15 Mar 2012

Homeschooling at Billabong

To put... (Norah into boarding school)... had been a proceeding much like caging a bush bird, for, until she was fourteen, Norah had known only home and its teachings. And home was Billabong Station, where, apart from lessons that had been a little patchy, she had lived her father's life - a life of open-air, of horses and cattle, and all the station interests. Jim had been sent to the Grammar school in Melbourne comparatively early, and Norah's city relatives, particularly a number of assorted aunts, were wont to deplore that the little girl had not had the same opportunities of polish. But the bond between David Linton and his motherless child had been too strong to break, and the silent man had snatched at every pretext for delaying the pang of parting.

After all, as he told himself, half in excuse, Norah was no discredit to home teaching. In books she might be below average; but of the unvoiced learning that lies beyond the world of books she had, perhaps, rather more than falls to the ordinary schoolgirl. A big station is a world in itself, and the Bush teaching makes for self-control and self-reliance, and a simple, straight outlook on the world that is not a bad foundation of character. Lessons in deportment and manners are not part of its curriculum; but there are a good many ideas in thought and practice that it cultivates half unconsciously. Norah had an almost superstitious regard for doing what Jim termed "the decent thing."
I've spoken before about Mary Grant Bruce's opinions on education, but as Jemimah and I read through the third of the series, Norah of Billabong, I am reminded again of how she makes her opinions clearly apparent in each of her books.

At eleven Norah may only read 'fairly well' and write 'laboriously', but what does that matter -Norah has all the skills she will ever need. She can ride, swim, shoot, muster cattle and kill snakes. She is skilled at the gentle arts - baking and housekeeping - and keeps her father in knitted socks. She has a natural gift for music, and in Norah of Billabong we are told that she danced almost before she walked. She is taken by her family to Melbourne where they attend a pantomime, eat out at fine restaurants and stay at a nice hotel. She knows how to behave in "Society" and at a bush dance, in polite city company and amongst the farm hands whom she regards as friends. She may ride astride rather than side-saddle, but she dresses in white muslin for dinner and consistently displays modesty, good morals and virtues.

Norah is, in short, the perfect young lady.

Or is she? Is this an ideal education, or an idealistic one? Would you be happy for your daughter to grow up like Norah, or do you have higher academic aspirations for your girls? Despite being non-academic, Jim manages to walk away from his years at Melbourne Grammar with the French Prize; Norah manages to win the Music one. Would we be happy with that outcome?

I certainly want more than that for my daughter.

Reluctantly, David Linton - and, I'm guessing, even Mary Grant Bruce herself - acknowedges that a little bit of acadaemia is good for everyone, even Norah, and at 14 she eventually heads down to Melbourne to school, where she achieves acceptable, although not impressive results. Certainly Mary Grant Bruce again, in this, the third of the Billabong novels, points out that book-learning is okay for thems that want it, but that excessive school education is unnecessary for thems that don't.

What do you think? Was David Linton right or wrong in keeping his daughter home merely because he couldn't bear to be parted from her? Do you think Norah benefited or lacked from her somewhat unusual home education? What makes the difference between the education of your children and Norah's? Which, in your opinion is better?


  1. Love, love, love these books but they are idealised. I am happy to have an ideal world somewhere. ☺

    As for your questions: horses for courses. Some kids just shouldn't be in school after about 8th grade. They should be apprenticed & learning a trade. The fact is not every child is cut from the cloth that makes for a good student ~ but that doesn't mean they won't be brilliant at something else.

    I'm academically inclined; my children were not. Are they failures in life? I don't think so. None of my boys got to the end of grade 12. One is in the army doing the sort of computer programming only the top 5% of computer nerds can do; one [highly dyslexic] is in a managerial position at an elite tourist resort finishing a cert 4 in hospitality; one's at bible college ~ who knows what God will do with that? Lid's on the mission filed & Star will do nothing but suceed musically. It's the way she's wired.

    One has to face facts. One cannot make a silk purse from a sow's ear. That is as true for education as for anything else.

    The one fault in Bruce's thinking is that one should be able to try everything at least once & choose from the full menu rather than being limited by circumstances ~ or fatherly love.lol

  2. Ooh you do ask hard questions, and I think Ganeida has answered nicely for me:)

    Relationships are so very important, a large factor in our decision to hs, character is vital too, however for my own children I do also place a high value on academics, essentially I want them to be equipped in all areas to be ready to do whatever Our Lord calls them to do, so yes that includes them achieving their potential academically.

  3. Well, Norah certainly led a life which would have been pretty much my dream existance (some of which I was blessed to enjoy). For my own children also I would have loved a more practical and unfetted early childhood in the great outdoors. In reality though, I am glad they have the opportunity of a little more academics.
    Norah grew up in an age and social class where great academic knowledge was not really expected for girls. It seems she conducted herself well in society and the things that mattered.
    I hoped lots of things for my children, but for my girls I prayed first and foremost that they would love and serve the Lord, whether in the home or outside. I was never "aiming" at great heights. If they had shown a want for that perhaps we would have done things differently.

