Thoughts on Homeschooling
by Jim Muncy
Here are some of my thoughts on various
aspects of homeschooling. Most of these originated as posts to one
of the homeschooling lists.
Table of Contents
- Let the Children Play
- From Weird to In Vogue in Less
Than Two Years
- Restaurant Games
- Understanding Christian Homeschoolers
- Reasonable Standards?
- Ten Reasons Not to Homeschool
- Birth Order: Satire From a Youngest
- Becoming Comfortable With a Concept
- Our Homeschool Experience
- Why Teach History
- Diversity in Home Education
- Reading Versus Television
- Bicycling in the Morning
- Don't Lose the Memories
- Getting Alonzo Interested in Basketball--Not
- Lifelong Learning
- Unschooling Unchristian?
April 19, 1994
I sit here looking out my home office
window watching my children enjoy an absolutely beautiful Spring
day. They are exploring the world around them and having a wonderful
time doing so. We've already finished our formal teaching and now
they are free to engage in real learning. They are learning about
the wonderful world God has given to us.
As I sit here, I think of all the
children who are sitting at their desks in classrooms all over this
city looking out the windows wishing they were doing exactly what
my children are doing right now. The thought makes me sad. In less
than an hour we can teach our children what it would take a teacher
in a traditional classroom setting six hours to teach. And so our
children are now finished learning all that stuffy stuff us adults
think they should learn and are out in God's creation learning in
their own way.
I feel that this is one of the biggest
advantages of homeschooling. Children only have so many hours in
the day. Every one that is spent waiting for others to catch up,
waiting for the teacher to control the crowds, waiting in line,
etc. is time that could be better spent exploring and learning about
Why are children so hard to control
in a classroom? It is because of the way they were made. They were
made to explore, to discover, to exercise their bodies, to be creative,
and the like. In many classroom settings (not all), the very thing
that the child was equipped with to learn about the world is labeled
Why waste so much of our children's
time in mindless activities. Let him be in the background watching
the ants carry their food. Let him be in his sandbox being creative.
Let him be in the kitchen with his mother learning how to measure
and cook. Let him watch his father waste his time on INTERNET. Let
him help dad paint the fence. Let him run, bicycle, climb, and all
of the other activities that are developing him physically. Let
him interact with his brother and sisters. Let him play, explore,
have fun, and learn about the world the way he was created to learn
about the world. Don't put him in a desk, make him sit there, and
make him feel that the way his body and mind is telling him to learn
From Weird to In Vogue in Less Than
April 22, 1994
My wife and I were discussing last
night the way attitudes have changed dramatically over the past
few years towards homeschoolers. When Alonzo was a baby, we had
decided to try homeschooling our children. We started telling people
that we were planning to do so, we started attending homeschooling
conferences and meeting, etc. Six years ago, when we would bring
it up, people would give us that look like "are you on drugs?" Then
they would start coming up with the standard responses as to why
our kids would forever be socially and intellectually impoverished.
At one point, we decided not to tell anyone we were planning on
homeschooling because of the reactions we were getting.
Then, sometime over the last couple
of years, things seem to have changed. Now, when we say we are homeschooling
our kids, people say things like "that's great;" "Wow, I wish I
could do that;" or "I know someone else who is homeschooling and
they seem to have great kids." Yea, there are still those who don't
think we are doing the right thing, but they are becoming fewer
and further between. I have actually got to where I sort of like
mentioning that we are homeschooling because of the positive things
people will say about it. I was telling my wife last night that
we seem to have moved from being weird to being in vogue in less
than two years.
Being a marketing professor and liking
to study things like the diffusion of an innovation, the adoption
process, etc. I have wondered why this seems to be happening. Here
are my thoughts.
First, I think more people are seeing
our product. I have to be honest, when I first heard about homeschooling,
I was quite skeptical. Like others, I expected the homeschooled
kids to be social dwarfs and intellectual pygmies. The only problem
was that this didn't seem to match up with the kids I was seeing.
Oh, I could write off the first family by saying to myself "Yea,
these are good kids despite being homeschooled. I bet they would
be really smart and really well behaved if their parents would just
send them off to the schools." But then I met another family. I
thought to myself "Wow, what a coincidence. Another homeschooled
family, another good bunch of kids. These families really could
have great kids if they would just send their kids to school like
everyone else." After seeing four or five families of homeschooled
kids and after having them all appear to be very well adjusted socially,
academically, and emotionally, I began to question my assumption
that homeschooling must dramatically impede social and intellectual
development. It was only at that point that I began to ask the parents
what they were doing to these kids to make the turn out this way--"How
are you overcoming all of those obvious limitations of homeschooling?"
Eventually I came to the conclusion that, to a large extent, these
kids were turning out so good BECAUSE OF homeschooling and not IN
SPITE OF homeschooling.
Another reason I think that homeschooling
is becoming "cool" is because the research done on homeschoolers
is confirming it as a viable alternative to traditional education.
In the early 80's people would say "parents cant educate their kids."
To test this, academic researchers started comparing the educational
achievement of homeschoolers to that of traditionally schooled students.
And the results were that parents seem to be a very good job of
educating their children at home. Thus, it became pretty easy for
homeschoolers to dispel the myth that homeschooling was hurting
the children academically. Then came the ominous "what about socialization?"
question. By the early 1990's less homeschooling research was being
done on the academic questions and more on the socialization issues.
And, low and behold, homeschoolers were turning out to have at least
equal social skills if not better social skills as did their traditionally
schooled contemporaries. Thus, again, the product of homeschooling
was validating its effectiveness as an alternative to traditional
The third factor that I think may
have moved us homeschoolers over the edge "from weird to in vogue"
was the media. I think us homeschoolers are a curiosity to them.
We're different, we're interesting, and we appear to be having great
success when many people are becoming very frustrated with traditional
education. I personally think that it was the HR6 thing that finally
did it. There are obviously more reporters per square inch in Washington
than anywhere else in the world. And when the homeschoolers bombarded
Washington with calls, letter, and telegrams, at a time when not
a whole lot of interesting stuff was going on around the globe,
the media gave us a lot of attention. First, our reaction told them
that there were a lot of us homeschoolers, or at least a lot of
people who were sympathetic to homeschooling enough to call Washington.
But that wasn't the whole story. If they were going to report on
us as a political movement, they should probably also report on
use as an educational alternative. And so they sought out information
and found out that we seemed to be doing a pretty good job turning
out pretty good kids. So, the world became aware of the positives
That is how I have seen things change.
All of this hasn't really changed my life that much. After all,
as a professor, I can get away with being a little weird (we call
it eccentric). It does feel kind of strange to be on the forefront
of something society sees as being "a growing trend." Usually I
have only stood on the sidelines and watched these things. I guess
the best part is that when people ask use where our kids go to school,
I am no longer tempted to say something like "The Starmount Drive
Christian Academy." I can honestly and proudly proclaim that we
homeschool. Now, we're in vogue
May 2, 1994
With four small children, it is a
challenge to keep them occupied when we are waiting in a restaurant
or when we are in the car. We usually don't want to get something
out so we have to come up with a game they can play with just their
minds and their mouths. We have invented three. My guess is that
somebody had already invented them but I had never heard of them
and I just came up with them when we were sitting their going "will
that pizza EVER get here." These all have educational benefits.
