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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How to be a radical home educator

When you started home educating, I bet you thought you were doing something really radical didn’t you?

What if I told you that most home school and Christian educators are not educating in a way discernibly different from their secular counterparts?  That doesn't sound very radical does it?

I’d like to share with you something I’ve recently learned (and therefore can take NO credit) that will make your home education efforts truly radical. It is a simple and yet, complex subject: Nature.

What is Nature? No, I don’t mean trees and grass and bugs and clouds (that is "little-n" nature)…I mean Nature. For example, what is the nature of Man, of children, or of education? This is a pivotal concept for the Christian. You must understand the Nature of the thing (children, men, education) before you can know God’s purposes, and thus, determine what is appropriate for each.

Have you considered the Nature of your children? Not just their “bent”, although that is important, but the God-given, universal Nature of a child?

This past summer, in Andrew Kern’s first talk at the CiRCE Institute Conference, A Contemplation of Nature, he challenged educators (home and private) to judge if we have truly considered the Nature of children, of the subjects they are learning, and of education in general, or if we have unknowingly bought into the world’s faith in Utility. In fact, he exhorts us that we, as Christians, are even guiltier than secular educators!  (One expects the secular world to act like the secular world, but why have Christians lowered their standards to the world's?)

We say we “homeschool” and that somehow inoculates us against the affects of a secular, God-ignoring world. We feel unfoundedly superior because we use “God” freely in our lessons. And, yet, we neglect considering the Nature of our children. How can we as educators nurture eternal souls if we neglect the nature of those souls?

We may be Christians striving to bring our children up to know and love God, but we cannot be blind to the affect our culture has had and continues to have on us. We must be humble enough to recognize that we may not be so different from our counterparts in other schools.

But, you ask, why Nature?

Why? “Because the understanding of Nature is the lever by which the world has been moved,” explains Andrew. How we understand Nature affects, literally, everything. Education can only be done well if we understand its nature, the nature of the thing we are talking about, and the nature of the student in front of us.

So, what is the Nature of children? By that I mean, the pre-Fall Nature? What God had intended for them from the beginning of creation?

They are curious. They have great absorbent minds. They are imitators. They ask good questions (when not made to feel that questions indicate some lack on their part). They want to know about their world. God intends them to learn about their world by exploration, experimentation, examination, and excogitation. A desire to learning is their Nature.

I don’t think many secular educators would disagree with that, do you? So, where is the disconnect? It is in our emphasis on utility.

How often do you hear (or say), “But when will they use this?” The implication being if they aren’t going to use the lesson, then there is little value and time would be better spent on something they can use. Thus music class gets replaced with something more “useful”. (Unless the child shows aptitude in music – something useful, they might make a career out of music, after all – then music lessons will be continued.) Poetry is neglected in favor of more “useful” subjects, except for a brief unit in English class each year and even then the lessons are directed only toward dissecting, understanding and producing rather than appreciation and delight.

But what is wrong with utility? It is good to learn something useful, right?

Prior to the modern age, Andrew tells us, education was for the formation of Virtue. All philosophies agreed upon this. But this is not so today. Now education’s main (and only goal, often) is preparation for the economy. This modern emphasis on Production has infiltrated every aspect of life and thought. If an object or action has no measurable value (it cannot produce), it is useless. That is UTILITY and, when applied to education or a child, it is destructive. Utility will ignore Nature. It does not matter to the Utilitarian mind what a child IS (curious, etc), it matters only that the objectives (of the parent, teacher, school, state) are fulfilled.

Makes me wince a little, and you? How often have I pushed my kids in order to achieve my objectives? Of course I meant only good for them, but I’ve allowed Utility to ignore Nature.

Objectives have results that can be measured. It is a radical thought to realize measuring or assessing has negative implications for the educational process. But consider “teaching to the test”. Consider how often you learned the information for a test, made an “A” and promptly forgot that information. Measurement has implications on education that have to be weighed.

As home and Christian educators, we should strive for nurtured souls (how do you measure that?) and transformed minds (how do you measure that?). And yet, in our schools, Contemplation has been replaced by Production.

The question for me as a home educator is: How do I free myself and my kids from production and to contemplation?

That is all for today. Next time, I'd like to talk about the key thoughts Andrew presents: Nature, Purpose and Propriety.

Want to see who this Andrew person is? Curious what the heck the CiRCE Institute is? Or how about hearing this talk for yourself (where the these ideas are much more elegantly presented). Then run, do not walk (or at least click the links really fast), to the CiRCE website. Donate any amount and receive a free download of this talk plus 7 more!


~liz said...

hi kerry - thanks so much for this post. i've been grappling lately with losing the big picture...I'm trying to go back to the moment when we first decided to homeschool to figure it out and this post has helped me realize the reason behind our homeschooling. i'm eager for your follow-up post!

Woman of the House said...

Excellent synopsis! I ordered the entire set of these talks with some Christmas money and have been listening and mulling and pondering ever since. They are well worth the time and money!

Amy said...

Wow.... the goal of Virtue vs. preparation for the economy. And contemplation vs. production... Very intriguing, challenging, and convicting thoughts! Thank you for sharing this... it will definitely keep me thinking...

Jessica said...

I remember hearing J.P. Moreland talk about how the point of a college education wasn't so you could get a job (though that's not a bad thing), but so that you would become an educated person. That is, a virtuous person.

This is a great reminder of that. Thank you.

Amy said...

Lots of food for thought here! I hope I've created a nice balance for my girls. One of my priorities throughout our homeschooling journey has been their spiritual growth leading towards the goal of Virtue. It is a difficult balance because there is so much to accomplish...and I want them to be accomplished - using their God-given talents.

monica said...

great post, thank you so much :)

AFwife99 said...

Great thoughts. It is vitally important for the Christian homeschool look different from the secular homeschool. Understanding the nature of children and education is foundational. Thanks for the post.

Dana said...

Very good. This was wrestled with somewhat in the first book I read preparing for homeschooling and in a seminar I went to in KC. It is what drew me to the Principled Approach to begin with.

Most of us do not have a Christian education. We have a christian-esque education based on the world with some scripture slapped on top.

It really makes you think about education and what it really means, doesn't it?