  4. I don't have a daughter, but I am thankful that my parents believe in an education and encouraged me to follow my dreams - however, this of course has lead me into the workforce where many Christian mothers don't want to see their daughters. I do worry about girls who are denied higher education or when their parents decided that their daughters will be SAHMs without much consideration to what the daughter may really want to do.

    I really must read those books again - I read them many times as a teenager and "dreamed" of owning my own station. My mum gave me her original set, so I have them all - just need the time to read all 15 (?)

  5. I am with Ganeida on this, it depends on the child and their gifting and wiring:) Rebekah's education thus far has been quite different to Norah's; I wouldn't say one is better than the other though:)

  6. Yes, they are idealistic books, yet David Linton knew his daughter, he knew her heart from culturing a close relationship, and knowing that knew that her heart needed home and home life and steady safety for as long as possible. I think he also did right in making the wrench and giving her a formal education - when the right time came for them.

    And isn't that really the key? It is the same for us with home educating - we as parents sense the nuances of need as they arrive and address them. Either small or large steps, we face them when our hearts and minds tells us its right to take the next step, make the change or whatever need it is.

    I don't think its something we can map out rigidly like the school system tries to do, with such detrimental results.

  7. I am not familiar with these books, but how interesting! I'll have to mull over this a bit...your thoughts and the previous comments! I went to a private school (after homeschooling the early grades) and the curriculum was horrible, IMO. I have a wonderful family and upbringing, however my parents were very busy always. I haven't ever really taken the time to think through what things would have been like had I stayed home throughout my education. My sister and I did have one thing that worked HIGHLY in our favor and that was that we didn't have a tv when younger and STALKED our little library. Both my sister and I are avid readers now. Hmm...thinking on all this!

  8. I know that we are weird, but our family homeschools not to "shelter" our kids, nor because we are afraid of what they will learn/do/ be exposed to, not even primarily for family closeness (I have seen a lot of close families that attend public and private school), but we homeschool simply because we know we can and are providing our kids with a superior education. So this idea of sacrificing education for other (admittedly good) things, is new to me.
    However, I'm willing to admit that what is best for me and my kids is, quite possibly, not what is best for you and yours. That's why I am a proponent of choice. Parents should be allowed and encouraged to choose the best path for their kids... individually and as a whole. Sometimes book skills are not what a kid most needs. I'll try to make myself be ok with that. lol

  9. What an interesting discussion and book series. I haven't read the books, but will HAVE to now!!

    From the way you've described the story, even if Norah's education seems both rich and limiting, it seems to be true to the characters and their convictions about life.

    I sometimes ponder different educational paths I could have been offered as a child, or chosen as an older student, and how the outcomes and my life would have differed in various scenarios. I wish that I had been guided more my love of stories, words, art and ideas, and taken a more humanities/ arts based path than the science/ maths route, which at the time fitted the persona I was striving to be.

    I hope that my children will know their own minds and hearts, and have the confidence that comes with faith (which I didn't have, I had so many unanswered questions). There are SO many options in home schooling and school organisations, and I'm sometimes overwhelmed by the diversity, responsibility and implications of each choice. I am trying to give my children a firm foundation, strong in faith, literacy and numeracy. Together we weave in threads of inquisitiveness, knowledge, arts and experiences to create a unique tapestry for each child of the person they are and will become.

    Without having read the books yet, I will take a hopeful guess that Norah became just the right person, the one she was supposed to be. Do you think that's the case?

  10. Hi Jeanne,

    I'm with Ganeida - horses for courses. I am a strong advocate of choice - thoughtful, careful choice that takes into consideration our individual children as well as broader concerns.

    The question of a girls education is a strong one within the homeschooling community. For myself, I would like for my daughters to have a heart for home and family, and at least a smattering of home making skills, but to have the time to devote to other interests and learning as well, and if that includes higher academic education for them, then I am all for it and will help them achieve that.

    In the context of this story, Norah was happy with her upbringing and did not desire academia. Is she happy only because she did not have the opportunity, or is she happy because that is the life she would have chosen for herself anyway?

  11. I suppose it depends on whether or not you think 'schooling' is the yardstick for what constitutes a good education. Just because Norah did average at school doesn't (in my opinion) mean that she wasn't or couldn't be academic. There are lots of 'smart', educated,young people out there who wouldn't have a clue about how to run a household and seriously lack social skills (what are they again?). Maybe it depends on what your intelligence is?

  12. I've just finished reading all the books - I've done it in a few stints but this year I read the last eight or nine of them one after the other! I loved them and I've come to the conclusion that Norah is my favourite girl character out of all the girly books I've read - Anne Shirley, Jo and Beth March, Pollyanna, etc. - for the same reasons you've pointed out.

    I am too much of a bookworm to like what Mr Linton said exactly but there is a lot of merit in his approach to education.

    Thanks for the post! I was very excited to find a blog post on these hidden treasures.


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