Posts Tagged ‘Unschooling’

Why We Need a Theology of Education

Dear Reader,

Last time I talked about the need for a truly reformed (Christian) approach to education. I want to expand a bit upon that now and say why I think we need not just a philosophy but a theology of education.

When I began to look at the various approaches to education, I found that they all were founded upon certain beliefs. Some are deliberate and up front about their beliefs; others may not even know they have these beliefs. But either way, they all make assumptions about two very important topics:

  1. They all assume something about the nature of the child. As the child is a person (or will at least become a person), this means that they are really saying something about human nature.
  2. Even the most basic has some idea of goals. If I write a spelling curriculum, I still have some belief about why we should teach this subject and what the desired end result is. Every approach to education has a goal in mind. Whether education is a life or the preparation for life, the goal of education tells us something about the purpose of life.

Whether you know it, whether your curriculum writers know it, these are the big questions they must answer: What is human nature? and What is the purpose of human existence?  If we believe in a Creator, we cannot answer these questions without asking how and why God made man.

In the next few weeks, I plan to look at two of the most popular Christian approaches to education, Charlotte Mason and Christian classical. Today I would like to begin to show you what I mean by looking at a secular (by which I just mean not inherently Christian) approach: Unschooling (see my original post on unschooling here). For my purposes today, unschooling is useful because it is philosophical — it has definite ideas behind it and knows what they are — and because it is not inherently Christian. While I do not think unschooling is compatible with biblical Christianity, I have a lot of respect for the unschooling parents I have met. More often than not, they are very involved, responsive and loving parents who truly want what they think is best for their children.

Unschooling has a very high view of the personhood of the child. So high that it says we should not impose our own views upon the child. The parent or teacher does not decide what should be learned; only the child is able to make those decisions for himself.  The underlying assumption is that the child is able to and will choose what is good for himself.  Individuality is highly valued. Janey may choose to learn calculus and use correct punctuation; if Johnny does not, that is fine for him. Looked at from one perspective, unschooling  says that the child can choose and do good. The flip side is that what is good is defined as what the child chooses. In other words, each person decides what is good for himself and what is good for one might not be good for another.

There are other assumptions at work as well. Each child is equipped to learn; learning itself need not be taught. There is a natural curiosity and love of learning which the child, unimpeded, will pursue.  Learning is to some degree an individual pursuit. Though unschooling parents are often quite active in providing materials, all education, in the unschooling environment, is self-education.**

In unschooling, the child learns not just what but when he wants to learn. Some of you will be saying, “Well, if I didn’t make my child learn, they never would.” Unschooling  takes a different approach; rather than looking at a child who might be coloring or playing video games or picking his nose and saying they are not learning, they look at the child and say he is getting what he needs. In other words, there is a kind of educational sanctification of all life. Whatever the child does is learning. There is no separation between education and life. All life is education.

If the material of an unschooling education is thus individualized, we should not be surprised that its goals are also personalized. Individual parents may have specific goals; an unschooling mom once told me her goal was for her children to be kind people. I am not sure that in the unschooling community as a whole that there is one clear idea of what the goal is, but I think there is an implied goal. If each child naturally acquires what is good for him, then, conversely, the goal of education is for the child to acquire what is good for him. But education is also life so we can say that the goal of life is for each person (not just children) to obtain what is good for them. Because my good may not identical to your good, we might say the goal is a kind of self-actualization in which each person achieves his own good.

So what assumptions have we seen in unschooling? Here’s my list:

  • The child has a natural ability to learn and an inborn love of learning.
  • The child is naturally good at least insofar as he will gravitate to what is good and necessary for him.
  • There is not one body of knowledge everyone needs to know.
  • There is not one “good” which applies to everyone. What is good for me might not be what is good for you. (I assume there are theists, if not Christians, who are unschoolers and hold to some higher standard of good beyond ourselves. I would love to hear how parents deal with things philosophically when their unschooling child chooses something that the parent thinks is not good. Another way to ask is, I suppose: how does unschooling account for the existence of “not good”?)
  • One does not truly teach another; “all education is self-education.”
  • Education is not separate from life. All life is education.
  • The purpose of education is for the child to acquire what is good for him.
  • Therefore the purpose of life is also for the individual, child or adult, to achieve his good.

I have used unschooling as an example so we can see how the ideas one holds manifest themselves in a philosophy of education. Unschooling embodies assumptions about: the nature of the child, his abilities and inherent goodness; how learning happens; what good is; how education relates to life as a whole; and what the purpose of one’s life is. If we were to change any one of these assumptions, the philosophy of education would change.

As Christians, we need to ask the same questions: What is the nature of the child? What are his abilities, both intellectual and moral? How does learning happen? What should one learn (is there a set body of knowledge that everyone needs)? What is good? (and perhaps: What is true and beautiful? and maybe even: What is evil/bad/not good and where does it come from?) What is the goal of education? How does education fit into the rest of life? To the extent that education either is life or prepares one for life, what is the purpose of life? Because we believe that there is One who created us and has a purpose for us, these will be for us inherently theological questions.  So to return to my initial claim: we need not just a philosophy of education, as if education were something apart from the rest of our beliefs, we need to see how our theology plays out in our approach to education. We need a theology of education.

Next time I want to talk a little about methodology, how  do we go about forming a theology of education? After that, I’d like to look at two popular approaches to education, Charlotte Mason and Christian classical, to see how they answer the questions above, to see the strengths and weaknesses of each.

Nebby

**I have often quoted this statement, “All education is self-education.” I looked up the source for this post; apparently it was first spoken by western author Louis L’Amour.

 

Deschooling -Yes? No? How??

Dear Reader,

Have you heard this term? Deschooling gets thrown around a lot on my local homeschool lists. Loosely put it seems to mean the downtime or recovery time one needs after having been in school. Popular wisdom is that one should deschool one month for every year of formal (i.e. traditional, institutional, in a school setting) schooling. It is just a vague perception on my part, but I sense that the way this term is being used has changed recently. I have even read it suggested that a parent whose child has never even in school needs to deschool. Something about this all rubs me the wrong way so I have set myself to find out what deschooling is and whether I am for it or against it.

Defining Deschooling

The first step is to find out what exactly deschooling is so I began by googling “deschooling” and “definition.”  Wikipedia tells me that the term has been used since at least the 1970s and can mean different things in different contexts.

The key, as far as I see it, is who is being deschooled. Ivan Illich, who is credited with popularizing if not inventing the term, spoke of deschooling society (in fact that is the title on his article on the subject). I have only begun to read this article (and hope to tell you more about it in the future), but it is clear that Illich is opposed to institutions in all facets of life.  He uses the schools as his example but his opposition is really much broader. He mentions, for instance, how institutionalizing medicine has made it so people no longer think they can treat themselves at home. For Illich institutions breed dependency and create poverty (not just in monetary terms) and basically ruin us. He has some interesting ideas about how to reform education to avoid the pitfalls of institutionalism, but I will save those for a future post. For our purposes today, the point is that deschooling, for Illich, means transforming society so that it is no longer controlled by school as an institution. It is a societal, and not an individual goal, though he does say that is must be accomplished one person at a time. Behind Illich’s definition of deschooling are two fundamental ideas: that institutions are bad and have damaged us and that we can and should try to undo this damage.

In homeschooling circles, when we speak of deschooling, we are talking about something that happens to the individual. Illich’s ideas are still there, however. Deschooling assumes that institutionalized education has negative effects, that it has damaged people, and that this damage can be repaired. These are the underpinnings of deschooling, but, as I hope to show, deschooling also has something to say about the kind of damage, which in turn depends upon a certain view of the individual, and about how this damage can be repaired.

Who, What and How?

When homeschoolers speak of deschooling, they often think first of the child, but in our society it is likely that the parent also has been affected by the institutional schools so that he or she also can, and many would say must, be deschooled.

Parent or child, the immediate goal of deschooling is to get out of the “school mindset”:

“In a practical context, it refers to the mental process a person goes through after being removed from a formal schooling environment, when the “school mindset” is eroded over time. Deschooling may refer to the time period it takes for children removed from school to adjust to learning in an unstructured environment.

