Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Quest

I've been writing for some time now about something called the Quest. It started when I realized that even though I have a good job, great family, nice friends, and a pretty good sense of where I want my life to go, I still felt like there should be more. I am not just what I am outwardly, the places I go, the things I do. I want there to always be an inward growth and search for more. In the words of C. S. Lewis in his final book of the Chronicles of Narnia,The Last Battle, I want to go "further up, and further in."

Throughout my home-schooled education, my mom always emphasized worldview. Everybody has an understanding of what they believe the world to be, what our purpose is as humans, and what constitutes good and evil (or if those categories even exist). Nobody is unbiased; everyone has a worldview, religious and non-religious alike. It would be impossible to function or interact with others or make decisions if one did not have a worldview, a philosophy of life and the ethics and moral laws that they lived by.

One of the main ideas I discovered during my early teenage years was that if a person did not know (or could not clearly articulate) what their worldview was, then one of two things would happen (or both). Either: that person could be spoon-fed the worldview of somebody else, such as a teacher, and thereby not really have any opinion of their own, but blindly accept, follow, and defend thoughts that may not necessarily even be true; or that person would try to not even think about philosophy or what they believed to be true, and only concern themselves with present gratification, having only a shallow knowledge of anything beyond their current affairs.

So I've been on a search for truth. I'm almost ashamed to even write those words, though... I make so many mistakes. I think that the vast majority of my wrongdoings come from two areas: my selfish inclination to do what I want and what will "feel" good, and my stubborn, prideful disposition which prevents me from admitting when I am wrong and altering towards what is right. Mountains of errors stand in the way of my past pitiful attempts to find truth.

In spite of my flaws, though, I know that my search is not in vain. I have an unescapable thirst to find the water of life. Christ, the Living Water, is the answer; by His grace I know that I am forgiven of my faults and set free to change for the better, to be continuously hungry for truth. Here's the good part: I'm SUPPOSED to want to search for truth!

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."
~ Philippians 4:8

Pursuit of truth is possible, it is encouraged, even commanded. It is a life-long journey. It will be a battle at times. Here's a quote I found that exemplifies this concept:

"The inquiry of truth, which is the love-making, or wooing of it, the knowledge of truth, which is the presence of it, and the belief of truth, which is the enjoying of it, is the sovereign good of human nature"
~ Francis Bacon, Essay 1, 'Of truth'

Nobody seems to talk about "wooing" truth anymore. Even the idea of truth being something quantifiable or able to be discovered is taboo because of the logical implication that if someone is right about something, then someone else is wrong. Our culture of tolerance has turned into a culture of intolerance; we are so cautious about not accusing anybody of being incorrect that we are afraid to say that anybody is right. So we are silent.

I am trying to tear off all the outer clothes that mask truth's honest face. I am tired of walking on tiptoes to not offend people by standing up for what I know is true. I am tired of ignoring what I know to be true in favor of following my own selfish wants. I am tired of political, pseudo-religious, philosophical, nonsensical jargon that impedes truth.

I want to enjoy truth. To be a friend of truth.

"Truth indeed came once into the world with her divine Master, and was a perfect shape most glorious to look on: but... a wicked race of deceivers... took the virgin Truth, hewed her lovely form into a thousand pieces, and scattered them to the four winds. From that time ever since, the sad friends of Truth, such as durst appear, imitating the careful search that Isis made for the mangled body of Osiris, went up and down gathering up limb by limb, still as they could find them. We have not yet found them all... nor ever shall do, till her Master's second coming; he shall bring together every joint and member, and shall mould them into an immortal feature of loveliness and perfection."
~ Milton, 'Areopagitica'

What I Think of Education, Part III (Repost from earlier blog)

Here are the reasons why I have been so grateful to have been schooled at home:

- Lots of free time for creative play; building blocks, Lincoln logs, Tinkertoys, Legos, stuffed animals, and tiny home-made yarn dolls were my favorite toys when I was younger. As I got older, I began to write stories on the computer, write poetry, journal, listen to music, and especially read books.

Favorite memory: My sister and I learned about the Native American culture and used blankets, pillows, cardboard boxes, and chairs to create an awesome fort that took up the entire living room. My mom let us sleep in it overnight and do our schoolwork in it the next day!

Lots of time outside. Recess was more than a half hour time running around an enclosed blacktop! I could play outside for hours by myself or with my sister or other home-schooled friends, in all four seasons; sometimes we would even take our school work outside on a nice day. Kids who are stuck in school all day don't get nearly as much time in the outdoors.

Favorite memory: About once a month, our home-school group (approximately two dozen kids and their moms) would go to a local park and spend the entire day there. We'd pack a picnic, the moms would chat and socialize, and us kids would be free to play in the sun and trees from early morning to late afternoon. Talk about heavenly!