Here they are.
THESAURUS (develops vocabulary and
an understanding of synonyms and antonyms): A person gets to say
a word. He or she also says "synonym" or "antonym." We take turns
trying to come up with a synonym if the person giving the word said
synonym or antonym if the person said antonym. The first person
coming up with a proper word gets to be the next person to say a
word synonym or antonym. Since we are in a restaurant, we don't
let people yell out the answer. Rather, they must wait their turn.
We base who gets to go first on who has had the longest time since
getting a correct word (this is a way of evening things out for
different ages). This doesn't sound that great when I write it down
but it sure was fun when we went out for pizza tonight. Try it.
I am thinking of adding a rule that you can always get it correct
if you come up with a homonym.
IMAGINARY WORLD (develops creativity).
We have done this one to food and the kids love it. My guess is
that you could do it to other things like animals but I don't know.
It works great with food, especially when you are hungry and waiting
on food at a restaurant. In turns, somebody says "In my imaginary
world, the _____ are _____." Then someone else says "In my imaginary
world, the _____ are _____." You just keep going until the pizza
arrives. My kids love it. So, for example, I might say "In my imaginary
world, the trees are ice cream cones." The Alice might say "In my
imaginary world, the car tires are doughnuts." Then Alonzo might
say "In my imaginary world, the cars are loafs of bread." Then Alaina
might say "Da Da" (she is our one year old).
OUR STORY (develops creativity and
listening skills). Here, we make up a story as a family. I may start
out with one or two sentences. Then, in the middle of a sentence,
I will call on someone else to take the story from there. Thus,
I might go "Once upon a time, there was a big blue house. And in
this big blue house lived" and then I would turn to Alonzo and say
"Alonzo." That means it is his turn. He would pick up from there
by saying something like "a little boy and girl. The boy had a pretty
white bicycle that he loved to ride. One day" and then look at Lisa
(my wife) and say "Mommy". Lisa would then go with a couple of sentences
and we would keep going writing a story as we go. The kids love
Now I realize in cyberspace, these
games don't seem very exciting. But I know my kids love them, it
is a good way to pass time, and they are learning. If someone else
tries them out, let me know how they work in another family. These
work well with Alonzo (age 6.5) and Alice (age 4.5). Allen (age
3) likes to listen but doesn't contribute much. Alaina (age 1) is
happy as long as she is in someone's lap.
Understanding Christian Homeschoolers
June 2, 1994
And just knowing that our
children really love the Lord is a faithful parents passion and
Perhaps no single line was ever written
outside the Holy Scriptures which best describes the motivating power
behind the Christian homeschooling movement. Many of the things that
Christian parents do seem strange to people who don't understand the
feelings conveyed in these words from the song "Children Are a Treasure
from the Lord."
What comes to mind is a story told
by well know Christian author Dr. James Dobson. Dr. Dobson suffered
a heart attack and was in the hospital for almost two weeks. This
gave him a long time to reflect on the things in life that were
important to him. Not long after he was released from the hospital,
he sat down and had a talk with his college-aged son Ryan. His words
went something like this:
Ryan. I had a heart attack.
I didn't die, but I sure could have. You didn't have to burry me
this time. But, unless Lord returns soon or you suffer an untimely
death, there will come a day when you will have to bury me. Chances
are you will see me die. But this I know. When I die, I will be
called up to be with my Lord on the other side. And Ryan, I will
be waiting for you. I will be looking for you. Ryan, BE THERE!!!
Nothing else matters. I hope you live a life of fulfillment as I
have. I hope you find a wonderful wife and have beautiful children.
I hope your life is filled with many blessings as mine has been.
But all of this doesn't matter in comparison to being there on the
other side. What ever it takes, what ever happens, BE THERE! Ryan,
that's all that really matters. Please, BE THERE!!!
This is probably the same message that
just about any Christian father would say to his child. This is the
true heart felt-desire of every Christian mother I know. Unless one
understands the depth in which a Christian parent feels a burden to
see their children on the other side, then a lot of what Christian
parents do seems somewhat bizarre.
But this desire goes way beyond simply
seeing the child's name in the Book of Life. Christians who are
totally committed to their faith receive an indescribable joy and
meaning for life from this faith. It is, in a very real sense, the
very reason for their existence. Many of them have tried to live
a life apart from God; but, when they found God, they couldn't possibly
imaging a fulfilled life without a walk with Christ. Indeed, to
the Christian parents, their all encompassing passion and their
greatest reward is knowing that their children find a fulfilling
life walking with Christ and then having them there on the other
side to enjoy eternity with them. If this happens, then life is
a success. If this does not happen, there can be no greater tragedy
or feeling of sadness in a Christian parent's life.
Put quite simply, this is the single
overwhelming impetus behind the great number of Christians rushing
into homeschooling. Overlook it and you can never understand why
so many Christians homeschool.
Throughout most of public education
in America, Christians felt that the environment of the school reinforced
their efforts to raise up Christian children. However, starting
in the 1960's, public life in America began to dramatically change
and many of those changes carried over into the schools. In the
1950's, public schools were leading their children in prayers and
the recitation of Bible verses. By the mid 1960's such practices
were declared unconstitutional. And other changes occurred. Curriculum
evolved taking on more of a "secular humanist" philosophy. Discipline
in the schools changed. Sex education entered the schools. The very
intellectual, spiritual, and moral teachings that were so important
to Christian parents were no longer being reinforced in the schools;
to the contrary, many parents felt that the public schools were
actually undermining what they were teaching with such great passion
at home. In a period of about twenty years, the public schools had
moved from being a place where parents could feel comfortable about
sending their children to have the values they were teaching at
home reinforced to being a place where the values that were teaching
at home were being sabotaged.
This disillusionment with public
education gave rise to two major educational movements within the
Christian community. One was has been called the "Christian Schools
Movement" and the other has been called the "Christian Homeschooling
Movement." The number of Christian schools dramatically increased
as did the number of Christian families who chose to educate their
children at home. A certain synergy developed as publishers such
as Bob Jones University and Pensacola Christian Academy began to
offer curriculum with the religious orientation these Christian
schools and homeschoolers desired; as laws were changed to make
states more homeschool and private school friendly; and as more
and more people saw the product of these homeschools (that is the
children) and decided to give it a try.
As the Christian homeschool movement
has grown, there has become less of an emphasis on the negative
aspects of the public schools and more of an emphasis on the positive
aspects of homeschooling. Rather than seeing the home as a place
to shelter children from the negative effects of public education,
homeschooling is seen as an environment where Christian values can
be taught, modeled, and reinforced. These are opposite sides of
the same coin but the latter is a more positive way to view what
Christian homeschoolers are doing. In addition, close family ties
seem to be something that many Christians are drawn to. Homeschooling
provides a way to maintain those close family ties. Christians are
also enjoying the other benefits of homeschooling such as the individualized
teaching, the flexibility in scheduling, the teaching through life
experiences, the broader social interaction, etc., etc., etc.
