Surround Them With Mentors

by Edie Wadsworth on July 1, 2009

Learning to knit from a great mentor, my mother-in-law
This is the first part of a four part series on Creating an Environment of Learning for your children.  Read the introduction here.  
 I read a book recently,   A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver Van DeMille, which I will refer to as TJED,  that inspired and challenged me to rethink the way I’ve approached home education and learning in general.  In the book, DeMille describes three types of education:  conveyor belt education which teaches the students what to think (most of our schools are this type–where all students learn the same thing at the same time),  professional education which teaches students when to think (this is particular training for a particular field like law, medicine, engineering, etc), and then leadership education which teaches students how to think (this type is what most of the educated people of the past received including our forefathers).   
He purports that societies function best when all three types of education are present,   the problem is that conveyor belt education has taken over.   It is rare in America to find students who are being trained to be leaders.   And just because your children are being educated at home or at expensive private schools doesn’t mean they’re being trained as leaders either;   likely, they are not.  Most home schools and private schools, without even realizing it, have adopted the conveyor belt model.   
So, how do we train our children to be leaders in our society?   He makes two basic recommendations, the classics (be it classic literature, art, music)  and mentors.  And he uses the example of highly educated men like Thomas Jefferson to drive his point home.   Jefferson worked extremely hard to obtain a superb education with a depth and breadth of knowledge that has rarely been duplicated.    To quote a beautiful artistic tribute to him by Maria Kalman (thank you Patty for the link), “he was a scientist, philosopher, statesman, architect, musician, naturalist, zoologist, botanist,  farmer, bibliophile, inventor, wine connoisseur, mathmatician, governor of Virginia, US minister to France, vice president, and president of the United States of America”.   He learned to speak Latin, Greek, Spanish, Italian, French and knew more than ten Native American dialects, and was an accomplished attorney and businessman.   And he was educated like so many scholars and leaders who have gone before us:   by reading and studying the great classic works and by discussing ideas with his mentor, George Wythe.   
Parents are childrens’ first and most natural mentors.  And DeMille encourages parents to adopt a style of mentoring your children, rather than demanding certain tasks from them.   The word mentor dates back to Homer when he wrote of the adventures of Odysseus.   When Odysseus left for the Trojan War, he left Mentor in charge of his son Telemachus. 
 In modern times, this word has come to mean counselor, trusted friend, one who leads by example.   It would sound more like,  ”Let’s read”, instead of   “Go read”.    Or  ”Let’s play”  versus  ”Go play”.     We all can think of people in our lives or in our childrens’ lives who are great mentors.  I think of Grandma Evadne, Steve’s mom, who seems to always teach the little ones by involving them in whatever she’s doing, whether it’s knitting or cooking or singing a song or telling a story.  I look forward to her visits because I know I’ll learn something new and my girls will enjoy the gentle guiding and teaching of their grandmother.   We must learn to take advantage of the skills and passions of those who are more knowledgeable and experienced than we.  They are often most enthusiastic to teach us and pass their knowledge on to the next generation.
Even as our children get older, mentoring them doesn’t require advanced degrees, it need only require that we’re one book ahead of them in our own studies.   We read with them, to them, or maybe along side them, and then discuss the great stories and heroes.   Sure, they will have coaches, music teachers, and many other adults who will mentor them, but we shouldn’t neglect the opportunity to enjoy the challenge and fruits of mentoring them ourselves.
There have been many women and men over the years who have been mentors to me.  They seem harder to come by now and I find that my mentors now are often the authors I read.   Hands down, the writings of C.S. Lewis have impacted me more than any other single author. There isn’t a day that goes by that his words don’t have an impact on my thinking and decisions. Thomas Jefferson is quickly becoming my new ‘crush’.   I love this quote by William Channing,
“It is chiefly through books that we enjoy intercourse with superior minds…..In the best books, great men talk to us, give us their most precious thoughts, and pour their souls into ours.”
So, we all need mentors.  And though you’re busy mentoring your children, don’t neglect your own need to be mentored and discipled.   Steve and I  tend to read the same books and then discuss the ideas together.   We’re currently reading Plato (he’s a book ahead of me) and he’s soon to start the TJED book that I just read.   In a way, we mentor each other.   We also listen to many hours of talk radio and then discuss those ideas together too.    Then, someday, when our girls’ read Plato or ponder the passive obedience of Christ,  we’ll be able to mentor and encourage them from our own experience with the subject matter.   I leave you with this quote from Jacques Barzun, quoted in TJED,
“Think of human parents teaching their child how to walk.  There is, on the child’s side, the strong desire and latent powers:  he has legs and means to use them.  He walks and smiles;  he totters and looks alarmed;  he falls and cries.   The parents smile throughout, showering advice, warning, encouragement and praise.  The whole story, not only of teaching, but of man and civilization, is wrapped up in this first academic performance.”

