By Carolyn Forte
Every day I meet homeschool parents who are trying their best to find the best way to educate their children. They vary greatly in the methods they choose to use but they all want their children to get the very best education possible. Often, they ask for help in finding a math, grammar, science or history book or “program” that will work better for their child than what they have tried before. Most of you have been in this situation. Sometimes the solution lies with determining the child’s learning style and picking materials that are better suited to that child. Sometimes it appears that the child may need some sort of professional help like vision therapy, sensory integration therapy, etc. However, there are underlying assumptions about learning and education that are hampering many children and leading to great frustration and anxiety on the part of parents.
Homeschoolers, just like the public at large believe a number of lies about the nature of learning and schooling. As a child, I was vaguely aware of some of them. As I grew older, I became more and more frustrated by the contradictions I observed between the rhetoric of those in charge of my schooling and the reality I observed. Some of the problems I observed include:
(1) Although I was told that school was supposed to teach me to think, I quickly learned that the only way to succeed in school (all the way through college) was to parrot back whatever the teacher wanted to hear.
(2) Although there may be many ways to solve a problem, only the way demonstrated by the teacher was acceptable.
(3) Creative answers, even though correct, were seldom welcomed.
(4) Doing work above your assigned grade level was forbidden.
(5) Asking too many questions and/or delving too deeply was discouraged.
(6) Highly educational activities such as a family trip were discouraged if they took you away from school.
(7) Speed of execution was admired far above accuracy and thoughtful deliberation.
(8) Subjects were often taught for no apparent reason and seemed to have no practical use. Questioning the wisdom of learning what seemed to be useless information was met with disdain and obfuscation rather than sensible, reasoned explanations.
(9) Arbitrary and rigid rules for grading took precedence over actual knowledge learned. (You could get an A on every test, but if you didn’t turn in the homework, you could get an F in the class.)
(10) Standardized testing was little more than a tedious game and the results were meaningless. (I learned this by accident in high school, and it was confirmed by the representative of one of the biggest test makers in America at a conference I attended as a classroom teacher.)
The above practices and attitudes are so ubiquitous that they are generally accepted without critical thought. As a classroom teacher I tried to correct as many of these problems as were in my power to change. As a homeschool mother, I learned not to fall into these mind-traps and to use common sense in guiding the education of my daughters. I had much to learn in the 14 years I spent homeschooling with them and indeed, I am still learning about the nature of learning and “education.” It is my hope that I can encourage you to find the best educational path for your children.
Early on, it occurred to me that Abraham Lincoln, who went to school for less than a year, was largely self-educated. In fact, many of the most brilliant inventors, writers and entrepreneurs had little or quite unorthodox school/educational experiences. Homeschool pioneers like David and Mickey Colfax (authors of Homeschooling for Excellence and Hard Times In Paradise), who sent three sons to Harvard, confirmed that the conventions (and lies) of school were unnecessary hindrances to developing a strong intellect.
In 1991 John Taylor Gatto became the New York State Teacher of the Year. He announced his retirement the same year in the Wall Street Journal with an Op-Ed piece titled, “I Quit, I Think.” Expressing his frustration with a system designed to destroy families and dumb down children, he proceeded to develop a new career writing, speaking and researching education in America. In following his writings and seminars, I came to understand that the problems I noted above were not the result of incompetence or indifference on the part of those who crafted our education system. On the contrary, all the elements listed above are a part of a grand and carefully engineered design to train a compliant and unquestioning workforce.
Perceiving the many flaws in our system of schooling, I strove to provide something better for my children. You can do the same if you learn to look for real education and question critically whether the things you are doing make sense. Ask yourself some questions:
(1) Does this exercise/worksheet/ activity encourage my child to think, or is it just asking for a rote response? Try to maximize the former and minimize the latter. (How many worksheets did Abraham Lincoln do? Answer: 0)
(2) Does this assignment foster creativity? Is there a more creative way to learn this?
(3) Is my child allowed to investigate, question, take time to think?
(4) Can your child move along at his own pace and at the level that is right for him?
(5) Are you taking time to answer your child’s random questions and/or teaching him to find his own answers?
(6) Are you taking advantage of opportunities for real learning or are you bogged down with “school?”
(7) Do you value speed or accuracy more?
(8) Does learning this subject make sense? Is it really important to your child’s future or are you doing it because it’s on someone’s list. Is there another subject that would do just as well? Is there a better way to learn this? Hint: no one can learn everything by the time he is eighteen and most of us forgot what we learned in school the week after the test unless it was something useful and often used.
(9) Do you evaluate your child’s progress on what he knows or on some other standard? Is the standard reasonable?
(10) Can you avoid standardized testing? If not, remember that the results are meaningless.
Homeschooling, like parenting, is a balancing act. It must be approached with caution and prayer. Much of what we were taught constitutes an education is actually a path in the opposite direction. Our children deserve better.
Carolyn Forte and her husband, Martin began homeschooling in 1982. Carolyn holds a Life Credential for Kindergarten through Ninth grade from the State of California and taught in public schools for five years prior to homeschooling. She has spoken at numerous homeschool conventions and is the author of The Game Curriculum. Martin and Carolyn have owned and operated Excellence In Education Homeschool Resource Center in Monrovia, California since 1992 (websites: www.excellenceineducationhomeschooling.com and www.gamecurriculum.com. Carolyn may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.