Some Christian homeschoolers see
the decline in American Education as God's providential way of moving
us on to something better. Just as God used the tyranny of the Egyptians
to get the Israelites moving on to a promised land much better than
the land of Egypt, God has used the secularization of the public
schools to move many of our children away from a system of education
that is significantly limited by its very nature on to a system
of education that we view as being vastly superior. If it had not
been for the dramatic events of the last thirty-five years, we might
still be back in Egypt making bricks. But instead, we are combining
our passion for spiritual training with academic possibilities the
public schools can only dream about. And more than anything else,
our reward will be knowing that our children really love the Lord.
May 20, 1994
Many people express concern that
homeschoolers may not be providing proper education for their children
and therefore must be monitored. If their children aren't achieving
a certain level proficiency on some measure (such as standardized
tests), then the children should be forced to attend public or private
schools. The argument is that we must hold homeschoolers to "reasonable
OK. But "in theory" if you apply
a law in one way to one group you should be consistent across groups.
If you are going to hold the parents accountable for failure to
educate their children, you ***MUST*** also hold the traditional
school system accountable when they fail. If we are considering
corrective action towards parents who fail in the teaching of their
children, we must in the same way impose corrective action towards
traditional schools when they fail in the teaching of the children
at their schools. Why should CPS have the right to investigate a
parent for educational neglect when the public schools are often
subjecting children to spend twelve years of their lives in a traditional
school and the end product of twelve years of forced attention is
a person who can't read, write, or do a simple math problem.
Now, imagine this scenario. Let's
say you entrust me with a child. For years, when the child gets
up, I confine him or her to a three square foot area for most of
the day. When the child wants to eat, play, go to the bathroom,
etc., I don't let him. The child is small, uncoordinated, and unattractive.
So, in the few times during the day when he or she is not confined
to the small area, all that child is exposed to is mental abuse
about being "ugly," "a nerd," "a spaz," etc. The child also lives
in fear of physical attacks because he or she is not able to physically
defend himself or herself. I am doing this because I say it is for
the child's good. But at the end of these twelve years, the child
can't read a newspaper even as simple as USA Today, the child cannot
write a compete sentence and would not know a sentence fragment
if he or she saw one, and the child couldn't even solve a simple
math problem like 2 + X = 3.
Not only have I failed to educate
this child in these twelve years, I have destroyed the child's self
image, I have made the child paranoid, I have made the child miserable
for the past twelve years, and it is unlikely if the child has the
academic skills or the self-image to hold down a job. If I did that
as a parent, I would undoubtedly be held liable for child abuse
or neglect. However, this is the exact scene that is being played
out in just about every public school across the country. There
are some students who are not being educated, their self-esteem
is being destroyed, they live in fear of the bullies, etc. Is CPS
intervening there? The obvious answer is no. Why? Because
the schools have the resources to defend themselves. Why are they
going after the parents? Because they don't have the resources to
How could any CPS worker possibly,
in good conscience, go after a homeschooling parent for educational
neglect when there would be a high probability that the school system
would fail that child too and would possibly destroy the child's
self-esteem, feeling of security, etc. in the process. Perhaps after
twelve years that child of "educational neglect" by the parent,
the child does not know how to read and write but at least he or
she has not been exposed to all of the negative aspects and cruelty
that occurs in the public schools.
If you want to impose standards,
make them apply to the public schools as well as the homeschoolers.
Otherwise, don't go after the homeschool parents that you don't
think are doing a good job just because they are easier to attack
than the public schools and/or they don't have the resources to
Or, better yet, Leave the homeschoolers
alone! Some of us will fail. I will even grant that premise
to the opponents of homeschooling as a given. But much, much, much
fewer of us will fail than do fail by sending their children to
the public schools. There is not going to be a perfect system where
everyone turns out smart, well educated, articulate, etc. But why
spend your time looking for the relatively few failures in the homeschool
system when their are so many failures in the public school system?
By standing there with even the remote threat that, if you fail
in educating your child as a homeschooler, the government with its
big stick, you are having a major chilling effect on the homeschooling
movement. Many, many people that I know would be excellent homeschoolers
are hesitant to even try because they are not sure they could do
I have a Ph.D. with fifteen years
of college teaching experience and my wife graduated in the top
20% of her college class in the most difficult business major. Going
into homeschooling, we were not sure if we could teach our first
grader. But it didn't take us long to figure out that just about
any loving parent could do so. Imagine the concerns of the loving
parent who has a high school diploma and very little confidence
in his or her academic skills. Research has shown that Lisa and
I, with all of our education, would not on average turn out
any better student in homeschooling than the high school graduate.
But let that high school graduate read one story in the newspaper
or hear one story from a friend about a person being investigated
by CPS for educational neglect and I guarantee you that he or she
will never homeschool. The threat is intimidating to me. It is bound
to have a chilling effect on the most successful educational movement
in America today.
So drop the idea of "reasonable standards."
You have grown comfortable with the fact that public schools are
going to fail a certain percent of the children. You don't like
it but you accept it as "the way it is." Accept the fact that some
homeschoolers will fail also. But by trying to make sure homeschoolers
don't fail, you are unwittingly causing other children who would
be homeschool successes to become public school failures.
Ten Reasons Not to Homeschool
January 12, 1995
Why send your kids to public schools
rather than homeschool. Here are ten good reasons
10. Skill development:
Public schools do a great job of teaching
children to sit down and shut up while the teacher engages in crowd
control and mindless administrative duties. The ability to put one's
mind on hold, sit there and do nothing is a skill that will be in
high demand in the competitive marketplace of the future.
9. Lack of ability:
I couldn't teach my own child--I don't
know how. After all, anything meaningful in life can only be taught
by those properly trained and certified to do so.
8. Financial aspects:
We can't financially afford to homeschool.
Without the school based health clinics, how could we afford to
keep our children supplied with condoms and birth control.
7. Goals 2000:
I want my children to learn all the correct
stuff. Given how fast history changes, I want to be sure they are
up on the most recent version.
6. Scheduling benefits:
Staying on the same schedule as everybody
else has its benefits. That way, when we go to Orlando, we can make
sure that we spend our time waiting in lines rather than wasting
it on all those rides and attractions.
5. Close friendships:
I like the fact that my children are
spending so much of their time with people not in their family.
I would much rather my children's closest friendships be outside
the family rather than within.
4. Separation of church
and state: As long as we keep
church and state separate, then the more time I can keep my kids
under the control of the state, the less time they can possible
be under the harmful influence of the church.
What possible better way could there
be to give your children the social skills they will need as adults
than to stick them with children their own age all day. Besides,
the best influence on your child is the one randomly assigned to
the seat behind him or her in home room.
2. Class size:
Learning can't occur in groups of less than
twenty students. There is nothing quite like being lock-stepped
through material with thirty other students to really develop within
a person that true love for learning.
1. Class pace:
I want my child to know how to learn at the
proper pace. If a child can't keep up with the class, then it serves
that child right to be left behind in the dust. If the child is
learning too fast, then he or she needs to learn to slow down. And
besides, what gives any child the right to assume that he or she
can learn things he or she wants to learn rather than what the board
of education decides should be taught for any given grade level.
Anything learned at the wrong time might just as well be left unlearned.
