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The Washington Times
August 25, 1998

Fresh challenges help curb teen arrogance

By Michael Farris
The Washington Times
August 25, 1998

At times it’s dangerous to believe your own press. Home schooled teens have heard their parents tell the story of their home school success countless times. Such stories are usually told for the laudable purpose of defending one’s right to choose home education. Nonetheless, listening to such stories, plus a genuine record of success, breeds a tendency toward pride.

It’s rare to find a fully developed attitude of arrogance. But a tendency toward being a little more sold on oneself than is appropriate is fairly common—especially among 15-to-18-year-old home schoolers who have been taught at home for a decade or more.

I have three suggestions for curbing such attitudes. Eliminating inappropriate pride without curbing healthy self-confidence requires a delicate balance, but it is a balance worth seeking.

First, we should encourage our teens toward community service. The best overall antidote to pride is to learn to place a high value on the lives and interests of other people. And there is nothing like selfless community service projects to learn about the needs, desires, and value of other people.

A group of home schooled teens could work with a church in a low-income neighborhood to set up a reading clinic for children of elementary school age. There is no need to use words to brag about your own reading skills when you prove your excellence by the act of teaching someone else to read.

Visiting nursing homes to sing, play instruments, read the newspaper to a person losing his sight, or just to listen to a lonely grandmother tell the stories of her youth helps a teen gain a perspective on the wisdom and the value of those who have gone before.

Physical labor for efforts such as Habitat for Humanity or other reclamation projects are a great way for a book-smart teen-ager to see that he or she still has things to learn.

Perhaps the best service project of all is to learn to help one’s own family with humble chores and sacrificial care of younger siblings. Most teens, when they are around their friends, pretend that they have neither parents or siblings. Service to one’s family requires a special brand of humility that is well worth cultivating.

Second, I would encourage home schooled teens to read biographies of true heros and heroines. Reading of the success of John Quincy Adams—as a 14-year-old he was in the diplomatic service of this nation as the private secretary to the first American minister to Russia—tends to place that high Scholastic Assesment Test score in a different light. Biographies of great men and women serve two purposes. First, they show our teens that there is still room for improvement. Second, such life stories inspire our older children to strive for the kind of excellence that is ratified by history.

The third way to turn arrogance into a more healthy attitude is to give teens a challenge that is greater than their current abilities. If high school work is easy, give them college-level assignments. If they write essays with aplomb, encourage them to write a book. If they have a special knack in a certain area, expose them to someone who is a national expert in that field. Let them see both the possibility of true world-class excellence and their own need to improve their skills if they are going to reach such a level of success themselves.

There is great merit in true success. But a successful individual with a healthy attitude knows that others excel in different areas and that pride is not justified. Real winners also know that they can and should improve.

Don’t let your teens think that they have arrived. Give them access to the projects, books, and people that will help them see that they’ve just really begun.

Michael Farris is the father of 10 home-schooled children and chairman of the
Home School Legal Defense Association

Copyright 2000 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times. Visit our web site at