Universal vs. Specific

(The following pictures are from my son’s Shakespeare play, Midsummer’s Night Dream, that he and his TJED-based Shakespeare class performed last week. It was terrific!)


It’s amazing how sometimes you think about stuff and then you attract more of it. Thursday night I started thinking about the Headgates ebook because during my mommy screen time after the kids were in bed I got an email from Keri Tibbetts saying that her article on parenting that she mentioned at the TJED forum was finally available at http://headgates.org/resources/. I had just listened to the download of her presentation at the Forum the previous week. I printed the article out the next day but did not read it as I was getting ready to go on an overnight retreat with my husband. He had left that morning for a conference for attorneys at a local ski resort but would be done with meetings around 3:30. Then we could play! I would bring the John Adams HBO movie that I have been wanting to watch for a long time.


As I drove to the retreat I had some rare quiet time to talk on my cell phone  since my baby fell asleep and I was away from the other six children. These quiet times are very rare. Yes, I did have my baby/toddler with me, but I left the other kids at home. I believe in taking my babies everywhere I go pretty much (I admit that I have left them home for quick trips to the library or grocery store) and my nursing toddlers with me if I go somewhere for all day or overnight. I decided to call one of my girlfriends and have a chat, since my husband was in a business meeting. She is one of my comrades in homeschooling/attachment parenting/religious living and it’s hard for us to get together since we live 45 minutes apart and have lots of kids between us.


We talked about the Headgates ebook and Keri’s TJED Forum presentation. My friend had been there in person for all of it,  both hour long sessions, Part I and Part II. “Wait till you get to Part II,” she told me. “It’s about spanking.”  We talked about the application of Headgates. I mentioned that I knew Keri’s sister and would like to talk with her sometime so I could ask how she applies it in her home, since she has older children.  I got to the location of the retreat safely (up in the mountains, with a foot of snow, yes winter is alive and well in Utah) and had a wonderful night with my husband and baby. I always say that once you have more than one kid, getting away with just the baby and your husband counts as getting away.


Anyway, the next morning who should be at the breakfast at this conference but Keri’s sister,  Jenny, since her husband is an attorney. I had attracted the conversation!  She had the same idea as me: “Husband away at a free hotel room = chance for me to get away as well!” Only she had brought some quilting to keep her busy up in her room while he was doing meetings instead of a book and a toddler. I had met Jenny previously since she had been part of our commonwealth school for a while when she and her husband taught TJYC. Then they moved and were no longer a part of it so I had not seen her for years.



So I got to visit and talk with her about Headgates and if she implements it in her home. She confessed that she loves Lincoln logs and Legos (forbidden as a bad Headgate) and has them in her home.  She said that Keri’s home has a very peaceful atmosphere because of the order and structure she has placed there, described about in her Headgates ebook. Jenny also mentioned that she wonders what is going to happen when Keri’s children get older and see that most of the world doesn’t do things like they do in their home. She also admitted that the suggestions in Headgates are too extreme for her.  She said that she tried to do away wtih all school materials for her younger children but it just didn’t feel right to her. “My kids like doing their grammar worksheets and their math books every day.”


“You have to do what feels right to you,” she told me. “Yes,” I agreed, “otherwise you are just doing another conveyor belt in your home.” It’s important to distinguish between something feeling right to you because it’s something good for you to do. It might be hard and uncomfortable, but it still feels right for you. Then there might be something that is wrong for you to do, but it might feel pleasurable. That’s not something that is right for you to do.





I remember going to a parent mentor training meeting with Aneladee Milne for our commonwealth school. She talked about Frederick  Nietzsche and Soren Kjerkegaard. She explained that Kjerkegaard philsophized about the difference between the universal and the specific. Kjerkegaard was Christian but did not belong to any organized religion. He believed in the Bible and wondered why Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac. Why was he targeted out by God with a commandment to sacrifice his only child? Kjerkegaard concluded that it’s because God has specific laws for each of us to obey, and also universal laws, such as the ten commandments in the Bible. Kjerkegaard was also the father of existentialism. Nietzsche took this idea of the specific and went with it, disregarding the universal. Aneladee brought this idea up because she was teaching about the Tiger Mom, Amy Chua, and asking about our parenting styles. That brings up a whole other question, do you have to be more of a Tiger Mom than not to be a successful TJED mom? Just Google Tiger Mom if you don’t know what I am talking about.


That’s another topic for another blog.  Confusing universal with specific  seems to be the problem with a lot of society today. Some people think that there is no universal law, only specific laws for each person, based on their whims and pleasures and circumstances. Homeschooling moms, however,  tend to go to the other extreme . We sometimes are prone to think that everything that comes down for the pike for homeschoolers applies to us. Especially if you are LDS, you think that anything that any leader says, including Oliver DeMille or Keri Tibbetts, has to be a commandment that you follow to the letter.



There are universal principles that apply to every endeavor. TJED’s seven keys are probably the closest you are going to come to natural laws/universal principles for education, whether in the home or in any classroom.  But the specific application or way that a certain principle looks like in the home will look different to every family, because each family has different circumstances. It’s also important to remember that Oliver said that the 7 keys are phase-specific. Jenny explained that Keri’s children are very intensely inquisitive, so Keri has come up with these strict rules in her home to maintain order.  They are also very young. She said that her children are much more mellow and older so those rules don’t work for her.



So maybe Legos might be a headgate that you need to keep closed for one child or not another. In other words, Legos are a “specific.” A universal headgate might be commercial TV. I feel comfortable saying that any amount of commercial TV is going to limit your child’s creativity and learning. Another specific headgate might be Internet use. It might help in the learning process, but for some children it might prove to be addicting and interfering in their education. To conclude, some truths are universal to all, and some are specific. Some headgates are universal to all, some headgates are specific to some.  Some distractions in your home life are headgates that need to be closed for one child and maybe not for another.  Know your child and know their environment.  Be in tune with your children and know what is influencing them. Observe what is keeping them from getting a great education and help inspire them make a plan to eliminate that obstacle from their life.

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