by Michelle Howard

I didn’t usually inhabit that part of town: the charming, historic shopping district. It was way out of my price range back then (and still is now, come to think of it!). 

I was already feeling inadequate, visibly so, when I parked along the boutique-strewn street in a car so ugly it had a nickname too indelicate for mention here, especially if you’re reading this over a meal (wink, wink). 

My clothes were worn and dated, so I couldn’t fool anyone about my net worth, even when out of sight of my aforementioned Ugh Mobile

I don’t measure up. I don’t measure up. Those feelings were trying to own me as I walked past the other folks on the street who appeared so much more accomplished. 

Nonetheless, my boys (now adults) needed much better winter coats to fend off the serious Michigan cold. So, when the Super Swanky Children’s Clothing store slashed prices on their really good coats once spring rolled around, I braved the feelings of disqualification to enter the boutique. 

A clerk approached me, warily, and with obvious deprecation. But, my adored children had a need, so I screwed up my courage to seek the targeted coat brand. That’s when I had a memorable moment, one I believe can help our chat here … 

“Ma’am,” I started, “would you please point me to the coat rack?” 

“Ahem,” she cleared her throat with authority. I’d clearly said something woefully gauche. She prickled like an insulted porcupine. “It’s not a coat. It’s a system,” she harrumphed. 

Alrighty, then! “A system ….” Pre-planned, perfectly sized components. That word system was supposed to awe me, apparently. 

I’ve remembered that moment many times, because I’ve seen the same system implication in my life at other times too. The feelings of inadequacy well up, so I crave the promise of a system to make up for myself. 

Because we women care unspeakably much about our children/teens, and therefore their educations too, we tend to feel that every last detail of their entire future rests fully and only on our flimsy and weary shoulders. At these times, it can be easy to imagine that a system would promise the assurance we crave. It might be the all we feel we cannot be. 

However, as you were reading my coat-shopping story—er, system-shopping story—you probably wanted to encourage me, to say that my low times did not disqualify me from meeting the needs of my children. In fact, you probably felt that my profound love for my boys was, instead, the highest qualification and motivation to seek exactly what they required, knowing their needs so very well. 

Thank you for (retroactive) encouragement. May I now offer the same? Your love for your children/teens is the strongest qualification possible too, for who else would forego system promised-mama-assurance … to instead seek the approach, resources, pacing, and focus 

our kids truly need individually? It is our very maternal love that sets aside our own imagined security to instead seek the real security of finding the Lord’s vision for education generally and for our children particularly. What impersonal human-driven system offers either? 

So, let’s get our assurance not from the promises of systems, but instead from knowing we are carrying out HIS extremely personal vision for teaching our children/teens. How did He teach? What does He say is the chief target of learning? Did He use a system? That vision will foster our courage to use whatever plans and tools He directs, even if less familiar than the system-approach we had in school. 

Think about it: Our childhood familiarity with an educational system may seem comfortable, but wouldn’t we experience deeper comfort when relishing His higher and more personal goals/tools for our home education? Goals which are nothing less than excellent, wisdom-drenched, life-changing, mission-forging purpose in each of our learners? This is so much greater than parading before their impressionable eyes the over-glamorized humans of history. It is so much greater than lacquering onto their gray matter the sterile factoids of science or math or grammar, devoid of deepest Biblical context and personal purpose, as I had in school. Don’t be afraid, then, to be eclectic as your children unfurl and your teens gain deeper awareness of their life missions. 

I certainly don’t know what is best for each family, but I do know His idea of education. I do know the diverse tools He has engendered, precisely because children/teens and their callings are so personal, are the real sources of real accomplishment, and thus of real comfort. His ways and His means are best for everyone always, which is the most assuring educational plan and shopping list ever! 

About Michelle
Michelle Howard is a veteran home educator, author, columnist, speaker, consultant, and librarian who operates “living books” libraries in Michigan and Florida, the first-known of its type. She wrote the award-winning, literature-based curriculum TruthQuest History (, to probe history for spiritual truth. Michelle offers a living-books database and consultations on home education and library development ( She also helps a foundation develop living libraries. Michelle graduated summa cum laude from the University of Alabama, has long served in local churches and educational groups, and now has seven cute grandsons! 

Copyright 2021, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms. Read The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine free at, or download the free reader apps at for mobile devices. Read the STORY of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine and how it came to be.