Families who have taken their children out of school to homeschool often find their children (and often the parents too) need a period of adjustment – learning to live without the reinforcement of grading and regimented learning.” (“Deschooling,” Wikipedia.org)

How is this done, practically speaking? AtoZ Homeschooling begins their article on deschooling with this advice: “Relax, enjoy your family, and let learning come to you naturally. Don’t force it” (“Deschooling” from http://www.atozhomeschooling.com).  “Homeschool 101: What is Deschooling?” describes it as follows: “Simply put, [deschooling] is a period of time after institutionalized schooling where parents let kids be free to do whatever they want and relearn their love of learning” (“Homeschool 101: What is Deschooling?” from http://www.examiner.com).

In both of these we begin to see a little more about the why and how behind deschooling — learning should come naturally. The love of learning has been lost (it is assumed) and must be reacquired. The way to do this is to give freedom and not to force learning.

If you are completely at a loss as to what activities one might do during the deschooling period, Homeschool 101 (“Homeschool 101: What is Deschooling?” from http://www.examiner.com) offers a long list of options from gardening to reading to hanging out with friends. Jeanne Faulconer also gives a list of practical tings to do during this period (“How to Start Homeschooling: Tips for Deschooling” by Jeanne Faulconer at http://www.thehomeschoolhom.com). In case you think your child might not need deschooling, Jeanne Faulconer also cautions that the child may choose school-y activities out of habit even though this is not what is what they really want or need (“From School to Homeschool: What is Deschooling?” by Jeanne Faulconer at http://www.thehomeschoolmom.com).

What’s the parent’s role in all this?  AtoZ Homeschooling sums it up succinctly: “You are doing exactly right if you are just the wallet and the wheels!” (“Deschooling” from http://www.atozhomeschooling.com).

Parents are not completely off the hook, however. They have their own deschooling to do. Since most adults today were themselves educated in institutional schools, parents’ notions of what education can and should look like are often much more deeply rooted than those of their children:

“You will also find that parents themselves need to ‘deschool’. We have to get past the idea that learning only happens in a classroom, in 40-minute periods, or with workbooks and pens. Education does not start at nine o’clock in the morning, nor does it necessarily stop in the middle of the afternoon.”(“Deschooling” from Home Education in the UK)

“Even if you have been dreaming of homeschooling for years or planning it for months, you have still been institutionalized by having been in school yourself and by experiencing school again through your children. It may be just as tough for you, if not even more challenging, to through off the shackles of scheduling every minute of the day, of grading on a letter scale, of assessing knowledge through standardized tests, and of feeling the pressure to race through topics the way a traditional school does.” (“Deschooling: Important Homeschooling Step or Useless Buzzword?” from http://www.offthegridnews.com)

“Deschooling for Parents” from http://www.unschoolinglife.com gives a very good, personal account of how one parent deschooled herself and why she needed to do so.

Benefits of Deschooling

Homeschool 101 offers a nice list of benefits to deschooling. These can be sorted into two categories, those that directly benefit the child and those that are for the parent’s benefit. In the former category we have getting control of their own education, getting over damage done by the schools, de-stressing, finding their own interests, and seeing that education can be fun. In the latter, we find allowing time to prepare for homeschooling and finding out how their children learn (“Homeschool 101: What is Deschooling?” from http://www.examiner.com).

There are also familial benefits. Home Education in the UK speaks of these as does Homeschooling-Ideas (“Deschooling” from http://www.homeschooling-ideas.com). The deschooling period allows parents and children to get to know one another again and also allows siblings to learn to be together:

“If you have more than one child, it also gives them a chance to get used to being in each others company again.” (“Deschooling” from http://www.homeschooling-ideas.com)

Deschooling and Unschooling

Because of the similarity in their names, and because the terms are not always used consistently, deschooling and unschooling may be confused. Unschooling refers to a particular approach to homeschooling, deschooling to a period of transition between traditional schooling and homeschooling.

Advocates of deschooling often make a point of saying that deschooling need not lead to unschooling and can (and should) be used before any approach to homeschooling:

Deschooling is important for all families who are starting homeschooling, even if they will ultimately use an ongoing approach or homeschooling style that is not unschooling. ” (“Deschooloing vs. Unschooling: What’s the Difference?” by Jeanne Faulconer from http://www.thehomeschoolmom.com)

Despite these assertions, there does seem to be a close connection between the two. Both Sandra Dodd and Pam Larrichia define deschooling as the transition period to unschooling (“Deschooling for Parents” by Sandra Dodd on http://www.sandradodd.com, originally published in Home Education Magazine, Sept/Oct 2002; “Why Deschooling?” by Pam Larrichia at livingjoyfully.ca/blog/). The whole concept of deschooling, as it is used within homeschooling circles, seems fairly new to me. At least I hadn’t heard of it 8 or 10 years ago. I’m not sure what the actual evolution of the term is, but Sandra Dodd’s article is from 2002. I rather suspect that deschooling started within the unschooling community and was, as she defines it, a way of transitioning to unschooling, and that since then its use has expanded so that now we speak of deschooling as a necessary transition period no matter what your educational philosophy.

Indeed, the movement from deschooling to unschooling seems like a very natural one. Larrichia describes such a gradual transition saying that deschooling should last “long enough that when you’re nearing the end, hopefully you’ve reached the point where you’re not even looking for the ‘end’ any more” (“Why Deschooling?” by Pam Larrichia at livingjoyfully.ca/blog/). A letter on Sandra Dodd’s website (“Deschooling” on http://www.sandradodd.com) from a parent identified as Rachel Marie describes just such a process. She writes that though she committed to deschooling for 6 months with the intention of then moving on to more formal homeschooling, 6 months became a year and then 2 years before she knew it. Even those who do not define deschooling as the precursor to unschooling acknowledge that the former leads naturally into the latter:

“You may find that this period of deschooling gradually evolves into the kind of learning – autonomous education, or ‘unschooling’ that so many home educators do over many years.” (“Deschooling” from Home Education in the UK)

In truth, the ideas behind deschooling meld better with unschooling than with any other approach to homeschooling.

The Ideas behind Deschooling

Ideas matter. I have said many times that the ideas behind your homeschooling curriculum matter. Most advocates of deschooling claim to be neutral; they say that deschooling, as they define it, not only works with but should be used before any approach to homeschooling. But there are ideas behind deschooling and they may or may not fit with your intended approach to homeschooling.

I recently published a quiz to help you determine your best homeschooling approach. I tried to look particularly at the philosophy behind each approach (and I considered 16 of them). If I apply this quiz to deschooling, I find that its answers pretty much line up with those of homeschooling (you can find the nitty-gritty details here if you really care; deschooling’s answers are in bold). I should say this is true for those questions for which deschooling provides an answer; it does not address every issue. And, of course, deschooling is  a temporary state.

Deschooling is essentially temporary unschooling. Like unschooling, it does not have an agenda, limits the role of the parent/teacher, says that learning happens through free play or at least free time. It is child-directed.  It says that the child will get what they need without adult involvement. Its goals — though they are intermediate goals — are to revive the love of learning and to allow the child to find interests, or possibly to find himself.

I think the core ideas behind deschooling are these:

  1. Institutional schooling has a negative effect and has likely damaged anyone who has been subject to it.
  2. Children have an innate love of learning which is essential to true education.
  3. The primary negative effect of institutional schooling is to kill this love of learning.
  4. This damage can and should be undone so that the love of learning is reclaimed.
  5. The way to undo the damage and to enable children to reclaim their love of learning is to allow them time and space to be as un-school-like as possible. Parents should not interfere or direct. They should not push any kind of learning or educational activities. Children should be given freedom to do what they want.

Evaluating Deschooling: Will it work for you?

So is deschooling a good fit for your family? The answer depends on what your personal philosophy of education is. If you have chosen to homeschool, odds are you are dissatisfied with the schools available to you in some way.  It is likely that you will consciously do something differently than the schools do (for some examples see “Deschooling: The School Rules You Need to Break” and “Deschooling: More School Rules You Need to Break” by Rebecca Capuano at http://www.thehomeschoolmom.com). But that doesn’t mean that you need to accept all that deschooling implies.

If you look again at the list above of ideas behind deshcooling, the later ones tend to depend upon the earlier ones, but they are not necessary results. You can go through this list and think about each one in turn. You may get to the end of the list and say, yes, I agree with all of that. If so, deschooling is for you. But if you find yourself disagreeing at any point, then deschooling, as it is usually defined, may not be the best for your family.