Birth Order: Satire From a Youngest
Only marginally related to homeschooling
January 14, 1995
My wife and I are both the youngest
child. Combine that with our own experience as parents and we often
satirically talk about how things change as you have more children:
Feeling the Baby Move
I placed my hand on my wives tummy every chance I could for two months
waiting for that first time when I could feel the baby move. Hours
upon hours I waited until that magic moment when, I felt this little
movement. We called all of our relatives to tell them about the blessed
When it first happened, my wife called me at the office. I quickly
ran home and felt the baby move. We included the experience in all
of our letter to our family.
She told me the baby moved. I told her I would check it our during
the next commercial break. I missed out because her mother called
on the telephone so I went on watching Monday night football. By
the end of the third quarter, I finally felt the baby move.
We were in bed and I was trying to sleep. I turned to her and said
"Cant you make your tummy stay still? I'm trying to sleep." When
it became clear that the baby would be jumping around for a while,
we called the pizza man for a delivery.
The Trip to the Hospital
Every time we felt the slightest B&H contraction, we rushed to
the hospital. I would carry my wife to the car and lay her down in
the back seat surrounded by pillows.
We timed the contractions. By the time she had three in thirty minutes,
we rushed to the hospital. She sat in the front seat, with it leaned
back and a pillow behind her head and another at her feet.
I came home from the office as soon as she started having regular
contractions. When they were five minutes apart and hard, we went
to the hospital. I gave her a pillow to hold along the way.
When she called me at the office and told me that she was having
contractions hard and five minutes apart, I told her to drive to
the hospital. I would meet her there as soon as I finished the set
of correspondence I was working on. I reminded her not to forget
The First Step
My wife grabbed the camera. I grabbed the Video Camera. My wife took
four rolls of film. We immediately ran out to the one-hour developing
place and had all four rolls developed with double prints. We had
the best picture blown up to 24" X 36" and framed. We hung it up in
the entry hall. I had a professional studio turn the four hours of
video I taped into a one-hour documentary complete with voice-over
by a local anchor-man.
We took one roll of film and five minutes worth of video. The next
day we took the film and had it developed by a twenty-four hour
developing center. I took the best picture and put it into my wallet.
We couldn't find the video-camera and we only had five shots left
on the roll of film. We took all five shots but I don't remember
if we ever got the roll developed.
I quickly got up and grabbed the camera. I placed it up high so
the child wouldn't grab it.
The First Time the Child Fell and
Got a Cut
My wife and I frantically ran over to the child. We swept him up
and rushed him to the emergency room. No stitches were needed but
we spent the night with him in his room just in case the bleeding
We walked over to her, picked her up and quickly bandaged her up.
We spent the next two hours rocking her in the living room to comfort
I told my wife that if he was still crying in a couple of minutes,
we should go over and make sure he isn't hurt too badly. When he
didn't stop crying, we bandaged up the cut and laid him in his bed
for a while but we went on about our business.
We told the child that if she were still bleeding in a few minutes
to come over here and we would see what we could do. When the child
came walking up to the door, we told her to stay outside because
we didn't want her bleeding on the carpet.
Pacifier Falls on Floor
Mother picks it up, runs to the kitchen and disinfects it by boiling
in water for ten minutes. Then, after it cools down for ten minutes,
she gives it back to the child.
Mother picks it up, washes it off in hot water, blows on it to cool
it down, and gives it back to the child
Mother picks it up, licks it off, and gives it back to the child.
Dog picks it up and licks it off. Mother gives it back to the child.
Becoming Comfortable With a Concept
February 4, 1995
There is an old adage in speaking
(and sometimes in marketing) that says that the way you get someone
to learn something is that you tell them what you are going to tell
them, then you tell them, and then you tell them what you told them.
There was a big debate in psychology
as to whether learning abstract concepts occur all at once (the
"ah-ha" phenomenon) or whether we learn them gradually. I see legitimacy
on both sides of the debate. I personally adopt a point somewhere
in between (for lack of a better term, I call it the "gradual ah-ha").
I feel that people first "get comfortable" with a concept before
they learn it. Its a lot easier to learn something if you know the
context in which it is found, the terminology surrounding it, etc.
When people feel comfortable with the concept, then it is much easier
to learn. Rather than it being this mysterious, difficult concept
that is suddenly thrust upon me, it is something that I have heard
about and thought about. Then, suddenly, I put all of the little
pieces together and "ah-ha, I know what it means."
Let me give an example. My two older
children (seven and five) love to ask math questions. "What is sixteen
times eight?" "What is half of forty?" Not long ago, my seven year
old asked a set of questions where the answers had decimal points
in them. I just naturally give my answers in the natural way (e.g.,
"three point two," "eighty-six point three five," etc.). Today at
breakfast, he asked "Dad, what does, 'point' mean." I gave him the
simplest explanation possible but I still don't think he completely
figured it out. I didn't press the point (no pun intended). I just
left it at that. I know him well enough to think that his is pondering
the answer and he will soon grasp the concept.
The point of this story (again, no
pun intended) is that I don't worry that he doesn't always fully
understand everything. In fact, I am intentionally exposing him
to concepts that are beyond his current level so that he will be
getting comfortable with them. Later, these concepts will be much
easier to learn.
This extends much beyond just math.
For example, except under certain limited circumstances, I make
no effort to adjust my vocabulary when talking to my kids. They
don't know all of the words I use but I feel that they are getting
comfortable with them, seeing them in context, etc. As a result,
it will be much easier for them to, at a later point, bring them
into their vocabulary (there's some real interesting stuff on levels
of a person's vocabulary that I don't have time to discuss now).
Now for my homeschooling pitch. It
seems that this type of learning is much more natural in a "lax"
homeschooling environment. With a few significant exceptions, we
don't start our day with lesson plans. But we do make sure that
we are discussing issues that are relevant to our educational goals.
We don't necessarily cover them in a linear fashion but rather bring
them in casually and then discuss them periodically (usually when
the child initiates the discussion).
I am sure that much of what I am
saying here falls well within the "unschooling" philosophy. If it
weren't for the one to two hours of formal schooling we do each
day, we could probably be considered unschoolers. For most subjects,
we try to provide a rich, though sometimes advanced, learning environment
and let the environment help the kids become comfortable with what
they will need to learn.
Our Homeschool Experience
February 12, 1995
Steve Covey, in his national bestseller
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People lays out basic principles
for success in life. The one that has had the greatest impact on
my life he titled "Begin With the End In Mind." Put simply, he is
saying that we should think about where we are going with anything
before we start and should always keep that final goal mind. In
looking at our homeschool experience, I am trying to do exactly
that. I have spent a lot of time trying to answer the following
question: What do I want our children to gain out of the untold
hours we will spend together in this experience we call homeschooling?
Let me explain my philosophy as it pertains to the future material
success of my children.
In essence, that my major goal in
the "academic" side of homeschooling is to prepare my kids for college
because that is the path that has the highest chances for material
success. This is my goal for the academic side of homeschooling
because I think that it will be investing the most in their "human
capital." In no way do I mean to equate capital or equity with intrinsic
worth of a person. I know a lot of people who have the ability to
acquire vast amounts of material goods and who have lives that are
miserable and of little value to anyone outside of commerce. On
the other hand, I know people who make very modest livings who are
some of the greatest people on earth. But I must also recognize
that certain decisions we make and courses of action we follow will
lead to material prosperity and others will lead in the other direction.
