I went to school for the first five years of my academic life. During that time, if memory serves (and it decreasingly serves), I received many stickers on my papers. Somehow—and no one really knows why—stickers have become part of the primary academic life in America; they somehow signify achievement. However, when I began to be homeschooled, I experienced a notable absence of stickers.
Starting in the sixth grade, when I began homeschooling, my Mom graded my work, and I don’t remember ever getting anything other than a number grade. In fact, I don’t remember even getting many of those. Usually, I received a checkmark or an “X” by the individual answers on my papers and tests.
If I did something wrong, my Mom would explain to me why it was wrong and then I would go back and fix it. She encouraged me, and she would let me know when I had done a good job, but I didn’t have a “sticker on your work” kind of Mom.
It would be neat if every time you took your children out for ice cream, or helped your daughter prepare for Confession, or bought a dozen roses for your wife, you got a sticker. More than that, I kind of miss having my work graded. Getting your work graded is one of the things that you start to miss in adult life.
Grades are a confirmation that you are doing something right. When you’re an adult, you have to rely on other forms of confirmation: things like compliments, salary raises, and book royalties. And these things can be few and all-too-far in between. But sometimes you get a grade when you least expect it, like what happened to me the other day.
When I was growing up, My Dad never graded any of my work. Like most Dads, he was out trying to make a living to support his family. Presumably, rather than to trying to close difficult sales on the road, he would rather have had the time to teach me and then grade my work. Not that my Dad didn’t teach me anything—he did. But most of the things that I learned from my Dad didn’t involve formal classes or grades.
He taught me things like: “It’s better to be lucky than skilled,” or “Don’t wear brown shoes with a blue suit,” or “Be careful not to accidentally insult someone.”
Then, the other day, a funny thing happened. My Dad graded my work.
I completed a manuscript for my next book and several chapters of it dealt heavily with history. So I turned in two chapters of it to my Dad to proofread and edit. And a funny thing happened—he graded it. On several of the pages, he made short comments, and there were a few checkmarks, as if to acknowledge that these were good. One by one, I turned the pages to see my Dad’s confirmation that I had done a good job.
As I perused this corrected copy, I began to think back on the grades that I had received in my life, and how happy I was that someone I respected thought that I had done well. At the end of the chapters, my Dad drew a star in red pen.
Knowing what I know about my Dad, and knowing what I know about academics, I’m pretty sure that this amounts to an “A.”
You’d think that one day, we outgrow the need for parental approval, but I doubt that I ever will. In fact, I doubt I’ll ever want to. At the age of 43, I got my first “A” from my Dad. It was a reminder that family relationships are strengthened in the learning process of homeschooling, even for big kids like me.
Sure, I would’ve appreciated a sticker, but I guess that the red star will have to do.