The Meaning of Education?

Back in my law school days, we spent hours upon hours debating who was smart, who wasn’t and what it meant to be smart.  I thought the conversation was over when I graduated first in my class.  I was smart.

Smart (at least for  law school purposes) meant an extraordinary capacity to study non-stop and have an intuitive sense for what the professors looked for in exam answers.

More than ten years have gone by and I find myself being forced to completely re-examine the meaning of “smart” within the context of my own children and I have to tell you, it’s painful.

I knew that being “law school smart” l was only one type of smart and that there were lots of other ways to be smart, but I was secretly grateful that I didn’t have to rely on any of those other ways for proof of my smarts.  And yes, I did feel as if I had to prove it, to myself and everyone else.

Now, ten years later, I’m reminded once again that the Universe never lets me get away with anything.  If I don’t work through something and learn to drop the conditioning, it always comes back up.

So here it comes through my kids.  They are not test-taking/law school smart.  I was reading at the age of three.  They were barely talking by two.

My daughter reads now, going into 4th grade, but only because we forced her to learn.  And she doesn’t like it.  I’m holding out hope that she might one day begin to love it.  But, I’m no longer holding my breath.

For the past four years, my daughter has been attending the most prestigious (and expensive) private school in our community.  We decided to apply “just to see” and then couldn’t not send her there after we got in.

I thought we could fit in, but no matter how much I wanted to, it didn’t mean we would.  I could fake it for short amount of times, but the truth was I was faking it and integrity is one of my highest values, so it felt really bad.

I was willing to have my kids be there even though we didn’t fit in if it was a good fit for them educationally.

After my son attended his first year there last year, I knew for certain, it wasn’t.  My daughter was more easily fit into their box, but after going through it with her and contemplating doing it with him, I recognize how much I just don’t want to do it.  I don’t want to tame my son.  Not like they want him to be tamed.

And now I’m faced with re-examining my own beliefs about what’s smart and what’s not.

As we embark on this journey of homeschooling, everything I ever thought about education and learning is being challenged.  It’s bringing up every fear, uncertainty and doubt I’ve ever had about so many things.

I’ve been silently dealing with my demons – alternating between letting it be, trying to control everything, and beating myself up for failing.  Today, I finally had enough.  I can’t answer these questions alone.  And I asked my online communities for help.

Jo (my BFF who is living here with me and homeschooling her kids and mine) asked me to do some reading, inquiry and investigation before I made any decisions about how the kids should be schooled.  She’s been unschooling since the beginning.  Her kids (same age as mine) are more advanced in some areas and less advanced than others than my kids (there’s that comparing thing) yet there’s a part of me that says “unschooling” is okay for her kids because they are inherently “smarter.”  My kids aren’t smart enough.  My kids can’t be trusted the way her kids can.

Where does that come from?

Why do I believe I can’t trust my children to know what they need.  I get it that the conditioned culture tells us we can’t trust, we must control, it’s up to us to know what their needs are better than they do and meet them.  They cannot be trusted to make smart decisions for their well-being.  And the piece of me that still desires to “fit in” to societal norms wants to agree.

But then, there’s this other piece.  The piece that says %*@! all that.

I can trust my children.  They inherently know and if I just give them the chance to re-discover what they know, they’ll remember everything.   While I know that this is the truth in my heart and soul, it scares me to death.

What if I’m wrong? What if they spend all day watching TV and playing video games because I’m too caught up in my own work to guide them properly?  What if they never learn to read, write and do math?  What if they always hate reading? What if … what if … what if … what if I fail in my most important job as their mom?

Thankfully, my spiritual foundation has somewhat prepared me for these what ifs.  I know it’s all perfect.  I know I can’t fail them.  I know I can trust.  But, damn, it’s hard.

I need to redefine everything I ever thought about education. And parenting.  And being smart.  And working hard.  And fitting in.  What a blessing.


