If you didn’t catch the first part of this look at the myths of homeschooling, click this link or else you’ll have no foundation from which to understand what follows.
With that, let’s look at more myths of homeschooling.
Myth #4: The ________________ method is by far the best way to homeschool kids
Fill-in that blank with “biblical,” “classical,” “constructivist” or whatever the hottest trend in homeschooling is, and I’ll bet dollars to donuts it misses the point most of the time.
A simple question: “What education is sufficient to ensure your child can eat in the future?” Truthfully, the education most of us received is wholly inadequate to ensure anything so basic as survival. Whenever I hear people insist they provide their children a biblical education, I ask if they’re teaching crop rotation and animal husbandry. That’s what people in Bible times knew, right?
We’ve romanticized education to the point that it provides little to people today. We think of ourselves as educated, but if times got tough, could we feed ourselves without having to rely on others to provide us food? Probably not. The farmer in Afghanistan may not know C++, quadratic equations, or the Suzuki method, but he can grow enough food to put on the family table.
When we look at what the people of Bible times learned, much of it doesn’t progress further than a fifth grade education. The problem is that a fifth grader today is never instructed in the things an agrarian society like that of Palestine 1000 BC taught as basic knowledge. They knew how to raise livestock and crops to feed themselves, but we place no merit on that today. To them, we would be fools running around raving about American history and the value of Latin, but we’d die of starvation, our heads filled with spurious “knowledge.”
What was true for people of Biblical or classical times is another set of realities we have devalued. Do we teach our kids how to slaughter animals, manage crops, interpret the weather, and all those other highly valuable bits of wisdom people long ago used daily to survive? Why not? What value does knowing that a particular mushroom’s Latin genus name translates to “pretty maid of the forest” if we can’t tell whether it’s edible or not?
The flip side of this is just as painful. The value of certain kinds of educations are in constant flux. Does it pay to teach your child calculus if all the U.S. jobs that require it are fleeing to cheaper markets? What good is getting a degree in history if it’s used solely for self-reference? In a global economy with priorities in constant flux, can any of us be smart enough to ride the wave of the latest trend and impart it to our child quickly enough to enable them to join us? Many of the people beholden to the new wave of classical homeschooling education convince themselves that children must know Plato, Shakespeare, and Latin. But how practical is that kind of education? Perhaps the people of Bible times had it right. At least they could put their own food on the table when the day was done.
(As for Christians who push Latin, I’d like to know how that language somehow trumped ancient Greek. I understand that Latin serves as the basis for several languages including our own, but with the stark exception of Spanish, Latin-based languages are dying out in the global marketplace. Might as well just learn Spanish. Yes, English uses a lot of Latin, but it uses more of other languages. At least with Greek a child could read the New Testament in its original language.)
Again, I wonder if the way we educate our kids comes down to our own pride. So much of what I hear from homeschooling parents is a giant case of one-upmanship. We may have to swallow that pride, though. Parents of kids now entering their school years may find all colleges will cost a quarter million dollars for four years by the time those children reach 18. Is the middle class prepared to meet a day when we can’t afford to send our kids to college? What then? If we instructed them in a trade that’s relatively impervious to the vagaries of globalism, taught them how to raise their own food, and instilled in them a solid Christian worldview, maybe that’s the best we can hope for.
But is this what we’re teaching?
Myth #5: A parent is a child’s best teacher
That may have been true when the sum total of knowledge could be put into a three volume encyclopedia, but it doesn’t work today. We live in a time when knowledge is increasing almost exponentially and no parent, no matter how wise, can stay on top of it all. This is true of both general knowledge and specific knowledge. A doctor graduating 50 years ago was required to know far less than a second-year med student today. And with the changes in medicine that occur almost daily, keeping up with the latest medical wisdom is a nonstop task for doctors. In addition, a quick scan of a news site shows how general knowledge builds and builds. Expecting any individual to keep up with it on even a basic level is wishful.
While communities of the past understood parents provided basic education, almost everyone in that community would also agree that specialists imparted unique understanding parents could not provide. An island mentality did not best serve their children then, nor will it ours today.
I say “baloney” above because too many parents think they can muddle through as the specialist in their child’s education. “Best teacher” often translates into “only teacher.” When a parent tells me they are relearning Euclidean geometry to help their child learn, I believe the child would do better learning from experts in Euclidean geometry. The finest DVD or computer-driven curriculum will not be able to answer for parents who think they’re experts, yet who are stumped at the first question their kids ask.
I hear Christian parents also talking about how they can best teach their child the Bible, but I contend that Biblical wisdom, even in homes that appear like bastions of Christian thought, is disturbingly lacking. Generally, a fully developed Christian worldview does not exist, even in Christian households. (Nancy Pearcey repeatedly laments this reality in her book Total Truth; I would challenge everyone to read her book. It’s an ugly truth, but it’s truth nonetheless.) Such a lack is shameful, but it’s better to admit our own deficiencies than to persist in believing we’re theologians and rob our kids of the best knowledge of the Bible they might receive. Yes, we must do better in this regard, but experimenting on our kids is not the way to improve our own middling Bible knowledge.
To those attempting to homeschool on their own, I say, “Let go.” There’s no sin in acknowledging that you may not be the best choice to teach your child beyond a couple simple subjects. I applaud the fact that some co-op homeschool groups exist that pass the responsibility of teaching to adults gifted in varying disciplines. Take advantage of that option, if possible, and stop beating yourself up because you were trying to wear a “Superteacher” hat along with all the other dozen hats we force people to wear in the America today.
This series continues in The Myths of Homeschooling #3.
This four-part series: