Sunday, September 21, 2008

Homeschooling Philosophies - "Teaching HOW to Think, Not WHAT to Think"

You know you haven't posted in too long when you get questions as to whether or not your blog has moved!

Nope, we haven't moved, we've just been on summer vacation! Having "school" got dropped for the summer, and the blog got dropped too. But we've resumed classes, and now the blog too. Not that I haven't been thinking about it. The next few posts will probably be a game of catch-up.

After our first day of classes, I knew I'd have to share a bit of Ella's perspective, which naturally leads into a topic I've put off far too long: my homeschooling philosophy.

Almost every time we go to school (our classroom is in the church across the street) we open our school day with the singing of "O Canada," saying the Lord's Prayer, and a Bible story. Though I think the memorization of the Lord's Prayer is important, I didn't want it to be "rote." So we've talked about each part of it until Ella has come to understand what it is she's saying. As a result of this, she has one of the most expressive and enthusiastic Lord's Prayer of anyone I've ever heard. I've managed to curtail my amusement so that I don't laugh aloud when she says, with much verve and expression, "For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and EVER! Amen!" When I put in the italics, exclamation marks, and capitalization, I'm not exaggerating. She could easily compete with a bouncing Southern Baptist preacher who laces his/her sermons with a, "Can I hear an Amen? Tell me, do you know it?" Who knows? Maybe that's what she'll become one day.

Well, since she's got "O Canada" and the Lord's Prayer well memorized, I decided to add Psalm 23 to our school openings. It wasn't all that long ago that I helped my husband memorize it, as he hadn't come from a faith tradition that emphasized Scripture memorization.

Just as I had with the Lord's Prayer, I would say a phrase and then Ella would repeat it, so she's really learning by repetition and as time goes on, we begin to discuss each section to add understanding. This method worked smoothly from verses 1-4. It was in verse 5 that Ella began to question what she was saying. Which, in my opinion, is a very good thing. You should never sign papers that you haven't read, and you shouldn't say something that you're doubtful about. [Please note: if you're not familiar with Psalm 23, the text is added to the end of this blog post.]

When I said, "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies," she repeated what I said and then piped up, "But Mummy, why would you want to eat with the bad guys?"

I explained that by preparing a feast just for you, God was showing how much He loved you and how special you were to Him. And by letting your enemies see all this, then they would know that they were wrong to treat you unkindly. She thought this was an excellent idea, but seemed to get a bit too much pleasure about God rubbing the noses of her enemies in His honour of her. Vindictive little thing! But I didn't comment on her smirk, since the Psalmist often seems to have that very attitude!

Then I repeated the next section of verse 5, "Thou anointest my head with oil."

Ella didn't even repeat that! Her shock was evident in her, "WHAT???" She was so surprised I had to laugh and as I did, Ella added, "God wants to put OIL on my HEAD?"

When I had recovered, I explained that in the days that the Bible was written when a person had a special work to do for God and He wanted them to be set apart for this special work and for others to know how special the person was whom He had chosen, a priest or a prophet would anoint their heads with oil.

Evidently my explanation just didn't cut it with her. "But I don't want oil on my head! I don't like oil!"

"Well, that was just the way God showed someone that they were extra-special, that they were especially chosen by Him to do His work." I explained again.

Ella wrinkled her forehead, leaned back in the chair, crossed her arms, and said, "Maybe, but I'm not going to say that. No way!"

So, we skipped that part and went on to "my cup runneth over," which she liked very well - after all, who doesn't like having God fill their life with good things? And we finished the rest of the chapter without incident.

Which brings me to my homeschooling philosophy. After all, there's not a lot of "religion" in this blog. At least, I don't think there is, but when you're a pastor/pastor's wife, it slips in everywhere, often without me even realising it. But my purpose in homeschooling is not to give my daughter a "Christian Education." This fact, for some reason, can really freak out a lot of Christians who are homeschooling for just that purpose. To them, they cannot see the point of homeschooling if it's not for religious reasons - essentially to keep their children from being taught something against the family's beliefs and to separate their children from the negative influences of "the world." That is a legitimate reason for homeschooling, and I can understand parents who feel that way, but I happen to disagree.

You see, I've never seen the school system as being responsible for the Christian Education of my children. It's a terrible place for any child to receive "Christian Education." I am a firm believer in Christian Education, and took many courses in college on precisely that subject. But, for whatever reason, I think that the purpose for school is academic education, and that a child's Christian education ought to rest on the parents and the church. If we had decided to put Ella in the public school system, we certainly wouldn't expect her to be getting any Christian education there. If we had decided to put Ella in a private school, it would not have necessarily been a Christian school. Our decision, regardless of the religious (or lack thereof) orientation of the school would be primarily based on their academic program and how well said program would work for Ella.

For 90% of our school day, no observer would think that Ella was getting a "Christian" education. For now all of our subjects are academic, outside of our opening. Eventually we might get into learning Biblical languages (Hebrew with Mum, Greek with Dad) - but even those, while related to our faith are still academic subjects. There is a vast difference between teaching devotion (embracing the teaching of a faith) and teaching religious/Biblical comprehension (understanding and interpreting the texts of a faith and the theology of a faith). The two can intersect, but it is not necessary for them to.

