Saturday, April 21, 2012

Backward philosophy and homeschooling

Caveat: If you think, based upon the title, that this will be an indictment of homeschooling, you are wrong. In fact my wife and I (for the time being at least) have decided to homeschool our children. So it is certainly not that.

Caveat to the Caveat: If you think, based upon that caveat, that I am going to be suggesting homeschooling or telling why it is superior to public/private/charter schooling, you are wrong. In fact I happen to think many homeschoolers do it just as wrongly as the public/private/charter schools. So today I plan on being an equal-opportunity offender. :-)

A few days ago, I posted about Dark Matter and Layered Assumptions. My basic point in that post was that we have a tendency to accept an existing paradigm in total, and then upon that build all of our future worldviews. We "layer" our assumptions on top of all of those assumptions that went into the paradigms that we accept, and as a result our knowledge is less confident and less complete.

As I have reflected on this even more, I see how pervasive this concept is, all the way down to pre-school. We are no longer a society that teaches our children how to think; they never learn how to learn. Instead, the sheer wealth of knowledge which they are pressured to learn at a young age forces schooling to leave the realm of learning and instead become focused on memorization.

This is by far the most common method of learning today. People come into college often firmly convinced of a paradigm that they accept--be it atheist or creationist, Calvinist or Arminian, Catholic or Protestant, conservative or liberal. By the time they hit 18, they often have already chosen the worldview that they will use. And, just as they learned to do in school, they will read and study and memorize all kinds of facts and arguments to support their worldview. And, when the time is right, they will regurgitate those facts and memorizations to others.

But never did they learn how to learn; never did they think about how to think; never did they investigate the paradigms before accepting them. And as a result, we have become a nation of individuals who are firmly entrenched in philosophies that we do not understand: we are loyal to paradigms of which we remain mostly ignorant with regard to detail.

We must beware of this modern trend toward memorization-based learning and instead return to the classical educational models of learning core skills (reading/writing/arithmetic/logic) and building up these into a coherent worldview by age 25 or 30 or later.

I see this all the time with my wife. We have chosen for at least the first couple of years to homeschool our children. My oldest--who would normally be in Kindergarten--is instead reading at an end first-grade/start second-grade level, and doing first grade math. My wife is doing a phenomenal job on his schooling: he is ahead or even in every subject, has excellent penmanship, is eager to learn, and curious as can be. And he avoids all of the negatives of school at the same time--the busing and bullying and boredom (if he is ahead in a subject, he does not have to sit quietly to wait on others to catch up...instead, we just keep letting him get further ahead).

But sometimes my wife will read that such-and-such school at this age is memorizing the fifty state names, or at another school the kids have memorized history facts about America, etc., etc. And so she begins to question herself.

What I always tell her is the same I said before: she is doing marvelously, and our children will benefit from it. She is instilling in them a love of learning, and giving them the skills that they need to learn: from this, they will become self-directed and lifelong learners. True, at age 9 maybe they won't have memorized some series of random facts that other 9 year-olds know; but because they will be extremely advanced in reading, math, and love learning they will always eclipse others and succeed. They are learning how to learn and how to love learning - a value which has infinite future reward.

Thus it is that our primary value in schooling at our home is not skepticism (as with some) or memorization (as with others): it is learning reasoning and the pursuit of knowledge. I could care less if my son, when he gets to tenth grade biology, memorizes all the different parts of a cell (after all, most of us memorize that and forget it mere months later, with no lasting benefit!). Instead, I want him to know what it was in the fossil record and the Galapogos Islands that led to Darwin's theory; what it was that Mendel found in his peas and why he opposed Darwin; how evolutionary theory changed when Crick and Watson discovered DNA; and then start making up their own minds. On Genesis 1, I don't want to simply have them memorize my paradigm of interpretation, but rather to learn to love the Bible, read it carefully, use a concordance to investigate the Hebrew terms, study the different models of interpretation, and then make a wise and spirit-filled conclusion as a result.

This is the fountain from which true faith and true knowledge springs, knowledge which is unshakeable under pressure. This is what I believe will make our children's faith secure when they go away to university (where so many bright young Christians turn from their belief system). Recall the Parable of the Sower, in which Christians receive the word, but do so shallowly and wilt under the pressure of the sun. Our Lord told us that it is necessary for our faith to take deep root: and just as transplanted plants have a lower survival rate than plants grown from seed, so too does a faith which is simply a transplanting of what someone else taught you is less sturdy than a faith that you grew from basic principles in your heart.

This is the goal that my wife and I have for homeschooling: that we will give our sons a freedom to actually learn the process of learning, and the foundational skills needed to take advantage of the process, so that their knowledge (and, hopefully, their Faith) is not merely the regurgitation of memorized statements and instead is a real, living, passionate connection to that which is True.


  1. "We have become a nation of individuals who are firmly entrenched in philosophies that we do not understand: we are loyal to paradigms of which we remain mostly ignorant with regard to detail. - good stuff.

  2. Our students are no longer taught how to learn because teachers are no longer trained how to teach. The excellent and exceptional teachers (we all had one or two that went way beyond what was expected) are being eliminated along with the incompetent and mediocre. Teachers are practically programmed with exactly what to say for each lesson, including what questions to ask and what responses are acceptable. The lessons are based on state mandated objectives for each subject, which are ultimately tied to standardized tests. "Teaching the test" is no longer the problem. We have re-engineered the entire system around standardized test results, including which teachers keep their jobs and which schools get state funding.

    I tried to be brief. I did not on Paul Wilkinson's post which linked to this one; if you want to know what I really think:

    1. Clark,

      You're absouletly right. And I think your point on Wilkinson's post is accurate - this isn't a public school or private school problem. It is an "everyone" problem. It is how we view our world. As an entire culture we are the Twitter generation: we come into adulthood with our preconceived notions and all we need to do is read the headline to know what we think of need to research or (God forbid!) think for ourselves. And as you point out, the very educational system now reinforces that approach with our kids.

      This next generation may well be the most under-educated generation in the past 100 years in America, and ironically they are likely also to be the most stubborn and closeminded at the same time!