One morning, as the four children and I prepared to start the school day, I consulted the saints' dictionary, as I habitually do, to see whose feast it might be. That day there were two feasts: those of St. Damasus and St. Daniel the Stylite, the latter of whom particularly captured everyone's imagination. Saint Daniel's long tenure on his pillar by the Bosphorus is described in my saints' dictionary as "mainly uneventful," an assertion followed by a remarkable catalogue of events, including miraculous healings of the sick, the forecasting of a devastating fire, and a visit from a demon-possessed prostitute. After his death, when the monks, having brought him down at last, tried to straighten his body out of its long-accustomed fetal position, "his bones cracked so loudly that an accident was feared."
Eeeeeewwww, said everyone with an appreciative shudder, the four- and three-year-olds leaning raptly against my shoulders. The twelve-year-old and the nine-year-old spent some minutes in serious discussion about potential hermitages in the backyard--the top of the swing set versus the fort--until, with the useful observation of monastic writers that some lives are "worthy of admiration, not imitation," I recalled us all to work.
The night before, we had gone to dinner with old friends, and in the course of the evening the conversation turned to our homeschooling. Our hosts didn't want to argue with the decision my husband and I had made to homeschool; in truth, people do that a lot less often than we had steeled ourselves to expect early on. I suppose they didn't ask how we expected our children to be "socialized" because there the children were, in front of everyone, doing their best impersonations of socialized people. The nine-year-old talked to the grownups about Star Wars, the four-year-old helped to carry dishes to the table, the three-year-old played nicely on the floor with our friends' baby granddaughter. The twelve-year-old, away at a ballet rehearsal, proclaimed her socialization by her absence.
In fact, our friends' questions had nothing to do with the welfare of our children, because they could see for themselves that the children were fine. But they were curious, and what they wanted to know was simply this: What do you do all day long?
That's never an easy question to answer. When people think of school, typically they think of a day dominated by a roster of discrete subjects. In English, you do reading, writing, spelling, and...