As a successful product of public school, I am often asked, “Why did you choose homeschool?” True, I was a member of the National Honor Society, in honors science and English… even voted Most Likely to Succeed. I looked smart. But when I took my SAT, my counselor showed me my low scores and advised against college. After college, I took my GRE to enter graduate school, I again scored poorly. A friend, who had taken the test with me, called to compare scores. When I told him my score, he said, “No, Jessica, add the verbal and the non-verbal scores together.” I replied, “I already have,” and yet, in graduate school the bulk of my grades were A’s with a few B’s.
Why this disparity between my poor standardized test scores and my academic performance? Two speculations. First, many people do not perform well on standardized tests. Clearly, they are not my cup of tea.
Secondly, I was well-trained in regurgitation. With a photographic memory, I could fill in blanks, receive A’s, and promptly forget my regurgitated answers. Public school was product, answer-oriented. Today the emphasis is on passing the TAAS test, with weeks to months spent teaching the test! I was a shining example of one who could pass the test, graduate with honors, and not even be educated! If homeschooling parents want to break out of the regurgitation mold, what can they do differently?
True Education Uses DISCOVERY LEARNING
Discovery learning usually begins with a hands-on problem to be solved. Children come up with solutions to problems without following prescribed step-by-step instructions…rather by hands-on trial and error Hence, the child thinks through/discovers the solution by testing his own steps. Give a child a C-battery, a flashlight bulb, some paper clips, and tell him, “Make it light.” Real discovery learning does not tell an answer. It poses a problem that causes light bulbs to go on in children’s minds. Now they can draw a complete circuit that they understand, not regurgitate.
True Education Allows CREATIVE MESSES
A mom who loved the hands-on, discovery approach for her children was married to a clean-freak. While the mother wanted the children to set up a huge model ear to crawl through under the dining table, the father preferred filling in workbooks because “messiness was non-learning.” Yet learning and retention clearly increase through multi-sensory, discovery learning. Fortunately, the mothers of Thomas Edison, the Wright brothers, and Teddy Roosevelt allowed their sons’ genius to develop amid mess. The 20th century light bulb, airplane, and a US President, are contributions of three mothers who allowed messes. Sadly, Yankee ingenuity of yesterday has been stifled today by adults’ compulsion for children to fill in workbook blanks…NEATLY!
True Education Points to THE CREATOR
All unit studies are not created equal. Worthy unit studies not only have a central theme and offer many related activities based on that theme, they also encourage discovery learning. Discovery learning is not merely the absence of instructions; it is the absence of instruction plus the presence of carefully constructed open-ended questions that lead children to the next thought, and finally to the big concept that connects their single activity to the larger concept being studied. Why construct a model ear to crawl through under the dining table if the emphasis is not on the Creator’s intricate design of the ear and the ear’s purpose – attentiveness to God and His Creation? Otherwise, the projects become little more than an activity for an activity’s sake that raises brilliant heathens.
True Education Employs DIALOGUE
Beware of curriculum that end with phrases like, “tell your children . . .” or “read to your children . . .” as the consistent bottom line. Answer-oriented education is obsessed with the answer, rather than the thought behind the answer. Dialogue, on the other hand, draws answers out of students, while demanding students think in the process. The movie Shadowlands, shows the life of C. S. Lewis using dialogue at its best. At Oxford and Cambridge, young men came to class ready to dialogue with their mentor about what they had read. Lewis posed question after question to the students, each time insisting that the views they held be proved and supported.
While a workbook asks for a single word to be regurgitated, dialogue asks for an original thought to be articulated and supported. Because homeschool class sizes are small, homeschooling parents have the unique opportunity to use dialogue to stretch their child’s reasoning and thinking ability by asking open-ended questions, such as, “What would happen if …?”, “Which solution do you think is best?”, “Can you support your belief?” Only when we engage in open-ended questioning dialogue with our children do we dig into the heart of learning, encouraging our children to think and understand and defend their answers.
I encourage homeschooling parents to raise EDUCATED kids, not REGURGITATING kids.