While many homeschooling families are consciously rejecting the system of institutional schools, some are not. You may homeschool because you have no native language schools near you, because you are in the military, or your child has a sport or business they pursue aggressively, or because your child misses the school cut-off age. In any of these cases, you might be perfectly okay with the school system we have or even want to keep on target to have your child re-enter it at some point. In such cases, you may not even agree with point 1 above and getting out of the school-mode probably doesn’t fit your needs.

Ideas 2 through 4 have to do with the love of learning. While I would hope that any parent would view such a love as a good thing, many homeschool approaches don’t depend upon it or view it is as something which is developed later rather than being innate. This may not rule deschooling out entirely but might at least affect how one goes about it.

Which brings us to idea 5. Personally I agree with ideas 1 through 4, but I differ when it comes to the last point. I don’t think complete freedom is the best way to rebuild the love of learning.  I take a Charlotte Mason (CM) approach to homeschooling so I will speak of how I think she would have addressed the problem. Other philosophies which also rely upon or seek to build the love of learning may have their own takes on the best ways to go about it.

I do think children are born with the desire for knowledge and that traditional schooling kills that but that it can be reclaimed. But I do not think complete freedom is the way to go about it. While Charlotte Mason saw the value of free time (“masterly inactivity”), she believed the way to keep the desire to learn foremost was: 1) to not subvert it by catering to other desires such as the desire for rewards (grades) and 2) to supply the mind with quality materials such as “living books,” fine art, and good music. She frequently uses the analogy of a meal. The mind, she says, needs to be fed on ideas in order to thrive. One does not force-feed intellectual foods; one presents them and the child-mind will take in what is right for it. But this is not complete freedom. The banquet is chosen by the parent/teacher and presented, but it is up to the child to “eat” what he will. To extend this analogy to the problem at hand, we would say that the child who has been damaged by schooling is like one whose appetite has been ruined by a diet of what basically amounts to intellectual sawdust, and that only fed on an arbitrary and artificial schedule. The solution is not to allow complete freedom but to place before the child good, nutritious food without forcing them to eat.

To my mind deschooling says let them eat whatever they want in an effort to restore their intellectual appetites. And I do think that could work for some children. Perhaps even many children. I suspect most still have a shred of their original appetites left and on their own they may seek out what will sustain them. But I also think that some will be so burnt out and damaged that they will fill themselves with what is essentially intellectual junk food, better perhaps than the school’s sawdust but still not what is healthiest for them. I also think many (most?) people are inherently lazy. Left to their own devices, many children will choose what amounts to intellectual junk food, what CM called “twaddle.” It’s better than the sawdust the schools provide, but it is not truly nourishing.

Conclusions

I think there are some good ideas behind deschooling. I do think its proponents have identified a problem and are trying to address it. In fact, I guess you could say I agree with 80% of what they have to say. Where I differ is in the how of it all. I do not think that complete freedom is the best way to rebuild the love of learning. I realize I have my own presuppositions which are informing my position. One of the key ones would be that there are better and worse things to be reading and studying. If you have other approaches to homeschooling, you may have your own ideas about what the best way to rebuild that love of learning is.

For the parent, I do recommend taking some time to evaluate how you want to do this thing called homeschooling. There are plenty of approaches to education out there to choose from (again you can take a quiz to get you started). Jeanne Faulconer also offers a similar list of questions to ask yourself as you begin your homeschooling journey (“Parental-Deschooling: Find Your Non-School Normal: Part 1” by Jeanne Faulconer at http://www.homeschoolmom.com).

Lastly, I heartily second a tip from  “Beyond School Daze: The Descholling Process” at http://www.engagedhomeschooling.com which is to always ask why you are doing what you are doing — “whether there is school reason or a good reason to do things with your homeschooling child.”

Nebby

Books on Deschooling:

Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich. His original essay  of that name is available as a free pdf here. I’m not honestly sure if the book adds more or not.

Deschooling Gently by Tammy Takahashi is recommended by AtoZ Homeschooling. I could not, however, find the Kindle book available anymore and was unwilling to pay $58 for the print version.

Deschooling for Parents by Sara McGrath — The Amazon blurb on this book calls deschooling a “cleansing, deprogramming process.”

Deschooling Our Lives by Matt Hern — This book seems to be aimed at reforming the educational system and is not a how-to guide for homeschoolers.

 

Homeschooling Resources, by Approach

Dear Reader,

If you have taken my quiz to find your homeschooling style, you are now wondering what to do with that information. Where do you begin? Well, simply put, you read, read anything and everything you can find about any approaches that seem to be a good fit for you or which just intrigue you. To help you in that endeavor, I am providing below a resource list for each approach to get you started.

Happy Reading!

Nebby

Homeschooling Resources, by Approach

Robinson Curriculum

The Robinson Curriculum was designed by one man, Dr. Art Robinson, in the 1990s. As such, there is pretty much one place to find out about it, his website:

http://www.robinsoncurriculum.com

Moore Method Homeschooling

The Moore Method was developed by Raymond and Dorothy Moore, also, I believe, in the 90s. (It is not to be confused with another Moore Method used in universities and developed by Robert Lee Moore.) The Bible (if you’ll pardon the expression) for this method is their book:

The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook by Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore

You can also find them online at:

http://www.moorefoundation.com (seems to be identical to http://www.moorehomeschooling.com)

Ruth Beechick’s Approach to Homeschooling

Ruth Beechick has been writing about education since at least the early 1980s and has many books including You Can Teach Your Child Successfully, The Three R’s and A Biblical Home Education.

Advocates of her approach can be found online at:

http://www.homehearts.com

“Ruth Beechick 101” by Sarah MacKenzie at http://www.amongstlovelythings.com

Unit Studies

Unit Studies is more of a way to do schooling that can be combined with other approaches, notably Ruth Beechick’s and the Moore Method. I do think it has its own presuppositions, though, so I include it among my list of approaches. If you Google “unit studies,” you will get a long list of sites with unit studies prepared for you. If you want to read more about the how and why of unit studies, try these:

http://www.unitstudy.com

“The Joy and Ease of Learning Through Child-Led Unit Studies” by Kandi Chong at http://www.besthomeschooling.org

You can read my thoughts in unit studies here and here.

Montessori

Maria Montessori was an educator in the very early 1900s. You will still find many Montessori schools today, particularly for the elementary years. She wrote a couple of books: Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook, The Montessori Method,  and The Absorbent Mind.

Other books on her approach include Teach Me to Do It Myself by Pat Thomas and How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way by Tim Seldin.

Some of the resources I made use of when learning about the Montessori approach are:

Montessori Education” from Wikipedia

Montessori FAQ’s” from http://www.michaelolaf.net

Montessori Homeschooling” from http://www.montessori.edu

You can also read my post on Montessori education here.

Waldorf

Waldorf education was created in 1919 by Rudolf Steiner. Christopherus Homeschooling identifies itself as “Waldorf-inspired” and Oak Meadow, another curriculum which can be used independently or as a distance learning option, also has some roots in the Waldorf approach.

Books on Waldorf include:

Understanding Waldorf Education by Jack Petrash

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne and Lisa Ross

The Waldorf Homeschool Handbook by Donna Ashton

Websites:

“Oak Meadow and Waldorf” from http://www.oakmeadow.com

An Introduction to Waldorf Homeschooling” by Donna Simmons from www.ChristopherusHomeschooling.org

http://www.waldorfworks.org

http://www.waldorfanswers.com

Enki

Enki is an offshoot of Waldorf, with some Montessori elements as well, which was developed by Beth Sutton in 1989.

It can be found at:

www.enkieducation.org

Enki Education” from http://www.treeoflifehomeschool.blogspot.com

Classical/Great Books

When we speak of “classical” education, we are really talking abut the modern classical movement (how’s that for an oxymoron?). Based upon the  classical education on the Middle Ages, it was resurrected by Dorothy Sayers in 1948 in her essay “The Lost Tools of Learning.” The main expositions of it (in its secular form) are the Core Knowledge Foundation created by E. D. Hirsch and the “Great Books” movement of Mortimer Adler.

