was those that needed to guide his path. The first time I realized my child was not an extrovert, he was a slightly, shy introvert, I panicked. I am not kidding. I had absolutely no idea how to parent him when it came to social situations. I thought things like (but never said), “How could anyone prefer standing and observing over jumping in and doing?!?” “Why would you want to hang out with me alone, when you have others who want to play with you?!?” I dealt with it by letting him hold on when he needed to, and helping him have wings when he felt comfortable flying.
Donegal, Ireland, 2007
Early on, I chose to honor who he was, even when it took work to figure out how to do it, instead of pushing an agenda I had for him. I do not believe in pushing your child to be what you want him to be. I think it is more important to ensure he has the skills and tools he needs, and then to work with him so that he is a critical thinker who can figure out for himself what he wants to be. So that was what I focused on.
When I realized the small rural school he was in during kindergarten couldn’t give him the skills and tools he needed, with the advice of his teacher, I chose to homeschool him. Sean and I spent some time using different educational approaches until settling on secular, eclectic, academic homeschooling. He is too artistic, and I appreciate academics too much for any one methodology to completely suit both of us. So, instead of choosing one, I gifted him with a handcrafted education.
Handcrafted educations like those found in the secular homeschool community are not new. During Renaissance times, people would have considered secular, eclectic, academic homeschoolers like us to be humanists, educating their children from a humanist perspective. For us, humanist has nothing to do with or without issues of faith. It refers to the use of secular academic materials, those that present facts, theories, and models as recommended by a majority of practicing experts in a field of study. This type of education, tailored to the strengths, weaknesses, and passions of an individual and their family is the type of education that Leonardo da Vinci, Florence Nightingale, and Thomas Jefferson received.
It was only recently that I realized my dream for my son came true. came true. In fact there is a whole group of homeschooled kids growing up to be Renaissance men and women. The secular homeschooling component is important to the recipe. With a Renaissance style education you can introduce material to someone, but they must choose to explore it deeply. This deep exploration requires time without a timeline. Renaissance educations have at their center a core base of knowledge, of course. But that core does not come from a checklist of facts to be memorized and prescribed skills to be mastered, as happens with a traditional education. There is more individuality and ownership with a handcrafted, Renaissance education. When it comes to learning things in a deep and nuanced way, ownership is a critical component. You can bring someone to the table of knowledge, but you cannot make them consume it. There is a reason we are experiencing a renaissance of a handcrafted education. It is because this type of education leads to a person who knows how to learn and understands the value and joy of learning. More than any other element, this is the one that makes someone a Renaissance man or a Renaissance woman.
These days, Sean is 18 and beginning to assert himself and his own independence. It is an exciting time for all of us, but often there is nothing very romantic about it. I homeschooled my son, so my fingerprints are all over his education and learning. Lately though, as he has begun to assert himself, showing signs of the man he is growing into, and making his knowledge and learning his own, his fingerprints are beginning to obscure mine. It is during these moments when I realize, with no planning to make it happen, this secular, eclectic, academic path we chose together resulted in his growing to become a Renaissance man.
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Blair Lee M.S. is the homeschooling mother of a 15-year-old and a world traveler. Blair loves to read, cook, laugh, hang out with friends, and homeschool. In 2015, she co-founded Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers SEA Homeschoolers on Facebook. Blair writes for the Real Science Odyssey Series, RSO, as well as blogs and magazines. Blair speaks about eclectic, academic homeschooling, science, and travel at homeschool conventions. You can follow her at Twitter, Facebook.