In Part 1 of this series I introduced the concept of Holistic Learning which focuses on the broader topics of knowledge of self, community, and nature instead of the discreet skills taught in traditional schooling. In Part 2 I discussed different approaches to teaching: transfer, transact, and transform. Now I want to conclude my series with a look at the continuum of homeschooling methods.
The scale moves from highly structured on the left to completely unstructured on the right. Most homeschoolers (and even unschoolers) fall somewhere in between or even hop around depending on their family’s needs. You can also adhere to the tenants of a method but do it in a much less structured manner. For example, Charlotte Mason focuses on learning through literature but you could purchase a Mason Curriculum with workbooks or you could use the information to incorporate literature into your Montessori or Enki methods.
I’m sure my exact placement of some of these would be up for debate and that’s fair. My point was to show that there is a continuum – you could set up a blackboard and desk in your den and follow a prescribed curriculum for 4 hours every day including tests or you could let your kids learn what they want when they want – OR, you could do something in between.
For my philosophy I fall on the far right of the spectrum. These are the Key Features that form my philosophy:
This follows easily from my parenting philosophy which includes child-led weaning, gentle discipline and generally allowing kids to blossom on their own timeline without pressure.
When the children moved into Year 1 [kindergarten equivalent in the US] we found some were regressing educationally and in their social and emotional development. They worried about their learning and this stopped them being effective learners any more. The transition from the foundation stage was such a drastic change. They were used to initiating their own learning and suddenly we were restricting them with literacy and numeracy hours, prescribing what and when they should learn.
One of the downfalls of teaching something too early is that it will be hard. This leads the child to believe that learning therefore must be hard. The effortless with which your child learned to talk and walk and all about the world around them fades away because now learning is “work” that has to be assigned by someone else.
In the coming months I’ll be sharing specific research about the power of delayed reading and delayed mathematics.
There are only two things a human being will ever learn: things that are required and things that are interesting to them. That’s it. You can’t make someone learn something they don’t need (or don’t perceive they need) or something they find boring. It just isn’t going to happen. The human brain is wired to remember only important things – things we learn from experience, observation, and interest.
For example, I would say that knowing how to type is required for my lifestyle. It wasn’t fun to learn or interesting at all but I needed it to function in my environment. If I had been born a Masai this would be useless to me and you couldn’t have made me learn and retain it if you tried till the end of days. There is no need. This is required knowledge.
On the other hand. I find typography interesting. I like knowing the difference between a double story g and a single story g and why the double story was preferred in Roman type. If you don’t find typography interesting you probably want to stab me right now. If I were your teacher I’m sure you could memorize it until I tested you but you would never, ever really learn and retain it. This is interest-driven knowledge.
This leads us to the fourth reason my philosophy of education falls to the holistic;
No Universal Knowledge Inventory
The final feature of the unstructured end of the continuum is a belief that there is no universal inventory of knowledge that all people must have. Think of all the time public schools spend teaching detailed grammar and linguistics. Remember the schwa? That upside down e that meant a letter was a mid-central vowel used as a reduced vowel in many unstressed syllables when syllabic consonants are not used? Yeah, me neither. I had to look it up on Wikipedia. But I remember 6 straight years of spelling tests that had the damn thing.
Why the hell does anyone but a linguist or phoneticist need to know this? They don’t. Most people need to learn to speak in a manner that helps them achieve their desired place in their desired environment. This might mean something different for someone who wants to be a doctor than someone that wants to be a mechanic. It might be different depending on what group you want to be a part of. Saying a word incorrectly might be fine in one setting and make you lose a job in another. Honestly, the skill of knowing the difference in acceptance of your speech to different people based on their non-verbal communication is probably a much more required knowledge than what a schwa is.
Every time you say or write the word “pencil” do you have to mentally remind yourself that the “i” is a schwa? Goodness I hope not.
My point is that public education is really designed to be able to compare a student to something. To other same-age learners. To a standardized test. To something. The curriculum is the same for everyone so that we can compare and rank kids. ”Is he on grade level?” ”What grade does he read at?”
What grade does he read at? What does that even mean!?! Who cares! He reads. He enjoys reading. He reads well enough to accomplish any task he wants. Or he doesn’t yet. What is the purpose of comparing him to other children?
The public school system has their reasoning (funding, statistics, etc.) but often homeschoolers, who are freed from the tyranny of this system, still choose to define their childrens’ “progress” in this way. Often this is because homeschooled kids are judged by other parents based on how they compare to schooled kids. I can certainly understand this pressure. I know that my friends with kids in daycare know things Aellyn doesn’t know. It takes a lot of trust to NOT compare an individual child to the masses.
Trust is the first tool in the unschooler toolbox. That’s what my next series of posts will be on. I’ll explain how unschooling is not lazy parenting (it takes a very involved parent), how kids will ever learn ___ (math, chemistry, etc.) without a curriculum, and the ever present “what about college?” question. Stay tuned for the How to Unschool series!