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Transcendental Assessment

That’s it, people. It is summer. Finally. We are done with the school year!

Facebook is full of last day of school pics and videos of kids jumping into the pool for the first time this season. Grills have had the spring pollen dusted off and are being put to perpetual use. Burgers, chlorine, cut grass, and sunscreen are now the scents of summertime. There are parties and graduation ceremonies, and countless homeschool moms have collapsed onto the floor, saying, “We did it.”

It is tempting to end the school year, shut those books, file (or throw) those papers away, and say, “I am done.” All we want to do at this point is haul out all the shiny new plans with their hopes and dreams for the next school year and get started. After all, unlike this year, no one has messed those up plans yet.

Take a breath. Take a break from this school year and get some distance from it if you need to, but before you jump into planning next year, this past year needs some assessment first. You heard me. Don’t give me that look.

We cannot set a plan for next year if we don’t know how well we’ve done this year. How can we establish a starting point if we don’t know where we stand now?

I can look back at my year and see whether or not I got through my scope and sequences, and I can look back at my year and see how far we got through each curriculum choice we made. I can look at the plan I mapped out and see how many changes took place, how many tweaks, and how many adjustments, but does that really provide me with an honest assessment of how I did, especially as a classical educator?

If I use completion as a guide for evaluating my success as a homeschooling parent, I am going to come up short in more ways than one. Sure, I can check all the boxes and we can stay on track and zip through a curriculum. My children can read every page and answer every question, but if those are the only requirements I have for them, have they really learned? Have I really done my job of teaching them? Completion cannot be a metric for success in a classical homeschool.

I would like to propose a simple standard (though by no means the only one) by which to assess your year: Use the transcendentals of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. Instead of asking how much we did and whether we finished, or measuring our success by a number of days or hours or a test score, I’m taking a look at our year and asking the following questions.

First, did we seek Beauty? Did we read stories and poems that inspire the imagination and tell us about the created world and the human condition in all its spheres? Did we listen to music? Did we sing? Did we make music? Did we dance? Did we diagram sentences and have an “A-ha!” moment as we saw how all the parts of speech fall into their proper places? Did we solve equations in multiple ways and experience the joy of different ways to get an answer? Did we laugh? Did we cry? Did we discover? Did we wonder?

Second, did we seek Goodness? Did what we study and teach help bring harmony and order to our souls? Did we choose our books and curricula wisely? Were our plans well-thought-out? If we realized we were walking down a wrong path, did we stop and turn around? Did we train our hearts and our affections to recognize the Good and go after it? Did we pursue excellence in what we did and what we taught and in the way we taught?

Last, did we seek Truth? Did we wrestle with ideas? Did we allow ourselves to be confronted with things that were uncomfortable? Did we allow ourselves to say “I don’t know?” Were we humbled? Were we in awe? Did we realize errors? Did we repent? Did we submit? Did we understand more of who we are and whose we are and who we are meant to be?

Maybe these questions seem lofty or ethereal. Maybe they don’t seem to be the most helpful standard by which to judge a grammar course or a Latin text. On the surface, perhaps not. But if, like me, you reached the end of the year feeling like butter scraped over too much bread, these questions can inject some grace into your year. They did for me. To abandon a Latin textbook in February because it is no longer working and choose something different is not a failure. To slow down a grammar course and not do what the publisher recommends because we need more time is not a misuse of the material.

To recognize when we’ve done well is virtue; to fall short, realize it, and change course is wisdom. If something isn’t working, there is a strong likelihood that it is preventing either me or my children from perceiving Truth, Beauty, or Goodness.

Whether or not we finished all our curricula is not the standard by which I should judge our year. I want better for my homeschool than the checked boxes and completed spreadsheets of mapped-out plans. I want more than that for my children and myself. I want Truth. I want Beauty. I want Goodness. And when I look back at our year, the reality is that I find them there. They are part of the human condition and are therefore inescapable.

Let’s keep running toward them.

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