[Week 15 of 52 Weeks to a Better Relationship With Your Child]
Asking basic questions about education
Where do you get your ideas of education from? Have you given much thought to the government dictates and cultural expectations? You need to consider just how much these ideas and approaches impact not only your relationship with your child, but also your child’s ability to think for himself or herself. (Once in a while I specify both genders, but most of the time I use the grammatically inclusive ‘he’ and ‘him’ versions.)
Here are the basics you need to be thinking about:
- What is education?
- Who should control education?
- What motivates in education?
- What are the goals of education?
- How are relationships involved in education?
If you haven’t really examined these basics, then you are flying blind or letting someone else fly while you don’t even watch.
What is education?
We could probably all agree that education has something to do with learning. Synonyms of education listed in my Webster’s dictionary include instruction, schooling, teaching, training, and tutelage. While the noun school is typically thought of as a special place for learning or a group of people with a common set of beliefs, it was originally an intermission.
Both the Greek skhole and the Latin schola are specifically referring to having leisure from work to discuss. The idea of attending school, as particularly used in English, isn’t recorded until the 1300’s. Why is this good to know? Because then we can begin to separate the idea of learning from the modern day institutional, non-family settings.
Leisure for discussion is about as far removed from the modern, test-oriented school model as you can get. Leisure also implies that there is already interest, or else why spend your free time talking about it?
I expect that children were being taught things and learning, but the point is that the current way of teaching children is not based on some timeless model of learning. It will probably also occur to someone that in previous time periods (and still in a few outlying cultures today), that survival was more of an issue and children didn’t have the same opportunity for free time. Isn’t it ironic, then, that as soon as they do get some significant free time, some adults think the children need to be locked up in buildings, away from home, for most daylight hours to work on a pre-approved education?
Still, I think we could say that the definition of education is two-fold.
- Education is that which trains the child in skills that are expected to be useful for a responsible adult; and
- Education is that which teaches the child how to think about life.
It all comes down to deciding what needs to absolutely be taught, what might be useful to learn, how well it can be predicted what might be useful, and what specific aptitudes and interests a child has.
Even then we could ask how strict does various teaching needs to be? Much teaching takes longer and is harder than it needs to be because of the institutional approach. We will cover that some when we talk about motivation.
For now, let’s just point out that learning is not suitable to an assembly line like building a car is. Discovery and internalization cannot be automated. Besides that, every child will have an interest in something that will lead to learning basics in order to learn that which is of interest. With such interest, some individually oriented and wise guidance can go a long way. It doesn’t have to be crammed down their throats to be education.
Who should control education?
One of the basic conflicts in life is that too many people want to be in charge of everyone else. From an honest excitement about the newest, best way of doing things to the arrogance of power, people come up with all kinds of reasons why there should be laws about this or that. Since education has to do with influencing vulnerable children, it is a particularly contentious subject.
The two most often used claims of concern are
- What about the bad parents?
- What about the children without the same advantages?
Both of these supposed issues are used to try to wrench children away from all parents for most of their formative years. Then, not only do the parents not participate significantly in teaching their children, but everything the family does is regulated by how the children must perform for this system that claims to know best.
Every parent should question how anyone else could have more of a right or responsibility than themselves to direct the education of their own children. There is no better way to assign that role than to the parent. How can there be greater claim on a child than by the people who gave birth to it?
No matter what your religious views, the reality of birth is undeniably a tie that is only broken in the direst of circumstances. Those who try to manipulate the rhetoric to say otherwise should be highly suspect. They cannot personally care for all the children in the world. They only thing they can do is assign them to people who do not care as much about them as their parents.
What motivates in education?
Motivating children to learn is a mix of working with their interests and making things interesting to them. For instance, we decided it was important to help our children learn to spell. For some of them, I take no credit other than introducing them to dictionaries and vocabulary.
Still, I had some problem solving to do. The only way I had been exposed to the learning or verifying of spelling was workbooks. Such workbooks had a set agenda. ALL the exercises had to be done. It was tedious for everyone. Until I discovered a systematic program that began with measuring a child’s level of spelling. (Here is the link, but keep in mind that I haven’t used it in probably 15 years, so don’t know if it has been changed much since then: Spelling Power)
I love telling this story for two reasons. First of all, as I just mentioned, it took me right to the type of vocabulary that a child was ready to learn to spell. The children that were natural spellers proceeded to the higher levels and finished the spelling “program” lickity-split. They could then spend their time on other things.
