Posted by: chrisdavis | May 28, 2011

The Great Train Robbery, Part 4 (final post in this series)

The Great Train Robbery, Part 4: Does this really work? Final words and some practical examples.

Most people secretly harbor a desire to be really good at something; however, few people are ever given the chance to become really good at something. What time they could have spent becoming good at something has been stolen from them. Their 10,000 hours of deliberate, solitary practice (see part 1) has, instead, been spent on obligatory irrelevancies.

Several years ago, one of my sons shared with me his favorite quote:

“If I spend a few years doing something no one else will do, then I may spend the rest of my life doing something no one else can do.”

For years, that son spent time in deliberate, solitary practice until he acquired the ability to perform expertly in the area of his heart’s desire. In order to do this, his parents had to be willing to avoid those obligatory irrelevancies that would distract their son from gaining the acquisition of expert performance (see Part 1).

So important was this concept, we decided to step about as far away as possible from the public school paradigm: My sons never knew what grade they were in (because they were never in a grade); with the possible exception of math, their education did not follow established sequencing; they were not taught material just because they were a certain age, rather we waited to teach it until it had some real meaning; we never graded their work (if we thought it worth learning, they were simply required to master it)—and, we considered a waste of time (i.e. irrelevant) much of what their public schooled counterparts were being forced to learn.

Another son was given time to completely explore model rocketry. His technical aptitude soon came to the attention of a local college professor who asked my son to teach a group of senior citizens how to use the Internet, a skill he had acquired by deliberate, solitary practice in writing programs for the internet and diving headlong into learning all the then available computer programs. After turning down a scholarship from the University of Maryland, he now owns his own high-end web development company.

From age six, the youngest son grew up on stage, eventually performing in such shows as Cats and Les Miserables. By the time he turned 20, he decided to step away from theater to begin working in film. This year he formed his own production company.

As you read this, you may think each of these pursuits strange and completely outside what you would want your children to pursue. Yet, these were in my sons’ hearts to pursue. How easy to become good at what you love—if only you are given the chance to become good at what you love!

Did I decide to play it safe and “go for employability”? Believe me, I often thought about it! For years I wondered if I was raising three young men who would enter adulthood as “vacant lots”, incapable of functioning in a 21st century, industrialized world.

But, I hung on to God’s promise: “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.”—Proverbs 22:29. None of my three sons have actually stood before a “king” in the literal sense; however, I echo what one of them told me the other day: “I know few people who get to do what my brothers and I get to do—the very things we love to do.”

I would now say, The End. But, this is not the end of the story:

I don’t know how many actually read this blog; but I would like to ask my readers to share your own story of how each of you gave birth (or are giving birth) to your children’s personal giftings and callings. I think it would be a group encouragement to all.

It may even start a movement. Or, better yet, it may return homeschooling to what I believe the Lord intended it to be in the first place: that fertile ground in which young people are able to have the time for their own, deliberate, solitary practice so they, too, may acquire that expert performance as they are “trained up according to their way”, and, by being able to express their giftings and talents with excellence, thereby glorify their God.

It’s your turn to share…



  1. Hi Mr. Davis,

    Will you speak to the way in which you can identify your children’s gifting? Our son is 13. We live on a farm, and he loves driving the tractor, raking and baling hay, and anything else he can do outside. I haven’t been able, though, to identify that with a gifting. I do know he HATES “school.” Any thoughts? Thanks so much for all your posts. Robin Gelfius

  2. Robin: First, when you say “he hates school” I would be interested in knowing what kind of school he hates. Also, does he hate to learn?

    Several blogs ago I wrote about the Dream Poster which, over the years and in many conferences around the world, I have found very helpful.

    The most important thing I would ever tell parents regarding this issue sounds like a put-off; but I am as serious about it as I can be: Simply ask your son’s Father (notice the capital “F”). The boy’s Father has created this boy and has placed him in your home to raise. I believe the Father is rarely ever ASKED to clue parents in to whom He has created, mainly because parents simply don’t THINK to ask the One who not only knows, but is more willing to show you than you could imagine!

    So, ask, and then pay attention. It works; believe me.

  3. I didn’t learn about Identity Directed or Relaxed learning until my older 2 girls were high school age. So, although, much of their time, especially in earlier years was spent too traditionally, God redeemed it as they grew older. We were much more relaxed in our high school studies, even though I was still pretty stuck with doing it the “right” way. But, instead of reading World History books, they read a lot of historical novels that they were interested in, and one spent the year enjoying researching time periods throughout history and made a notebook about culture and especially the dress and society of each period. She played piano, and that practice was a focal part of the day. They both took dance, and they both loved to write. I allowed them to spend as much time as they wanted in a day working on their writing. Bible study also took up a large portion of our morning, because we loved studying and memorizing the scriptures together.

