Let’s be honest with ourselves, much of what characterizes education today, whether in a traditional school or at home, is fear and anxiety. It seems we are in a constant state of worry about a whole host of things regarding our children’s education. Is she testing well? How does she compare to other kids her age? Is she developing socially? I am giving her all she needs? And the list goes on. As homeschooling parents we add on top of all that worry our own fears about our inadequacy to be our children’s primary educator. Part of the reason for this is because we are trying to give our children an education that we did not receive. How can I give her something I never got? Am I really adequate to be in charge of my child’s entire education while she is under my roof? Shouldn’t I just let the experts do it, those who are more specialized, the professionals?
To the question of your adequacy to be your child’s teacher the answer of course is, “Yes, you are inadequate.” And here is why realizing this is the best thing you can do for your child and her education.
There is a quote typically attributed to Socrates, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Now I am not going to any extreme here and saying that knowledge is not attainable or worse that it is merely subjective. What I want to say is that there is no amount of knowledge a teacher may have that makes him adequate to teach a student. Why? Because the task of the teacher is not to take his knowledge and transfer it to his student. It is not the case that the teacher has all the answers and his job in education is to ensure that the student can find them or write them in a blank on a worksheet. At the end if that schooling the student will have piles of papers with answers but no education. True education isn’t mere data transfer from teacher to student, but I fear that is how it is mostly approached in our modern education system (demonstrated by its enormous over emphasis on using standardized test to evaluate a child’s education and learning, and its insistence on homogenizing learning in the form of common core standards for every school). This approach bleeds into how we understand our task as home-educators because its the educational assumption we were taught under. So we spend lots of money on whole curriculums and stress over how behind we are in them year to year, and get pits in our stomach when the curriculum we chose turns out to be different than new ‘researched based’ one that just came out. This is not as it should be.
Today it seems clear that we think our students need teachers with specialized degrees in order to ensure they learn. The fact is a student doesn’t need a teacher at all in order to learn. Children learn naturally on their own. It’s an inherent characteristic of being human at every stage of development. What is a saplings natural tendency? To grow of course. You don’t have to teach it to do that. But what does it need in order to grow strong, sturdy and healthy? That’s where the gardener steps in and cultivates the soil, provides nourishment and helps battle the weeds. The gardener might decide instead to tell the sapling it is composed of roots, stems, leaves, flowers and fruit. That his skin is really tiny cells with a nucleus and cytoplasm and chloroplast. The gardener might even have a little quiz to see how much the sapling has ‘learned’ about these things. But none of this provides actual nourishment for our growing plant.
I have been intrigued lately by a certain parable that appears in Mark 4:26-29. Though the parable theologically is meant to tell the reader something about the Kingdom of God I think its imagery can be helpfully applied to education.
And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” (emphasis mine)
Now, by modern standards this is the worst gardener in the world. Clearly he is not adequate to ensure a healthy crop. He has no clue how the seeds are growing. It just seems to happen as he goes about his business. I want to suggest that going about your business, allowing the earth to produce by itself, is the very best approach you can take to being the most adequate teacher for your imagineers.
We do not make our children learn. The teacher with the most specialized degree and a wealth of knowledge cannot make our children learn. They can make them memorize lists, do worksheets and take tests, but none of this makes them educated, not as we understand it and frankly not as we want it for our children.
Caution! This is not an excuse to do nothing, to be lazy or thoughtless about the educational environment you are providing for your children. It is however an invitation to step into a new world, one that is hopefully more restful and allows you to ease your anxieties over your own inadequacies.
In part 2 of this post I hope to build up an attainable and rich vision of just what you are adequate to do as your child’s teacher.