Tuesday, July 15, 2008

For the Children's Sake

I just finished reading "For the Children's Sake: Foundations of education for home and school", by Susan Schaeffer Macauley. This short book is full to burst with ideas on how to lift "schooling" up from the miserable place it often occupies today, and turn it into something truly meaningful, fun, creative, enjoyable... and, well, educative. Eliminate the drudgery and make children's eyes sparkle as they explore the world around them with infinite curiosity, as they partake in all the rich goodness of true education - in the form of good books, music, nature, crafts, and real relationships in real life. Life, in itself, is the best teacher of all.

The author quotes extensively from Charlotte Mason's work, which I am yet to become familiar with. I feel more prepared now to tackle the 6 volumes of "The Original Home Schooling Series".

As a child, while my peers dreamed of becoming famous actresses or space explorers, I wanted to become a teacher. However, before long I became discouraged. A shy and quiet person, I knew I could never handle the pandemonium of forty children cooped up in the same room during many hours. I couldn't force-feed dry extracts of information to dull-eyes teenagers.

I didn't enjoy my lessons, either. I was a quick child, so I would simply try to be done with "school" as soon as possible - so that I could go home or to the library and pull a few good books from the shelf. I curled up for many hours with short biographies of famous men in history, breathless with attention. At my leisure, I would browse pictures of animals and art work reproductions. I read books by foreign authors, and without meaning to, I learned more about geography and culture in other countries than what school ever managed to teach me. When I got tired of reading I would roll in the grass and then lie flat on my stomach and watch ants carry crumbs and leaves to their underground cities, forming busy highways.

Looking back, it's amazing to see how little of the boring, crammed school material stayed in my head after exams were over - and how much I learned during my leisure time, seemingly without effort, which remains with me until today and hopefully will remain always. Why, I wonder, does life need to be divided into tiny cubicles and spoon-fed to children, thus underestimating their ability of creative thinking, of wonder and excitement at the abundance life has to offer? Why can't we have less memorizing and homework, and more close, personal touch with what will actually stay in our memory - real life?

Quoting from "For the Children's Sake":

"Some people today are ignorant of how well all of this can work. They have perhaps never witnessed the concentration and pleasure of children who are listening to a good book being read aloud. They do not know about the unique atmosphere that exists when children are absorbed in creative activities, including self-motivated play; they do not know about the atmosphere present when there are good, human relationships: where there is respect, trust, order, and time for individuality and work. Some do not even know about the atmosphere of love."

Sadly, it is true.

My passion for teaching, however, remained bubbling under the surface. I loved to tell and explain about things I knew, and could patiently study for hours with a classmate who didn't understand the material. When I was a highschool student, I was asked to tutor a child in English. She was recovering from surgery and didn't go to school for the time being. It was then that I fully realized the following: when you aren't in an overcrowded class, and you have patience, there's all the time in the world: time to talk and listen, time to explain and pepper up your point with interesting examples. There is time to learn.

In the following years, I had the privilege to get to know children of all ages, from toddlers to teenagers. I saw what a challenge it was to try and build a bridge, however thin and rickety, between homework and real life. Just one example: in a science book for 10-th grade, it was stated that as temperature rises, solid turns to liquid and then liquid becomes gas. The children didn't understand, because no one thought to give them an astoundingly simple, real-life example: ice melts into water, and water turns into vapor.

I also got to know the pleasure of playing monopoly with a child, of painting and drawing together, and making elaborate constructions out of playdough. I witnessed children's joy at exploring the outdoors and of seeing anything new and unexpected: an unfamiliar plant, a sand dune, a little wild animal. I grew up without siblings or younger cousins, and now learned how creative, intelligent, funny, sensitive and original children truly are. Even more than before, I realized what how terribly cruel it is to dull their sharp little minds by blocking access to anything real and leaving only the government-approved, the organized, the progressive and efficient.

My childhood passion for teaching blossomed into the desire to educate my children, to open the doors of beauty and love, freedom and joy, and security in the truth of God Almighty. In time, I prayed for God to bless me with a husband who has a sensitive, tender heart that would be ready to lean towards a small child, read and talk, play and listen. All of this I see in the man who eventually won my hand in marriage.

If the Lord sends us children, I don't want them to suffer the sad fate of modern childhood: unncesessary limitations in learning, and no boundaries at all beside that. I would like our children to grow up knowing love, freedom, joy, creativity, excitement and discovery - but also respect, honor, and duty. I want our children to spend hours watching butterflies, building camps, and exploring the wonders of our surroundings - and also know that elders should be respected, parents obeyed, and God looked upon as the ultimate authority.

"Education is an adventure," - says Susan Schaeffer Macaulay - "it's about people, children, life, reality!"

Education is also a journey. A journey that starts the moment a child is born, and never ends. Isn't it exciting?


Bailey said...

You are so right, Mrs. T!

My mother homeschools her children, and she is always commenting on how much she is learning and how much she had "forgotten" (i.e. never learned). I think there is a huge gap between learning and teaching: you can teach a child but you can't make him learn.
I'm a big advocate of reading good literature, and my biggest frustration is the junky Scholastic paperbacks scattered across the library. I am not sure on this, but my guess is that the only way to lure public schooled children into reading is to feed them something below their thinking levels, because they are either tired of reading, reading, reading for eight hours, and/or they are tired of thinking, thinking, thinking.

The best education is not teaching one everything. The best education is teaching one to learn.

God bless!

LaDonna said...

