Control Through Freedom

by Carol Jensen

Green bulbs are thriving underneath the mass of dead flower stalks and matted leaves just outside my front door. But I didn’t even know they had emerged until I started clearing away all the debris. My spirit swelled with a sense of renewal and rejoicing to see some chlorophyll in all that gray tangle of confusion.

Taking time during the spring season to re-evaluate our homeschools can be as invigorating as tidying a garden. We can take stock of what we did right and set goals for next year regarding weaker areas.

One of my goals every year is to help my children develop better self-control. I tire of being a drill sergeant and don’t believe its right to police their actions continuously. I yearn for them to build their own walls of restraint so I don’t have to.

That’s why this quote brought me to attention: “I have a message for parents about the education of your children…We develop control by teaching freedom…When one understands the gospel, it becomes very clear that the best control is self-control. It may seem unusual at first to foster self-control by centering on freedom of choice, but it is a very sound doctrinal approach.” (Boyd K. Packer, Conference Report, April 1983, p. 89-92)

Alma understood that. He understood that a man could be punished (or rewarded) for his actions, but that he must be left free to choose. When he encountered Korihor, he wrote, “Now there was no law against a man’s belief; for it was strictly contrary to the commands of God that there should be a law which should bring men on to unequal grounds. (Alma 30:7, emphasis added) Dictating someone else’s actions for them subjects them to a master and binds them from growth. It’s as if a web of decaying stems and branches holds them captive and shades them from the light.

Like my tulips, children are beautiful behind a retaining wall where they are protected from invasive weeds, but they would be stifled if I left the tightly woven nets of overgrowth covering them. When I cultivate them each year, I release them to thrive.

But balancing requirements with choices is tricky. How do we guide without forcing? The key is accountability. A child should know that whatever decision he makes, there will be a clearly defined outcome. He will develop self-control as he seeks the reward and avoids the punishment. A few ideas below show how this can be accomplished:

  • Where possible, have a “curriculum council” to get the students’ input on which books to use for the school year. Children are more likely to choose to complete the work if they had a voice in its selection.
  • Consider letting the children decide how they will learn. For example, can they set their own study methods, hours and places, due dates, and means of presenting what they have learned? Reinforce their choices. If they meet their plan, reward them with something you have agreed on together – a field trip, a toy, a vacation, a tool. But be sure to also tell them in advance what consequence will occur if they fail to complete the work as outlined. I knew a family that asked their children to pay out of their allowance for any uncompleted texts at the end of the school year. The students always finished before the year was up.
  • Invite students to write their own contract for the school year, specifying how much they will study, what privileges they will earn, what responsibilities they will hold, and what restraints they will encounter for non-compliance.
  • Consider curriculum choices that induce the students to ask questions, seek out answers and apply understanding rather than repeat rote facts.