Influential Organizational Development leader Peter Block writes about the questions we ask as we begin a journey or pursue a dream. Forcefully, he teaches, “How is the wrong question.” He continues, “The rush to a How [question and] answer runs the risk of skipping the profound question: Is this worth doing? And it skirts the equally tough corollary question: Is this something I want to do?” Block wants us to recognize that starting with the right question will yield the answers we seek.
Especially if you are a beginning homeschooler, it is essential that you keep your focus on the questions that will help you most. Peter Block reminds us, “The right questions are about values, purpose, aesthetics, human connection, and deeper philosophical inquiry.” Alter your questions and find access to the answers you need plus, greater conviction to creatively do the things worth doing.
How do you do it?
Sometimes asked with honest curiosity, and sometimes with derisive skepticism, “How do you do it?” is typically the first question asked by non-homeschooling parents. They often either believe homeschooling is overwhelming and they themselves aren’t capable, or they offer you criticism on your efforts. When we find ourselves ready for the question, “How will I do it?” Block suggests the alternate question is, “What will I now need to give up?” This question helps us recognize that our first step on the homeschooling journey is to make space in our lives. We don’t need to begin by learning more about how it can be done. We need to begin by acknowledging that this will be a trade-off. The issue with getting started isn’t about knowing how; we need only to be willing to make the sacrifice.
How long will it take?
Asking “how long?” in any family endeavor yields an obvious answer: time isn’t what we are concerned with. The alternative question Block suggests is, “what commitment am I willing to make?” This reminds us that we don’t need to worry about the long vision right now. Instead, we can decide to do what is required this week, this month, this year, to meet the goals we have about educating our children. Block identifies the hesitation present in this question, “How long? …makes its own statement: if it takes too long, the answer is probably no.” He goes on to predict, “every project of consequence or personal calling will require more of us than we originally imagined.” This isn’t meant to discourage us from getting started, only to remind us that we cannot allow a worry about length of time to prevent us from those most worthwhile endeavors.
How much does it cost?
The worry of homeschool costs gives many families pause. They wonder, “How can I ever mimic the resources the school district has at their disposal? How can I provide all my children will need for learning within the constraints of my personal budget?” Ultimately, they are asking, “how much does it cost to homeschool?” When asked before the decision to homeschool is made, and used as part of the decision-making process, Block succinctly infers, “[this] question makes the statement that if the price is high, this will be a problem.” Considering the price we are willing to pay will focus us on the trade-offs and sacrifices again and root us towards our primary purpose. Block’s business counsel easily applies to homeschooling, “there is a cost to pursuing what matters, and money is the least of it. In acting on what matters, we are leaning against the culture.” The decision to homeschool isn’t about money.
How do you get those people to change?
Asking “How can I get my children to do their math?” or “How can I get my husband to support me?” or “How can I convince my in-laws that my choices are valid?” are frequently expressed apprehensions. Instead of keeping our focus on others, Block suggests we focus on our own contribution to the problem or situation, and this will encourage us to act. We can ask about our educational environment, our attitude and our confidence: “Would my child benefit from a different approach to math at a different time of day?” or “Am I complaining too frequently about my insecurities?” or “Am I sharing the positive benefits of my choices frequently enough with my in-laws so they know how happy I am to be homeschooling?” Shifting our perspective to include the actions we have the power to control will free us from coercive behaviors and instead force us to consider our own courage and our own power to act.Block summarizes the distraction of this question, “[it keeps] us from choosing who we want to become and exercising accountability for creating our environment. We cannot change others, we can just learn about ourselves.”
How do you measure it?
Homeschooling families are almost universally required to give evidence of their progress and success. There is pressure to provide a gpa, test score, or a set of memorized facts. Though measurement is sometimes essential, Block suggests we consider each moment of potential measurement as a crossroad. This attitude would lead us to ask such things as, “Are we needing to review? Are we ready to move on? Do we need a project to bring this concept to conclusion?” In Block’s words, “Our obsession with measurement is really an expression of our doubt. It is most urgent when we have lost faith in something. Doubt is fine, but no amount of measurement will assuage it.”
How have other people done it successfully?
Even within the safety of the homeschooling community, it’s hard to step away from the fears and insecurities of a counter-culture decision. No matter how confident we feel in our choices, we all have the tendency to glance at the green grass on the other side of the fence and wonder about the type of weed killer they employ. Block replaces this perpetual “how do they do it” question with, “what do we want to create together?” This question allows us to feel anchored and focused on the thrill of engagement and creativity that comes with the responsibility of an unconventional education.
There are times that it is acceptable to ask how. Block contends, “taken in isolation, and asked in the right context, all How Questions are valid. But when they become the primary questions, the controlling questions, or the defining questions, they create a world where operational attention drives out the human spirit.” Block encourages us to ask first about our core focus. To commit to the course of acting on what matters, we postpone the how questions and precede them with questions about our purpose.
Block lists the benefits that come from “not asking how”:*forces us to engage in conversations about why we do what we do, as individuals and as institutions*creates the space for longer discussions about purpose, about what is worth doing*refocuses our attention on deciding what is the right question, rather than what is the right answer*forces us to act as if we already knew how—we just have to figure out what is worth doing*gives priority to aim over speed*encourages creativity and individual interpretation
Ultimately, “how” is a symbol of our caution. As homeschooling parents, we need to postpone the “how” questions and precede them with alternative “yes” questions that keep us focused on our priorities and motivations. Doing this will allow us to proceed with energy and enthusiasm.
originally published in the October-November issue of VOICE