In 18 months my homeschooling course changed from a foggy notion to a concrete mission. What was initially a strong instinct with blurred vision has evolved into a crystal clear path towards substantiality.
In CS Lewis’s masterwork “The Great Divorce,” Lewis writes himself into the text as a foggy headed dreamer who wakes up in a strange and unknown land with only instinct to guide him. After making several good choices in a row, he finds himself getting off of a bus into a very vivid and substantial pastoral scene. He is surrounded by others who are making a similar journey and watches their reactions as they try to walk out into the field. Each of his companions discovers that they are not solid enough to move forward without great physical pain and anxiety. The blades of grass pierce their feet, their remembrances of the past burden their ability to accept this present and their fears paralyze them from moving forward at all.
Each of the companions is met by a guide who has been sent to help orient and lead the pilgrim into the realness of this new world. Lewis is greeted by his literary hero, George MacDonald. MacDonald explains that the journey further up and further in requires that the pilgrims grow more substantial and more solid so that they can bear the weight of glory that awaits them. They must also become divorced from their past life of insecurity, selfishness, pride, fear, hunger and misunderstanding. This divorce will render them, one step at a time, more worthy of true substance and true life.
The Great Divorce may be about the separation of heaven and hell, but like all things Lewis, it is layered with meaning and application.
The college I graduated from was heavily populated by homeschoolers (Hillsdale College). It was my first genuine exposure to anti-conveyor belt thinking and it opened me up to a future love of Leadership Education. After several unsatisfying jobs in the corporate world, I stumbled into a teaching position at a Catholic high school in Wisconsin. In my new role of Campus Minister and religion teacher, I met my husband (the band director) and we had the opportunity to work closely with a number of homeschooling families who were matriculating some of their children in at the 9th or 10th grade level. Their children, with rare exceptions, were bright, articulate, well mannered, creative, confident, friendly and loving. I was, again, impressed by the home school culture that could produce such whole creatures as I had met at Hillsdale and Roncalli.
When our own children came along, we wrestled with our own ideas about education. My husband is a public school graduate, trained teacher and has a masters degree in education administration. I grew up in Catholic schools, a Catholic boarding school, public high school and a classical college with an Oxford exchange. We knew that we did not want public schools for our family culture but we were genuinely challenged on whether or not to send our children to Catholic school or keep them home. Ultimately, listening to Bill Bennett on Focus on the Family when our oldest was a baby, we were convinced of homeschooling. If the Former US Secretary of Education under President Reagan and author of The Book of Virtues was saying that all boys should be homeschooled through 2nd grade at a minimum, we were going to trust that recommendation.
Once we decided on homeschooling, we were not certain if we wanted a Montessori, Classical or Charlotte Mason approach. We stumbled into TJEd just over 18 months ago and became very curious. The 7 Keys of Great Education were appealing enough to convince me to buy the original TJEd trilogy: A Thomas Jefferson Education, The Thomas Jefferson Home Companion and Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning.
The sweet spot for me really was Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning and the audio The Core and Love of Learning. Those two pieces got me truly grounded. They spoke to my style, my heart and my “boots on the ground” attitude. They were an excellent “how to” orientation.
For the first 9 months of our TJEd journey I wandered around those books. I was embracing the ingredients and applying them as best as I could – and I was loving TJEd. Something, however, was missing. I just couldn’t seem to get it all to sync. I would ask so many questions in the Facebook group and the answers would always come to back to, “have you read….” (fill in the blank with the name of a book from the 7 Keys Certification). Some. I had read some. Not all. I didn’t know where to start and I was overwhelmed.
Late last fall, the 7 Keys Certification program was dropped in price from the list price of $160 to a mere $10. I didn’t even have time to blink. I bought it. I opened up my 7 Keys bundle* and found powerful audios, a smart and accessible reading plan, mentor prompts and shortly thereafter, an invitation to the newly formed TJEd 7 Keys Facebook group.
I wasn’t ready to really get serious until later in the winter… but once I did, I was wishing that I had not wasted so much time.
The 7 Keys facilitated my Great Divorce – my separation from hazy instinct to clear mission and vocation. My rejection of old and pervasive conveyor belt mentalities in favor of a wholesome and whole leadership education approach. My concrete withdrawal from our competitive and misguided modern culture and move towards a more wholesome and classic upbringing for my children.
Once I finally got on board with the 7 Keys, I realized the missing piece: I was missing the specific literary mentors who would be my companions and supporters for the journey. The voice of Mrs. Stanton in her soliloquy with Mr. Pryor continues to whisper a powerful defense of life skills and self education into the back of my mind whenever I doubt our choices. The immortal voice of Zachary Verne mentoring his strong and smart son Joannes is always present when I am selecting literature for my sons that helps me to choose books which will help them form their values even if I cannot be here for the long haul. The courageous and committed voice of Mame (Mary Emma) Moody as she moved West to try to save her husband’s life and how she demanded that her son not lose himself in the midst of trying to fit into this new and challenging culture reminds me to be courageous, firm, loving and committed to character. These and so many other books were waiting for me in the 7 Keys and I had no idea how valuable they would become to me.
I did not want to read The Chosen or Alas Babylon or commit the time necessary to Les Miserables. I understand now, however, that by investing in these texts, listening to the accompanying audios and thinking through the mentor prompts, I have stretched myself, grown and learned things about myself that I did not know were there. Each of those books are precious to me now and I would never have read them had it not been for the 7 Keys.
By studying the 7 Keys through the certification program, I was able to be inspired by great mentors (including Lewis himself in The Abolition of Man and The Inner Ring) and find my own educational “style” for my family that resonated with the classical values of mentoring, reading, work ethic, creative pursuit of one’s own interests and self directed rigor. Through reading Laddie and Little Britches, I was inspired to put a high value on life skills that would make my children strong, confident and independent for life. Through reading The Chosen, my ideas about early scholarship were confronted by the comparison of Danny to Hitler and my passion to make sure that my children’s core was solidly formed. Through reading Alas Babylon, I learned that FDR was right when he said that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.
I wish that I had not waited a whole year before embracing the 7 Keys Certification. All of the ingredients of a TJEd lifestyle are rooted in classics. They are merely extractions from the best that our literary mentors have offered to us. The genius of the DeMille’s is their ability to cull out the gems and distill them into tangibles. The goodness of the DeMille’s is their emphatic exhortation that we seek these classics out for ourselves so that like Joannes Verne in The Lonesome Gods, we can teach ourselves how to live and live well.
The 7 Keys Certification is designed to create a Great Divorce in each of us. If we wish to make the journey through the fields and woods, past the waterfall and up into the mountains so that we can be confronted with greatness, we must become more substantial. We must become more fully alive. We must become more humble and wise. The classics will help us to do that. The mentoring in the 7 Keys Certification will help us to reach for the right classics, in the right order, with the right mentor prompts.
The journey is wholly our own. I believe, however, that we have been sent the right guides to orient us and lead us onto the path.
*The 7 Keys Certification, currently, can be gotten for free! There are several ways to skin the cat, but let me assure you… the very best way to come at this is to purchase the Simple Homeschool bundle – in pdf or in spine. The whole 7 Keys bundle is included in that larger bundle for free. If you are
new to TJEd and do not know if you are really going to love this or not, do not fear, those books will re-sell at the price you paid in a heartbeat if you hate them. Many of us who started before you do not have all of the books because we bought them at full price early on and haven’t made room in our budgets to pick up the ones that we do not have. (If, however, that is you, Rachel promises that if you contact Sara DeMille, they will work out the pricing for you to complete your set – they are not just trying to sell books – they are trying to equip families for success. And they really do mean that.)