Books and articles on classical education:

The Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy L. Sayers (and my review here)

The False Promise of Classical Education” by Lisa VanDamme at http://www.theobjectivestandard.com

Paideia Program: An Educational Syllabus by Mortimer Adler, as well as many other books

The very-popular-among-homeschoolers series What Your …. Grader Needs to Know is actually put out by E.D. Hirsch of the Core Knowledge Foundation. Hirsch also has other books including The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy.

Websites:

http://www.coreknowledge.org

http://www.thegreatideas.org

My post on modern classical education can be found here.

Christian Classical

The go-to book for the modern Christian classical movement, which also finds its origins in Sayers’ article, is The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise.

Other books:

The Case for Christian Classical Education by Douglas Wilson

The Liberal Arts Tradition by Ravi Jain and Kevin Clark

Websites:

http://www.circeinstitute.org

http://www.triviumpursuit.com

http://www.accsedu.org

http://www.veritaspress.com

biblicalhomeschooling.org/classical

My article on Christian classical is here.

Charlotte Mason

If you want to truly understand Charlotte Mason’s approach, you need to read her 6 volume series on Home Education. It can be found online here.

Having said which, Charlotte’s writing can be a little hard to comprhened initially if you are not sued to reading her more dense late-19th century style. I recommend beginnign with one or more of the following books:

A Charlotte Mason Education by Catherine Levinson

For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola

After getting this introduction, try one of Charlotte’s books. Many recommend starting with the sixth volume. I disagree. I think that Charlotte has reached a different point by her 6th volume. It is written after WWI and her sense of urgency has increased. I recommend reading volumes 1, 2 and 3 in order. Volume 4 is a wonderful, wonderful book all people should read, but it is not inherently about educating children. It is more like an owner’s manual for your mind. Volume 5 is a collection of different sorts of essays, with a more practical twist than most of her books, and can also be left by the wayside initially.

Websites:

http://www.simplycharlottemason.com – free curriculum guides, discussion forums, articles and more

http://www.amblesideonline.com – also a free curriculum guide, Ambleside is a little more intense than SCM

http://www.charlottemasonhelp.com

and, of course, this blog 🙂

Thomas Jefferson Education

TJEd is the brain-child of Oliver DeMille, created in the 1990s. He has a number of books including A Thomas Jefferson Education and A Thomas Jefferson Education Home Companion.

George Wyeth University uses the principles of TJEd; their website is gw.edu.

Websites:

http://www.tjed.org

http://www.tjed-mothers.com

My post on TJEd is here.

Biblical Principle Approach

The Principle Approach, or Biblical Principle Approach (BPA), is the work of the Foundation for American Christian Education. Their curriculum is called the Noah Plan.

Websites:

http://www.face.net

The Principle Approach” from http://www.homehearts.com

Find my initial post on BPA here.

Reggio Emilia

Reggio Emilia is an approach which developed in Italy after WWII.

Books:

Working in the Reggio Way by Julianne Wurm and Celia Genishi

The Hundred Languages of Children by Carolyn Edwards and Lella Gandini

Bringing Reggio Emilia Home by Louise Boyd Cadwell and Lella Gandini

Websites:

http://www.aneverydaystory.com

http://www.reggioalliance.org

Accelerated Learning

AL is an approach was is used for adults in business and other areas but has also been applied to homeschooling.

Books:

Accelerated Learning Techniques for Students by Joe McCullough

The Accelerated Learning  Handbook by David Meier

Websites:

http://www.acceleratedlearning.com

http://www.alcenter.com

http://www.newhorizons.org

http://www.superlearning.com

Unschooling

John Holt is the original guru of unschooling. His books include How Children Learn and Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling.

Other Books:

The Unschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith

Big Book of Unschooling by Sandra Dodd

Free to Learn by Peter Gray (and my reactions to it here and here)

Websites:

http://www.unschooling.org

http://www.unschooling.com

http://www.johnholtgrows.com

“What is Unschooling?” by Earl Stevens at http://www.naturalchild.org

My post on Unschooling is here.

Quiz: Find Your Homeschooling Style

Dear Reader,

One of the pieces of advice I always give new homeschoolers is to think about what your approach is. To aid in this endeavor, I have developed the quiz below.

Why should you take this quiz?

  • Ideas have consequences. Even if you have ever thought about how learning happens or what your goals for your child are, the person who wrote your curriculum has. Those ideas will play out in what is taught and how it is taught. This quiz will help you make sure that what you are using fits your personal philosophy (even if you didn’t know you had one).
  • You are more likely to hit your goal if you know what it is and use the right tool for the job.  If you haven’t thought about what your goals are, this quiz will help you start down that road.
  • You’ll be a more confident homeschooler (and better able to fend off attacks by well-meaning friends and relatives) if you know what you are doing and why. And when your kids some day ask why they need to learn (grammar, algebra, . . . you fill in the blank) you’ll have an answer for them.
  • Your friend’s, sister-in-law’s, neighbor’s goals might not be yours. Never take curriculum advice if you don’t know the approach of the person giving it.
  • There are oodles of homeschooling materials out there. They may be published by lovely homeschooling families (or not), but they are still businesses trying to earn your money. If you are a new homeschooler, this quiz will help you narrow down your choices. If you are a veteran, it will help you make sure you are on the road that is best for you. You may even find approaches you have never heard of or be led to consider new ideas.

How is this quiz different from other ones?

  • I have included no less than 16 approaches to education. (Find them all listed in this Google doc.)
  • I look at not just what is learned and how but also at the big ideas behind each approach — what do they say about human nature?

How do I use the quiz?

  • First, print out the quiz (link opens a Google doc) and circle your answers. With the exception of the last question, you should try to pick the one answer that best fits your ideas.
  • Then print out my list of approaches to homeschooling (again, found in this Google doc). This will be your score sheet.
  • Now read through the answers. For each one make a tally mark or check next to the philosophies that matched your answers.
  • Look back at your score sheet. Are there clear winners and losers? Now is the time to narrow down your choices. Pick a few that seem to be your best matches or that you find intriguing and read up on them.

Finding resources:

One way to start is to look back through all the answers to the quiz. If, for example, Reggio Emilia showed up as a good fit for you, skim back through and see how that approach would answer each question. You can also use the quiz to compare philosophies — if this one fits you for one question, but that one does for another, ask yourself which is most important to you. Many homeschoolers, consciously or unconsciously, combine approaches — is there a way your favorites can be combined?

For a quick overview of each philosophy, check out my bullet points post here. I also have a series covering the philosophies behind many of these approaches which you can find here (I’ll warn you though, I am biased as a reformed Christian and an aficionado of Charlotte Mason’s methods, but hopefully my posts can still give you a start even if you don’t agree with my underlying assumptions).

Want to know more? Check out this resources post which lists websites and books on each philosophy. And if you are looking for even more questions to help develop a philosophy of education, check out this post (but fair warning — it may make your head spin!).

IMG_1066

Questions? Problems?

This document is a work in progress and I expect to emend it over time. Have I missed an approach? Misrepresented one? Do you just not know what to make of your results? Leave a comment or contact me. I am happy to help or to explain why I think a philosophy fits in one category or another.

And now, without further ado . . .

 

Find your philosophy of education:

Questions for new (or not so new) homeschoolers

Part I: What We Learn

Is there a core body of knowledge everyone needs?

A. Absolutely, naming the Presidents in order, reciting the periodic table, and/or knowing the classics of western literature — those are goals I have for my kids.

B. They need a basic foundation (basic math, reading and writing skills), but beyond those education should be more individualized.

C. Not at all.

D. I don’t think there is one core body of knowledge, but some books/art/music/etc. are certainly more valuable than others.

What shall we study?

A. I’m looking for a fairly traditional curriculum, possibly something that lines up with the schools.

B. I’m in favor of a balanced, broad-based education with an emphasis on the liberal arts (history, literature).

C. We need to study the foundations of our civilization — the good books, speeches, etc. of our past.

D. STEM is where it’s at today.

E. The arts are our main emphasis.

F. I don’t have an agenda.

The role of the arts in education is  . . .

A. Optional or non-essential.

B. Secondary.

C. As a core subject

D. As the cornerstone of education.

Hands-on or Hands-off?