I also have a fear of putting my daughter into an education situation which is not so much education but indoctrination. It's not too difficult to spot the difference. Those who have gone through Christian Education not only know what they believe, but why they believe it and can compare and contrast their beliefs with other beliefs. These are the people who want to hear what you have to say, are willing to try to understand it, and are not threatened by it. Those who have gone through "Christian" indoctrination (which truly should be an oxymoron) know what they've been told to believe and they believe it, perhaps even with some level of understanding. But they don't want to know what you believe. They don't want to listen to your defense of your faith. And when confronted with something outside their belief system they are often threatened and respond accordingly with "fight or flight." When something conflicts with their belief, it is obviously either untrue or results in a crises of faith.

I remember sitting (somewhat dazed) in an early-morning Hebrew class. (Every Hebrew class I've ever taken has been ridiculously early in the morning - don't ask me why!) We were translating the portion of the Torah dealing with the flood narrative, more commonly known as "The Story of Noah and the Ark." At some point during our discussion (it was a seminar class, and therefore very small, amounting to a professor and a group of students sitting around a table) our professor brought up the vast number of flood narratives occurring in almost every ancient religious tradition in the Middle East. Most of the students in the class had already read many differing flood accounts from ancient religious texts in another class, so it was "old news."

After class, however, I got into a discussion with a first-year student to whom the concept of Biblical narratives having pagan parallels was entirely new. She was an intelligent young woman who had just graduated from an (evidently) very conservative Christian school. She was, to say the least, shocked, horrified, and threatened by the idea. In her mind, the professor had pretty much just informed her that much of the Old Testament was copied material from pagan religions.

That had not been my take on the discussion at all. Firstly, because I knew the professor well and knew him to be not only a professor but also an ordained minister who took not only his academics but his faith very seriously. But he was also a man who would present an issue from multiple sides, explaining multiple interpretations, and left the decision-making as to which interpretation was correct to the discretion of the student. Some students left his lectures confused. I always left desiring to study more on the subject until I had come to my own conclusion.

Secondly, since I had already studied the subject previously, I had already had time to process the information and come to my own understanding. There was a reading room nearby, so we went in there (it was empty, so we weren't disturbing anyone!) and we had an interesting discussion which has stayed with me ever since.

"There are a lot of different ancient religious texts that have a flood narrative. We know this to be fact, right?" I asked her.

And though I could tell it cost her to admit it, she nodded her acceptance.

"Okay, so we have this fact, but have you thought at all about what that fact means?" I queried.

"I don't get it," she said. "What is it you're asking me?"

I thought for a moment and then rephrased the question. "So, there's a lot of different flood stories. Fine. But why does this upset you?"

"Because if there's so many other versions of a Bible story, that means they just all copied from each other! It really didn't happen at all!" By this time, she was close to tears.

"Is that what it means?" I asked again. "If there are multiple flood stories then they must have been copied from each other?"

At this point, she realised that I didn't think her conclusion was right at all, and I could see her trying to figure out what I was getting at. She didn't quite make the leap. "What else could it mean?" she wondered.

"Well, let's say that the flood account isn't true, then you'd be correct that it's just another retelling of an old, old story. But, if our premise is that the Bible is the Word of God and is Truth, then the flood narrative did happen, right?"

She nodded.

"And the flood narrative tells us that the "whole world" was flooded, right?"

Again, she agreed.

"Now, I can't say whether this means the whole earth as we know it, every continent under water, or whether this means the whole known earth, and I don't even care. That would be for geologist to figure out. All I know for sure is that everything that the writer of this portion of Scripture knew was under water, so the flooding must have been incredibly wide-spread. Could have been everywhere or just Eurasia and Africa. But there was flooding, and a lot of it."

"Tell me now, if there was flooding all over the place, and there was one family who survived, and they spread out all over the place, and raised their families, and generations passed, and they began to form their own religions, what would happen to the flood story?"

Light was dawning for her, "Then there'd be a whole bunch of flood stories, not all the same, but an awfully lot alike!"

"Bingo! And they wouldn't be copies of each other, but..."

"But they would all have the same root story!" she exclaimed.

"And so, as far as I'm concerned, the great variety of flood accounts doesn't prove the lack of a flood, but testifies to the truth of a flood!" I finished.

I graduated some time before she did, so I don't know how she dealt with the vast differences in Biblical interpretation or the varieties of theologies she would have been taught later, but I hope and pray that she remembered to be open to new ideas, to consider them critically (in the sense of skillfully judgment as to truth or merit, not as in being inclined to find fault or judge harshly), and to make her decisions and opinions based on sound judgement tempered with faith rather than rejecting any theory off-hand or (worse) losing her faith.

That's why I'm wary of "Christian" education. And, depending on how you look at it, not only do some "Christian" school try to indoctrinate children, it's not very different in public schools!

