Sunday, September 5, 2010
I recently had a discussion with a dear lady I respect on the topic of education. We are both mothers of three, we both have been homeschooling our children since our youngest was in kindergarten, and we both come from the same theological perspective. Yet although we are like-minded in many things, we have different educational philosophies. It's easy to assume that we all (parents, Christians, homeschoolers) have the same goals in educating our children, although we utilize different methodologies. That is true in some cases. But often, our different methodologies reflect the fact that we have different goals. A pastor once said to me, if you want to see what someone values, look in their check registry. We can all say we highly value missions, but our check registry might show that we value other things most. As someone whose schedule is determined almost 100% by myself, I think that the way I use my time also shows what I value most. So this is me looking into my own check registry. The way my school day looks is calculated to achieve my highest goals for my children.
A Thorough Knowledge Of and Love For the Scriptures
This is my highest goal in schooling my children. One of the reasons I homeschool is because I believe the Scriptures are related to all of life. Teaching a variety of subjects while excluding God from the discussion doesn't teach a child nothing about God. Excluding God from all subjects is teaching something about God: It is a way of saying that God is irrelevant in much of life. I want my children to grow up knowing how the Bible relates to politics, to economics, environmental conservation, and the arts. And I want these connections to be made naturally and over time, and starting before age three. I don't want this connection to be restricted to a few classes they may take here and there.
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16
My husband and I have opinions about how the Bible is rightly understood and applied, the place of the Bible in our life, and how to foster enthusiasm for the Scriptures (some time I would love to write about this last topic more). All of these things have led my husband and I to consider ourselves the primary Bible teachers for our children, and our primary textbook is the Bible. This was true before I heard of Charlotte Mason, so I was drawn to her writings when I saw that she thought that parents and educators underestimate childrens' abilities when they give them watered-down summaries of books, including the way the Bible is often taught, dumbed-down stories with an easily applied moral lesson. Mason thought children should have the Bible itself read to them, and the Spirit will apply it as He will. She says in volume one of her Original Homeschooling Series, “...we should implant a love of the Word; that the most delightful moments of the child's day should be those in which his mother reads for him, with sweet sympathy and...gladness in voice...the beautiful stories of the Bible...”.
I'm not saying that parents have to homeschool in order for their children to love the Scriptures. And I don't believe that parents need to give their child a Charlotte Mason education in order for a child to love the Scriptures. But we all have to choose the path we believe is the most likely to lead us to our goals. And I think that having an atmosphere in the home like that which Mason wrote about, where we enjoy books together and work together, and the Scriptures are taught with “gladness of voice” is a reflection of what my family values most.
I'm now at the point of my standard disclaimer, and it is necessary that I point out that I don't agree with everything Charlotte Mason has written about education, and certainly not everything she has written about theology. We must all constantly check our most cherished ideas against the standard of the Scriptures.
The Atmosphere of the Home
Having unhurried time forms part of the culture of our home. Having unhurried time is not frivolous. And being unhurried doesn't mean I have 30 minutes to myself between breakfast and dinner most days. The difference between our busyness and the busyness I see in other families is that my children and I are busy together, and enjoying our time together. There are some families who seem to be always in a hurry, stressed out by the commitments they've volunteered for. Busyness for us does not mean we are in a hurry: We are just occupied. On my better days, when I don't allow my mind to be consumed with my mental list on things to do, the atmosphere of our home fosters meaningful conversations. While we are chopping vegetables together, we have had discussions about our favorite books, God's sovereignty, things for are thankful for, what different religions teach, and why some parents baby their children. When we were walking home from visiting a nursing home in our neighborhood recently, my eight year old said to me, “If I'm ever a missionary in a dangerous place, I know what verse I'll use to comfort Christians. 'Go, make disciples of all kinds, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Teach them all the things I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, even till the end of the age, amen.'” He didn't quoted Matthew 28:19-20 perfectly, but in his own words. He he didn't memorize this and the many other lengthy portions of Scripture he knows because I told him he had to memorize these passages. Listening to the Bible on audio is an enjoyable part of our home life. While doing laundry with my boys the other day, my six year old asked me, “Why was the manslayer allowed to leave the city of refuge when the high priest died?” This question was provoked by the passage we are studying at our church Bible study that he was mulling over.
We don't have these types of conversations when I am in a hurry, when the kids are “rushed and jostled,” as my son says. I am teaching my two year old to wash dishes. We work on this every day, but this habit training gets squeezed out of my day when my time commitments are too many.
My children do miss out on some things because I value other things more. And your children miss out on some things because you value other things more.
Charlotte Mason believed that the atmosphere of the home makes up a significant part of a child's education. She wrote that the atmosphere of real life, which includes sibling relationships, interacting with people of different ages, and having household responsibilities, forms an atmosphere that is like fresh wind to a child. When people use statistics to measure the performance of children in different educational settings, I think of the outcomes that are hard to measure, like, do children who are homeschooled like their siblings more than children who are in age-segregated classrooms? And which children have values more in line with their parents' values? Which children are more likely to have their values determined by all the other third-graders? These are questions worth thinking about.
When friends of my husband and I come over, conversations often center around theology. Sometimes my children choose to go play, but it is not rare for them to choose to sit and listen to the discussion. I think that is because discussing theology is a part of the atmosphere of our home. Our children know that ideas are for them too, not just for adults. I hope they will be thinkers throughout their lives because we expect them to be thinkers as children.