  1. LoiTuesday, September 15, 2009 at 8:01 pm 

    Thanks so much for baring it all and being so honest. As mothers we all stress out when it comes to wanting the best for our kids. I too was reading at 3, went to law school and have the book smarts…but my kid is light years ahead of who I was when I was his age. He’s in the gifted program at public school, but I worry that he’s at a disadvantage because I can’t afford to send him to private school. I worry whether I’ll be able to keep up with him and keep him challenged…worry, worry, worry…it’s a part of our maternal genetic makeup I guess. However, just like you, most times I’m just like “$%^! it”. Even with all the “readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic” we still have to give them the space to find out who they are here to become.

  2. Dave NavarroTuesday, September 15, 2009 at 8:33 pm 

    Alexis –

    Props to you for having the guts to do this. I had to pull my 14 year old out of school because it wasn’t the right fit for him (school was moving too slow and wasn’t challenging). Homeschooling is much better because I can teach him how to think and thrive, not how to jump through standardized hoops.

    You’re going to rock this out because you’re smart enough to know that you’ll be able to impart more life lessons to your kids that they can actually USE than school ever would.

    Scary as hell? Yes. But isn’t everything?

  3. Julie Watson SmithTuesday, September 15, 2009 at 8:36 pm 


    I applaud you for investing this time to evaluate your child’s needs. Education should be something that compliments a child’s strengths. I have been blessed to find a public school in Boulder that, for the most part, does that. However, it wasn’t always so. I struggled with finding a community that supported our individuality while also embracing us a team. During that time, I considered home/unschooling – still do from time to time. Some day it may just be a good fit for us.

    For now, though, I hold onto what I know for sure. A child’s ability to lead isn’t based on academics. It is developed by strengthening their character intelligence, a mixture of social, emotional and moral intelligence. Don’t get me wrong, academics are essential. I just don’t find them the key to moving ahead. My experience has shown that academic strength usually falls into place once character intelligence is address.

    I work with many homeschooling families and find that some thrive in the homeschooling environment while others return to a traditional school setting. I know some families where one or two children stay home and the other(s) attend school. None of these choices is wrong; they are just what works best for each child, each family at that time. *Your* choices, when made from the purest place in your heart, will never fail you or your children.

    I wish you and your children all the best, Alexis~

    Julie Watson Smith
    Youth Leadership Mentor
    Character, Inc

  4. CathyTuesday, September 15, 2009 at 8:56 pm 

    Alexis, I hope you will remember that learning is essential to being alive. If a person is alive, they are learning. So then the question is not “Are they learning” but “What are they learning” and, in the words of Fritjof Capra, how can I be a meaningful disturbance of their learning.

    A great book on such matters is Engaging Minds by Davis, Sumara, and Luce-Kapler (Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers).

    Thanks for your candid reflection.

  5. Dorcy RussellTuesday, September 15, 2009 at 9:29 pm 

    Lex… Take a deep breath give yourself a pat on the back and as you know everything is as it should be. Dint waste your time comparing your children to others to put them through the same he’ll we as adults put ourselves through. They are all knowing divine beings of light they have a purpose for why they are here just like we do. Foster their strengths coach their weaknesses give yourself a break hug them love them teach them to be responsible loving forgiving human beings we are as adults trying to get back to the place they are and always desperatly trying to control the divine little beings in our lives. Our conditioning is a tough barrier for us adultso to overcome. I know your bright spirited funny children and they are fantastic and very vocal about their desires likes and dislikes. Take your advice relax create a learning experience that is fun educational and fills their energy and spirits. Let then have an opinion on what works and how to structure the school work so everybody wins create the agreement get everyone but in and then it becomes a role of reminder not ruler;)…. On a side note I barely made it through HS bucked the system at every turn never went to college only recently squires a taste for reading and I know that I am one of those other kind of smarts you speak of. You are doing a great job… Relax listen to your kids come up with a mutually agreeable plan and stick to it as much as possible…Peace in so you can have peace out my friend…Dorcy

  6. Michele TremblayWednesday, September 16, 2009 at 1:16 am 

    Dear Alexis,
    ALWAYS listen to your inner voice . It will never steer you wrong. If you are unhappy with the path you and your kids are taking, ask for help. It will find you every time.
    You have made an amazing leap of faith for both you and your kids. Follow your heart and the very quiet voice within. You cannot go wrong.
    p.s. When it comes to things like math hire someone. With reading, listen to books on tape (join Your sweet daughter will really start to love reading when she gets involved in a book, wants to get ahead, and realizes if she reads it herself instead of listening it takes less time.
    This and all good things will come to you and your family.

