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Are There Holes in Their Education?

Are There Holes in Their Education?
By By Sue Truscott

Mom, what’s a terrarium?

The thoughts raced frantically through my mind: “He is nearly 13 years old and doesn’t know that? How could I have gone through this many years of home-based learning and not taught him something that simple?” I reined in quickly and glanced at Jeff before I spoke. “Plants can grow in a completely closed environment as long as they have their basic needs met: air, food and water, and light. Because they create their own oxygen, condensation in the sealed container will keep the plants going indefinitely with virtually no maintenance.”

He said, “Oh, I knew that. I just didn’t know it was called a terrarium.”

Meanwhile, my thoughts broke loose and continued down that road. Were there things that they hadn’t learned that would hamper them in adulthood? What if in all our years of learning and exploring together, I had missed some vital basics that would cripple them for life? Were there really some serious holes in their education?

Then I smiled to myself. Of course there were holes in their education! And it was okay. If you spend time exploring Nature, you’re going to miss space science. If you study history, you’re going to miss geography. If you dabble in all of them, you’re not going to be able to go into great detail on any of them. The learning styles and interests of your children are going to be unique, as are the teaching styles and goals of you, the parents. Of course there are going to be holes in their education!

I don’t think there’s a parent alive that doesn't go through self-doubt. As people entrusted with the awesome responsibility of raising up and equipping the next generation, we are all going to feel overwhelmed at times. Home-educating parents are going to feel this pressure even more. So what do we do when the doubts come?

I have found, at least for our family, that the longer we home educate, the more fluid and changing my own personal concepts of education become. We have always believed in the “3 Rs, reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.” Apart from that, I recognized right away that all the other subjects, sciences, social studies, art, music, everything, were all going to be open-ended.

Even so, I found that my beliefs about even the Basic Three have changed drastically over the years. And as the years go by, the more I realize that my real goal is not academics, but things like world views, resourcefulness, love of learning, and adaptability. Character qualities like love and kindness, honesty and integrity, respect for others, and respect for self have become of far more importance than whether they can figure out the length of a hypotenuse. And our values – the things that are most precious to us – are going to be far more “caught” than “taught.”

When it comes right down to it, I realize that my core beliefs about knowledge itself have been challenged. Those of us who have been raised in public school settings have developed the belief that knowledge is concrete, a basic set of facts that must be memorized and from which at some point you “graduate.” It is through home educating my own children, with all the fascination and flexibility it entails, that I have come to realize that knowledge itself is fluid and changing. No longer can we depend on “foundation” knowledge and a set of building blocks to be put together in very specific, predetermined ways. The ability to be flexible, to think on-your-feet and outside-the-box, and to recognize that the facts themselves are not complete or set in stone, is becoming ever more valuable in this fast-paced world.

This is a generation that will routinely see more changes in a few months than anybody throughout history ever saw in a lifetime. Not only our knowledge, but our pace of knowledge, is expanding at lightening speed. Yes, there are some things that are more concrete than others. 1 + 1 still equals 2. But if we teach our children to be ever learning, ever exploring, never satisfied that the truth is the whole truth, we will be doing them a far greater service. Why does 1 + 1 = 2?

The home-educating parent who captures the imagination of a child will never have to worry that the holes will remain unfilled. A child’s desire for learning starts out insatiable. Children will happily dig and fill holes all through the gardens of their minds. It is only through repeatedly hammering our particular posts into those holes that we set up fences around their learning.

Which quite naturally leads to the next question: If it is not then our job to hammer the fenceposts, what is our job? As someone who had excelled in the public school system, I spent the first two years of our home educating experience doing “school at home.” While that method may work quite happily for some families, it definitely did not work for us. And yet, I kept getting a bigger hammer. Until everything crashed and burned, and that entire third year we did nothing. Not one single, solitary thing that could be, in my classroom mentality, called education. And I watched in utter amazement as my children continued learning. Even the very fact that my husband and I are avid readers and computer buffs made it inevitable that our children would always have their noses in a book or a D-drive.

Yet, I marveled at these things – how was this possible? I was not teaching; they could not possibly be learning! By the time Year Four came along, I began to pick up the pieces, much humbled in my changed role. Oh, I slipped in the odd teaching, the odd direction, and I insisted in correct speech in our day-to-day conversations. But I had now become a “facilitator” rather than a “teacher.” I have heard it described as being the “guide on the side rather than the sage on the stage.”

I found my own enthusiasm renewing as we discovered things together, and I basked in the glow that came with an excited child sharing with me some tidbit of knowledge he had found that I didn’t even know. I was not teaching, but were they ever learning! And I was constantly amazed at how often the ebb and flow of their passions wove together into a concrete set of learning that resembled a “real” scope and sequence.

That was ten years ago, and now I find a whole new set of circumstances facing me. With a houseful of home educating teenagers, I find I am having to once again rethink my concepts of education. I am edging back, albeit with extreme caution, into some nuances of structure.

And again, I find it’s my concepts that are being constantly challenged and shaped. Why do we need to learn Algebra? In numerous lively discussions we have boiled that one down to the sheer brain-stretching exercise of it. Why do we still need to bother with handwriting? Well, granted, you do ninety percent of your communication on computer, but there is that other ten percent that is more handy, more personal, and independent of electricity.

As parents, we, too, have holes in our education that we have been filling our whole life long. And after all the flexibility and resourcefulness that we have utilized in raising our children to be enthusiastic learners, it is somehow comforting to realize that we, too, have been educated in the process!

Sue Truscott is a veteran home educator, wife, mother of grown homeschoolers, and dog-lover. She lives a life of retirement in British Columbia. This article was published in Life Learning Magazine in 2002.

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