Again, I'm not saying that one has to choose a Charlotte Mason education in order to have an atmosphere of enjoying books and ideas and family relationships. But I recognize that people often pass over a Charlotte Mason-style education in favor of one where their children spend hours filling up workbooks, often starting school in the morning, and finishing homework into the night, because they value different things than I do. For some parents, making sure their child knows how to tell time and recite the states and capitals at the age outlined by the U. S. Department of Education is a priority. In my family, learning these things is also a must. But I'm okay with us studying some things after children of the same age, knowing that we are always learning many interesting things. I'm okay with us studying some things in a different order than others do. I'm not okay with our home having an atmosphere of stress and a constant push to the next activity.
Love of Learning
Many studies show that homeschooled children perform better on standardized tests than children in other educational settings. Some studies show that children who were homeschooled perform higher in college. But this is not why I homeschool. There are also studies which say that homeschoolers perform the same in college as children who attended public school. And this does not discourage me from homeschooling. Grades are not a perfect measure of knowledge (spoken like a B student, I know). Grades are often a measure of priorities, and the skill of responding with what the teacher wants to hear. I do want my children to have the intelligence to to comprehend and retain college-level material, and thus they would have the abilities to earn high grades in college. But if they have priorities that prevent them from earning a 4.0 in college, or even (gasp!) priorities that exclude college, my children might not show up on a study as the most successful outcome of homeschooling. But those who start their own business, invent things, travel as missionaries and raise godly families might not have been 4.0 students in a four year institution.
I believe there is no better way for me to pass on my love of learning to my children than for us to learn together every day with enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is contagious, and I am so thankful that my children are storing up memories of being outside with a butterfly net, binoculars, and field guides, learning with joy about the world around us. We have learned so much about tide pool life by watching what happens in between the rocks at the shore, and we have learned about the plants and animals around us just by being observant and interested. And my children are learning that learning is fun. The books we read, usually written by someone who is not only and expert in their field, but also someone who loves the subject they are writing about, these books ooze enthusiasm for the given subject.
"Many young people find botany a dull study. So it is, as taught from the text-books in the schools; but study it yourself in the fields and woods, and you will find it a source of perennial delight." John Burroughs
A child who is “...accustomed to find both profit and pleasure in his books...”, as Catherine Levison says, is a child who will love to read.
Charlotte Mason recommended teaching in short lessons and moving on to other subjects, because she believed it is important to cultivate in children a habit of attention. Teaching long lessons past the length of time a young child can be engaged in the lesson leads to children tuning out. If a child is regularly losing attentiveness due to long lessons or dragging slowly through school work which is tedious, a bad habit is being form. Better to have short, engaging lessons with enthusiasm. And when longer periods of attention are required, as it is for my children during the forty-five minute sermon at church, we prepare beforehand with reminding them what we profit from dedicating our minds to the task at hand.
Some people think that a Charlotte Mason education is not rigorous. Often times, people are familiar only with one or two of Charlotte Mason's ideas, like the idea of learning through literature and short lessons, and they conclude that children in this educational setting are not getting the content that another educational framework would provide. This is not true. Our school day does exclude some things which are exercises of rigor. I do very little testing, for example. But remember, testing is not designed to equip the child with knowledge, testing is designed to tell the teacher what the child has learned. Through our normal, daily discussions, and through narration, which I am so thankful I learned about from Charlotte Mason, I am well informed as to what my children do know and what they do not.
Although I choose to do little testing, there are some aspects of a Charlotte Mason education which are more rigorous than other educational methods, and in ways that children are not often exposed to due to their diet of books. At a young age, children given a Charlotte Mason education are exposed to a rich vocabulary and to complex ideas. Sentences which adults struggle through when first reading these books, to children which are used to well-crafted literature, these complex sentences are able to be digested. In second grade we read sentences like this in Pilgrim's Progress: “...Thou must abhor his turning thee out of the way; yea, and thine own consenting there to...from this little Wicket-Gate, and from the way thereto, hath this wicked man turned thee, to the bringing of thee almost to destruction.” This is difficult language, yet my children will ask for this book. These books give children ideas to think on. My children will often come to me a week or even months after we have read something and say, “Remember when we read how France bent the pride of Rome? Wasn't that funny how the author said...”. One of my sons recently said, “I agree with J. R. R. Tolkien when he says, 'Things that are unpleasant may make a good tale, and need a good deal of telling anyway.'” The books I choose for school books are those with ideas that live with us, and my children continue to think on these things, not because I assigned it to them, but because they are interesting. I think that's what Charlotte Mason meant by the term “living books.”
The strength of the education you give your child lies in the ideas you put before them, and not in how many hours they spend filling paper with answers.
Your children miss out on some things because you value other things more. And my children miss out on some things because I value other things more.
“Most of us know what we should expect to find in a dragon's lair, but... Eustace had read only the wrong books. They had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons.” C. S. Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader
This is not an exhaustive explanation of why I homeschool. And this is not an exhaustive treatise on what a Charlotte Mason education is. If you want to know more, you might want to read The Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola or A Charlotte Mason Education by Catherine Levison, and browse the booklists on Ambleside Online. I'm sure many of you reading this have great ideas you could share concerning what you value in the education of your children and the methods you use to get there. I want my children to be thinkers. I want my children to love knowledge. I want my children to highly exalt the Scriptures, even while they are children. I want my children to be knowledgeable about many things. I want my children to care for each other and to be a blessing to the others. I want my children to value my husband's and my opinions. I want my children to learn what is entailed in the Biblical calling of husband and wife, father and mother. And for those of you who value the same things I do, I hope you are encouraged to know there is one more mom trying to get there too.