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I Saw the Angel in the Marble

May 31st, 2004 · No Comments

I like to think I don’t need to read any more books like this one. Sure, I can recite the 543 reasons why someone should (or perhaps shouldn’t) homeschool. For years, before we had children, Ted and I read books, observed friends and discussed how we wanted to educate our family. I feel that homeschooling is individualized to each child and family: no one else has taught the children I have in my home. It’s also “caught” rather than “taught”, flexible to the situation, perpetually changing to the specific circumstances of life. What can I learn from reading another book?

But I’d heard from two separate sources about Elijah Company and after reading a few of their newsletters, I decided to buy their new book that is a compilation of their writings. And once again I was refreshed, reminded and challenged in my parenting: I remembered why I read homeschooling books.

My hunger to read Chris and Ellyn Davis’ book I Saw the Angel in the Marble was justified and satisfied. Since it was written in separate stand-alone pieces, it has a little redundancy. As in many homeschool books, there are chapters discussing the why and how of homeschooling.

Yet even these basic topics, I enjoyed. It’s a homeschooling book but it’s also about heart. What the Davises emphasize from their experiences raising their children is “Identity-Directed Homeschooling”. Just as Michelangelo looked at the marble to discover what sculpture was waiting to be revealed, so we parents have been given the joyful job of helping our children become who they were made to be, with their strengths and weaknesses, directions and gifts. This picture from Michelangelo is one that I had sensed myself in looking at my own children. After I had two, I could see with more clarity and contrast how different each girl is from the other. One likes to sit still and read books. The other is wiggly and giggly. I know already they have different learning styles…and almost certainly, different gifts and destinies. While I believe discipline has a place in education, I also want each girl to be able to pursue what she desires. I don’t want to confine them; I want to free them into whoever they are to become, whatever butterfly will emerge from this cocoon of childhood.

What the Davises wrote about community, family and suffering fit with my own desires and beliefs. After reading this book, I feel encouraged in my role as a homeschooling mom, and I also feel excited to go and discover whatever God has put into my daughters.

Here are a few quotes from the book:

Looking for Some Way Out from the Foreword by John Taylor Gatto

(From the biography on his website:He climaxed his teaching career as New York State Teacher of the Year after being named New York City Teacher of the Year on three occasions. He quit teaching on the OP ED page of the Wall Street Journal in 1991 while still New York State Teacher of the Year, claiming that he was no longer willing to hurt children.)

Put it simply, those students who liked and respected their parents – and it was never difficult to tell which ones they were – invariably did well for themselves at everything, displayed courage and resilience in the face of adversity, inspired others, including myself, and seemed to love the truth – while those who were indifferent to, or actually disliked their parents (always the majority of my classes, but dramatically increased as a proportion among the children of the prosperous), seemed to stagger from one small crisis to another. Even among the self-confident, they were visibly uncomfortable with themselves, always looking for some way out. Out of what, you might ask? Out of everything I would answer; they had no peace within their skins, no faith in anything but “winning”, no hope that dreariness could be avoided except through moments of high sensation: sex, drugs, high grades, violence, action, and, of course, winning – often at any cost.

10 Rules of Choosing Teaching Materials page 74

1. Invest in yourself first – “you are the glue that will hold this homeschooling endeavor together so you need to develop a strategy for staying sane and on top of it all…What will smooth your way mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually?”

9. God gave you your specific children because there is something in you that he wants imparted to them.

Margin page 87

Our culture encourages us to live beyond our means financially, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Many of us are under-rested and overwhelmed, feeling constant stress and time pressure. What we need is margin, a term used by author Richard Swenson to describe the space that should exist between where we are and our limits. Margin is having time, energy, and money to spare. It is having physical, emotional and spiritual reserves. Margin is living within our limits.

Identity Directed Homeschooling page 109

It takes both time and resources to be good at anything. Helping a child find his identity means money must be spent on resources and experiences. It means time must be spent paying attention to the child’s personality, abilities, likes and dislikes. It means emotional energy must be spent working through the inevitable relational problems that arise from trying to get to know children as people, not just as “kids”. It also means giving your children the large blocks of time they need to become good at whatever it is they need to master.


What was Michelangelo doing all those days he walked around the block of marble, looking intently at the stone? What he was doing was waiting until the marble told him what was inside.

What Failure Teaches page 160

Robert Kiyosaki says the most damaging beliefs the public school system teachers are (1) that mistakes are bad and (2) that there is only one right way to do something. These beliefs create a fear of failure, a fear of making mistakes, that thwart true learning. Kiyosaki further says that most true learning comes from making mistakes, from falling down and trying again like you do when you learn to walk or learn to ride a bicycle. So failure always has something to teach us, and often teaches us more than success does.

Community page 162

We would give nearly anything to be part of a community that was profoundly safe, where people never gave up on one another, where wisdom about how to live emerged from conversation, where what is most alive in each of us is touched…where we would feel safe enough to meaningfully explore with who we are with confidence so that the end point would be a joyful meeting with God.

When “Ground Zero” Happens page 169

“ground zero” defined as “when you’ve reached the end of your rope, when you can’t seem to find the inner resources to keep going for another day…”

Well, one point is that your “ground zero” experience may be the turning point in someone else’s life. Another point is that “ground zero” experiences will eventually enter the “This too shall pass” phase and life will move on. The third point is that there will always be someone else whose “ground zero” experiences make yours look like a piece of cake. The fourth point is that, after a “ground zero” experience, life’s everyday hassles don’t seem so hard to bear. And the final point is that these experiences can be “gifts” in disguise, gifts that bring you face to face with Who God really is.

Tags: books