Tuesday, October 26, 2010

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.

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