An Educated Mind

Years and years ago when we started homeschooling, one of the many things that set me on what I believe has been the right path for us was a short but very meaty article in The Teaching Home magazine (which was then a very slight publication, hardly more than a black and white newsletter, in fact).
That article simply walked parents through a number of questions to ask themselves as they developed and considered their personal educational philosophy. At that time, it hadn’t even occurred to me that I needed one- I was just going to homeschool, after all.

The questions were open-ended, but, as I said, really meaty. The author supplied Bible references that might be helpful to one seeking a biblical foundation for her educational philosophy, but they were references only, no commentary.

Some of the questions, as I recall, were:

How do you define education?
How do you know when it has occurred?
What is its value?

There were others, as well. I pulled out a notebook and pen and started writing and thinking, and 21 years later I find that much of my writing and thinking still brings me back to these questions. What is education? How do I learn? What is it important to know? What is knowledge?

Thinking through these questions helped me to develop the ideas behind this bit of advice I give to new homeschoolers:

You’re not a school. You’re a family. Many of the tools for school (worksheets, multiple choice tests, true/false tests) are effective ways of working with a large group of unrelated people within a constrained amount of time to get them through the same amount of material in nine months or less. Using their tools to home-school is like using a chainsaw to butter your bread. They are dealing with kids whose parents didn’t come home last night, kids who got off to school with a smack and a curse, kids who have been brought up in an environment as stimulating as a piece of white bread. They are dealing with 20-30 kids with varying interests, abilities, and backgrounds. They are dealing with a climate of suspicion making it impossible for them to kiss a child, give out an tylenol, or defuse a tense moment with a group prayer.

You don’t have most of these issues to deal with. Even those of us with adopted children from difficult backgrounds have fewer than 20 of them, and we have them 24 and 7. You can curl up on the couch with a good history book and your sweet children and read together and talk about it and you will have covered as much ground in literature, critical thinking, vocabulary, and history in half an hour as a public schooled child does in a week. You may not have pen and paper work to show for it, but the work of the mind happens in the mind, and it is what happens in the mind and heart that constitutes education.

That’s probably over stating my case a bit in a couple of specific areas. Workbook pages have some use- math practice, for example.  But I would think carefully about transferring into home use tools developed to make a large institution run smoothly – You don’t need ID cards, lunch cards, or roll call at home, for instance, and for the most part you do not need worksheets or other institutional tools. Those toilets that are wall mounted for ease of mopping beneath, however, yeah, I’d totally take one of those.=)

The thing is, think carefully about those tools and whether or not they do what they supposed to do.  Because if you’re just using them because they are familiar and you assume they are educative, your use of worksheets may actually be counterproductive to your educational philosophy and goals.  You might be undermining yourself and using the least effective tools for the situation you are in.

Math worksheets, for instance, are indeed useful, but only if you remember they do not generally teach math concepts.  Rather, they give your child a chance to practice concepts you taught him working one to one.  They give your child a chance to work on developing speed and competence in a skill learned through another medium.

Critical thinking worksheets?  Just don’t.  Narration and CM’s other approaches to books are the best critical thinking tools there are.  You’ll find those oft neglected other ways to use books the CM way here.

Which brings us back to education and learning. What do we mean by those terms, anyway?

So you’ve gotta read Brandy’s post. She’s been listening to an Andrew Kern tape (Circe), and sharing her thoughts. This really resonated with me:

At one point, however, Kern speaks of the three desiderata (Latin for “desired things”) of all learning. These things, or marks, prove whether or not one’s mind is educated. Here they are:

1. Discipline. An undisciplined mind is not educated. A mind that cannot control itself and direct its activities toward a purpose is not educated.

2. Perceptive. The mind that cannot perceive reality–reality for what it is and as it is–is not educated.

3. Creativity. The mind that cannot perceive reality, absorb it into the soul, and reincarnate it in a new body, is not educated.

These three items cannot be learned through the use of worksheets, nor can they be measured on a multiple choice test.

Charlotte Mason’s methods worked a hundred years ago, and they work today. But they are best utilized through focused and concentrated mindwork, not worksheets.  Worksheets are too scripted, and tell the child what he should be thinking about.  But learning happens when the child is doing the wondering, the thinking, and then answering his own questions.

Charlotte Mason, v. 6

Charlotte Mason, v. 6

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