I used to believe that education was about standardized test scores and straight A’s. It was about good grades, the honor roll, and perfect attendance. It was what made some "smart" and others "not-so-smart."
I didn't always know that there were different ways to be smart.
And I also didn't know that "being schooled" was not the same thing as being educated.
My Goals as a Public School Educator
As a teacher, I worked hard to help our students pass the yearly standardized tests. We all did. We practiced and practiced and practiced and offered every incentive we could think of to get our students to pass. Sometimes, this included dying our hair, ice cream parties, or throwing pies at the principal.
Some of the children tried extremely hard. I can still remember one in particular, who brought his water bottle to school on test day in order to stay hydrated and give it his very best shot. He improved so very much from the prior year, but he missed the passing score by a couple of points and lost all motivation to try after that. I later came to hear that he became a behavioral nightmare in his classes the following year. . . as did many others.
When I became an educational consultant and specialist, I worked with educators across the state and watched many spinning their wheels, trying the same tactics as I had seen the years before. I challenged them to teach critical thinking and to read poetry and to share great books with their students; but for many, these suggestions were just to “out there” to trust. There was often a sense of fear and a need to do things the way they had always been done—even if those tactics had failed time after time in the past.
The goal was to get their students to pass these tests at certain grade levels by a certain time of the year. It didn’t matter if this meant doing workbooks and skills practices all year long. It didn't matter if this meant forgoing great literature and discussion for fill-in-the-blanks and multiple choice questions.
It also didn't matter if the child had different strengths or gifts and abilities than the ones tested that particular year. It didn't matter if she improved significantly if she was still developmentally behind her peers. It also didn't matter if he was loved or valued or nurtured.
None of that mattered. Test scores did.
In all fairness, there were teachers that stood above the norm and truly had a heart for helping children. I worked with some of the most creative and innovative thinkers in the field. But at the end of the day, even they would admit. . . the system was not set up in the best interest of the students. It was set up to support the system. “If only we just had the TIME to teach,” they would often tell me, amidst the paperwork, test prep, and political agendas.
Even with the best of intentions, it often came down to test scores and grade-level standards.
The Transition to Homeschool Mom
When I became a homeschooling mother, I brought that system into our little “schoolhouse.” I bought grade-level materials for my rambunctious five year-old little boy and quickly grew frustrated when he did not “perform” like the curriculum writer said he was supposed to.
Oh, how I wish I could go back to that time and know then what I know now! How I wish I could take my little boy’s hand and take him to run and play outside instead of shoving phonics “rules” down his throat. I wish I had set aside some of the curriculum until he was ready to dive into it all. I wish I hadn’t felt the constant pressure that he was going to fall “behind.”
It took a few trying years for me to slowly let go of that idealogy. Bad habits die hard.
Over that time, though, The Lord pointed me to a few verses that begin to chip away at my perceptions of education.
The fear of The Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. -Proverbs 9:10
By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures. Proverbs 24: 3-4
As I further pondered the definition of “education” as the mental, moral, and aesthetic development of a person by formal instruction, I realized that it couldn't by definition be neutral or standardized. It didn’t have to be tied to certain “grade levels” or ages or even specific topics.
The problem was that as a homeschool mom, I now had to define what it could be.
The more I read The Word, the more I began to understand that having general knowledge was very different than embracing understanding and wisdom. I began to realize that the goals the Lord was placing on my heart didn't always align with passing tests and arbitrary standards. He created our children with such unique interests and abilities, and I knew that I had a responsibility to help them grow into that purpose rather than push them into a "grade-level" box.
I had a hard time letting go of old expectations and objectives though. I stressed and struggled to stay on par with what "the system" said I should be doing. It took much prayer and a leap of faith to fully break away and embrace this new understanding of education for our children.
Our New Goals for Our Homeschool
If "The fear of the Lord was the beginning of wisdom," then we knew we had to reevaluate our goals. It was one thing to say that God was first and of utmost importance, but it was quite another to actually live that out in our day-to-day interactions. If we wanted our children to love God with all their hearts, minds, and strength, then God would need to take priority in our home and homeschool.
For us, this meant teaching our children about God and His love for them. It meant teaching them how to pray and hear from Him through His Word. It meant reading the Bible, writing and memorizing scripture, singing hymns of praise, and discussing Biblical truths on an ongoing basis. It also meant studying current events, history, and science through a Biblical worldview, offering opportunities for discussion and debate on opposing arguments.
