Systems of Education

The last few years I’ve become very connected with a number of Christian families who home-school. When I finally have children of my own, I think I would like to go that direction as well.

I was in public school all the way through. What I felt when I was going through the system was that I was just part of the herd, trying to find a spot at the feeding trough in the dominance hierarchy with my fellow animals. So yes, it is important for kids to socialize, but not in a context psychologically analog to a “Lord of the Flies” scenario (Hats off to Tim Ferriss for comparing his school experience to that book on an episode of Gary Vaynerchuk’s ‘Ask Gary Vee’ show). I did not do well emotionally in that environment. While I can’t completely blame the environment, it certainly did not help. Beyond that, I feel that the education system is generally outdated and inefficient. Institutionalization will not serve your future survival in a rapidly changing economy.

In short, that’s my beef with the system.

Moving on, I want to help unlock the potential of each of my children, and I want the learning that they do to point in that direction. If you start with the end in mind, you get the future. If you start with the status quo in mind, you get the past. So, if the education system is because it has been, then it doesn’t very well serve the future in my opinion. Much is lost when people get religious about tradition. I want to get zealous about the outcome, optimizing my child’s learning experience to benefit their unique pattern, and flexible about the methods of getting there. I just don’t see sufficient flexibility in the system.

Another point I want to make is, being among Christians, I have heard some parents express concern over worldview influence, such as the unilateral teaching of evolution, or maybe subtle cues from social movements which they find objectionable. I understand the concern, and yes, kids are really impressionable, but I also believe that they are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. The thing is, it’s not what the kids learn intellectually, because they’ll sort that out. What they can’t so easily sort out is what they learn emotionally. It’s not what the institution teaches them, it’s that the institution nurtures them. The active influence wins. So who’s winning the influence game, even simply by the number of hours being spent with the child? When I graduated high school, there were sure a lot of people wanting to become teachers, and I also thought of being an art teacher: we were all just naturally tracking with our significant emotional influences. Of course, many got into their freshman year of college and decided that an education major wasn’t for them. Now, that is in no way a slam on teachers. No doubt, many young people have been redeemed from their dysfunctional home-life by the positive influence of a teacher or coach. I love the people, I’m just not a fan of the system. The thought here is that young people tend to track with the emotionally significant influences in their lives. For example, I started hanging with the home-schooling crowd and realized that while most of the young women had jobs and side-interests, if you asked them, their main dream was motherhood: they, like my high school peers, wanted to be their favorite teacher. The active emotional influence is the game-winner. Everybody wants love, everybody wants connection, and what is learned in the context of those emotions sticks forever, sparing some deliberate individual effort later in life. I think of that Proverb, roughly, “raise a child up in the way he should go and he will not depart from it.” In my mind, the phrase “will not depart from it” is like saying, “will not depart from these formative emotional influences”. I say all of that to posit the question, ‘Are you, as a parent, comfortable handing over that privilege of influence not only to other people, but the inertia of the institution?’

Maybe you can do better.

The focus and language of home education should be on what you’re building, not on what you’re tearing down or rebelling against. I want to emphasize the point that it is better to build up than to tear down. This is an important principle for people of faith because it reinforces the truth the truth that God is bigger than anything in the world. God is ultimately creative and has nothing to fear, and if He dwells in us, then our patterns of thinking, speech, and behavior should map to that. I am thus a proponent of creative home education. That leads me into my next point: in order to have an effective home education, there needs to be some good things happening in the home. Aside from being emotionally stable and orderly, it would be optimal if there were a home-based business, or just lot’s of hands-on opportunities for kids to express and develop their interests and do something more tangible than just book-work. It’s better to need the math than to simply learn the math. It’s better to use English than to learn English. Given context and purpose, the learning will follow naturally.

Lastly, I would be amiss to not to recommend the book “Family Friendly Farming” by the sustainable farming expert Joel Salatin, who self-describes as a “Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist”.  He advocates home-education in the book, and gives advice about family relations and business that I believe transcends his particular field.

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