Friends who weren't all exactly my age. In the homeschool group, the kids ranged from toddlers up through junior high and high-school. I think it's important that children have friends who are all different ages, which allows them to see different perspectives and learn how to function well in multiple social situations.

Favorite memory: Some of my best friends have been much older or much younger than me. In second grade, my best friend was a sixth grade girl who lived across the street. When I was ten, my best friend was a twelve-year old boy in our home-school group. Now, two of my very best friends are an eighty-seven year old woman from church and a sixteen year old fellow guitarist.

School work suited to my level of ability. I didn't have too much difficulty with math after I went back to home-schooling when I was eight, but once algebra hit, that was a different story. Geometry was even worse. My mom would try over and over and over to help me learn and understand these things. I even had a private tutor for geometry for a little while.

Favorite memory: I loved doing in-depth studies on specific books! When I read and analyzed "Pride and Prejudice" in junior high for a semester, I was in heaven. Reading was a huge part of my school lessons and I've loved it ever since then.

Time to pursue areas of interest to me, like music and track and field. After beginning guitar lessons when I was eight, I was able to have a lot more time to practice when I was home-schooled as opposed to being in public school. This was especially true in high-school, when I wanted to practice for several hours a day.

Favorite memory: My mom, sister, and I would often go jogging in the neighborhood park with our across-the-street home-schooling friends. It was a good break in the middle of the day, let us run off some energy, and nearly always ended with us climbing trees or playing on the playground. And surprisingly, no police officer ever questioned us about truancy! We were always prepared with an answer, though: "We're having P.E., sir."

Time for volunteer work. This is something that very few kids are involved in nowadays, sadly. It's a benefit to our society and helps establish a sense of local community. Families can use it as a way for the individual members to come together working on a single volunteer project, or a student can volunteer for a cause that interests them.

Favorite Memory: When I was young, my family would sometimes volunteer to serve food at a soup kitchen; I was too little to be of much help, but I remember being impressed that my parents considered it so important to serve those less fortunate than ourselves. Our home-school group would often sing songs and hand out holiday cards at a retirement home several times a year. Also, I volunteered at a community library as an assistant from the time I was thirteen until i was sixteen. I absolutely loved it!

Freedom to make my own school schedule. My sister and I would usually do a small amount of school-work during the summer anyway, just so we wouldn't forget everything we learned and so we could take time off when we really needed to, like around Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays, family vacations, weekend camping trips, park days with the home-school group, field trips days (yes, home-schoolers take field trips too), and craft/art/baking/gardening/etc. days. The nice thing was that if I worked diligently right from the time I got up in the morning, I could usually have all my school work for the day completed before lunch time; then I could have the rest of the day to do stuff with my mom around the house, work on a project of my own, practice guitar, read, etc.

Favorite memory: We were always allowed to have snow days off, even if the public schools didn't. No child wants to be indoors when all that snow is calling to be played in! Sledding, snow forts, snowball fights, fox-and-geese, tag, snowmen, shoveling our driveways and the elderly neighbor's driveways... we had fun all day long until it got too dark to see outside.

Quality time with my mom and sister. My mom taught us not just how to read, write, and do math, but also many different practical skills and fun activities. Here is a list of just some of the things we did together:

Berry picking
Fruit picking
House cleaning
Canning (preserving)
Child care
Art projects
Museum trips
Science experiments
Chicken raising
Library trips
Nature walks
Candy making

One of the most important things my mom taught me, though, was self-discipline. 

What I Think of Education, Part II (Repost from earlier blog)

My mom originally wanted to be a teacher. However, I came along and she gave up her college studies to raise me at home. She read to me constantly, several times a day from what I remember: fairy stories, poetry, children's nursery rhymes, and books too hard for me to comprehend at the time, but enjoyed all the same (The Trumpet of the Swan, The Little Princess, The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, and many more). I could read easily by the time I was four. My mom helped me memorize things like Bible verses, songs, multiplication tables, and vocabulary. I listened to music all the time, mostly classical, because I couldn't stand anything composed later the mid-twentieth century (I was weird).

When I was eight, my family moved to Idaho. I asked my parents if I could attend a local public school, and they agreed. At first, I really liked "going to school": walking with friends in the morning the few blocks to the school building, participating in a real class of kids my age, the arts and crafts... it seemed very fun. But very shortly I began to see disadvantages. The class was very cliquish; the girls didn't accept me easily, and the boys were nice but often rough in their play. The teacher, in spite of being a wonderfully sweet lady, often didn't know what to do with me when I would finish my class work quickly and ask for something to do... she began sending me to the library just to read. Also, math was beginning to be a problem; I'd never been great with numbers, but my math skills were declining as the class was taught new concepts and I fell behind because I didn't understand them. Mostly... I was bored. After already having had my mom's full care in my education for eight years, the divided attentions of a teacher who had to deal with a class of two dozen children could hardly compare.