    The oldest, who finished her home learning in 2005, has since written a long running email devotional, as well as had an article published in a homeschool magazine. She’s used those skills in her work, writing letters, brochures, and other articles for her boss. Since about 4th grade, she had a calling to ministry and especially missions. It was much later before she was able to take her first mission trip, but she spent many hours reading missionary biographies. Starting with that first trip, she has been on mission trips to Guatemala twice, and spent a month in Kenya working mostly in an orphanage. She plans to go with her church this winter to either Haitii or Nepal. Her draw to work with children in a mission setting, led her to be a camp counselor in high school. This led to her now being on full-time year round staff at that same camp, and a deep love for camp ministry. She is being trained under the director in all aspects of camp ministry, and she hopes to be a director or own her own camp one day.

    The 2nd one fell in love with the skits they did at dance recitals, and although that was almost her only outlet available during her growing up years (except for summer 2 week camps for 5 years), after 14 years of dance, she is now following her love. She went to college here for a year after high school, and was set to transfer to a private college with lots of scholarships the next year. One week before orientation, as she was finishing up her last year of the summer camp, she broke down and tears, and said, “This is not what I want.” (Which I knew!! And, had tried to convince her!) She had chosen the practical over what God had put in her heart. A month later, instead of transferring to the college, she had moved to your former town of Crossville, and enrolled in the dance and musical theater classes there. Six months later, she started in her first musical (and is now in her 10th). While there, she has met a wonderful, Godly man, and they were married last weekend. He has the same calling, and our prayer is that God will “stand them before kings”, as they follow Him and what He has placed in their hearts.

    So, although, we didn’t do it quite “perfectly” in the beginning, and this may not be exactly what you’re looking for, I know that God had His hand on us and on our children as we gave up what society would deem the right path, and allowed them to follow what He had put in their hearts. It has taken sacrifices for all of us. Their particular fields have taken some financial help from us as they get started…but, much less than if we were paying for them to go to school for something practical, yet not their heart’s desires.

    As we train up the 3rd and 4th daughters, we are trying to keep our focus off of traditional methods and on God’s way for each of them. I pray God helps us each step of the way, in a better way, more suited to their callings. It IS scary to let go of the traditional, but when we do, seeking God, He blesses it!

  4. Letitia, what a great post! If you will tell me their names. I may know your daughter and her husband.

    What parents often forget is that ANY field is a missions field. By the time my middle son was a teenager, he had become quite popular at the Playhouse. One day I told him it was time for him to “move on”. He was the principal character in a play and had been put in a dressing room with one of the many homosexuals in the cast. He simply looked at me from where he was seated and said, “Dad, if *I* don’t take Jesus into this place, who will?” He has always had that perspective. Some take Jesus to Kenya; others to China. James currently takes Jesus onto a Carnival Cruise Line ship (where, incidentally, he also makes a lot of money doing something he loves and is really good at doing).

    When I was growing up, “ministry” meant a local church or the mission field. Times have changed!

  5. Yes, we have met! Our daughter is Briana Smylie, now Briana Miszklevitz. She has danced with both Blake and James; mostly during the summer camps. You commented just last week on the Cabaret video I posted of her dancing to Patty Payne’s song. Her husband is Troy Miszklevitz. He has been in a few things there….Flight of the Lawnchair Man, The Foreigner, Smoke on the Mountain, Sanders Family, Duck Hunter Shoots Angel (last year), etc.

    You are right about them being in a mission field wherever they are, and that one is definitely a ripe one. The actors and staff there know they are different and set apart, and I believe their lives have made an impact, however small in comparison it may seem. Tiny seeds! They are both strong enough that being around that lifestyle has not affected their walk, and, I know for Briana and our family, it was a major paradigm shift to live almost daily with that lifestyle…. to see them through God’s eyes instead of our sometimes judgmental eyes.

  6. Chris,
    I do not remember if I have posted to you before about my oldest son. His name is Brett.
    The seed of homeschooling was planted in my heart before I ever had children. That would have been back in the mid 80’s. However, life thru a few curves at us and public school is where we started out. It was a nightmare from the beginning. I pulled my daughter out mid year, 7th grade. Partially for social reasons and partially for academic reasons. The following year I kept Brett home too. That was his 6th grade year. With Brett it was a struggle with dyslexia.

    We worked hard and made improvments by leaps and bounds compared to where he was headed in the public school. Brett had already heard his calling into ministry. Knowing that he would need college and thus need to be able to read and write I would push him at times. He did not resist me much on the reading, but, the writing was another story. Absolute refusal to be taught or have any lessons in writing. His answer to his writing ability was that he was sure God would supply him with a secretary. He has always been absolutely sure of this. I had my doubts.