  7. Donna VailWednesday, September 16, 2009 at 2:49 am 

    Dear Alexis,
    Welcome to your life! There’s no turning back. You are in the right place and this is the most perfect time. 🙂 The restlessness you feel is your heart reaching out to you, calling you to live your truth. It’s not like anything you ever lived before and it’s not what you expect, it’s much better than that. You have everything you need and anything else you need, it will show up at the perfect time.
    It sounds like you are uncomfortable with your children unschooling yet it does not sit well with you to stand in front of them teaching, repeating the “public school” model. You want to know that whatever they decide to do in life, they have the tools and skills to do and be whatever they want because they were homeschooled. As an entrepreneur, the self-education style of homseschooling that I use and teach is a great choice. It is that place of excellence, structure with enough space for exploring interests and narrowing in on ones purpose. This method allows you to be directing and guiding their education without sacrificing your business pursuits and relying on someone else to be guiding your children. No, you won’t be standing in front of them “teaching” and giving up your precious business time. You can have structure time to do your work and they will be doing their work. This system is very conducive for both parents and children, supporting both in the work they need to do. And as they grow and evolve onto higher learning they will have a choice; ivy league school, entrepreneur, leader, business owner, whatever they are called to do.
    Now is a good time for you to let go. Let your children decompress from the way they have been taught previously, the rigorous schedule they had to keep and whatever conditions were created from “going” to a school. Relax, hold them, hug them and remind them how happy you are to have them with you. Instead of paying a high price for four walls you are giving them the world. You will find your way. You are perfect for your children; they were born to you and from you. No one can love them and go the depths for them like you can.
    As they decompress let them explore projects, read, get bored out of their skulls, play, create art, discover, learn life skills and find peace with themselves. You don’t have to stand in front of them to “teach” them. Allow inspiration, trust their genius. While they are decompressing you can do your reading and own discovery. Give yourself time for quiet contemplation so you can hear inspiration guiding you. I am sure your friend has already shared with you the state laws on homeschooling. I can never recommend enough a great book to start with, Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto. Written by a New York State Teacher of the Year his approach is extremely respectful to all children. I have posted his 7 Ways to Make Learning Happen on my blog at (October 5, 2007 post.)
    Remember, your foundation is love. Look through eyes of love and remember your spirit. I’m here for you and appreciate you reaching out. Because you reached out it makes it possible for everyone else to reach out. When one of us feels this way many of us feel this way. You are not alone, there are millions growing and learning. Let us grow in the comfort of each other.
    Love and peace to you and yours,

  8. HR GuyWednesday, September 16, 2009 at 6:31 am 

    I can’t really relate of how to be mother. But I am father already and I see how my wife struggle into taking care of our kids. She’s been a responsible mom and good wife to me. But when our kids are in school already she’s trying to create a path of our kids. I think the kids are the only one can decide on what they want to do with their lives. I guess my wife is just afraid that my kids will make mistakes and she doesn’t want them to fail and to be hurt. I told him its all part of growing up.

  9. SophfroniaSunday, September 20, 2009 at 12:24 am 

    I know what you mean Alexis. I got blindsided when the time came to decide where my son would go to kindergarten this year. All of the issues I had around school (and I was considered “smart” in school) came at me from out of the woodwork! I went to public school and when I toured our local kindergarten I felt all the restrictions and boxes that made me feel boxed in as a child. I wanted my son to feel learning as a fun, great adventure of discovery and I didn’t get that vibe there. So my husband and I made the financial commitment to send him to a private school. It’s been two weeks and we’re very happy with our choice. The place suits our son’s personality and he’s excited to go there everyday. On Friday he fell asleep in the car on the drive home. I carried him into the house and as I lay him on the sofa he said to me in a sleepy voice, “My school is a nice place.” I have no idea whether my son is gifted or not or what kind of academic level he’ll achieve. But as long as he can come home and tell me school is a nice place, I’ll know only good things can follow–and I will have done my job.
    I hope you’ll find that “feel good” place for your children as well.

