I remember his preschool teacher helped to keep that perspective. He was four. All my questions for her were academic in nature. She squashed that by telling me Kellen was fine academically, but she'd seen kids who could do more. She went on to say she wasn't focused on that so much as she was on their social development and interaction, and he needed to work on that. Well! Hmph! Ok, she was right.
We chose homeschooling from the beginning, partly (alright, largely) because of the area we were living in, but also because he was above average academically. I'd been in the classroom with above average boys, and let me tell you, at the middle school level these boys were bored. They didn't care about being challenged. They were content to sit back, create problems in the classroom, and get their A's and B's without trying. Oh no! Not my son!
I think maybe because we homeschooled and because he was my first, I didn't realize how far above average he was. Truthfully, I am thankful for that. We never pushed him. We never overwhelmed him with activities and enrichments. He was naturally curious. He naturally recalled just about everything he read or heard. He always thought about things a little differently than the rest of us. We simply provided an atmosphere where he could explore his interests. Yes, we had textbooks, but a lot of time was spent at the library, in the woods, at museums, or just at home with a strict screen time limit.
It was around middle school (darn that age!) where Kellen started to discover for himself his relative intelligence, and he was quick to let you know. Apologies to all in our homeschool circle at that time. He did get a little big for his britches. Thankfully, (for all of us) a little maturity and some trips to CTY helped to humble him. Sadly, difficult life circumstances have also kept him humble and given him perspective.
If you know Kellen, you know he will talk about facts and information until your head is spinning, but he doesn't often talk about personal things. College applications required him to write about some of these things. He wrote some beautiful essays. With his permission, I am going to share some of them here. I'm sharing them because I'm proud of him, but also because this blog often serves as our family scrapbook, and I want those essays to be a part of that.
We are interested in learning more about you and the context in which you have grown up, formed your aspirations, and accomplished your academic successes. Please describe the factors and challenges that have most shaped your personal life and aspirations. How have these factors helped you to grow?
The weight plummeted to the ground, the arm flew, and the rock whistled through the sky before hitting the gravel with a distant thud. The first thing my family’s farm taught me was to learn by doing. Because of that, I built my trebuchet. Time for the second shot. I pulled the arm to the ground. A quick hand wave signaled my brother to load the rock. I released the arm. The weight plummeted, the arm swung, and the whole trebuchet collapsed into a heap of broken wood. The second thing I learned is that nothing goes as planned. A few weeks of hard work later, and I had reconstructed the trebuchet. The third thing I learned is that failure is just something to learn from.
When I was seven, my family moved to my grandparents’ farm in West Virginia. Everyone had plans. My grandfather planned to run the farm into his seventies and my dad planned to help. My parents planned to homeschool their children. For a while, the plans worked. My grandfather bought a tractor and a bulldozer. My dad took a job selling music, but was able to help out in the evenings and on the weekends. My mom gardened and taught my siblings and I at home.
Farms are incubators of curiosity. Growing up, I was surrounded by equipment, tools, electricity, and mechanics. Animals constantly lived, grew, reproduced, and died all around me. Every day I asked the questions, “Why, what, and how?” How does this valve control the water flow? What materials stop electricity? Why does this motor spin? If I cut this tree, will it fall on that power line? I found my answers by pure exploration. Valves got taken apart. I touched different tools to the electric fence until I found one that wouldn’t shock me. As I grew older, I discovered that math and physics held the answers to my questions. The motor spins because a current flowing through a coil around a magnet makes the magnet spin. I measured the tree using a sextant and trigonometry. When I applied my learning, I found I could answer the most important question, “How can I do this better?” With learning, I found that I could make the lives of those around me easier.
Farming is hard. It’s a full-time commitment regardless of the circumstances. There are animals to be fed, gardens to tend, and a constant cycle of maintenance to be tackled every single day. As I said, nothing goes as planned. Just a few years after buying the farm, my grandfather was killed driving his tractor. I was 12 when he died; after that, my dad was in charge of the farm. However, farming isn’t profitable, and he still had to work a full-time job. With my dad at work, most of the day-to-day tasks were my responsibility. I condensed my schoolwork into three or four hours a day, and I spent another three or four hours working. I quickly learned to feed, weedeat, and build fences. When my dad came home from work, we worked together to finish whatever I wasn’t strong enough or skilled enough to do on my own.
A few years later, my parents both took teaching jobs at a tiny Christian school, and my three siblings and I enrolled in the school. I was fifteen when I began attending school as a sophomore. The school wasn’t ideally equipped. There were few classes more advanced than “honors” classes, but I thrived in the newfound academic structure. The plan seemed to go well. With the extra time in the summers, the farm was more productive than ever before. However, after a year of teaching, my father had a past cancer return. As his condition worsened, I steadily assumed his responsibilities on the farm. His health spiralled downward until he died the August before my senior year. After my father’s death, all the plans we’d made became impossible.
I’ve followed my parents' plan my entire life. Their plan didn’t work out like they hoped, but that didn’t hinder me from constantly asking questions and finding the answers. I plan to maintain that curiosity for the rest of my life. I plan to learn as much as I can for as long as I can, and to use that learning to help people do things better. Plans are only so much. Plans are imperfect. Plans fail and sometimes that can’t be helped. The only thing to be done is to look forward and keep learning.