Money does not buy happiness, but
then again, neither does poverty. All other things being equal (though
they seldom are), I would prefer more money to less money. I would
assume that most people feel that way. I personally want to be a
person that receives a greater financial return for my career contributions
rather than one that receives a modest amount. I am also assuming
that my kids will fall into the same category. It is not an obsession
with me by any means but, since I must be doing something with my
career, I might as well do something that pays well.
So how does one put himself or herself
into such a position as to receive greater financial returns for
their efforts? I personally believe that it is by investing in one's
self--that is, increasing one's personal capital. There are many
ways to do this. But I believe that it can best be done through
acquiring what I will call the "three c's of personal capital":
competence, credentials, and contacts.
The first and most basic element
of human capital is competence. When I am given money for my time,
it is generally because I can provide some service for that time.
The higher the monetary value placed on my service, the more money
I can command for it. What determine how much money I can command?
It is determined by the basic laws of supply and demand. I need
to be able to do something that is in high demand but not in high
Some people believe that we should
simply pursue our interests without consideration of the financial
rewards this might bring. That is fine unless you are going to be
upset that others won't pay you for doing what you like doing.
I love playing basketball. However,
I gave up my basketball scholarship to attend a better university.
Beyond college graduation, I didn't see much of a demand, and quite
a large supply, of marginal, ex-college basketball player.
I chose to go to a school and get
a series of degrees in something that interested me much less than
basketball. But I didn't choose an area that I hated either. I am
doing something I enjoy and something where there is enough of a
demand so that I can earn a wage that allows me to do other things
in my life (for example, it makes it relatively easy to homeschool
our kids). But if I had enough money not to be doing it, I probably
would be doing something else. It bothers me to no end to see people
who moan and groan that no one wants to pay them for doing what
interests them. If you want to purely pursue your interests, that's
OK but realize that there will be financial consequences of doing
so. If you want more money, then develop the ability to do something
that others will pay you more money for doing. Few of us take our
hard earned money and give it to others just so they can do something
THEY enjoy or think is important. We shouldn't expect others to
do the same for us. I believe a lot of people would be much better
off if they would just expand their interests and develop the competence
to do things that are in demand and not just what suits their fancy
at a particular point in time.
I personally believe that this should
be considered when choosing a college major. I am in a field where
people can succeed without a degree in the area. However, there
are certain core concepts they must understand and practice. There
is also a vocabulary they must be able to use. Finally, there is
a mind-set they must adopt. They don't have to major in my field
to get these thing. In fact, I would bet that the majority of people
working in my field DON'T have formal training in the field. However,
a twenty-two year old who has a degree in my area is way ahead of
the game in terms of having these needed competencies than the twenty-two
year old who has been studying something else.
But there is also another side of
this coin too. Since few of us spend our whole professional career
doing the same thing, we need to be continually updating our competencies.
Otherwise we will be passed by those willing to update their competencies.
We need to acquire competencies beyond our formal education. The
person who thinks that he or she can get a college or even a graduate
education and then coast for the rest of his or her career is sorely
mistaken. The college degree is the start and not then end of developing
the competencies we need in our careers.
After formal education, a person
must have the ability to develop on their own. I can't help but
feel that homeschooling does a better job of preparing kids to do
than that the formal structured education. So as I work on educating
my kids, I focus on those areas that will help them get through
a rigorous college and graduate education but I also try to encourage
the desire for lifelong learning. They will spend a life learning
or else they will see their personal capital deteriorate to nothing
in just a few years after college.
The second element of personal capital
is "credentials." We are in a society where it is getting harder
and harder to know whether people have the competence to do the
things a job requires. For most jobs, however, analytical thinking,
the ability to communicate, the ability to make decisions, etc.
I personally believe that people think that a college education
is necessary for people to have such skills. Even if they don't
completely believe this, they often use a college degree as a way
for screening applicants because it is the easiest "first pass."
This is not necessarily always justified. It may even be as inaccurate
to say that one needs a college education to have the proper skills
as it is to say that people need to go to traditional skills to
develop proper social skills. However, like it or not, it is the
world in which we live. Without the credentials, we are shut out
of many career opportunities.
Often when screening candidates,
companies use educational achievement as the initial screening mechanism.
Certain jobs and careers absolutely require certain educational
achievements. I don't see this changing any time soon. I want my
kids to do well in college because I know that it will give them
the credentials needed to get past those people who, for whatever
reason, can't see the person for the paperwork.
Finally, I believe that as we develop
a network of contacts, we increase our personal capital. It amazes
me how often that I can get something done or get a question answered
easily because I know the right person. Someone from outside my
particular "network" would have a hard time getting the same thing
done. We live in a world that is so complex and fragmented that
most people depend on others to help them do their own job in the
most effective and efficient way possible. Without the ability to
form networks, one's personal capital will be limited.
Again, here is an advantage of homeschooling.
People who see us homeschooling instinctively ask us the "S" question
(i.e., socialization). It is a legitimate question. Our kids must
develop the social skills or else they will not do well in most
careers. Developing social skills is probably MORE important than
developing most of the academic skills we learn. We should be concerned
about our kids socialization skills. What most people simply don't
realize is than the typical homeschooling environments provide a
superior setting for developing these skills, not an inferior one.
That, by itself, is enough of a reason for me to homeschool.
I would say that I am much more sensitive
to my children's social development than their intellectual development.
Without social skills, their ability to increase their personal
capital is limited.
So I continue to believe that the
best way to provide my child with the maximum ability to receive
greater financial reward for his or her professional services is
to homeschool with particular emphasis on the following:
We combine this with and emphasis on
the spiritual values we believe are essential to living a joyful and
fulfilled life and the close family ties that I long to maintain.
These are the things that provides the clear direction for our homeschool
- developing the skills needed to
get a good college education;
- developing the proper work ethic;
- encouraging a love for learning;
- developing social skills.
Why Teach History
February 21, 1995
Why should I teach my children history?
That sounds like a dumb question to even ask. But, as I hear different
homeschoolers discuss history, I get the idea that there may be
different reasons for teaching history. I learned a long time ago
that why you teach something dramatically affects how
you teach it. For example, every time I teach consumer behavior
(a class I often teach at the university), I start out with two
different basic reasons for studying CB and then explain what the
reason will be in this class for studying CB. I do this so that
students will know why we are discussion certain things the way
we are discussing them.
Well, this seems to be ever so true
in the study of history. I see people using the study of history
for many different things. Let me briefly explain what I see are
three "good" reasons for studying history and two "bad" reasons
for studying history. I'm sure I've overlooked some on both sides.
I'm also sure that some of what I am about to say will offend some.
I'm not intentionally trying to start a flame war but I am putting
on my flame-resistant shorts just the same.
The major reason I see for studying
history is that we can learn from the past. We don't need to reinvent
the wheel every time we face something new. I am convinced that the
world would be a much better place if more people understood the successes
and failures of the past and the things that made these successes
and failures. However, as the unfortunately true statement goes "the
one thing we seem to learn from history is that we don't seem to learn
from history." Perhaps at least in teaching history to my children
I can do a small part in changing this.
