Education has become hard to define. Everyone seems to have different expectations. Some want to see high test scores. Others want their children to be able to get a job. Others expect their children to be appropriately socially engineered.
Before we take on the task of homeschooling, we need to determine our expectations. And there is no greater issue to address than what it means to be properly “educated.” These ideas have germinated over the time our children have been educated at home:
Grades are meaningless. Speaking as one who always received high grades – honor student with all of the trappings – I can tell you I didn’t actually know anything. I didn’t learn anything other than how to play the game, how to successfully determine what was asked and perform to expectations. I received A’s in spelling. I couldn’t spell. I received A’s in history. I knew absolutely nothing about history. My civics instructor realized this when he gave me an A on an essay test for constructing a good essay, but noted I had my facts wrong. We are failing our children if the loftiest goal we have for them is to achieve good grades. In the homeschool environment grades are even more meaningless than they would be in a school setting where the teacher has many students to assess. As their mentors and tutors, we already know where our children’s strengths lie, where their weaknesses are, how much they know, and what they need to move forward. Grades are merely labels. Our bigger concern should be what is under them. What is on the outside is easy to accomplish, it is that which is on the inside that matters.
Test scores are as meaningless as grades. There are areas in which we each excel. There are areas in which we each definitely do not! A test score doesn’t provide an indication of either. It merely tells us where we rank in relation to our peers. If all of the peers are below level, then even if we rank above average in score, in reality we are likely still below average in ability. Test scores put the emphasis on passing a test – learning the art of test taking – rather than on the material to be learned. Becoming trained in test taking does nothing for my education except move me through the system. In contrast, what I really want to know as a homeschool mom is how much each child knows. What skills does he have down? Does he need help keeping up? Does he need to move along faster? What can he tell me about a specific event in history? How well does he write? In a tutorial situation I really do not need a test to confirm what I already know. If he has missed problems, he simply works them until he gets them correct. If he is studying the civil war, I will have a far greater picture of how well he really knows his subject by letting him tell me what he knows (narration). If I want him to learn to write, he has to write – every day. I won’t need a test to confirm the progress I see in his writing week by week, month by month, year by year. Depending on the direction your child ends up taking, some required test may be in his future. Fine. Provide him with the test taking skill. But don’t let the test determine the quality of the education.
There is too great a focus on getting a job. Particularly in difficult economic times, there is an understandable concern about making sure our children are able to make a living and provide for their families. But I tend to think we put the cart before the horse on this one. Most young people these days will not find security in a company. They need to be able to think on their feet. They need to be fitted with an attractive skills-set that an employer in any field will find desirable. They need to know how to work for themselves, if need be. These days, they need to be able to survive! What if, rather than a job-seeking focus, we took into consideration their natural talents, the skills they had been gifted with? What if we provided them with an adequate amount of free, but productive, time to let them develop those skills, investigate, grow, and learn? And what if we complemented this by developing their fundamental skills, and providing a rounded course in the humanities? Watch them soar into their life’s work.
Educating the whole person. This is the fundamental piece of education most schools are simply not equipped to handle. It has only been in recent history that we’ve neglected the whole child, beginning when God was removed from the education most of us received. There is a moral side to education – a purpose. Any education that claims none isn’t true. And to make education relevant to students who know something is amiss, educators have tried to fill the gap with values clarification, or cultural literacy, or a revival of Greek education. As a Christian, I seek to educate the whole child. I want each child to grow in wisdom and stature with their hearts reflecting our Lord for His glory. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Without God, education falls apart.
We have an opportunity to teach our children how to learn. If we provide them the skills to learn anything for themselves, they will have a true education, one where
- learning never ends,
- they are able to provide for themselves,
- they have the foundation to apply their skills and knowledge in a moral way, and
- they do all for the glory of God.