You Can’t Teach Writing: Screwtape Letter for the Homeschool Mom
By Daniella Dautrich
PERHAPS you’ve heard whispers of lies such as this one: “You can’t teach writing.” Doubts about your schedule, curriculum, ability to grade, or your own writing background might tempt you to believe these problems are the measure of your homeschooling abilities. This loss of perspective can quickly take a homeschool mom captive.
If “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32), remember that your adversary will stop at nothing to blind you from the truth. In his classic The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis imaginatively portrays this epic battle.
I hope you find encouragement in this Screwtape Letter for today’s homeschool mom, adapted from the fifth, sixth, and seventh letters in Lewis’s book.
My dear Wormwood,
Your last letter gives me much cause for disappointment, except where you mention the patient’s frustrations with teaching writing. This brings to mind all sorts of possibilities. In this unbalanced era of homeschooling, intense feelings about curriculum and extreme self-consciousness (or self-righteousness!) about writing abilities have often produced desirable results.
If She Lacks the Time…
If your patient is the type who loves writing, but has “no time to teach writing,” you will find your task quite amusing. Build the most unrealistic expectations in her head about the perfect writing lesson. Let her believe that her child’s peers in conventional schools spend hours each day on brilliant essay compositions. Prey on her dreams of perfectionism, and you will paralyze her greatest talents.
Let her believe that she will never have enough time, so she dare not even try. Do not let it occur to her that vocabulary skills can be taught in the kitchen while she fixes dinner, or that sentence building can become a game in the family car. Keep her in this state of ignorance, and you may enjoy the hilarious spectacle of a mother who loves writing, yet whose children hate words!
If She Lacks the Patience…
If you are going to tell me that your patient won’t teach writing because she “lacks the patience,” I know very well what state of mind you’re in. You take credit for an emotional crisis in the middle of a school day, do you? You have tasted the intoxicating anguish and bewilderment of a human soul. But remember, Wormwood, that duty comes before pleasure.
Do not allow your temporary excitement to distract you from the real business of undermining her faith. This tired mother has doubtless heard the Enemy’s adage that “patience is a virtue.” By no means let this saying—or any other Proverb or Beatitude—enter her mind.
You must guard against the attitude which treats homeschooling as a means for obedience to the Enemy. Never let your patient suspect that unpleasant writing lessons with her reluctant little ones might actually please Him. You want her to feel like a lamb at the slaughter—never like a willing servant offering up her time and talents.
If She Can’t Write…
If, on the other hand, your patient suffers from an actual oversight in her own early education and believes that she “cannot write,” your strategy will somewhat differ.
We want her to remain in the maximum uncertainty and confusion about how to teach writing and how to grade it. Fear and self-deprecation must immobilize her. Let her belittle herself.
Let her thoughts overflow with contradictory pictures of online tutorials and workbook exercises, long handwritten essays and oral narrations, letter grades and point systems. Lead her to think she should do it all, and that each one must find room in her daily homeschooling routine.
Most importantly, watch for any signs that your patient is willing to bear her daily cross. It doesn’t matter if this burden is relearning grammar late at night, or preparing from a teacher’s manual early each morning. If she overcomes her distaste or insecurity about these things for the sake of her child, we will lose valuable ground.
That is why you must always encourage a shadowy, overwhelming terror of something they call “teaching writing.” This vague notion will make her lose sight of any small, achievable goals in her own education or that of her children.
If She Prefers Math and Science…
In the final case, your patient may simply excel in math and science. By her Enemy-bestowed nature, she craves that which is measurable and quantifiable. She hesitates about writing because she perceives the subject is too fluid to teach and too subjective to grade. Prey upon this! Remind her often that teaching and evaluating writing rely too much upon guesswork.
She may say she “hates writing,” but the results of such a melodramatic hatred are often most disappointing. Redirect the abstract malice in her soul toward proficient writers in her own social circle. The Enemy desires your patient to appreciate the talents of other homeschool moms. Whenever possible, He wants her to offer her talents in return. In this way the humans participate in a disgusting allegory of “the Body.” I have often witnessed this irritating arrangement in homeschool co-ops.
You may even lead the patient to believe that math and science are the only really important subjects—that writing nowadays has no worth at all. This will lead to a great deal of pride. Your patient will feel not only superior, but fashionably modern.
Finally, whatever your patient’s particular strengths and struggles may be, you must not forget our ultimate goal. We want these dear little homeschooling mothers to downplay or ignore the written word, until they finally learn to reject the incarnate Word Himself.
Your affectionate uncle,
Read the original Screwtape Letter for the Homeschool Mom.
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Photo: Elne (Neighya), courtesy of Creative Commons.
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