A second major reason for studying
history is that it gives a better understanding of why things are
the way they are. For example, it is hard to understand the current
political climate in the absence of an understanding of its historical
context. We cannot even understand why we are where we are without
history, much less try to figure out where we are going or how we
should get where we want to be.
A third major reason for studying
history is that I can get inspiration for doing great things. We
purchased a set of historical audio tapes for our children. My seven
year old son listened to them over and over. It was my hope that
he would become inspired by the accomplishments of people like the
Wright brothers and Booker Washington to accomplish things for himself.
I think that it is good that we celebrate the accomplishments of
people like Martin Luther King if, in doing so, young men and women
are inspired to stand for the principles that he stood for and accomplish
what he accomplished. I also think that it is good to study people
like Adolph Hitler if, in doing so, people are inspired to stand
against what the things he is stood for.
Now, let me discuss two "bad" reasons
for studying history. Here is where I am sure I will get flamed.
First, I see that history is often
taught as a means for making people feel guilty. I feel no guilt
whatsoever about anything that Thomas Jefferson, Christopher Columbus,
or my United States government did about anything before 1955 (and
probably before 1973--can anyone guess my age from this). I don't
feel guilt about the dropping of the atomic bomb or about the slave
trade. I don't feel guilty about anything that my ancestors did
or my race did. Why? Don't I believe that what they did was wrong?
Yes I do. But the key point is that THEY did it. I had no part of
it. You can point out how terrible any number of historical figures
were and I would probably agree with you. But I can't lay claim
to any of their accomplishments and I certainly can't be blamed
for any of their failures. The best I can do is use their lives
as inspirations as to how I can achieve and how I can avoid doing
harmful things similar to the things they did. But I cannot and
will not accept any of the blame for their mistakes.
Second, I think it is bad that history
is often used to divide people. We see this all around the world.
One group of people hates another group of people because of how
they wronged each other in the past. Sometimes, it is history that
brings about war. Sometimes it is history that brings about inter-race
hatred. Sometimes it is history that allows one person to dehumanize
another human because of some wrong committed in the past. Any person
who justifies hatred based on some historical event is wrong and
would be well served by burying the past. There are parts of this
world where never-ending circles of hatred exist that won't ever
end until the people involved quit using history as a basis for
(or at least a justification for) their hatred. Hatred is ALWAYS
wrong and I would dare say that more hatred has evolved out of a
study of history than just about any other source.
So, as a homeschooler, I want to
use history to help my children learn from the achievements and
failures of others. I want to use history to help my children understand
why things are how they are so that they can hopefully make a better
world. I will even use history to try and inspire my children to
greatness. But I will not use history to make my children feel guilty
for something that they did not do nor will I use history as a source
of hatred. I think getting this clear in my mind will dramatically
affect how I teach history.
Diversity in Home Education
March 1, 1995
Some people believe that one of the
greatest inventions of the Twentieth Century is the VCR. With this
wonderful device you can record all of your favorite TV programs
and fast forward through the commercials. I am a marketing professor.
One of the big disadvantages of not watching much TV is that I miss
out on all of those commercials. We don't get cable and for that
reason, I didn't get to watch the Super Bowl this year. Missing
the football game didn't bother me. Missing all of those great "million
dollar" commercials did bother me.
Fortunately, I am able to get tapes
of the best commercials. But if I didn't, I would probably subscribe
to cable and tape programs. But I would probably be fast-forwarding
through the programs so I could get to the commercials.
OK, how does this relate to homeschooling.
One thing I notice on this list is that one person's blessing is
another person's curse. One group can't stand the long philosophical
discussions and others must love them for there are many participants.
To one family, "safe-sex" lessons are the problem and to another,
they are the solution. To one family, structure is the key whereas
to another family, the lack of structure is the key. One family
wishes to minimize the effect of TV on their children while another
family uses TV as a key part of their teaching experience. And on
and on I could go.
How can a public school (or most
private schools for that matter) make a one-size-fits-all education
fit an incredibly diverse population. The answer is that they can't.
The best they can do is to try and not inhibit the diversity. Usually
what they do is much worse in that they actually try to eliminate
There is great societal benefits
associated with diversity (I will not get into this long philosophical
discussion). Homeschooling is a means to maintain such diversity
where as public schools tend to punish such diversity. I have recently
come to the conclusion that one of the greatest societal benefits
of homeschooling is that it encourages diversity within our society.
Now to take this a little lower than
the philosophical level. Wen we first started homeschooling, our
feeling was that we felt we had to find the "right" way to homeschool.
We were most interested in identifying how others homeschooled so
we could do it like them. When we would hear that someone else was
doing something that we weren't doing, our immediate reaction would
be "oh no, are we forgetting something."
Then, fortunately, I subscribed to
home-ed. It didn't take long to figure out that there is no one
way to homeschool. What we should be doing is not worrying about
what is the best approach to homeschooling but what is the best
approach for OUR homeschool. Our family is unique and our children
are unique. We can do what we think is best for us regardless of
what any other homeschooling family does or does not do.
Once we realized this, homeschooling
went from being a nervous experience to one of the most interesting
and fun challenges of my life. We stopped focusing on others and
started focusing on our children. We stopped worrying about what
we weren't doing and started enjoying what we were doing. We gained
incredible freedom in knowing that our homeschool experience can
be whatever we make it out to be (note to the "philosopher" types,
don't read too much into this--I am not advocating relativism).
That doesn't mean that I ignored
what others were doing. I have gained a lot from the experiences
of others. But I can decide whether or not it is something we should
be doing. I can keep what I think would be good for our family and
throw away what I think would be bad. I can even modify a good suggestion
so that it works even better in our home.
The most common response I get from
people who like the fact that we are homeschooling but don't homeschool
themselves is that "oh, I could never do that, I don't know how."
I wish they could comprehend what I just said. Homeschooling is
not that complicated. It is not like a problem in an accounting
class where there is a right answer. Like parenting, homeschooling
is exactly what you make of it. All you need to homeschool is a
love for your children and a desire for what is best for them. Then
watch them and let them (and your unique set of family dynamics)
lead your experience. It is that simple. Forget about whether or
not you can do it right. In the words of one of those famous commercials
I love, Just Do It.
Reading Versus Television
March 1, 1995
We encourage our children to read
and yet we discourage them from watching television. Some people
have commented that this is inconsistent. "Why is the written word
a superior way to get information than television?" That's an interesting
point of view worth further exploration.
Reading is a skill that is in much
greater demand than the demand for watching TV. I have seen few
jobs that require a person to be able to watch TV but reading is
an integral part of many jobs. Why?
The written word is an incredibly
flexible and efficient way of communication. I can write something
down and, in no time, it can be communicated to many different people.
Not only that, I can assimilate vast amounts of information through
reading in a very short time. I would argue that a good reader can
acquire more information in reading for two hours than someone watching
TV can acquire in a full day. I know some people predict the eventual
downfall of the written or printed word. It will only be gone if
a more efficient means of communicating large amounts of information
I am able to gain a lot of information
quickly because I am a fast reader with good comprehension skills.
