Stepping stones | A reluctant writer’s journey
In January 2008, in faraway Nottingham, England, my then-23-year-old son turned in a 63-page dissertation. In so doing, he capped off a year of grad school and became a candidate for a master’s degree in philosophical theology.
Why do I share this? Because…
- Your eighth grader can’t spell his way out of a paper bag.
- Your sixth grader keeps wadding up his paper in frustration and hurling it across the room.
- Your kitchen table has become a battleground.
- This very morning, you asked yourself why you even bother homeschooling.
- Most days you just can’t believe your child will actually grow up, mature into a productive adult, and find his place in the world.
Because many years ago, I was in your shoes.
At times, it’s hard to believe there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Try as we might, they just don’t seem to get it. We plan out our year, buy curriculum, write lesson plans. We review spelling words again and again. And again. We go over grammar, punctuation, and capitalization. In our weary minds, we think that we might as well whack our heads against a wall for all the good it’s doing.
With a reluctant boy writer (in particular), it’s easy to grow discouraged and think you’ll never see growth or progress.
I invite you to take a trip with me as I drift back to September of 1996 when Ben was an 11-year-old sixth grader. Beginning at that point, I’d like to share excerpts from his writing, with each year representing a stepping stone along his journey.
What was the secret to success? Lots and lots of practice, self-editing, parent input, revising, rewriting, and polishing during our homeschooling years, followed by five years of countless essays and papers for college and grad school. No magic wand produced this kind of fruit, but diligence and perseverance in the face of struggle did.
Ben will be the first to tell you he’s not grown immune to the frustrations that accompany writing. From time to time he still crumples papers, loses focus, procrastinates, and suffers from bouts of writer’s block—we all do! But as you watch his writing mature and improve year by year in content, structure, style, vocabulary, and mechanics, I pray you gather hope and courage to carry on.
6th grade: Usualy my room is prity clean, some times I fourget to clean up my messes. My room wold be neater if I put away my toys.
7th grade: I am confident beacouse our leader, Goliath, the campion fighter from Gath, he is over 9 feet tall a fighting man since his youth. He is going to chalange the Israelites again. All right! They are finly sendin some one to fight him.
8th grade: Whipped around the corner with amazing velosity, our car rushes through the icy water. Looking over my dad’s sholder, I can see the tunel entrance up ahead. Surprised and frightened, I suddenly feel the bobsled drop from under me as it swerves dangerously into a secret tunel.
9th grade: Waiting in anticipation, my team prepared to enter the secret “catacombs”. Our mission: to find the clues, rescue hostages, and avoid getting caught. Finally the doors opened and our adventure began. One by one we disappeared into the darkness.
10th grade: Each county in each state determines how its citizens will vote. Some systems are not as good as others and allow many errors. For example, the punch card ballot is terribly flawed because a voter has to make sure to punch the holes cleanly. One mistake will result in the disqualification of the entire ballot.
11th grade: Simply, he loved God, and he desperately loved the people that he ministered to. His joy was not found in material possessions, for he had none except a few books. Instead, it was the Bishop’s passion to see a good Catholic find God. (Character analysis, Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather)
12th grade: Many people believe that all goodness is subjective and relative. This idea is a very subtle tactic because it allows the critic to “play God.” The critic has the power to decide what is good and what is bad, what men ought to like and ought to despise. In the end, he creates his own standards by which to judge not only inanimate objects, but also morality. This is what society has adopted; this is where society has gone astray.
Ben became more inclined toward academics toward the end of high school. Though not all students will continue on to university, this path suited his bent. So once our homeschooling years were behind us, college challenged his writing to new levels.
Freshman: While Clayton’s claims are well articulated and organized, his proposed solution is short-sighted and insufficient. Furthermore, he does not effectively support his primary claims or demonstrate how students will be able to suddenly rise above the relative postmodern ideology that they use to justify cheating.
Sophomore: During the age of Roman domination, the Caesars ruled most of the populated world with absolute power. Considered living gods, these men each sought to make their place in history. However, all their collective triumphs and achievements would soon be dwarfed through the life and death of a single man. The solitary life of a Jewish rabbi, raised in a backwater town on the outskirts of the Roman Empire, marked the single most significant point in human history: the point when the God of the universe became a part of his own creation in order to redeem it from its own corruption and despair.
Junior: In the realm of political philosophy, questions arise that seek to identify, evaluate, critique, and improve social, civil, and political governance. For what reason do we form commonwealths and civil structures? Why are such unions justified? Indeed, how do those who maintain power within such civil societies legitimize their use of political authority over any other person?
Senior: Wedged between the forces of privatized spiritualism on one hand and secular social activism on the other, the Christian
Church finds itself in a time of transition and tension. In a world dominated by geopolitical nation-states, rapidly expanding capitalistic market places, and the global presence of multinational corporations, God has awakened the Church to a new sense of urgency to respond faithfully to its calling to be in the world, but not of it, and to live out its vocation by embodying the presence of Jesus Christ to all the peoples.
Master’s Thesis: Accordingly, the works of mercy are fundamentally relocated outside the bounds of the Christian economy of salvation. As we have seen, for Aquinas, the works of mercy are embodiments of virtue that constitute the liturgical life of the body of Christ. Grounded in the infused grace gifted to the church through the Holy Spirit, the works of mercy are irreplaceable performances of the church’s concrete worship of God.
What a picture of encouragement! When I follow Ben’s progress from year to year, I confess that even I’m amazed. It’s a good reminder that what you see today is not necessarily where your child—especially that reluctant boy writer of yours—will be in five or ten years. So much happens in our kids as they grow up! For most students, vocabulary increases; logic and reason develop; and writing skills improve.
Remember too that not every child is destined to become a scholar, but improve he can (and will)—with practice, tools, and time.
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