  10. LiLing Pang - TrekarooTuesday, September 22, 2009 at 6:59 am 

    Wow, I really appreciate your honesty. I was brought up in a society that values education above all else – Singapore. I now live in the bay area. As our kids have entered the school years, my husband and I have spent countless hours soul searching and debating about the type of educational experience we want to provide our kids. It is definitely hard to not expect and give your children the type of education you yourself experienced and excelled in. Both my husband and I went to IV League colleges and have spent most of our lives striving for academic excellence, but oddly, the values we hold most dear to our hearts and want to pass on to our children are best cultivated outside of the classroom. We value compassion and generosity – lessons best learned from life experiences living and serving those less fortunate. We value global citizenship that a curriculum of internationa travel is most effective in teaching.

    Of course it’s not that education is not important, but when our children are in environments where there is such heavy emphasis on only one type of smart, it’s hard to have space to develop all those other important skills and smarts that will propel our kids towards becoming world changers, creators, innovators, or simply people who light up the lives of people around them.

    I’m still processing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts as you process.

  11. TinaThursday, September 24, 2009 at 12:48 am 

    I find this discussion fascinating… until very recently I haven’t even considered homeschooling. My girls are just 20 mos and 3 years, so not at school age yet… but where I live there are no alternative education options. It’s either public school…. well, or not. Even if I wanted to send them to private school there aren’t any around here.

    And so i’ve started to wonder re: homeschooling… and will admit my biggest fear is myself. You said “What if they spend all day watching TV and playing video games because I’m too caught up in my own work to guide them properly?” – that’s one my fears! Working from home I have to watch my balance of working vs. family time – one of my bigger challenges. Do I have what it takes to homeschool them? What if i get bored doing it? I don’t even know enough about homeschooling yet to answer that question but it is certainly something on my mind.

    Would love to hear what you decide. 🙂

  12. Scott LovingoodSunday, October 4, 2009 at 8:57 pm 

    Deciding how to educate our children is a tough thing to do. Some kids thrive in the traditional school environment. Some are better at faking it and getting good grades (this was me). Some decide the traditional school is garbage and really don’t care what their grades are (my son – incredibly intelligent but doesn’t care what teachers/tests/schools give him for a grade)

    Learn and try new things. Look at different ways to educate them. I spend as much or more time teaching my son to think as he spends in school learning facts. He will never graduate valedictorian but he will graduate with the ability to reason and think for himself.

    Have you thought about having your daughter checked for dyslexia? Many times kids who don’t like reading have a medical condition that causes it to be very difficult for them. Nothing about intelligence just how their eyes to brain are wired.

    Good luck and remember that no one decision is the final one. Keep deciding what is best and then evaluate to see if you are right.

  13. chuckrylantWednesday, November 11, 2009 at 5:25 am 

    This is a great topic Alexis. I've been asking myself the same question my entire life. I never did well in school…always in the principals office out of complete boredom and then went and got an MBA. As I look back, there are benefits of our formal education system, but it is seriously flawed and a poor measure or preparation for success.

    Someday I will write my own blog post(s) on the subject, but for now I will suggest you read the book The Millionaire Mind. That book really validated some of my thoughts on education with scientific research to prove it. Excellent read and may help you with your decision.

  14. chuckrylantWednesday, November 11, 2009 at 11:25 am 

    This is a great topic Alexis. I've been asking myself the same question my entire life. I never did well in school…always in the principals office out of complete boredom and then went and got an MBA. As I look back, there are benefits of our formal education system, but it is seriously flawed and a poor measure or preparation for success.

    Someday I will write my own blog post(s) on the subject, but for now I will suggest you read the book The Millionaire Mind. That book really validated some of my thoughts on education with scientific research to prove it. Excellent read and may help you with your decision.

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