Education is an exchange

Education hinges on an engaged and inspired student

For most of us, our education took place in a traditional classroom setting. Teacher at the front of the class using the lecture method, or the read-along-out-of-the-book method. Which, let me just say, drove me nuts. I can read it all by myself, thank you very much. But what this has done to the last couple of generations is create the common notion that education flows mostly in one direction - from the teacher to the student. This puts the student in a passive state, with the teacher doing all the heavy lifting. It cripples the student and exhausts the teacher.

Education is not simply about applying teaching techniques, but hinges on an engaged and inspired student. We begin to equip our children to learn by teaching core competencies and memorization, but we must follow basic reading, writing, and math skills with:

  • Critical thinking
  • Self discipline
  • Teamwork
  • Creativity
  • A work ethic

Critical thinking requires the student to become conscious about their thinking. They do not simply react, and they learn to be self aware and purposeful in their thought processes. Students must learn to distinguish fact from feelings and inner desires, and how to avoid logical fallacies like straw men, ad hominem, ambiguity, presumption, false dilemmas, and circular reasoning. They can deconstruct a story, an article, an argument, and respond in a productive way to the underlying issues. Critical thinking also cultivates a sense of integrity and encourages them to root their thinking in honest research, sincere discernment, and straightforward communications.

Self discipline requires the student to maintain a schedule, turn in assignments in a timely manner, and prioritize tasks. They build in their critical thinking with the ability to differentiate between needs and desires, fact and feeling, and react appropriately and deliberately.

Teamwork helps our children develop essential interpersonal skills, as well as learning how to organize tasks in a group setting. Appreciating the interplay of different talents and strengths among individuals working together toward a common goal can foster confidence as well as humility.

“Quiet, detail-orientated people may appear to contribute little, yet their skills will complement those of others who are more vocal, and will probably compensate for some weaknesses.” Having different points of view also prevents “groupthink”, whereby groups develop self-sealing beliefs.
Academic Teamwork, Times Higher Education

Creativity can be expressive and useful. The application of information to a variety of situations is sometimes referred as a transfer of learning; when students can take information gathered in one context and apply it in another. It is essential for problem solving across every subject and discipline. For instance, taking concepts learned in math class and applying them to science experiments, or writing research papers in composition and applying those methods to history reports. A student who is not allowed to exercise this kind of creativity may have trouble transferring what they've learned in school to a vocational setting.

 ... if you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original -- if you're not prepared to be wrong. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong. And we run our companies like this, by the way. We stigmatize mistakes. And we're now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. And the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities. Ken Robinson, TEDTalks

A work ethic is part of self discipline. It is recognizing one's responsibilities, and being able to accomplish objectives in a timely and thorough manner. A self aware student understands their obligations and place in the world, as well as the importance of being trustworthy and dependable. Learning how to work through obstacles, even physical and mental ones, further develops and exercises all the above competencies.

Does any of this sound like something a teacher can efficiently and effectively impart to a student via the traditional classroom? Very few schools are comfortable allowing their teachers to exercise their own critical thinking, creativity, and teamwork, and all too often, their jobs hinge on pushing through curriculum to prep for tests. What is even scarier is when their incomes and job evaluations depend on those test scores. I don't envy teachers this rock-and-a-hard-place dilemma, and I'm sorry that instead of being allowed to use their own hard won teaching skills, they are duct taped to federal stakes and roasted over a critical media fire.

For the homeschooling parent, this means a dose of deschooling might be in order. Leaving behind lectures and traditional textbooks in favor of quality reading material, experimentation, exploration, research, debate, and discussion is a bit intimidating. A solid 21st century education can be obtained by the free-flowing exchange of ideas, instead of straining information through textbooks, which are seldom more than a series of brief informational sound bites.

Don't get me wrong- textbooks can be helpful for creating a scope and sequence, as well as using chapter questions as research topics. Learning how to use textbooks as one brick in their academic foundation will give them an advantage when they are sitting in a college classroom or taking an online course.

But the dependence on traditional textbooks, with the read-the-chapter-answer-the-questions format robs the child of the ability to form the above core competencies that build a well-rounded student of good character.

And now I'm going to start meddlin'. One of the reasons parents don't want to trade in traditional learning methods is what it means for them. They have to model and engage in critical thinking. They have to be good examples of self discipline, integrity, teamwork, and a work ethic. If they've were never taught these skills as a young person, they are as much a homeschooling student as their children!

This is NOT a bad thing. Becoming a student along with your children opens up a world of learning and character building to the parent. This time when you go to school, it's because you want to, not because you must. When your children see humility and hard work exemplified by their parents, they are much more inspired than if you use the "Do as I say, not as I do" parenting method. Which is, let's face it, what most of us do a significant percent of the time.

Homeschooling parents have the incredible opportunity to engage in the exchange, and instill in your children a deep-rooted love of learning anchored to a solid academic foundation.

How do you engage in the exchange? Share your experiences in the comments section below!