Here's the honest-to-goodness reason why I eventually begged my mom to take me out of school: My class began studying the Chinese culture, and when we got around to learning about the Chinese New Year, we found out that all the children in the class were born in the Year of the Tiger... except for me. I was slightly younger than the rest of the class, and had been born in the Year of the Hare. After that, the class thought that its duty was to chase, catch, and eat me during every recess. A silly thing to some people, but horrifying for an eight year old child who was naturally shy. I left less than a year after I had begun.

It seems to me that my three main problems in public school (besides the Chinese New Year) were these: social difficulties, insufficient activities for my appropriate level of ability (which varied from subject to subject), and lack of teacher availability for special help in a subject that caused me a lot of confusion. I was so happy to be home-schooling again!

Granted, I spent a very small amount of time in a public school, but I still think that being homeschooled was definitely the best choice. In my next blog, I'll give my reasons for why I think homeschooling is such a good idea.

What I Think of Education, Part I (Repost from earlier blog)

Lately I've been studying a method of education called unschooling. Unschooling, by definition, is allowing the child complete freedom to choose what they will study and when they will study it. "When the child is ready," they will study it. In other words, a child should not be pushed into studying anything they do not choose themselves.

Now, I've seen several "modern moms" who seem fully in favor of this style of schooling; however, I don't agree with its main precept. My major opposition to unschooling is that children, being young and inexperienced, cannot fully appreciate the long-term effect of decisions. A child might feel that playing with legos or a computer game all day is the best choice, but I know of very few parents who would agree! Games and free creative time should be a major part of a child's life, yet it should not be the ONLY thing. The best way I've read it described was in an online article, like this:

"Our brains are a muscle just like any other part of the body, and to think by working out math problems, or taking a spelling test, or dissecting a frog, flexes and tightens the brain muscle to prepare it for proper thought patterns and good study habits. If you pamper this muscle, laziness and rebellion take forth, and all they want to do is play. Playing, like walking, talking and sleeping is what children do best, it is not something they learn to do, and it is an instinct of life. Playtime is great, but still needs to be balanced out with crafts, thought time, study time, quiet time, or physical work, like chores."

The most important things that children should learn, in my opinion, are:

- To love God.
- To love kindness and justice.
- To love their family and the people around them.
- To hunger for truth.

As far as the benefits they should gain from "formal schooling":

- To love beauty (music, art, dance, the natural world).
- To learn how to think outside the box (creativity).
- To learn how to think logically (logic, brain teasers, puzzles, math).
- To learn how to gain understanding (writing, reading, religion, philosophy).
- To learn how to express themselves (writing, reading, language, grammar).
- To learn from the past so that they can become aware of the future (history, philosophy, politics, archaeology).
- To learn why things work the way they do (science, biology, math).
- To learn practical mathematics (budgeting, taxes, business math).
- To learn practical life skills (household chores, cooking, gardening, sewing, car mechanics, child-care, computers, social interaction, volunteer work).

If schools today followed these basic goals, I bet that about half the curricula could be thrown out. Also, children would probably need to spend a smaller portion of their day actually "in" school. But then... this would mean that parents would have to take more of a part in their child's education! *gasp*

I think that a child should learn first how to be a proper human being, and then a scholar. Most schools seem concerned only with filling a child's head with facts, pushing them on through one grade to the next regardless of knowledge retention, and teaching them how to stand in line and ask for permission to go to the bathroom. Virtuous character is more desirable in a child than head knowledge, but it takes considerably more effort to create one than the other.

The goals outlined above are what I think every child should graduate high-school with. But here's something I want to stress, what I think the backbone of this pre-college education constitutes: if this plan was followed, then hypothetically each child would most likely, between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, gain some sort of idea as to what they want to pursue as a vocation. If a child has been given the freedom to investigate areas of interest to them in their early years, with opportunity to "try out" various trades or occupations, then there is very little that stands between them and finding their career of choice. Through taking early college classes, volunteering, job-shadowing, and/or part-time employment, a teen can narrow their job interests down to what they might really like to do.

For example, if a teen is interested in becoming an architect, they will want to go on to study more advanced mathematics and drawing while still in high-school, most likely by taking outside classes to gain increased understanding and instruction in these subjects. This will give them a chance to see if they have a real proclivity for this profession, and also give them an added advantage in their knowledge even before they formally enter college to major as an architect.

