11 September 2012

A Narrow View of Education

When most people think of education, an image of rows of children sitting in desks, listening to the teacher is conjured.  For this reason, many are thrown off when a parent says he is home educating.  This is reflected in the requirements many states have for those who are home educating.  For example, a state may require standardised testing or submission of a portfolio.  Such requirements, though, presuppose that the home school will follow the same model as the average public school, with a set curriculum, set hours, and set lessons.

In my opinion, such requirements reflect a narrow view of what constitutes education.  I follow the unschooling model, for example, which clearly isn't what is in mind with the state requirements.  Instead of having a set curriculum or set lessons, I seek to make the most of the educational opportunities that present themselves and to expose my children to various things.  This is the approach we took with the Monarch butterflies, where we learned what we could about them by observing and by seeking out resources to learn more.  And yet there was never a formal lesson, just our life.  Or there's the fact that, without formal instruction but with constant exposure, Kieran can read some - considering he's not yet 5, I find that to be of significance.

If people ask if he's in school, though, I'm hesitant to answer in the affirmative, because I know the usual image people have is of formal schooling, be that in a school or at home.  At the same time, I could very easily answer in the affirmative, because my children are constantly learning through our everyday activities.  If they help me cook, they learn math and science; whenever we read, which is multiple times a day, they learn more about language, as well as the subject matter; when we go to the zoo, they learn science; when they build with Lego or Brio, they learn engineering and develop their imaginations.  Those are just some examples of how my children are learning, and of why education shouldn't be confined to formal lessons.  Perhaps one day the state will not cling to just that one narrow definition of education, and will recognise that education can and does take many forms.


  1. Love your thoughts here. I started reading at age 4 because my mother would read to my brother and me regularly. Somehow, without formal education, I learned. Children are capable of far more than the state run education system requires. But time with parents and doing things together with well educated parents is a must. In that, modern children are grossly deprived.

  2. The "problem" with home education isn't parents who choose to educate their children at home, even those who choose to do so in a manner not more or less equivalent to a public school. Rather the "problem", at least from my perspective (good citizen, not a public school teacher) is parents (and I'm not saying there are a lot of them) who would say they are homeschooling, but who are not--who, whether from laziness and neglect or from some odd set of beliefs, choose not to educate their kids--who use the kids as cheap labor in their business or let them run wild all day or whatever. We have decided it is in society's best interest to mandate that children by educated for a certain number of years. From a purely selfish standpoint, it is cheaper for me to educate your kids through the public school system than it is to support them as adults who have not gotten an education.

    So, how do we balance the protecting of kids who need protecting and not hassling those who really are homeschooling with unneeded paperwork and regulation. I know standardized testing is the antithesis of the way you teach. I also suspect that if the child who was barely starting to read was ten, not five, you would have looked for another method of teaching/schooling. Given that most parents want the best for their kids, and given that no school can guarantee it will do a good job with any particular child (no matter how well it rates in whichever scheme is used to grade it)I think a yearly standardized testing requirement for homeschooled kids is an inexpensive, unobtrusive way to separate the wheat from the chaff. Given the demographics of homeschooled kids, well over half should score at or above grade level. If your kid can do that, I don't care how many days you teach, how many hours, what curriculum etc. If he is below that level, then some set of progressively more intrusive requirements to be implemented as each year passes without either a year's worth of growth or being on grade level.

    1. I'd say that situations like that are rare exceptions, exceptions that are often used to condemn all home educators. For example, there's a case in England that has been used to try to demand mandatory registration of all home educators. The girl in question was the victim of neglect and died. Se was known to authorities, who didn't act. She was later pulled out of school, though she wasn't educated at home, really. Again, she was known to authorities, so homeschooling wasn't the problem.

      I know many homeschoolers. Sme follow a set curriculum, some make their own, others go with autonomous education. The commonality is that all are caring and doing their best for their children and shouldn't be condemned just because they choose to educate at home. Some choose this for religious reasons, some for educational, etc. My reasons are varied.

    2. I definitely disagree with a yearly standardised test as the benchmark, though. Fr one, many of the tests are poorly designed. A one-off test also isn't a good measure of the child's actual ability. For example, I know how to take a test, o matter the layout or subject area. I can do pretty well on said test, even though I might not actually know the material. Conversely, if a person has test anxiety, he will do poorly, regardless of knowing the material. I also disagree with some of the benchmarks, as I agree with research showing math should be taught later than it is.