A. Handicrafts, physical education, kinetic activities are all great — after our real work is done.

B. Hands-on activities, manipulatives, and physical activities are secondary.

C. Yes, please. Hands-on and/or physical activities are vital for learning.

D. Children learn through free play.

E. Real work is a complement to schoolwork.

Part II: How We Learn

How do you measure learning?

A. Grades and/or standardized tests help me know what my child is learning or needs to learn.

B. I prefer a non-standardized measure at the end of every unit or every year (think broad essay questions at the end of a term, not multiple choice tests).

C. Big projects at the end of a unit or a year help consolidate learning.

D. Learning can’t be measured and doesn’t need to be.

How do you motivate them?

A. Bottom line — schoolwork has to be done, liking it is a bonus but is not necessary.

B. Motivation needs to be internal. The desire to learn should be cultivated.

C. The desire to learn comes naturally to children.

D. Kids learn better when they enjoy their schooling. I try to make schoolwork enjoyable or even fun.

E. I don’t motivate; I inspire.

Learning should be . . .

A. Teacher-directed: Parent/teacher knows best

B. Curriculum-directed : The material to learn is provided but the student works more independently

C. Child-led: Let them follow their interests

D. A blend: the teacher provides a framework within which the student has freedom to choose.

The role of the teacher . . .

A. Is to impart knowledge.

B. Is to select the best materials.

C. Is to be a mentor.

D. Is to be a guide or facilitator.

E. Is to be an example.

F. Is to help find resources.

G. Is to create the right environment for learning.

H. Is to present the materials in the best way.

I. Is minimal. You can’t force learning.

What parts of the personality/person are involved in education?

A. Primarily the mind

B. Hands with mind: the creative side must be appealed to as well as the mind

C. Whole body- mind, physical body, feelings and senses

Early childhood education?

A. Absolutely. Let’s get going here.

B. No. Delay formal learning.

What’s on your homeschool bookshelf?

A. I like textbooks and worksheets. They help me know what my kid is learning and that he is learning.

B. Living/great books all the way.

C. Books? I think there are some propping up the laptop.

D. Hands-on materials, manipulatives, etc.

Now close your eyes and peek into the door of your ideal classroom. Who’s in there?

A. A teacher standing up in front of a class of students

B. One teacher and one student

C. A group with multiple students interacting

D. A teacher sitting amid a small group of students (think a rabbi and his disciples)

E. A true community with multiple adults and children

F. The student alone

G. Classroom? What classroom?

Part III: Who We Are

Ages and Stages

A. Children go through different developmental stages as they grow into adulthood and their education should change with them.

B. There are different stages — but it is more than growth. Children are fundamentally different from adults and evolve into what they will be.

C. Children are “born persons”; they are whole people and how we educate does not need to change as they age.

Encountering the Real World:

A. Part of the reason we homeschool is to protect our kids. No, they are not locked in their rooms, but it’s our job to protect their innocence as long as we can.

B. The best environment takes real things and puts them in kid-sizes and contexts.

C. Children need to experience the real world and interact with real things, with some consideration for what’s age-appropriate.

Choosing the Good and Rejecting the Evil

(The Bible uses this phrase to describe the age at which a child has discernment. We can think of when and if a child knows right from wrong on a moral level but also of when he is able to tell good from bad in other ways — Does he know what is edible or does he put everything in his mouth? Can he choose what is right or best for him or should the choice be trusted to those who care for him?)

A. It’s a parent’s job to train up their children in the way they should go. It’s ultimately our responsibility to make sure they get what they need.

B. The child has a natural taste for the good but is not inherently good.

C. The parent/teacher’s role is to help mold or shape the personality.

D. I don’t impose my will on my kids. They will gravitate towards what they need.

E. My children are evolving into who they should be.

F. Given the right environment, children will develop rightly.

The Nature of Children and What They Will Become:

A. Children are little adults in the making, something like apprentices. I have a picture in mind of what they should be and/or what they should know, and we move towards that goal.

B. “Children are born persons.” They grow in wisdom and knowledge but they are inherently whole people.

C. There is something fundamentally different about children. Childhood is a magical, special time of life.

Part IV: Why We Learn

Let’s talk goals. Finish this sentence: “I want my kids to . . . ” (Pick as many as you like; bonus points if you rank them):

A. Meet academic goals/be equipped for employment or higher education/have success.

B. Contribute to society.

C. Be leaders/make their mark on the world.

D. Be virtuous.

E. Have a love of learning.

F. Care.

G. Have lots of different interests or relationships.

H. Be responsible.

I. Find themselves.

J. Find their interests/passion.

K. Have meaningful lives.

L. Find (and fulfill) their calling.

M. Develop their potential.

N. Learn to think/learn how to learn.

O. Have wholeness.

P. To know God

 Evaluating Your Answers

Okay, now, are you all set? Have you done your best to answer all the questions? Good. Now the next step is to print out your score sheet and read through the comments below. (See the “how to take this quiz” section above.)

A few notes: Not every approach will come up for every question; sometimes an approach just doesn’t address a topic or I don’t have a good enough idea of what they would say for it. I have tried to go with the best, most representative answer for each one, but sometimes an approach will fall into more than one category.

Part I: What We Learn

Is there a core body of knowledge everyone needs?

A. Absolutely, naming the Presidents in order, reciting the periodic table, and/or knowing the classics of western literature — those are goals I have for my kids. Classical, school-at-home, Robinson curriculum, online/distance learning

B. They need a basic foundation (basic math, reading and writing skills) but beyond those education should be more individualized. Ruth Beechick’s approach, Moore

C. Not at all. Unschooling, Reggio Emilia, possibly AL

D. I don’t think there is one core body of knowledge, but some books/art/music/etc. are certainly more valuable than others. Charlotte Mason (CM), the Biblical Principle Approach (BPA), Thomas Jefferson Education (TJEd)

What shall we study?

A. I’m looking for a fairly traditional curriculum, possibly something that lines up with the schools. School-at-home, Robinson, online/distance, possibly Moore

B. I’m in favor of a balanced, broad-based education with an emphasis on the liberal arts (history, literature). CM, Classical, TJEd, Robinson, Waldorf (for high school level)

C. We need to study the foundations of our civilization — the good books, speeches, etc. of our past. TJEd, BPA, possibly Classical

D. STEM is where it’s at today. Possibly online/distance

E. The arts are our main emphasis. Enki

F. I don’t have an agenda. Unschool, possibly Reggio Emilia and AL

The role of the arts in education is  . . .

A. Optional or non-essential. School-at-home, online/distance, Robinson

B. Secondary. Possibly Classical

C. As a core subject. CM, Waldorf, Accelerated Learning (AL), possibly Montessori, Reggio Emilia

D. As the cornerstone of education. Enki

Hands-on or Hands-off?

A. Handicrafts, physical education, kinetic activities are all great — after our real work is done. School-at-home, online/distance, possibly CM or Classical (see below), Robinson

B. Hands-on activities, manipulatives, and physical activities are secondary. Possibly CM or Classical. CM advocates handicrafts and physical exercise, but does not use hands-on projects as a part of learning. Classical does not require a hands-on approach, but my experience is that many use hands-on activities (filling in maps, creating lapbooks, etc.) as tools to learning.

C. Yes, please. Hands-on and/or physical activities are vital for learning. Montessori, Waldorf, Enki, Reggio Emilia, AL, possibly Unit Studies and Beechick

D. Children learn through free play. Unschool; CM also sees the value of free play (called “masterly inactivity”) in addition to more formal schooling.

E. Real work is a complement to schoolwork. Moore

Part II: How We Learn

How do you measure learning?

A. Grades and/or standardized tests help me know what my child is learning or needs to learn. School-at-home, Classical, Robinson Curriculum, often online/distance, possibly Moore

B. I prefer a non-standardized measure at the end of every unit or every year (think broad essay questions at the end of a term, not multiple choice tests). CM

C. Big projects at the end of a unit or a year help consolidate learning. Waldorf, Beechick, Reggio Emilia, Enki, BPA, possibly TJEd

D. Learning can’t be measured and doesn’t need to be. Unschooling

How do you motivate them?

