Since the Lord of the Rings is about a difficult journey undertaken by the least likely characters, I thought it would be a good source of wisdom for homeschoolers. But then as I really started thinking about it, I realized it might not be the best analogy. After all, Frodo destroys the ring but loses a finger in the process and joins the elves fleeing to the havens. That’s just depressing. I guess you could say that the ring represent government authority over education and needs to be destroyed but then who are the elves and what is Aragon king of? So it’s probably better not to look for all encompassing themes and meaning.
But it’s still a good source of practical advise and wisdom for homeschoolers. Here are five lessons for homeschoolers from the Lord of the Rings.
1. If you’re going to homeschool, you’re going to have to leave the Shire. All the familiar faces may be comforting but staying isn’t going to solve the problem of why you’re considering homeschooling. It may be hard, but take Frodo’s approach. Not the delaying part, but by picking a closer, achievable objective to start with. Don’t try to plan the entire trip to Rivendell; it will be overwhelming. New homeschoolers shouldn’t worry about completing a comprehensive curriculum their first year–it’s a sure fire way to ensure that you and your family won’t be happy at the end of your first year of homeschooling.
2. When you have a chance to look at a map before you start your journey–do it! Merry and Pippin assumed that there would always be someone else around to show them the way. After all, you can’t even pick a close destination if you don’t know what destinations are available. For homeschoolers, this means educating yourself about different learning opportunities so that you can take advantage of them as needed. What do you need to know to make sure that your children can homeschool through high school and still get into college? What are the different ways to teach math if your child is struggling with traditional methods? How important is it to learn to read by age six? It doesn’t matter if you are a strict curriculum follower or complete unschooler, you are your children’s guide to learning and a good guide looks at maps.
3. Know who your friends are. Gollum may have been a useful guide but Samwise was Frodo’s friend. Yet Frodo allowed Gollum to come between him and Sam. Don’t let the means of learning come between you and your children. Just because the teacher’s guide tells you to teach spelling at a certain time doesn’t mean you have to do it. If your guide isn’t working, you can either get rid of the guide or force your children to conform to something that isn’t really working out for them. Learn from Frodo instead of repeating his mistakes–listen to Sam.
4. Don’t listen to authority figures just because they’re in positions of authority. This is a hard lesson to learn. Even Gandalf was captured by Saruman because he thought as head of the order Saruman would have more useful information for him. There are plenty of education experts who will tell you that you can’t homeschool. There will be even more curriculum publishers who will try to convince you that the only way to successfully homeschool is to buy their curriculum. Don’t listen to them. This doesn’t mean to never listen to authority figures. Frodo was smart to follow Gandalf’s advice. Gandalf used his knowledge to help Frodo get rid the ring, not take it for himself.
5. Trolls are never a good thing. This applies to those online and those in your daily life who question or undermine your homeschooling efforts. Avoid them when you can, minimize your interactions with them when you can’t.