My friend and mentor, Denise, just added a post to my Painted Patio Furniture party, so you should check out her chairs!   Many thanks to Denise for introducing me to homeschooling and to blogging, my two new favorite pastimes.  
Now, I’m off to do some mentoring.  First on the agenda:  homeade waffles.  Second,  chapter four of The Hobbit.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 TRICIA @boutellefamilyzoo July 1, 2009 at 1:26 pm

Hi Edie. I am excited to read your whole series. This one in particular has touched me because I have a child who doesn't necessarily learn inside the box. She picks things up a bit differently than some children, and when she wasn't fitting her old school's mold I decided something had to change. I only homeschooled her for one year, but the changes have been dramatic. She started back at a new school, and it's been great. I had to learn to see things differently. I had to change my attitude towards how she should be taught, and how she really learns. I absolutely believe that surrounding ourselves and our children with people who support and help us to grow and learn is important! So important. Thank you for sharing. I will continue to read.
*Tricia

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2 Spencer Family 6 July 1, 2009 at 3:17 pm

Wow!!!! Thanks! I teach piano, and have yet to teach my own 4 children! The oldest is showing major interest and maybe the time has come to "mentor" him in that!

Thanks for sharing your wise insights!

Elaine:)

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3 MICAH July 1, 2009 at 3:40 pm

Edie,
Once again you have no idea what this is meaning to me! Words cannot convey…I began reading your blog a few months ago with the 10 minute room you love…and stumbled upon your post about why you homeschool. I read that post with tears streaming down my face. It was as if someone had unlocked the deep recesses of my heart and uncovered them through the words on the page. I was undone, raw, and saying "what next Lord?" "What am I supposed to do with this?" Then the post on Leadership education gave a definition to the vision I have always carried for my kids but i still did not know how to implement…Now this post and I just sit in awe of the faithfulness of my saviour to meet me where I am! You are truly a instrument for Him. Thank you! You are mentoring me. I just want to sit at your feet and say "then what did you do?" Keep posting we need you:)

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4 MICAH July 1, 2009 at 3:41 pm

Edie,
Once again you have no idea what this is meaning to me! Words cannot convey…I began reading your blog a few months ago with the 10 minute room you love…and stumbled upon your post about why you homeschool. I read that post with tears streaming down my face. It was as if someone had unlocked the deep recesses of my heart and uncovered them through the words on the page. I was undone, raw, and saying "what next Lord?" "What am I supposed to do with this?" Then the post on Leadership education gave a definition to the vision I have always carried for my kids but i still did not know how to implement…Now this post and I just sit in awe of the faithfulness of my saviour to meet me where I am! You are truly a instrument for Him. Thank you! You are mentoring me. I just want to sit at your feet and say "then what did you do?" Keep posting we need you:)

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5 Melissa Stover July 1, 2009 at 3:55 pm

i need to be reminded of these things often. i find myself falling into the "go play" mommy role while i do something like sew or cook.