A. Bottom line — schoolwork has to be done, liking it is a bonus but is not necessary. School-at-home, online/distance, Classical

B. Motivation needs to be internal. The desire to learn should be cultivated. TJEd, Moore Method, Robinson

C. The desire to learn occurs naturally in children. CM, Unschool

D.  Kids learn better when they enjoy their schooling. I try to make schoolwork enjoyable or even fun. Unit Studies, Beechick

E. I don’t motivate; I inspire. Montessori, to a lesser extent TJEd

Learning should be . . .

A. Teacher-directed: Parent/teacher knows best School-at-home, Classical, possibly Unit studies

B. Curriculum-directed : The material to learn is provided but the student works more independently Online/distance, Robinson  

C. Child-led: Let them follow their interests Unschooling, Reggio Emilia; many allow some degree of following one’s interests including Beechick, Waldorf (in high  school), BPA, AL, Moore; Unit Studies can be done in a child-led way

D. A blend: the teacher provides a framework within which the student has freedom to choose. CM, TJEd, Montessori, Waldorf, Moore (though these approaches may view the framework in very different ways)

The role of the teacher . . .

A. Is to impart knowledge. School-at-home, Classical, possibly Online/distance depending  the program

B. Is to select the best materials. CM, Robinson

C. Is to be a mentor. TJEd, BPA, possibly Unit Studies

D. Is to be a guide or facilitator. Montessori, Reggio Emilia, Waldorf (in the later years)

E. Is to be an example. Enki, Waldorf (in the early years), Moore

F. Is to help find resources. Reggio Emilia, Unschooling, possibly Unit Studies

G. Is to create the right environment for learning. Montessori, Beechick, AL, Robinson

H. Is to present the materials in the best way. Unit Studies

I. Is minimal. You can’t force learning.  Unschooling, Robinson, CM, possibly AL

What parts of the personality/person are involved in education?

A. Primarily the mind School-at-home, online/distance, Classical, CM (though handicrafts and PE are secondary), Moore (but with a practical work component as well), BPA, TJEd, Robinson

B. Hands with mind: the creative side must be appealed to as well as the mind Montessori, Unit Studies, Beechick, possibly Reggio Emilia

C. Whole body- mind, physical body, feelings and senses Waldorf, Enki, AL, possibly Reggio Emilia

Early childhood education?

A. Absolutely. Let’s get going here. School-at-home, Classical, and Robinson have provisions for early learning (before age 7 or 8).  Reggio Emilia, Montessori, Waldorf, and Enki all have learning at early ages but do not use what I would call “formal learning.”

B. No. Delay formal learning. CM delays formal learning till age 6 or 7. TJEd and Moore Method delay till age 8 (or later). Ruth Beechick omits pre-K and K. And, of course, unschooling never has (forced) formal learning.

What’s on your homeschool bookshelf?

A. I like textbooks and worksheets. They help me know what my kid is learning and that he is learning. School-at-home; Moore method and Classical may both use worksheets and textbooks, but in a limited way

B. Living/great books all the way. Classical (but may use textbooks and worksheets), CM, Beechick (but don’t be too “bookish”), BPA, TJEd, Robinson, Waldorf (in later years)

C. Books? I think there are some propping up the laptop. Online/distance

D. Hands-on materials, manipulatives, etc. Montessori, Waldorf (in early years), Enki, AL, Reggio Emilia, often Unit Studies

Now close your eyes and peek into the door of your ideal classroom. Who’s in there?

A. A teacher standing up in front of a class of students. Okay, this is hard to  achieve at home, but if it is your ideal, you may have a school-at-home mindset. Classical could work here too and they often have coops that provide a classroom setting. CM was also designed for a school setting as was Enki.

B. One teacher and one student. TJEd, Moore, and Beechick emphasize the one-on-one. In a homeschool setting, CM, classical and Enki can work this way. Many approaches will end up one-on-one or with a small group of students, depending on how many children you have.

C. A group with multiple students interacting AL

D. A teacher sitting amid a small group of students (think a rabbi and his disciples) BPA; I think Waldorf, Montessori, and Enki would also fit here.

E. A true community with multiple adults and children. Homeschoolers often pride themselves on being out among all different ages and kinds of people, but Reggio Emilia specifically emphasizes learning within the community.

F. The student alone. Online/distance and Robinson adapt well to this, whether your student wants to or has to work alone (due to other familial constraints). Moore has a slightly larger role for the parent but also a fair amount of working on one’s own.

G. Classroom? What classroom? Unschool

Part III: Who We Are

Ages and Stages

A. Children go through different developmental stages as they grow into adulthood and their education should change with them. Classical, TJEd, Montessori

B. There are different stages — but it is more than growth. Children are fundamentally different from adults and evolve into what they will be. Waldorf, Enki; I’m not sure if Reggio Emilia sees children as evolving into adults, but they also view them as unique, different creatures who “speak a hundred languages.”

C. Children are “born persons”; they are whole people and how we educate does not need to change as they age. Unschooling, CM

Encountering the Real World:

A. Part of the reason we homeschool is to protect our kids. No, they are not locked in their rooms, but it’s our job to protect their innocence as long as we can. Enki; Moore advocates being in the real world on some levels but is also very strongly family-centric

B. The best environment takes real things and puts them in kid-sizes and contexts. Montessori, possibly Waldorf for the early years

C. Children need to experience the real world and interact with real things, with some consideration for what’s age-appropriate. CM, AL, Moore (but see note on A above); Unschooling, as usual, can vary a lot from family to family but my feeling is that in principle it fits best here

Choosing the Good and Rejecting the Evil 

A. It’s a parent’s job to train up their children in the way they should go. It’s ultimately our responsibility to make sure they get what they need. School-at-home, Classical; possibly Unit Studies, Moore, BPA and Robinson

B. The child has a natural taste for the good but is not inherently good. CM

C. The parent/teacher’s role is to help mold or shape the personality. TJEd (though the role of the teacher is more to inspire or model than mold), Beechick; possibly Unit Studies, Moore and BPA

D. I don’t impose my will on my kids. They will gravitate towards what they need. Unschooling; my sense is that Reggio Emilia also fits best here — it has a very high view of the child as a “knowledge bearer”

E. My children evolving into who they should be. Enki, Waldorf, possibly Reggio Emilia

F. Given the right environment, children will develop rightly. Montessori, possibly AL

The Nature of Children and What They Will Become:

A. Children are little adults in the making, something like apprentices. I have a picture in mind of what they should be and/or what they should know, and we move towards that goal. School-at-home, Classical, Montessori, Moore, TJEd, probably Robinson and BPA

B. “Children are born persons.” They grow in wisdom and knowledge but they are inherently whole people. Unschool, CM, AL, possibly BPA and Robinson

C. There is something fundamentally different about children. Childhood is a magical, special time of life. Enki, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia

Part IV: Why We Learn

Let’s talk goals. Finish this sentence: “I want my kids to . . . ” (Pick as many as you like; bonus points if you rank them):

A. Meet academic goals/be equipped for employment or higher education/have success. School-at-home, online/distance, Moore, Robinson, AL, BPA, Classical

B. Contribute to society. Montessori, Enki, Classical, TJEd

C. Be leaders/make their mark on the world. TJEd, Montessori, BPA

D. Be virtuous. Christian Classical, TJEd, BPA

E. Have a love of learning. TJEd; to some extent CM and Moore

F. Care. CM, Enki

G. Have lots of different interests or relationships. CM, Enki; possibly also Waldorf

H. Be responsible. Moore

I. Find themselves. Unschool

J. Find their interests/passion. Beechick, Waldorf, Unschool

K. Have meaningful lives. Waldorf

L. Find (and fulfill) their calling. Waldorf, BPA

M. Develop their potential. AL, Reggio Emilia, Montessori

N. Learn to think/learn how to learn. Beechick, Robinson

O. Have wholeness. Enki

P. To know God. CM (I am sure other Christian homeschoolers might say the same but I am encouraged to include this as a specific goal CM had by this recent article)

 

 

 

 

 

The Responsibility of Educating Our Kids

Dear Reader,

If you have undertaken to school your children yourself rather than to send them to some sort of brick and mortar educational institution, you probably feel a lot of pressure. It may come from your town government, your friends, your in-laws, your spouse, or even just your self. I don’t happen to think teaching one’s own kids is such a radical idea, but it is counter-cultural (though becoming less so), and any such program is likely to induce stress. After all, the stakes are pretty high here. If you have made the wrong decision, your kids might never get into college or get a job or a spouse. Maybe they will be the young adults to whom a therapist actually says, “Yes, your parents were all to blame.”