One child in particular was showing all the signs of being a “poor speller” until I adjusted the program in order to motivate him. By adjust, I mean I went against the explicit advice of the designer and met this child where he was. He just needed to know that any words he spelled correctly the first time he took the pre-test, he wouldn’t have to study again.
I am still amazed by the results. Without even seeing the list for a split second before the test, he was passing tests with flying colors. At most he had one or two words a week to study some (there were some fun, non-workbook ways to do that), then he always got them right at the end of the week.
Another way to motivate children is to engage in their learning with them. Be obviously pleased to read with them, discuss their science experiments with them, enjoy figuring out math problems.
Provide ways for their learning to be useful or meaningful to them. Let them build things or write to people. Ask them questions about stories or history that bring it to life and help them relate to it. Long lists of names and dates never motivated anyone to learn history. On the other hand, a long timeline on the wall that includes their birthdates can be a fun place to keep track of history and put things in perspective.
Part of motivation is just the children knowing that you are working with them as individuals. It is motivating to know that things can be quickly altered to suit their needs and help them learn things that are challenging. It is motivating for them to know the learning is about them learning.
What are the goals of education?
The purest goal of education is the betterment of the student. Unfortunately, that is often twisted to easily exploited goals like “the betterment of society” or “the common good.” But much like only individuals can make choices, only individuals can benefit from education. There may be an average good, mathematically, but the results only matter to individuals.
An individual who has truth and clear thinking can make the best use of any skills or knowledge that have been learned. And in that use, they will build on their education. So, one might say that another important goal of any foundational education is the ability to keep learning, to keep being creative.
It might also be useful to clarify that trained responses or misinformation don’t count as education in the truest sense of the word. Distorted historical accounts to bolster the current regime are as old a tactic as ancient Egypt. Manipulation of data or lack of honesty about assumptions are frequently used to give the appearance of knowledge. One goal of education is to ask the hard questions and not use belligerence to silence other voices.
Some might say there should be a specific list of things that should be learned to say that education is achieved. There is so much variety in the world, in both information and abilities! Mandating any sort of uniformity is probably mostly an exercise in making those who create such lists feel validated. And it risks giving people a false sense of what is important to learn and what the value of their knowledge is.
If, as I have suggested, education really should never end, then such a list is misleading. A child should reach adulthood ready for new opportunities of learning and the adventures that go along with it.
How are relationships involved in education?
We learn best from those we have good relationships with and we build relationships with those we learn from.
Because of the prevailing institutional school model, we are all familiar with hearing stories of those special teachers who made a difference in people’s lives or who were their favorites. Teachers are often held up as filling the parental role without anyone admitting that that is the role the system expects them to mimic. I only say mimic because the system is really run like an orphanage.
It takes time for relationships to develop. A parent who is intimately involved with their child’s education will be able to take advantage of time in the best way. A parent who is in charge of their child’s education will be have more opportunity to keep unnecessary stress and tedium from the child’s life.
Relationships grow when the people who teach a child are available to ask spontaneous or embarrassing questions. When communication has been growing for years, then it is natural to stop everything and look up facts about thunderstorms or to discuss economics at dinner time.
Good relationships tend to make all the distinctions between teaching methods less important, because with good relationships the parent is not just following a system, but is teaching a child.
What if I’m not doing it the right way?
When you choose a coat, the most important thing is that it keeps you warm. You may have color or style preferences, but most people will admit that those matter little if the coat doesn’t keep you warm. It doesn’t matter if the coat is expensive or if it is the kind of coat everyone else is wearing. It doesn’t matter if it is made of the latest technical materials. It matters if you are warm.
You may find another coat that works better in different circumstances, but you can’t deny that the one kept you quite warm when you needed it to. Other people may laugh at you for wearing your optimum coat while they stand freezing, waiting for a coat that they think is acceptable. Meanwhile, they are mad at you because you can get things done and they can’t do anything except shiver and run around looking for less than adequate shelter.
Parents who are just starting to think about “formally” educating their children are often too worried about which coat they are wearing – or exactly how they are going to go about this education. If you are someone like that, may I suggest that if you just get started or just keep spending time with your children, you will get plenty of warm results as things proceed! You can learn, purchase other supplies, find new resources along the way, but if you are involved with teaching your children, then that is what matters.