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6 Kasey Hunt July 1, 2009 at 4:14 pm

Thanks Edie! Great post! I love this series your starting. I think you're right! Adults too still need a mentor. I love learning. My mother in law taught me how to crochet and how to can, she is excellent with my kids. She'll play games with them longer than I have the patience for. I love surrounding myself with positive people who are ambitious, and like to learn new things too!

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7 Jessica July 1, 2009 at 6:28 pm

Edie, I love those quotes and I'm thrilled that you love TJED so much. Wasn't sure if I should suggest it to you or not because you're already brilliant and I didn't want you to think I was saying my new found method was 'better' or something. Whoo hoo, glad you've become a fan and that you inspire so many!! I am mentoring a house full of boys right now. I'll let you know how our party goes. My favorite mentor when I was younger was my father who I worked in the yard with, took care of our animals, and then worked as one of his secretaries in SLC for 6+ years. Now, my mentors are my friends, you, my sister in laws, sister and even friends moms. There's so many great people we can learn from.

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8 Laura W. Smith July 1, 2009 at 8:45 pm

Edie,
Just wanted to say a heartfelt thanks for your most recent posts, and for your blog in general. I am planning to homeschool my three little ones and constantly think, how did people homeschool before the internet??!! Your blog is a tremendous resource and encouragement to me. Thanks – you're awesome!

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9 Denise July 2, 2009 at 1:10 am

As always, thought-provoking, challenging, and a bit convicting. You make me miss my homeschooling days and the hours spent teaching and mentoring my children. As I have often said, they were the best years of my life!

I, too, love discovering new mentors along the journey and can thank you for inspiring me to read C.S. Lewis. No one else has ever been able to do that! :) I suppose TJED will be on my next book order!

You have become a mentor to many through blogging and I'm glad to be able to visit you often and glean from your travels into thoughts too deep for my small brain to think on its own!

Love ya!

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10 Marie July 2, 2009 at 4:01 am

Hello Edie – thank you for this encouragement. I am making plans to get together with a dear, more "seasoned" friend to have her do a baking lesson with my daughter and me!

Blessings,
Marie
http://emmacallsmemama.com

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11 Ashley @ Domestic Fashionista July 2, 2009 at 6:22 am

Great post! After I graduated high school I learned the value of having a consistent mentor in my life. I am the woman I am today because of their wisdom and accountability. So many of my girlfriends my age have not experienced this valued relationship but I think it is because they have not had the opportunity. working in youth ministry right out of highschool i was put in a place of being a mentor and quickly learned the blessing it was to have someone older and wiser pouring into me. i love how you point out providing this for your children. How will they know the value until they are shown it? great insights!

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12 TRICIA @boutellefamilyzoo July 2, 2009 at 6:43 pm

Hi Edie.
I have an award for you over at my blog.
*Tricia

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13 The Hill Hang-Out July 3, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Hi, Edie! Great post! I look forward to the rest of the series. I really need to step up my endeavors to involve other people in mentoring my girls. I am probably out of balance, trying to do too much of it myself. Thanks for the reminder to use the expertise and gifts other people are so willing to share. I can't wait to pick up a copy of TJED!

Off the subject, I'd love to know how you fill the social needs of your girls. I don't know if our girls are alike at all in this area, but my seven-year-old craves more interaction with other girls. I am purposeful about involving her socially, even writing it into my lesson plans, but we struggled with that last year. She is involved in ballet, church activities, soccer, cheerleading and we have friends over at least once each week. However, she still craves more social interaction than she is getting. Any ideas?

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14 Hi! I'm Kirsten... July 4, 2009 at 12:17 am

Edie you have so much wisdom. You're like a prophetess. I agree 100% and wish I'd had more mentor education when I was growing up. Though, late in my teen years I did have a few mentors that sort of made up for the complete lack of parenting I experienced as a child. And that, was truly a good time in my life! I'm indebted to those mentors forever!

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15 Runner Mom July 4, 2009 at 12:56 am

Wow! This was a great post! I loved the part about mentors…we all need them no matter our age! Great thoughts.

Hope y'all have a great 4th of July!

Hugs,
susan

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