I want my children to have the same ability. It will save them massive
amounts of time and they will be able to assimilate vast quantities
of information. I don't see the same benefit if they acquire the
ability to be great TV watchers.
So, if I have a choice of encouraging
my child to read a book or watch a TV program, I would much rather
him read a book. I have a seven year old who absolutely loves Archie
comic books. We buy every one of them that we can find for him.
Why? It would be much cheaper to let him watch free cartoons on
TV than to buy these comics. And, after all, when he finishes reading
an Archie comic book, he probably has no more knowledge than if
he watched a cartoon or a TV program. But, in my humble opinion,
he is much better off after reading the Archie comic because he
has had a little more practice at something that will help him in
We encourage Alonzo to read just
about anything that interests him (within certain limits). Even
if he doesn't get anything out of the content, he is accomplishing
something in that he is practicing developing his reading skills.
On the other hand, our TV viewing
is quite limited. So much of it is a waste of time and this time
could be so much better spent, even if it is in just reading a useless
Archie comic book.
Bicycling in the Morning
March 5, 1995
I don't want to revive the bicycling
thread. I just thought I would share this with the list.
I am a professor and so I have a
flexible schedule. I tend to work more at night and take mornings
off so I can: 1) exercise, 2) take care of the kids so that my wife
can exercise, and 3) spend time with the kids in the morning when
they are at their best. Also, since I teach two nights a week, taking
mornings off fits quite well into my schedule.
Two days ago, we spent the whole
morning fixing up the family's bicycles. I was so excited about
going bicycling together as a family. Then, yesterday, it rained
all morning. :-( I felt like a little child who had just had his
Well, today, I finished my workout
and made it home by about 9:00 AM. It was cloudy but not raining.
Lisa went and worked out and made it home by about 10:30 AM. Right
as all of us got on our bicycles, the sun came out and stayed out.
It was a beautiful morning. We then spent the next hour riding our
bicycles around the neighborhood. I honestly can't remember the
last time I had that much fun. We raced. We played Top Gun. We found
a cull-da-sack (for those of you big on phonics, you can figure
out what I am saying; my dictionary is not handy and, so, I'm not
even going to attempt to spell that one correctly) and went in circles
for at least fifteen minutes. It was so much fun. I hope it's nice
tomorrow so we can do it again.
"What in the world does this have
to do with homeschooling?" you ask. The most amazing part of this
was that in the full hour we were on the streets of our neighborhood,
not one single automobile passed us by. Not one!!!!! Why. Everybody
else was at work and/or in school. Because we homeschool, combined
with the fact that I have a flexible schedule, we basically had
the neighborhood to ourselves. If our kids were in school, we may
have missed out on this moment. Even if we did it after they got
out of school, chances are the number of cars on the street would
have made it less enjoyable. But, as it stands, because we homeschool,
we basically had the whole neighborhood to ourselves for riding
As "the regulars" on the list know,
I spend a lot of time thinking about the advantages and disadvantages
of homeschooling. To be certain, there are definite educational
and socialization advantages. But I can't think of any better advantage
than the fact that I had this wonderful, uninterrupted experience
with my kids this morning. I hope they will remember it as one of
those special family times. I know that it (and others like it)
will be some of the very best memories I will have to look back
on when I am old. And this memory was made a bit better because
we were able to go bicycling on our time, when schools and jobs
had the rest of the world occupied.
Don't Lose the Memories
May 15, 1995
I remember the first time Alonzo
started walking. We were visiting friends in Dallas, Texas. He had
been walking around tables, chairs, and anything else he could hold
on to for several weeks. Though this was the only time I've seen
these friend's living room, I remember everything about it--the
way the furniture was situated, the exact look of the coffee table,
even where everyone was sitting. We were just sitting around talking
when Alonzo got to the edge of the coffee table. But rather than
taking a turn like he usually did, he went straight--four steps
straight for my wife's knee. Lisa and I went crazy. "Did you see
that?" "Yes I did." "Good Alonzo..." I am sure that I will remember
this until the day I die.
This is one of the many memories
I have of seeing my children grow, learn, try new things, and stretch
themselves. I have to admit that they are some of the best memories
I have in my life--the first time Alice went riding her bicycle
without training wheels, the first time Alaina said a prayer, the
first time Allen used the computer... There are few greater joys
that a parent can experience than seeing their children grow up.
I have only one chance to see my
children grow up. To be quite honest, I don't want some school which
is blocks away to have this joy. It should be mine. Further, I seriously
doubt if some second grade teacher with thirty students in a class
would enjoy seeing my children learn nearly as much as I do. I will
not let schools rob me of experiences such as the one we had a couple
of weeks ago when we were teaching place value in addition. I first
taught the concept through using an abacus and then I was showing
Alonzo how it worked "on paper." I gave him a particularly difficult
problem and he solved it. Then I asked "are you sure?" He quickly
ran over to the table, grabbed the abacus, "checked his math," and
then said, "yea dad, I'm sure." That experience, and a thousand
like them, are mine to watch, enjoy, remember, and cherish. I feel
sad for the millions of parents who are giving these types of experiences
away to the schoolhouses every day.
Getting Alonzo Interested in Basketball--Not
June 13, 1995
One thing I try to do is to direct
my children's interests. Once they are interested in something,
it is much easier to teach them in that area. So, my goal in teaching
is to first create interest and then walk with the child in exploring
There is a limit to how much you
can direct your kid's interests. I have done everything I can to
get Alonzo's interested in basketball. I have tried the subtle approach--"Alonzo,
I think I'll go play some basketball" to which he says, not even
looking up from his book, "Have fun dad. See you later." So, I think,
maybe I'll be a little less subtle--"Alonzo, do you want to go play
basketball" to which he replies "Dad, you know basketball is not
my game" and quickly returns to what he is reading. So, I think,
maybe I can get his competitive spirit into it "Alonzo, I bet I
can beat you in a game of basketball" to which he replies "Maybe
Allen wants to play." Allen runs up and we go play basketball as
Alonzo goes over, grabs the book Allen had been reading and starts
Maybe I could hook him first as a
spectator. At least that's what I thought. I had Lisa bring him
to my city league games but before the opening tip, he would be
off playing under the bleachers. I wonder if he found a book under
there or what. I did get him to watch some of the NBA playoffs with
me. But, I did have to bribe him and as soon as the pop corn was
gone so was he.
Then, I thought, you're a marketing
professor. Attack it from a marketing perspective--subliminal perception.
Knowing that one of the best players in the NBA is also named Alonzo,
I kept my eye out for his posters. Then when I found the perfect
one. The top part has, in real big letters "ALONZO" and then below,
it shows a picture of him going in for a lay-up. I hung it up over
Alonzo's bed in hopes of a little "subliminal persuasion." It didn't
work. I don't think he even noticed anything but the name and the
small print in the corner, of which he read every word.
Wait, typing this into the computer
just gave me a great idea. Does anyone know of any good kids books
on basketball? I'm getting desperate.