We wanted our children to understand and apply these Biblical truths and values, including stewardship, work ethic, and character. We also wanted them to know what it meant to follow Jesus above all, and trust Him to guide them (and us) in establishing their individual educational goals and purpose.
Another goal that we established for our homeschool was teaching our children how to have a heart for others. Sometimes, this meant putting away our books in order to take a meal to a friend or family member. Sometimes, it looked like volunteer work or yard work. And then, sometimes it simply meant asking for forgiveness or overcoming a dispute.
Throughout our homeschool days, there are plenty of opportunities to share and discuss what it means to forgive, practice hospitality, or show generosity. We believe it’s important to prioritize these opportunities and use them as a means to help them live their faith rather than sweep them under the rug in favor of "academics." For us, homeschooling is about relationships, and we value the time for connection and conversation, knowing that both will have a lasting and meaningful impact on their futures.
Finally, we are committed to equipping them with the capacity and desire to learn. This means that we focus mainly on the "three R's": reading, writing, arithmetic, and later, critical thinking and logic. Our goal is to ensure that they are able to question, research, analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information in order to learn whatever is of interest to them. The goal is for them to ultimately be self-educated so that they can be ready for anything that The Lord calls them to in the future.
Each year, we focus on a feast of ideas, centered on the true, the good, and the beautiful. We read rich literature and poetry, living books, and field guides. We spend plenty of time outdoors, exploring and observing God's creation. We also study musical composers and music, artists and art. We learn about history and geography through biographies, hands-on projects, timelines, and field trips, and so much more.
The goal is to go beyond the “regurgitation” of facts to the ownership of learning and discovery through interest-led exploration, observation, discussion, and writing. I go in knowing that even with the best of efforts, there will be "gaps" in their education, just as there are in everyone's education. But I also know that if they love learning, they will be well-equipped to close the gaps that are most relevant and meaningful to them in the future.
The Paradigm Shift
It took me years to pull together this new understanding of education. I didn't always understand what it meant to be able to think critically and have the capacity to learn about any given topic in a logical and relevant way. I graduated 5th in my high school class and Magna Cum Laude in college and still was not as educated as I thought I was.
Yes, I made straight A's and scored high on tests, but it was mainly because I knew how to "do school." Memorizing facts and lists and dates was easy for me. I knew how to organize information and write well. I knew how to take in information and repeat what I was taught. I knew how to be a good student.
What I didn't know, however, was how to think critically about the information that was being taught to me. I didn't know the art of learning. I wasn't encouraged to ask inferential questions, and I didn't know how to fully seek the "other" side of topics in order to make wise, informed decisions. In many cases, I didn't even know there was another side.
I can honestly say that the vast majority of my education came after my formal schooling. The lessons came the hard way through experience and life, and they prompted me to ask deeper questions, seek and evaluate more information from a variety of perspectives, problem-solve, and create new solutions. These lessons are now at the forefront of what I hope our children will attain through their education here at home.
You see, I've come to find that real learning requires depth of thought, time for analysis and review, and the freedom to venture away from pre-planned curricula and government standards. Real learning is relevant to the individual based on his/her unique gifts, abilities, and goals. It nurtures creativity and imagination and is impossible to standardize and test. Real-life learning is meaningful, exciting, dynamic, and never-ending. It is a life-long endeavor.
Education, Moving Forward
As I read my Bible more and more and as I reflect on my 20-year journey in multiple facets of education, I am more and more convinced that these key areas are the foundation of a quality education. For us, education goes beyond grade-level standards and test scores. It requires an understanding of God and the ability to make wise choices in the midst of deception and political agendas. It allows for the pursuit of divine purpose.
The Bible reminds us that we are to "train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6). It also tells us that "everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher" (Luke 6:40).
What exactly will our children be taught and whom will they be like?
It is a question we must all ask ourselves, whether our children are educated at home, in a private school, or public school. It is up to us to establish a vision for "training" and education in order to make the most of these precious years we have with our children. It is up to us to supplement or create opportunities for deeper learning and discussion in order to prepare them for what is to come.
I believe that wisdom is one of the greatest gifts we can ever pass on to our children, and it is one that will carry them through the hills and valleys of their lives with the potential to leave a lasting legacy for eternity. Let us establish our homes in knowledge and wisdom, so that with each passing day, we will find our rooms filled with rare and beautiful treasures.
"How much better to get wisdom than gold! and to get understanding rather to be chosen than silver!” Proverbs 16:16