    I was not going to damage my relationship with him over this. I always had a strong belief that if a lesson was being forced upon the recipient it was not going to ‘stick.’ I could have pushed harder, but, I instinctually felt I had to give him this. Chris,I refered back to my cd’s on Identity Directed Learning many, many times. There was always a nagging doubt stuck in the back of my mind. I decided to hold on to the fact that God created him this way and would take care of him. If it came down to it, and he had to get some intense instruction for college, well, then, that’s what he would do. I would only ask him to free write–no grades, no lessons.
    We continued with him reading aloud with me, as well as, my reading aloud (sometimes hours) to him, right on through graduation.

    Those were the struggles. Now, my favorite part, the praises!!He thrived when his lessons were Bible related.Bible study, Creation science, lots of HIStory, a little math.He chose most topics and the intensity. He seized any opportunity to serve and teach. Life lessons were always available. He developed a love of learning. He listens to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to write messages for his readers. He even loves books. Had his training been handled differently, I know this would not have happened for him. He did have solitary times for study, which is how he chose to handle the majority of his Bible study. For his situation, this is what worked.

    All those hours together–we developed the greatest of relationships. When I would hear about the mothers who can not relate to their teenage sons, I just don’t comprehend. I can not think of a single bad incident between us during his teenage years. I know it may sound like our struggles over writing were a ‘problem’ or even a heart issue. I want to make it clear that it was a mutually respectful difference of opinion. I made a concience decision to respect his opinion/instinct and choose our relationship over forcing something that I was unsure about.

    When he was 15, he took first place in a preaching contest. At camp that summer, the other campers wanted to hear his sermon. One of the girls wanted a copy of it. (I do not know why she wanted it??) After receiving a written copy and witnessing his struggle with writing(which she did not notice when he delivered his message to their group), she asked if she could be his editor with any future writings . You know what he said to me–“Mom, I told you God would send me a secretary!” He has had at least 3 more ‘editors’ randomly volunteer their services to him for the writings he posts online and the fictional book on angels he started. I had to give up my doubts at this point.

    He has had many good things happen to him as he takes his Identity- Directed/Spirit led path through life. He developed a passion for missions. He volunteered a few summers and then was hired in at his camp. He would ultimately love to start his own camp some day. Through the camp, he connected with several Godly men who have mentored him. One of those relationships lead him to leave our families small church and join a fantastic church an hour away. He has been in an ‘internship’ type study there, being mentored by the minister for a few years.

    When he was 17, after meeting with a couple at camp–missionaries to the Philippines–he took his first trip there. A phenominal opportunity to go for a month, not in the traditional way with a group, but, just him(more personal mentoring). Had he been in a school system this would not have been plausible. He returned last year for 3 months and came home with a calling to return there for a long term commitment–4 years. He will also attend Bible College in the Philippines.(bunus-their college is more friendly to his dyslexia)

    The couple that he works with over there tell me about how different he is from the many interns they have worked with over the years. At only 17 years of age he gave a sermon that many of the Filipinos remembered even the topic of when he returned 2 years later. He is uninhibited, comfortable, adaptable, efficient…it just fits for him to be there. They told me that they have had 4th year Bible college interns who can not accomplish what he does. Some go over there and won’t even try. “I have not taken that class yet, I can’t give a sermon!”

    He spent the last year preparing for his move to the Philippines. He raised his money. As a matter of fac,t he raised significantly more than he needed for his base money. It just shows you how, if you are following what God has created you for, he will provide. God was blessing his work in the Philippines before he even arrived!

    There is so much more to tell of our journey, if only I were a gifted writer. Since Brett left, 2 weeks ago, I have tried to find the words to describe the bittersweet experience. I trained him up to find his giftings and follow God’s lead. That is what he has done. I would never have chosen to send my son to the other side of the world. But, this is quite obliously where God wants him. I can pick out dozens of incidents that point right to where he is right now. None of these things were from me. I am proud that he has followed the Lord’s path for him. Is it sometimes hard to accept God’s plan over our own?? That is where bittersweet comes in for me.

    The Lord puts people, experiences… into our lives. If we take these situations and couple them with our giftings, we will be in sync with Him. He will then bless our work/life in the biggest ways possible. Ignoring how he has made each of us and the things/people he puts in our life is a sort of rebellion. How can we rebel against His gifts and expect happiness?
    Forgive me for writing such a long piece and not editing.

  7. Julie: What a wonderful testimony!

    One of the things I encounter most with homeschooling parents is that they fail to understand that the child in their home is not THEIR child. The child has only been loaned to them to be raised ACCORDING TO THE WAY THE FATHER HAS CREATED THE CHILD TO TURN OUT: that is, expressing, with excellence, the giftings & callings the Father has put within the child in seed form and which He expects parents to recognize, respect and nurture.