While the weight of responsibility we homeschooling parents feel is understandable, it is nothing new. I have been rereading Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s For the Children’s Sake. She quotes Charlotte Mason, my favorite late 19th/early 20th century educator, who, as a young teacher, had her own qualms:

“I had at the time just begun to teach, and was young and enthusiastic in my work. It was to my mind a great thing to be a teacher; it was impossible bit that a teacher should leave his stamp on the children. His own fault if anything went wrong, if any child did badly in school or out of it.” (p. 59)

You can perhaps guess where this is going — Miss Mason found that she was not able to do the grand things she dreamed of in terms of shaping young minds. She longed for “the lever to lift each of these little worlds” for “such a ever there must be” (p. 60).

I think we can all empathize with Miss Mason up to this point — we feel, or have felt, the weight of a great responsibility. We have known how vital our task is, and yet we have also seen the times when it does not go right, when no progress seems to be made, when nothing momentous seems to be happening. And so we look about ourselves, as she did, for just the right tool, assuming that there must be such a tool. I am struck by Charlotte’s choice of a lever as her metaphor, for that simple tool allows one to accomplish great tasks with but a little effort.

As homeschoolers today, we have a multitude of tools available to us. If you have ever seen the Rainbow Resources catalog, you know just how much there is out there for homeschoolers to purchase without even considering all the websites and videos and approaches one can choose from.  With such a vast arsenal at our disposal, we assume that the philosopher’s stone of education must be among them if only we could find it.

Charlotte did find her lever. It was not a particular curriculum or textbook. For her more than anything the key was a philosophy, a new way of looking at education, which in the end took the burden off of the teacher.

If you look at the tabs at the top of this page, you will see that I have dozens of posts on a Charlotte Mason education. I am not going to try to explain all over again here what that is. I’d like for now to just focus in on what we, as parents and teachers, can do in furthering our children’s educations, what tools we may use, and what we cannot use.

Charlotte spoke of three tools we are allowed to use: atmosphere, discipline and life. Taking these in reverse order — The life refers to the fact that we use living books, and music and art, in our schools. These materials are full of ideas, not dry facts. We spread them as a feast before our children, but we cannot force them to eat. Charlotte’s approach to discipline is habit-training; it is providing a good, instinctive basis for future behavior. Atmosphere is one we have to be careful with, I think, it is not about hanging the right posters on your walls. I think it is more about attitude though certainly a learning and idea-friendly environment helps.

These then are our tools. I would include among them living books, fine art, good music, exposure to nature and the like. What we as parents and teachers can do is to provide these things. But we cannot force feed them. Even in habit-training there is usually a choice set before the child — eg. “Do you schoolwork now or miss free time later.”

What we cannot do provides a much longer list and includes many of the tools that modern education relies so heavily on. We cannot use: physical force, guilt trips, their natural desire to please us, praise, their own ambitions, peer pressure. Grades, bribes, prizes — these are all eliminated. Now of course it is not that one can never praise a child or let them know that they have pleased us. But these things should not be used as the motivating factors in schoolwork. Knowledge should be pursued for its own sake and other desire, even a good wholesome, God-given one, if it becomes the motivating force will eventually fail us.

In some ways, this philosophy should be a relief because it takes the burden off of the parent or teacher. There is only so much we can do. I think it often can become a frustration because we want so much to be able to control something that we care so deeply about. It is hard to let go. Charlotte was a Christian and there should be great comfort for us in knowing that as we let go, it is not that there is no one in control of the whole situation. She spoke of the Holy Spirit as the source of all Truth and as the Great Educator. In our children’s education, as in so many areas of life, we are called to be faithful stewards, doing what we can, and not doing what we have no right to, and to leave the end results in the hands of the Lord.

Nebby

Unschooling and Charlotte Mason

Dear Reader,

I am not an unschooler and, in fact, I have some fundamental theological objections to the philosophy behind unschooling (see here), but I have often thought that if I couldn’t take a Charlotte Mason approach to schooling and had to pick another, that unschooling might not be a bad choice. I ran across an article entitled How to be a Good Unschooler recently which made me think again that there is a lot to like in this philosophy.

The biggest plus I see in this approach is that it, like Charlotte Mason’s, treats the child as a person. Both also acknowledge that education is not something the teacher does to the student; the burden for it rests largely upon the student himself. Both of these ideas are, I think, exemplified in this quote:

” . . . [the children] will build strengths upon strengths and excel in their own ways whether that is academic, artistic, athletic, interpersonal, or whichever direction that particular child develops.”

One more point of contact: both unschooling and Charlotte Mason seek to bring the child into contact with real world things, not materials that are dumbed down or reduced for them:

Bring the world to your children and your children to the world.”

I could go on with the quotes I like from this article, but really you should read it for yourself.

I would be remiss, however, if I did not acknowledge that there are some important differences. Unschooling does not consider the child’s sinful nature and the need for discipline. Nor does it acknowledge, as Charlotte Mason does, that the ultimate source of wisdom and therefore of all education is God the Holy Spirit. These are, of course, not minor considerations and they are the main reasons I could never be a true unschooler. Nonetheless, I think there is a lot of common ground in the two approaches and much that we can learn from this article and from unschoolers in general.

Nebby

Long-Term Results of Unschooling

Dear Reader,

Peter Gray has now published all four parts of his series on the long-term outcomes of unschooling. The final post in the series is published in Psychology Today and can be read here.

I have previously reviewed Gray’s book Free to Learn which I liked though there were a few parts I took issue with. I would say I have about the same assessment of this series of articles. Gray’s approach was to survey a group of now grown unschoolers to see what levels of success they have had in their adult lives and to get their impressions of their educational experiences. I believe he had around 75 respondents. Some were unschooled their whole childhoods; others for only part of the time. As Gray himself acknowledges in one of the articles (the second, I think), this is a somewhat biased study in that it relies upon unschoolers to volunteer to participate. They “self-select” to be in the study and he admits that it is therefore more likely to include those who were happy with their experiences. Though I have to say, after reading the last in the series, I wonder if it also includes a greater than average number of those who were very unhappy with their experience and it might just be the middle ground that is underrepresented.

I don’t want to recap all of Gray’s findings here. I do think the articles are worth reading and I would encourage you to do so yourself. The brief summary would be that while they might not have what most of American society terms great success, they are more than not a group of well-adjusted, happy individuals who are pursuing careers that mean something to them and are often unique or creative.

In the fourth and final part of the series, Gray also discusses those individuals who participated for whom unschooling seems to have had the least success. It is here that I disagree with his characterizations. It should be noted that Gray is not an impartial observer. I am not sure this is an entirely bad thing. I think one who was not already familiar with and interested in unschooling would probably not have constructed a very good study of it. It takes some understanding of the principles behind unschooling to even begin to ask the right questions (and the same might be said for homeschooling in general as well). Nonetheless, Gray lets his biases come out in this last article and in one area, at least, he goes a step too far for my taste.

The most obvious example of Gray’s own opinions coming through is when he says that:

“In contrast to the parents in the previous survey, only eighteen (24%) of the participants in the present survey mentioned increased time, closeness or harmony with their family as an advantage of unschooling. This is quite consistent with the view, which I have expressed elsewhere (e.g. here), that children—no matter how much they need and love their parents—are in many ways more oriented toward moving on, toward adulthood, beyond their family of origin.”

Here Gray unapologetically says that this is his opinion and actually, I don’t have too much of a problem with that because he is upfront about it. And I also think, though as a parent I don’t like the idea, that he is not far off base. Our children are meant to outgrow us.

But the part that bothers me and where I think Gray’s views are coming through more subtly is in the last section in which he discusses those individuals for whom unschooling seems to have ben detrimental. Here is his summary of these cases:

“Of the 75 respondents, only three indicated that the disadvantages, for them, outweighed the advantages. It is instructive to look closely at them, to understand the conditions in which unschooling is not a good idea. In all three cases the mothers were described as in poor mental health and the fathers as uninvolved. In all three cases, the respondents felt socially isolated, ignorant, stigmatized, and “weird” because of their unschooling and their family environment. Two of these respondents attributed the isolation partly to the fundamentalist Christian beliefs of their parents.”

