Learning & Exploring Together
In days past, the person with the most facts was the smartest.
Today, self-reliant problem solvers are at a premium. Why?
During the Industrial Revolution, we learned that an assembly line was useful for producing top-notch machinery in an efficient manner. Similarly, we began to think that if an assembly line approach was good for machinery, it would be good for producing educated humans, too! We began to reason that is we could just put in the right facts and information at the right level-Behold!-at the end of 12 years we'd have an "educated" citizen.
In an attempt to keep up with all the factual information available, our textbooks began to "cover" mounds of information. A single history book would cover the explorers, the colonists, the Revolutionary War, and on to the modern period, all in one year even on the elementary level. We call those survery courses.
They look good because those scope and sequence charts have so much listed on them. It looks like the children are learning a lot. (In this way textbooks reflect our fast-paced society, if nothing else.) But what really happens? The information is rapidly covered - just touched upon. In an attempt to learn everything we nothing in depth. Even if we could memorize all the facts available to us in the information explosion, would that create in us a *curiosity explosion*? Evidently not. High school teachers complain that their students are just saying, "Tell me what I need to know to pass the test. That's all I want. Don't ask me to do more."
An assembly line approach to education doesn't work for a number of reasons. We are living in the information age. No one can (or wants to) absorb all the data available to us. And factory teaching produces followers, not thinkers. Finding and memorizing facts is taught, but not thinking, "Just give me the grade so I can get out of here."
Today, business executives are telling us they don't need graduates filled with facts. Instead, they're asking for graduates with skill to retrieve and organize information so it can be used. What does our society need? Individuals who can creatively develop new ways of doing things - people who can take information which is readily available, and *do something with it* from start to finish. As one educator put it, "If we don't help people learn how to think, then the information that goes in may never come back out." I'd add, we need graduates that have the determination to finish a task that takes a period of time to do. We need students who have inquisitiveness, courage to stand alone, honesty, diligence...so they can do something with the information they have access to.
I'm not saying academics are unimportant. By no means! A base of knowledge makes it easier for a person to learn even more. However, we must not only teach our children facts, but how to find and use them. To knowledge, add understanding and to understanding, wisdom.
How does this affect our methods of teaching? How do people actually learn best? Not only how do they retain information but more importantly, how do they learn to reason..., to think..., to do something with all that information?
The average elementary science textbook claims to cover everything from plants and animals, to our solar system, to energy and machines, to weather and rocks and minerals in one year. Impossible! And that's just the science book. This may look great on a scope and sequence chart, but a closer look will show you that topics are only partially covered, perhaps even just mentioned.
Thankfully, homeschool educators are not limited to what some bureaucracy says must be "covered in a given school year". Children do not have to study a certain topic, for example, the solar system in the third grade. So the children in your family, whatever their ages, can all study the solar system in the same year. You decide what's best for your own situation.
More and more homeschools are depending less on copying the styles of classrooms and are instead developing a style of teaching that is unique to our home school movement. Your family explores and learns together about a single topic (birds, weather, W.W.II). You probe every fascinating question that pops up until you're experts on the topic. In educational jargon, this is called *unit studies". (Many in the educational establishment also recognize the unit study approach is the best way to teach. It's just not so easy with 20-plus pupils.)
Take your Time!
Do you know how long our family spent on the two explorers, Magellan and Marco Polo in our homeschool? (This is an extreme example.) We spent twelve weeks on just those two explorers. We could have spent longer but it was time to move on.
Magellan sailed all the way around the world. There's a lot to learn about the whole world that Magellan saw. And what about the his men? What were they like? What happened on his voyage? did they like Magellan? Was he easy to get along with? What did Magellan believe about God? Did he make any discoveries along the way? Did he meet any new peoples? What were they like? How did they dress? Can we make some costumes like they wore? What sort of shipship did he travel on? How did they know how to navigate? Can we learn to navigate by the stars, too? What else can we learn about the stars?
Can you see how deep it is possible to go into a topic? Will we remember Magellan? Will we learn anything else along the way? This may seem a little much for some of us couch potatoes who'd rather sit passively watching TV rather than pursue a good book or new hobby. Advertisers say our attention spans are shorter than ever. *We tune out quickly so give it to us fast before you lose us.*
We don't take time to smell the roses or watch a sunset anymore. We don't take time to watch a squirrel hide an acorn...or find it. Lack of time saps our curiousity and our lack of curiousity saps our stick-to-it-iveness. Homeschooling is flexible enough to accomodate a more fruitful approach to learning. Creativity and curiousity are ignited as we allow our children the time to figure out, to discover for themselves without rushing.
Gayle Graham and her husband Lee, live in Richmond, Virginia with their five daughters. They have been homeschooling for nine years. "Learning and Exploring Together" is an excerpt from the wonderful book How to Home School: A Practical Approach by Gayle Graham. This book and other materials for home educators are available from Common Sense Press. Call (904) 475-5757 for the dealer near you.