    Congratulations on following His lead is raising His son! It is, indeed, bittersweet to say “goodbye” and send them on their way into the world to express those giftings & callings. But, that is our job, after all. Again, thanks for sharing…

  8. This is Brett, I’m Julie’s son who she was talking about. I will say that she is like any mother and talks me up a bit. I am so glad that i was home-schooled, and that through it the relationship i have with my mother has grown and we can be so close. All i can say is that God has blessed me with a great Mother, and great opportunities. I have been blessed with a family who understood and supported my calling from God.

    God will make a way for anyone who is truly ready and willing to follow Him with their whole heart. I know what God wants me to do, i heard his voice calling me to His will for me when i was 10, and I have just followed that calling. And know that if you, your kids or anyone else for that matter. If/when you hear His call and follow it He will make it happen! “If God orders something, don’t you think He’ll take care of the bill?”

    For the Kingdom of Christ

  9. Hello, Brett. It looks as if you were very blessed to have had a Mom who respected the call God gave you as a young man and allowed you to follow that calling. I wish someone had done that for me and I wish every parent would do that for their child.

    Yes, I DO believe if God orders something, He will take care of the bill. That is how Hudson Taylor thought. He has been called “the father of faith missions” and said, “God’s will done in God’s way will never lack God’s provision.”

    Your faith WILL be tested, but never fail to trust Him. Take if from an older man: He can be trusted with everything that MATTERS.

    Thanks for writing…

  10. We have two sons and have spent the majority of their lives moving around. My husband is a missionary pilot and we have served in 4 countries plus our headquarters in the USA. With all the traveling, traditional schooling simply is not an option. That has thrown us on God in ways we would not have leaned had our lives been more traditional. I’ve wondered if our boys would be able to fit in to different situations and how they would do. My oldest is now 16 and everyone loves to talk to him. He plays competitive badminton and spends hours researching training methodology and energy paths. He is coaching his friends a bit and they ask why he is so different! Our younger son is 12 and has a mind that doesn’t stop. He loves to invent things and is always trying to figure out how things work. He hasn’t had time to learn to write well yet (ha ha!), but he can explain aerodynamics and pulleys and a million other things that I can hardly understand. They are each incredibly unique and each year we can see their real giftings coming out.
    thanks for being an encouragement to all us parents who are still in the “wondering” stages of educating our kids!
    God bless you and your ministry!
    PS We also live in the Philippines… God bless you, Brett!

  11. Dear Cynth: What a great story of some very fortunate children. They will have a life story to tell that rivals very few others! May anyone else reading this take note…

  12. Chris, Thanks so much for your wonderful posts. I just came across them tonight and really needed to read them. It has been a hard day…

    I will wake up in the morning with a new look on things after reading your thoughts and that alone will allow me to sleep tonight.
    I will be getting the materials for our family to work on our “dream posters” and ask my daughter’s Father to help me in finding her gifts.

    Can it really be that easy?

    • Dear Stella: What a great post! Thanks for the encouragement to keep writing. And, yes, it IS that easy. Please let me know what you discover through the Dream Posters. I’m always interested in what the DP shows up. Just remember: The children’s Father is more interested in having His children raised to expose the giftings He has given them than any “parent” could ever be. Listen to Him. He knows how you hear and will let you know what you should do. Fear is the great hindrance to raising children His way.

  13. If there were only one child in the world, such that if you had no ‘averaged’ sense of ‘how children are to be educated’…

    It is a crippling and frustration-inducing waste of energy to accept and live by the myth that a child’s success in life is a product of suffucating him or her under a load of averaged menial mental toil. Of course, some persons actually largely fit that average, and so they easily go on to praise the averaged paradigm.

    But, there are others who, within that paradigm, find financial success by aiming with a great sense of purpose toward that end, and many of them insist that ‘buckling down’ to the load of such toil is the essence of a good education. In a rat race in which every animal must be a good rat, all but rats fail.

    Because anxiously greedy parentage becomes so common in advanced countries, those countries swallow whole the hegemony of the age-grading, scope-and-sequence approach to ‘ensuring my child doesn’t end up an ignorant and incompetent adult’. So, parents in such a society send their children to be taught ‘competence’ by institutions concerned mainly to keep the pressure on the students to ‘learn’. Hence, in turn, is born the whole messy pits which is the bureaucracies and controversies over ‘how best to ensure my child doesn’t fall behind the Jones’s kid’.

    And, hence, in turn, is born educational research institutions connected to children in such a manner as to make the average parent feel that an effective homeschooling would be like building a Saturn V rocket from scratch with little more in the way of tools than a Bowie knife or a plastic spoon.

    (It may well take rocket science to get the people at the bottom of the averaged ‘educational’ pit back up to sea level by the time they’ve achieved physical adulthood. But, that’s not a good use for rocket science.)

    The one thing I remember my dad saying to me was that I don’t have to be like anybody else.

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