One of my criticisms of Gray’s book was that he has a biased and, I believe, inaccurate view of what Puritan education was. Here he seems similarly to have a negative view of what he terms “fundamentalism.” It should be noted that he uses this term without defining it. As a Christian, I know that the word can be used in many different ways and it is not at all clear here what sorts of things these parents actually believed. As he describes the three situations, what seems clear to me is that the mothers in particular were not really functional individuals. I am not at all sure that their religion has that much to do with it. If there is a connection, I think it is more probable that their own dysfunction attracted them to both unschooling, which did not require them to really parent, and to an extreme corner of Christianity which also allowed them to isolate themselves and their families. In other words, I do not think their version of Christianity is necessarily the cause of their failure to do well by their kids but that their underlying mental illness or dysfunction is the real problem. In his defense, Gray does not go so far as to blame Christianity or even fundamentalist Christianity outright, but one is left after reading his article with the impression that it is at least partly to blame. I can completely see that someone coming into this with an already not too positive view of Christianity would come out of it with those impressions confirmed.

From my own perspective, I would add that the fact that these families combined unschooling and Christianity, and especially a version of Christianity which might be termed “fundamentalist” should probably set bells ringing right away that something is not right. I am actually somewhat favorable to unschooling but at the same time I do not think that its underlying presuppositions are compatible with Christianity, particularly with what might be called conservative Christianity. (You can read an earlier post on my own take on unschooling here.) So the fact that people who adhere to such a branch of Christianity would choose to unschool already tells me something is off in their thinking. Obviously I think homeschooling is a wonderful choice and I hate when  it is portrayed as the choice of bad and abusive parents. But I think we also need to acknowledge that sometimes this is the case. Homeschooling attracts many parents who want whats best for their kids bt it can also attract those who are the worst of the worst. That these parents would then choose to “unschool” as a way to not really do anything for their kids is not a huge surprise (this of course is not really what unschooling is meant to be; I have known many unschooling parents who are very diligent and involved in their kids’ lives).

Though I take issue with the characterizations in the last part of this last article in the series, overall I do think Gray’s work is worth reading and I am encouraged, though I do not unschool myself, to think that it has been successful for many families and I am pleased to see that a mainstream publication is reporting these results.

Nebby

 

Long-Term Results of Unschooling

Dear Reader,

An article by Peter Gray was recently brought to my attention. I read his book Free to Learn a while back and for the most part really enjoyed it. I like a lot of what he has to say though I am not an unschooler myself. In this article in Psychology Today, Gray presents the results of a study he has done on the long-term effects of unschooling. They are mostly positive and encouraging, even relative to other methods of homeschooling, though he admits that the study itself probably has some selection flaws. Nonetheless it is well worth the read and does make me want to give my children more freedom in how they learn though we are certainly not going all the way to the unschooling end of the spectrum.

Nebby

Approaches to Homeschooling: Unschooling

Dear Reader,

The next educational philosophy I’d like to tackle is unschooling. In New England, where I am, there are a lot of unschoolers. A lot of what I have to say will be based upon what I have heard from them. Unschooling almost by definition is a broad movement with not necessarily a lot of agreement between those who practice it. There is a spectrum among those who call themselves unschoolers from what we might call merely interest-directed learning to the extreme end of the movement in which the parent imposes nothing on the child in education or in discipline. For our purposes I am not really interested in the parenting and discipline aspects but in how education is approached.

Unschooling rejects the use of a pre-set curriculum. It allows the child to choose what to learn and when to learn it. Of course some may use this approach as an excuse for laziness, but many of the unschooling moms I have met are among the most dedicated to their children. It can take quite a lot of effort on the parent’s part to follow the child’s lead and to really provide them with the materials they need when a new topic sparks their interest.

Here are a couple of statements of unschooling philosophy from the unschoolers themselves:

The traditional curriculum is based on the assumption that children must be pursued by knowledge because they will never pursue it themselves. It was no doubt noticed that, when given a choice, most children prefer not to do school work. Since, in a school, knowledge is defined as schoolwork, it is easy for educators to conclude that children don’t like to acquire knowledge. Thus schooling came to be a method of controlling children and forcing them to do whatever educators decided was beneficial for them. Most children don’t like textbooks, workbooks, quizzes, rote memorization, subject schedules, and lengthy periods of physical inactivity.”    [What is Unschooling by Earl Stevens, 1994]

Our primary purpose in unschooling is to keep alive the spark of curiosity and the natural love of learning with which all children are born. We want our children to accept learning as a natural part of living, and an ongoing process that continues throughout life. We want their learning to remain an integrated process in which all subjects are interrelated. We also want to allow them the time to pursue a subject as fully as they want, rather than imposing artificial time constraints on them. We believe these aspects of learning are limited by the traditional implementation of a curriculum, and we choose to homeschool as a way to circumvent those limitations.”    [Family Unschoolers Network]

The questions I said I would ask of each of these philosophies are:

1. What do they assume about how learning works?

2. How do they view children?

3. How do they view human nature?

4. What do they believe is the goal of education?

For unschooling, the first is the easiest to answer. Education should be natural and should flow out of the child’s innate love of learning. It is a process and is done throughout life rather than being confined to certain times and places. What is learned is dictated by the learner not by a teacher. The parent, in fact, is not really a teacher but a facilitator who helps the child learn what he wants to learn.

Turning to the fourth question, we ask what then is the goal of education? It is not, for unschoolers, to learn a certain body of knowledge. There is no set curriculum or body of knowledge that is required of them. I think how the goal of unschooling is phrased may depend quite a bit on the parent(s) and their values. I have heard one mother say her goal is for her children to be kind. This is what she values most highly for them. Another might say that she wants her children to know who they are or to follow their dreams. If you are an unschooler, I’d love to hear what you have to say on this. My supposition would be that for most unschoolers, the goal is something about who the child is. It is not very often going to be about material success or academic achievement.

So how do unschoolers view children? They believe that children are born with a natural desire to learn and to know and that this desire should be fostered and never hindered by the adults in their lives. With this much, I think Charlotte Mason would agree. But unschoolers also assume that the child will seek after the things he or she needs to know and the things that are good for them to know.

And here we touch on the issue of human nature. Unschoolers assume a basically good human nature. In contrast, Charlotte Mason’s philosophy, while it does seem to see that there is much good in children as made in the image of God, also recognizes that left to their own devices they will develop bad habits and often choose poor materials to read or study. Without a good diet placed before them, they will tend towards academic and spiritual junk food as it were. So, as a Christian, I would have to say that I find true unschooling unbiblical. It does not recognize the sinful nature present in each of us.

There is a lot of good thought and intention in unschooling. I like the positive view it has of children’s abilities. But it stumbles on this one (very important) point. My view would be that while children do have an inborn thirst for knowledge, they also need direction to keep them from veering onto bad paths.

Nebby

Calvinist day-school

...bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ

Sabbath Mood Homeschool

Desiring That a Sabbath Mood Rest on Your Homeschool

dayuntoday

my musings, wise or otherwise

StrongHaven

A Literary Homestead

journey-and-destination

Blogging about education, theology, and more

Harmony Fine Arts

Blogging about education, theology, and more

Sage Parnassus

Blogging about education, theology, and more

A peaceful day

Blogging about education, theology, and more

Living Charlotte Mason in California

Blogging about education, theology, and more

weeklywalrus

Weekly Walrus Whatevers

Creations by Maris

Handwoven Textiles

Fisher Academy International ~ Teaching Home

Blogging about education, theology, and more

Afterthoughts

Blogging about education, theology, and more

Homeschooling Middle East

A Homeschooling/Unschooling Adventure from Bahrain to Dubai that's a story for anyone, anywhere who's interested in offering their kids an educational alternative. Please have fun visiting and have even more fun commenting! We have now moved to Granada, Spain and I will write again once we've settled down!!

Exclusive Psalmody

For the Encouragement and Preservation of Biblical Worship

Charlotte Mason Institute

Supporting an international conversation toward an authentic Charlotte Mason education - awakening to delightful living