Influence has directed history, enabled art, effected education, formed lives; in short, influence is significant. It is the means by which we are prompted to make decisions in our lives, it is the means by which we grow, and it is certainly required if we are going to be able to impart anything of value to someone else, especially our children.
In the 21st century, influence is something people write books about, recognizing the benefits it can provide and profits it can garner; but effective as techniques of influence may be, they leave most people quite cold. Influence is more valuable, effective, and permanent when it is a by-product of something greater, rather than a goal in itself.
The family of today can learn a great deal by looking at families as they functioned prior to the industrial revolution, when fathers, mothers, and children spent almost all of their time together in work, play, prayer, and social activity. During that period, each subsequent generation produced more and more beautiful art, built more and more magnificent cathedrals, and developed skills of manufacture and use of tools that exceeded those of their forefathers. Many of these people did not study their particular art, craft, or wisdom in formal ways, but they were influenced, most often through direct contact with their father and mother. I have stood in European cathedrals and marvelled at the immensity, great beauty, and especially the exacting precision that was passed from father to son during the construction of such marvels. The same degree of awe is inspired by the enduring parent-to-child transfer of proficiency in everything from art and literature to ship-building, to practical life skills. When the mother or father of today can’t figure out how to make their son read a book or their daughter do her math, they wonder at how adolescent children of antiquity could have been stimulated to learn at an adult level.
Most ancient families demonstrated that the desire to learn and apply a skill was stimulated and nurtured by the influence of the parent over the child. On the other hand, even in ancient times, accounts of parents who set out with the express intent of influencing their children illustrated results not unlike modern parents pushing reading and math. Parents may try begging, threatening, cajoling, rewarding, baiting... but none of these will prove effective, for none constitutes true influence. Because real influence is a by-product of other conditions, it is wise to focus on the other conditions and let the influence fend for itself.
Those individuals who we most admire, want to emulate, want to serve, are the individuals who have invested something in us. They give us a sense of self-worth because they genuinely value us. Authentic, unconditional love, like that of Jesus Christ, pours itself out for the beloved; and influence is a natural consequence.
Ancient mothers and fathers may not have loved their children more than do modern parents, but they certainly spent more time each day doing so. Children feel valued relative to the amount of time their parents spend with them. Not only was there abundant time spent together, but by the acceptance of their state in life, ancient parents demonstrated that their family was of greater value than their careers, income, or reputation.
It isn’t possible for all modern families to work together for their livelihood, nor is it feasible to have the kind of time together that was once possible, but home schoolers certainly have a leg up. Although most fathers are away at work all day, home schooling mothers are present and directly involved in the lives of their children. If both parents, no matter what their situation, value their children above every other earthly gift and demonstrate this by the decisions they make, their children will be vitally affected in positive ways.
The heart of the issue of influence lies in what it is capable of effecting, especially without directly trying to do so. There are numerous skills that students can learn by use of texts and other academic resources. Chemistry, Math, Latin, Writing... there are many valuable skills available to every student, but there are other skills that are not so readily available. These are caught more than taught: The simple desire to learn, the ability to study, facility of expression in word and action, a love for music, the capacity to think rightly and to synthesize ideas, and the courage to solve problems… all these are taught in ways we can’t easily isolate. These valuable attributes cannot be passed on by means of a textbook or even a well-designed lesson plan; rather they require influence. Parents who are continually influencing their children by means of the time spent with them and the love made evident in their choices, are preparing their children for life in ways that they, like the parents of antiquity, hardly notice. While the rest of the world is running around trying to learn how to exert influence, home schooling parents (at least the ones with the courage to not be over-involved outside the home) are exerting the most important influence they can. Their children are gaining skills that books will never teach and being prepared to influence the world around them. Now there’s an interesting thing: the world will be influenced by children and adults who could care less about being an influence, and don’t seem to invest anything in those they are influencing...
or do they?
The mother with five young children it tow may stimulate everything from sympathetic looks to downright aggression as she proceeds through the supermarket, but she
is having an influence on people around her. The modest, polite adolescent makes heads turn. The graduate who gives an honest day’s work for a day’s wage has a significant impact. Perhaps without noticing it themselves, these individuals are investing in society by making the effort to do right, to serve mankind, and to honour God. They have a greater influence than they know, because they are demonstrating effort that too few others are prepared to give. Again, influence is a by-product of something greater.
Our culture is in desperate need of influence, but it seems the self-help books aren’t the solution. Whereas influence used as an end in itself or even as a means to an end is at best manipulative, the influence that comes indirectly as a result of serving God and neighbour is lasting and effective. What’s more, it inspires others to shun the mediocrity of selfishness and enter into the highly influential realm of self-sacrificial love. This is what has sustained our culture for 2,000 years, and this is home schooling’s greatest attribute.
Though content is valuable, and academic rigour has merit, the eminently more valuable investment that home schooling parents are making in their children will be influencing our culture long after we are gone.