I believe that children should have a great deal of free time, that they should be allowed and encouraged to study things that interest them, and that hours upon ridiculous hours of rote schoolwork are unnecessary and even detrimental in elementary schools. In these things, I am agreeing with some of the ideas behind unschooling. I think that children do have a natural inclination to learn because they are naturally curious; however, I sincerely doubt that the majority of children have the drive/diligence/knowledge to pursue a plan of all-round learning that will benefit them the most in life. That is why I cannot agree with the practice of unschooling.

As a side note, one of the most depressing things I've seen is that most children and even teenagers (and some young adults, too) have no idea why they are actually in school. You'd be hard pressed to find a student who could offer more than the shallow, ultimately meaningless answers of, "I'm supposed to learn/want to learn", "I need to study in order to get a high-paying job", or "I'm in school because my family/society requires me to be here". Is this what the purpose of life should be? As several of my much older and wiser friends have told me many times, "Life does not begin when you graduate from college; you have been alive for twenty-one years already, and hopefully you were actually living and not just looking forward to beginning to live once formal schooling was complete."

In my next blog I'll explain how my principles of education came to be this way.

Quotes (Repost from earlier blog)

In my recent studies, I've come across these quotes. You can probably tell which ideas I agree with and which one I don't.

"Why should we have to try to develop such [actively inquisitive] minds, when children are born with them? Somewhere along the line, adults must fail somehow to sustain the infant's curiosity at its original depth. School itself, perhaps, dulls the mind- by the dead weight of rote learning, much of which may be necessary. The failure is probably even more the parents' fault. We so often tell a child there is no answer, even when one is available, or demand that he ask no more questions. We thinly conceal our irritation when baffled by the apparently unanswerable query. All this discourages the child. He may get the impression that it is impolite to be too inquisitive. Human inquisitiveness is never killed; but it is soon debased to the sort of questions asked by most college students, who, like the adults they soon to become, ask only for information."

~ Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren, How to Read a Book, Chapter 18: How to Read Philosophy

"We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, educators, poets or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we have ample supply. The task we set before ourselves is simple... We will organize children... and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way."

~ Excerpt from a 1906 document from Rockefellar's General Education Board, called Occasional Letter Number One

"Studies serve for delight, for ornament, and for ability. Their chief use for delight is in privateness and retiring; for ornament, is in discourse; and for ability, is in the judgement and disposition of business. For expert men can execute, and perhaps judge of particulars, one by one; but the general counsels, and the plots and marshalling of affairs, come best from those that are learned. To spend too much time in studies is sloth; to use them too much for ornament is affectation; to make judgement wholly by their rules is the humour of a scholar.... for natural abilities are like natural plants, that need proyning (pruning) by study..."

~ Francis Bacon, Essay L: Of Studies

"To a very great degree, school is a place where children learn to be stupid. A dismal thought, but hard to escape. Infants are not stupid. Children of one, two, or even three throw the whole of themselves into everything they do. They embrace life, and devour it, it is why they learn so fast, and are such good company. Listlessness, boredom, apathy- these all come later. Children come to school curious; within a few years most of that curiosity is dead, or at least silent... The expressions on the children's faces seemed to say, 'You've got us here in school; now make us do whatever it is you want us to do.' Curiosity, questions, speculation- these are for outside school, not inside."

~ John Holt, in his book Why Children Fail


Here are several quotes about schools and education that caught my eye recently. I'm beginning to agree with the sentiment behind them more and more, although I still have several major oppositions to a completely anti-formal-schooling mindset.

"On your own, you have to face the responsibility for how you spend time. But in school you don't. What they make you do may obviously be a waste but at least the responsibility isn't charged to your account. School in this respect is, once again, like the army or jail. Once you're in, you may have all kinds of problems but freedom isn't one of them." - Jerry Farber

"The function of high school, then, is not so much to communicate knowledge as to oblige children finally to accept the grading system as a measure of their inner excellence. And a function of the self-destructive process in American children is to make them willing to accept not their own, but a variety of other standards, like a grading system, for measuring themselves. It is thus apparent that the way American culture is now integrated it would fall appart if it did not engender feelings of inferiority and worthlessness." - Jules Henry

‎"School is indeed a training for later life not because it teaches the 3 Rs (more or less), but because it instills the essential cultural nightmare fear of failure, envy of success, and absurdity." - Jules Henry

"Schools have not necessarily much to do with education...they are mainly institutions of control where certain basic habits must be inculcated in the young. Education is quite different and has little place in school." - Winston Churchill

“School prepares for the alienating institutionalization of life by teaching the need to be taught.” - Ivan Illich