What is important to learn?
What is ESSENTIAL to know and be able to do?
What is the goal of education?
A rationale for home education.
With the freedom allowed by homeschooling comes the great responsibility of choosing what to teach (or if you are an unschooling proponent, how to respond).
This leads me to the burning question that we all ask ourselves as human beings interacting in the world: what is important? What should we focus on? Where are we headed and why? The idea of the “Race to Nowhere” has challenged us to rethink our competitive and authoritarian schooling style and begin to propose alternatives. Do we really want our children to learn how to sit quietly and listen well? Or do we want them to learn to explore, create, question, wonder, try and fail, care, collaborate, serve others and pursue their own goals?
This is where home educators come in. We defy expectations and buck the yoke around our necks. We forge a new path, toward a future of our own making. Our children may not pursue conventional markers of success, such as the ivy league education, the MD, PhD or other labels of achievement (and some of them will), but they will pursue their interests, develop their own projects, start small businesses, innovate, serve the needy, refine their skills and talents and generally be happier and more well-adjusted than peers who endured the dreary environment that is modern public education.
Peter Gray’s book “Free to Learn” highlights some of the sad statistics that reveal the depth of the problem of public school today. Read his article for more. Children are more stressed, depressed and helpless than they have been in 50 years. Their time spent in unstructured activities is severely limited. Their motivation to achieve is overwhelmingly extrinsic (great job, great salary, nice house, nice vacations, nice stuff). Parents can have a positive influence by encouraging their children to explore non-academic skils and interests and thus giving their children alternative ways to evaluate their self-worth instead of focusing primarily on grades. Yet, the pressure to perform in school is inescapable. For this reason, more parents are finding ways to take a greater role in educating their children. Some are fortunate enough to be able to be at home as the primary home educator. Others work full-time and share the responsibility with their spouse and community. I believe that home educators are attempting to provide for their children a vision of the world as it should be through a form of education that honors and respects the inherent worth of each individual and focuses on his or her strengths. Self-directed education is a key component of the home schooling movement.
That leads me back to the main question. What is really important? Public schools have lists of thousands of “standards” or expected knowledge for students to learn. When students do not meet expectations, they are deemed to be lacking. We ask: Why do they not know these facts? What will become of them?
Shouldn’t the question be: are we teaching what they really need to know?
If the standards focused on critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication, students could develop their thinking skills in any area of interest they were drawn to. Students would be able to refine their skills to contribute in their chosen field while also learning how to participate as an informed member of society. Would each child possess 100% of all the science, math, history and literature knowledge? Absolutely not! Do any of us as adults retain much of that knowledge? Most of us don’t use it and hardly care if we weren’t interested in the subject to begin with. So, why are we shaming our current learners when they, too, demonstrate greater interest and strength in one area than in another?
Tell me, what do kids (our future adults) these days really need to know?
Essentially, our children need to read well, think well, and write well. This does not mean they have read every classic novel which ever existed, but that their reading level is well developed, that they comprehend what they read, and can do so on their own. They need to be able to break down what they read and make sense of it; associate it with reality and their own world views. They also need to have the ability to communicate those ideas to other people rationally and understandably.
Logic, apologetics, and economics are all key subjects.