June 22, 1995
I just had a real interesting essay
come across my desk. It was written by John P. Kotter of the Harvard
Business School and appeared in the Atlanta Constitution. The basic
theme was that the world has changed and, when it comes to career
development, the old rules don't apply anymore. The article ended
with the following statement:
It's tempting to think at
graduation time that your education is over. Nothing could be further
from the truth. One hundred years ago people thought of work as
a job. Fifty years ago, work became a career. In the future, work
for the most successful among us will be an exercise in lifelong
Buzz-words come and go in academia and
in business. In business academia, this is even more true since we
latch on to the buzz-words from both academia and business as well
as create a few of our own. One of the most popular buzz-words of
the day is "lifelong learning" (OK its two words). But at the core
of the buzz-word is indeed an important concept. If you have a job
that requires learning, knowledge, skills, etc., you must be committed
to lifelong learning or else you will become obsolete very soon. If
you can't stand to learn, the workplace of the future may not be very
fun for you.
It has been my experience that nothing
kills people's desire to learn more than boring learning experiences.
Yes indeed, there are times when all of us need to learn something
that is much less than exciting. On the other hand, I would say
that most of what people need to learn to stay ahead is fun and
exciting. However, their spark for learning has long passed due
to too many boring classes, trite textbooks, and mindless educational
We has home educators have the opportunity
to make a difference, at least in the lives of our children. I believe
that there are things that we must teach our children that, at the
time, are not very fun for them. However, before we subject our
children to such learning, I think we must critically ask ourselves
some key questions: Do they really need to learn this? Do they really
need to learn it now (what bores a kid when we throw it at them
may be the same thing that really excites the child when he or she
discovers it in his or her own time)? Is there a more exciting way
to teach what this child needs to know? After answering these questions,
we may find that a lot of what we are teaching our child is needlessly
developing a distaste for learning that he or she must overcome
to develop a love for lifelong learning.
I think we as home educators are
also challenged to model lifelong learning to our kids. If we can't
get excited about learning, how can we expect them to do so. But
if we do, I think our excitement for learning is easily picked up
by our kids.
Finally, I think we need to break
away from the traditional paradigm of what is learning. Learning
takes may forms. If we confine it to the traditional areas, we may
be inhibiting our kids from developing a love for learning when
their learning is in an area we typically don't associate with learning.
For example, learning all of the facts about major league baseball
or learning how to assort and dress dolls may not seem like important
learning but, if it is a step in the developing the love for learning,
it can be some of the most important learning a child can do (this
is not intended to be another slam on baseball--my computer still
hasn't cooled down from the flames from my last venture into sharing
my opinion on the matter). A child must learn that learning can
be fun and I am convinced that the child must experience this from
learning about something of interest to the child.
February 15, 1997
Many homeschoolers are teaching their
children through an approach called unschooling. As the name implies,
it is opposite to all that traditional schools do. Some people believe
that unschooling is unchristian. I don't think so. Let me explain
When people ask me what unschooling
is, I tell them that it is where we "create a learning rich environment
and then let the kids go." Kids are naturally curious. I believe
God made them that way. Let them loose and they will rush headlong
We don't need to do anything to get
children excited about learning. The only reason any child doesn't
see learning as a pure joy is because we make it a miserable experience.
We take a child who was made to be active and tell him or her to
sit there for six hours in the name of learning. Then we wonder
why they don't like to learn. Its like taking ice cream, pouring
used motor oil on top of it, and wondering why a child doesn't like
Around our home, our learning environment
consists of three components. First, we have a compulsory component.
We are not pure unschoolers because we do force our children to
learn certain things. But this is the smallest part of our educational
experience. We only do this in areas where the child might not see
the educational value before the learning experience. Perhaps I
am of little faith, but I can't see our children memorizing their
multiplication tables "just for fun.
Second, there is an environmental
component. We create a learning rich environment. Everything in
our home has educational value. Some of what we have fosters creativity.
Other material presents facts. There are shelves and shelves of
books. We have many educational CDs for the computer. Our walls
have posters and maps. Arts and crafts supplies abound (I know,
I trip over then all the time). We have one whole closet that is
nothing but supplies needed for science experiments. We don't need
to lord over our children to get them to learn. Just let do whatever
they can find to do. We know it will have educational value.
Third, we have a social component.
We are active participants with our children in the educational
experience. Education is what we do WITH our children and not what
we do TO our children. Our children like to read because mom and
dad like to read. Our children like math because mom and dad like
math. Our children discuss geography because mom and dad discuss
geography. Our children like science because mom and dad find science
interesting. Kids love to be "part of the action" and, around our
house, the action is learning.
Unschooling emphasizes the second
and third of these components. We can argue about whether or not
the compulsory component is necessary. I don't see a clear Biblical
mandate that it either is or is not. But even if the compulsory
component is important, the environmental and social components
are clearly superior in helping our children learn. Children will
keep their love for learning alive when they are having fun learning
what they have chosen to learn. They will learn more when they are
learning what interests them. As the ancient proverb states, when
the student is ready, the teacher will appear. And, regardless of
what our popular culture proclaims, loving parents are still the
most influential people in children's lives. If we are excited about
learning, our children will be excited too.
So, we have three components of a
learning system. I acknowledge that all three components may be
necessary. But I also recognize that two of the components are more
important, more effective, and more fun that the other one. Put
quite simply, there are two superior components and one inferior
component. Is there Christian virtue in emphasizing the inferior
component over the superior two? Are we doing what the Bible commands
when we force our children to do something they hate when, with
a little creativity, we could make it enjoyable to them?
Not long ago I went to the doctor
for some tests. No treatment was needed, but lets say it was. One
form of treatment meant drinking a glass of liquid that tasted much
like a chocolate milkshake. A second form of treatment meant receiving
a nice back massage from my wife. The third treatment would require
surgery and weeks of painful recovery. Then my doctor tells me that
he is prescribing the surgery. I ask why? Is it more effective?
"No, actually it is less effective."
"Then why are you prescribing the
surgery?" I demand.
"See, I am a Christian" he replies.
"Even though the other two treatments are more effective, they are
also more enjoyable. They won't provide you the opportunity to learn
to deal with pain. So I am prescribing the painful surgery. You
may not get well, but you will learn to deal with pain."
What would I do? I would quickly
find another doctor. I would tell all my friends to avoid him too.
"Don't go near him. He wants to me to do the most painful thing
even when enjoyable treatments are more effective. And he says he
is doing so because he is a Christian. He isn't a Christian. He's
I don't think parents who choose
a structured learning environment are unchristian. I just hope they
do so because they believe, mistakenly in my opinion, that they
provide the most effective learning environment. I respect their
Christian faith, even if we disagree on educational philosophy.
But if we subjects their child to
an inferior pedagogy in the absence of a clear Biblical mandate
simply because it is the Christian thing to do, then we need to
rethink our concept of Christian parenting. It is not DESPITE being
Christians that have incorporated many of the ideas of unschooling
into our homeschooling experience. We do so because we believe that
they are more consistent with Biblical parenting as we see it. It
is not only possible to be a Christian unschooler.
Christians homeschoolers should
feel obligated to investigate the advantages of an unstructured
learning environment and consider letting more and more of a Childs
direction be determined by creating a learning rich environment
and providing strong parental role models. The loving, therefore
the Christian thing to do is to make coercion a last resort.