One of my friends is fond of calling public schools "Secular Humanism" schools, and another calls them "Darwinian" schools. I would have to agree with the first, on the whole, although many would point out that the latter led, quite directly, to the former. At any rate, public schools are "religious," even if their "religion" has no god, and the way they go about teaching their beliefs is not much different than the way I described my issues with most Christian schools, to wit, that they attempt to teach the children what to think, rather than how to think.

And on top of this, teachers are frightfully overworked, sadly underpaid, and usually very stressed out due to the pressures put on them by parents, the school district, the department of education, and their over-full classrooms. As if that were not enough, classrooms often deal with mayhem due to the "inclusion" and "no child left behind" policies.

Don't get me wrong, I think it extremely important that children learn to be friends with and accept those who are handicapped or disabled in some way, but while that interaction is important, when it interferes with the learning process, and it disturbs greatly during class time, resulting in lower grades and difficulty learning for children easily distracted, I draw the line. Education should be primarily about scholarly education, not social "education," which really is the reason why we send our children to schools rather than socials.

As for "no child left behind," I think that has failed miserably. What results is that highly intelligent children face a system that is "some children kept behind," and those who have difficulty learning face a system that is "some children forced forward." Often teachers find themselves forced to teach to the lowest common denominator, meanwhile the intelligent and very bored children have plenty of time to come up with smart-aleck remarks and have plenty of time to catch up on their note-writing and passing, or worse.

Education is so incredibly important. I've always wanted the best education possible for my children (although at this point I only have a class of one), and when I read about the Montessori Method I knew I'd found the kind of education I wanted my daughter to have. In fact, I think every child should be able to learn this way, and it's very sad that more children don't have the chance. The state of education in New Brunswick is currently in sad, sad shape. And truth be told, most families don't have any option but to send their children to public school. Many parents continue to educate their children at home and often augment their children's education with extra-curricular classes and/or activities. But I'm grateful that I do have the option, and I just keep praying for the discipline, to homeschool my children.

[Please note: that last sentence is not a typo. I ended up getting pregnant this summer, much to our shock and delight, and so I'll have another student soon enough. The best part about it is that now all this Montessori material making will be used at least twice!]

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,


At 12:51 a.m. , Blogger Teresa said...

Horay! I am so so glad you are back! And a huge congratulations for your new arrival, that is really super :)

I just want to say that I thought this blog post is great - I really agree with your educational philosophy. It's really great that you've put it down in simple English. You're a great mum and your kid(s) ;) are lucky to have you

Best Wishes,

At 6:58 a.m. , Blogger Andrea said...

Congratulations! I'm glad you're back...I've been waiting to hear all about how you like your teaching manuals. Are they better than the online free ones?

At 7:26 a.m. , Blogger HomeSchooler said...

Wow, it hasn't even been 12 hours since I posted and folks are noticing already! I'm quite flattered. Thank you both for reading.

(Meanwhile, the daughter of this "great mum" - oh what a heady comment - is running around wearing nothing but panties, an undershirt, and her Anne of Green Gables hat, as modelled in Field Trips Part II calling me 'Marilla' and my husband 'Matthew!')

As for the Montessori Research and Development teaching manuals, the short answer is "yes." The longer answer (and a full review) will be in an upcoming post.

At 1:54 p.m. , Blogger RebelAngel said...

You're back! Yay!

"Death Becomes Him" was getting old.

I love your view here and find I completely agree! Amazing. But then, we knew we were like cross continental twins already.

You can tell Ella that anointing with oil was one of the ways that someone was made a king back in those days. God made David a king by having Samuel anoint him with oil. If she would just prefer a crown, I am sure God could oblige.

At 4:21 a.m. , Blogger Miekie said...

I enjoyed visiting your blog. I pretty much share your views in my own homeschooling. I homeschool a special needs child - not my own. I find the Bible a wonderful tool for reinforcing the academics - besides of course for getting closer to God! I blog at

At 8:11 p.m. , Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for the entry. congrats on getting pregnant. i will pray for a health baby and an health mama. i, too, do not homeschool for religious reasons. i am a christian, but we homeschool for cultural reasons--we are african american. on a different note, i can remember my 1st year philosophy class (in a christian college) where the professor was showing us the futility of proving the existence of was so disturbing for all of us, but so enlightening by the end of the semester.

At 3:55 a.m. , Blogger southerncross said...

Hi there, I just want to say I am soo happy to have found your blog and soo much enjoy your posts. I have come to your blog every night now since discovering it (I have a lot of catching up to do.) My daughter is 3 and 3 months, is very imaginative as well (was anthropomorphizing the number rods today and NOT doing the work, and I didn't quite know how to handle it...will have to read more). And your homeschooling philosophy all rings true to me. I am just really grateful for all you are sharing about your journey, and for the community that is gathering around these discussions.

I am REALLY keen to hear your reviews of the Research and Development Manuals, as I have been trying to decide whether to purchase any of them, and if so -- which ones.

THANK YOU for all your posts!

At 5:24 a.m. , Blogger Cerulean said...

Just wanted to say congratulations!! Also glad to see you back!

At 6:59 p.m. , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just found your blog and I LOVE it! I will definitely be checking back frequently to read more posts, see more pictures, and get more ideas!


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home