What exactly is the question about experts?
The question of experts in the education of children needs to be refined on many levels. It is not a one-size-fits-all question. To treat it as such would mean we would also need to ask things like “do we need experts to feed our children?” because, after all, a dietician knows more of the biology of food (we think); or “do we need experts to bath our children?” because surely a microbiologist understands germs better and would do a better job.
What is education?
However, even before we discuss experts in education, we need to be sure we are thinking carefully about what education is. Is it making sure that every child has the exact same skill-set by a certain age? Is it about making sure every child has been exposed to the popular concepts of nature? Or is education about equipping a child for adulthood in ways that are unique to their surroundings, interests, and opportunities?
It is also helpful to separate the idea of utilizing experts from putting children in institutions. There is nothing about being in an institution that makes learning more effective, other than learning conformity. It is probably just the opposite, especially for younger children. Institutions give the impression of being organized and efficient, but their design is counter to letting individual learning be optimally organized and efficient. As such, even if an expert is involved, an institutional setting lessens the positive impact.
Once we have a good idea of what education means to us, the use of experts can be better evaluated. First, ask “what sort of expertise” might we feel we need? Do we need someone trained in child development or childhood education to teach our children? Does having such higher education make someone better at teaching children? Or do we think we need experts in each particular subject?
Parents can be experts on helping their own children learn
There are different angles to examine this from. Let’s begin with thinking about what a young child, approximately age 12 and younger, will learn. I say *will* learn, because unless a child is abnormally cut off from life around them, they will learn. Especially in the US and other more prosperous regions of the world, materials of all sorts are easily available. I have even heard of children learning to read from cereal boxes unbeknownst to their parents.
Broadly speaking younger children will learn to read, write, and do some math. Exactly when they attain certain levels of this can vary with age and interest, but I have never heard of a child not having any interest in reading something or wanting to spend money. Children also ask a lot of questions about the world around them as they become more aware. It is a rare adult who cannot teach a child all of these basics or read material of interest with them. Just trying to explain things to a child makes an adult more of an expert on anything.
It will probably offend some people, but it really comes down to just spending time with children. The young ones need quite a lot of supervision. It takes time. The younger they are, the more exhausting it is to take care of them 24/7; but someone has to. It can seem easier to let someone else do it, convincing ourselves that it is not as hard for “experts.” But there is a trade-off.
The more time you spend with a child, the more you become the expert on that particular child. The more time you spend with a child, the more the relationship will grow and the child will be able to learn more effectively from you. The more you understand the child, the better you will be able to teach him or guide him in learning. The more you understand the child, the better you will be at choosing the right experts to use at the best time.
There is such a lack of relationship in the institutional setting that people have begun to think of it as normal. There is a lot of pretending that it is there, but no child can have that deep of a relationship with a teacher they have for one year. Layer that with the typical class size and no one is an expert on your child there.
Most classrooms for the younger aged children are taught by one teacher, maybe with aides floating here and there. That one teacher is not going to be an expert on all the subjects either. The politics of school administration often mean that teachers are not placed based on expertise anyway, even at junior high and high school levels. I know many teachers are well meaning people, but the fact remains that the majority of schools are run by government powers and government power over and over again results in corruption of whatever it is running.
A private institutional school may be a small step above a government one, in that there is not as likely to be corruption. However, most of them try to emulate government schools or are heavily regulated by them. As bureaucratic organizations, they still have all the same issues with conformity, wasted time, limiting a child’s meaningful relationships with adults, and lack of individual opportunities.
Last, but not least, both government and private institutional schools teach from approved government perspectives. History is taught from the point of view that those in power should be in power, justifying wars and all manner of interference in people’s lives. Science is taught in ways that only support the government’s position on issues, which usually involves them being in control. Writing and other expression is limited to what is approved by the government “for the good of everyone.” What that makes them *experts* on is propaganda.
Government representatives try to hide these facts by showing concern that parents will be biased or distort information. Actually, the direct, personal interaction that parents have when teaching children allows the child to question things more. This discussion hones a parent’s skills at explaining or analyzing things in ways that will not be done in a classroom. So, I say again: parents can be the best experts on how to teach their own children.
Using experts in a non-institutional setting
Here are two main examples for using experts of sorts for the education of younger children. One would be for music. For most children, exposure to musical concepts and works, plus a couple of cheap instruments (recorder, keyboard, bongo drums) is all they want or need. Children are usually not physically or mentally mature enough for more exacting musical learning until they are at least 8 years old. When specific lessons might be desired, they are usually private anyway. If a child wants some group musical experience, there are multiple ways to get that, but a full discussion of that is for another article.
A foreign language is another area of learning that many parents are limited in, however even in this case it is not so much an expert that is needed as just someone who is willing to interact with the child regularly in that language. This is again particularly true for younger children.
The biggest challenge with learning a foreign language is getting the exposure consistently. It can be supplemented with books, movies, and other audio tools. I speak from experience, since my children grew up learning Spanish from a tutor once a week, but the rest of the week I was in charge of their language learning. Some of them don’t remember not knowing Spanish. I don’t know Spanish, except that after hearing my children practice it for so many years it seems I accidentally understand sometimes, so be careful speaking Spanish around me!
Tapping into experts as a student matures
As a child matures, he is ready to be more independent. He may be ready to seek more input from expert resources in certain areas. Again, this does not mean institutional school is the place to go for experts. One of our older children ordered a robot from a company and got his dad to help him work on it. That child is now a mechanical engineer.
Books by people with real life experience are an excellent place to get a good foundation. I have one child who has taught herself quite a lot about computers by reading. She is now considered an indispensable technical advisor and office manager where she works.
Real life is a place to go for experts. This might mean extended family or neighbors or friends or community members. There are many experienced people who would be quite happy to share with a child. My dad helped a few times with chemistry. He was a chemical engineer in real life.
Getting expert input might mean getting a job or offering to work for free for experience. One son was interested in landscape architecture and managed to impress a local nursery enough to hire him well before the normal age limits they had. He was one of their best employees for 6 seasons and learned many useful things there.
Sometimes getting expert advice means just doing some research and trying some experiments on their own. My children put on full scale productions of two Gilbert and Sullivan plays in our backyard to good sized audiences. They did a lot of research in many areas to pull this off. Stage design, make-up, costumes, budgets, technical issues. Not only did they practice speaking skills, but they recorded their own music, and learned quite a lot about management and working together. This was not an assignment. This was their choice of summer fun.
Teach your students to become experts
In some cases, the monopoly of government schools may mean an institutional classroom is an option to consider, but that doesn’t mean total institutionalization is necessary. However, we tried to integrate just a little with a local high school a couple of times and quickly discovered that the institution sucked more life out of the student than it replaced. Not only do they waste time, but they treat these maturing young adults like a childish prisoners. Real experts don’t need to keep their students captive.
By high school age, a child who has been free from the bondage of institutional schools is probably very good at teaching himself many things and seeking out opportunities he is interested in. A little encouragement from a parent, who is now quite an expert on the young adult, will go a long way in helping him on to the next step. He will have a very good idea of how to learn to be an expert in almost anything.