Anna, I read your post nearly every day. It's my favorite!

I don't entirely agree with the thought within the homeschooling (unschooling) circle that subscribes to Charlotte Mason's way of educating. As a homeschool mom, I do know that I have to stretch myself in order to consider and look for interesting ways to teach, especially if the child has difficulties with conventional learning. However, there is a pressure put on homeschool moms to make every lesson this amazingly interesting, fun, liberating educational experience. This is unfortunate, for very few people can live up to this standard. Why? As I have said to my son, "I can't make everything fun; sometimes school is just plain work."

Someday, both of our sons are going to have jobs and will need to support their families. A huge number of people these days change jobs, or quite perfectly good ones because it wasn't "fun" or "fulfilling" or "interesting." Well, sometimes a job is just plain work.

There is a benefit to the discipline of book learning and study. There is also a benefit to creative exploration. Homeschoolers do well if they can find a balance between both.

Bethany Hudson said...

"The best education is not teaching one everything. The best education is teaching one to learn." Oh, well put, Bailey!

I look forward to reading more about your "homeschooling journey" in the coming years, Anna--about the same time I'm likely to embark on it myself! As my daughter turned 1 year old today!!


Susan said...

Hi, Anna! I can't remember how I found your blog, but I love it and can't wait to explore it! I've always lived in the US and am really enjoying reading about your life in Samaria. I have a couple of questions for you: on your blog picture, your husband (I'm assuming this is a wedding picture?) is putting your wedding ring on your index finger. That's different from here. Also, I was wondering where you lived before you moved to Samaria. Anyway, I am really looking forward to reading more from you!

Mrs. Anna T said...

Hi Susan,

In Jewish wedding ceremonies, the ring is usually placed on the bride's right index finger.

Samaria is a part of Israel. Before we moved there, we lived in different parts of Israel. My husband was born in Israel; I was born in USSR and came here with my family in '91.

Anonymous said...

Hello! In college, I'm studying how to be an ESL teacher. Teaching is hard for me though because I'm shy and quiet--but I've always wanted to teach my own children. I think for many people, it is one of the best ways! I want that for my future children, and I hope that someday I'll be able to teach them at home.

Terry said...

I'm certain your homeschool will be spectacular. Your future children will be blessed to have you educate them.

Mrs. Rabe said...

Amen, Anna, Amen!

Just to clarify for your poster who mentioned unschooling in association with Charlotte Mason. That is not what Charlotte Mason advocates at all. Just shorter lessons, nature study with drawing book, narration all while young. Learning about art and music and literature and science with out textbooks, but not without structure...

I am glad you enjoyed the book. I really did when I read it!

Beth said...

As a veteran homeschool mom (17 years) I am thrilled to see young people carefully planning their children's homeschool education.

Your children will be greatly blessed.

Anonymous said...

Encourage your child to learn by offering access to knowledge and acceptance of their endeavor. Sometimes there's not enough thoughts in a distracted adult head to attempt to answer all the 'how comes' and 'why fors'. Open up the joy of reading and observation. It doesn't have to be a monetarily expensive undertaking, unless adequate amounts of time cannot be afforded the bright, inquisitivity of the growing mind. Always be positive in affirming the goodness and desire for honest knowledge of the child--never, ever lie. Always preface your explanations with an explanation of your own opinion if not known for sure. Don't get too in-depth in one view of history, a lot of it is made-up anyway, and based on other's realities.

Ewokgirl said...

I'm a proponent of educational choice, meaning that I think parents should choose the manner of education that best fits their own children, whether that be public, private, or homeschooling. I find it a bit naive, though, to assume that one is always better than all the others (in this case, homeschooling).

I was mostly public-school educated, and for the most part, I loved it. My parents always chose homes in highly-rated districts, and with only one exception, all of my schools worked hard to make sure that I was engaged and stimulated. (I was considered gifted.)

I've also been a public-school teacher, so I know the hard work that good districts, administrations, and teachers put into making learning a rewarding experience. I'm familiar with the various learning methods, since not all children learn the same way. It is definitely a challenge to educate large classes, but it's not the horror that you seem to make it out to be. How successful a class is can be highly dependent upon the quality of teaching.

I find it highly offensive when homeschoolers make blanket statements about the (lack of) intelligence and interests of public-schooled children. I happened to be one who read independently and often, and no, my choice of books was not usually the typical "junky Scholastic" stuff. My friends were the same. Yes, there are those children who do not enjoy reading meatier books, or even dislike reading completely. I know some homeschooled kids who are like that, so it's not a trait confined to those in the public schools.

The #1 indicator of how well a child will do educationally is how engaged his or her parents are in the learning process. A child who has no reinforcement or encouragement at home will not do as well as a child who does have that support structure in place. So, regardless of the method of education, a child's home life is what really determines success in school. There are always those exceptions, of course, but in general, this is true.

I'm not trying to slam homeschooling here and prop up public schooling. I'm merely trying to state that it's a faulty assumption to assume that one method of schooling is always better than the others.

Anonymous said...

I agree with ewokgirl almost completely.
Many posters above were very dismissive of anyone who studies or teaches at public school. Imagine I had said the same things about those who study at home...
Lots of kids at school are happy, well-adjusted, intellectually challenged, ethical...what more could you ask for?
I only disagree with ewokgirl on one point: the home is not the number one influence. Genetics is just as important. I know of too many families (my own included) where one child is an academic star and the other hates to open a book, or is learning disabled.
That's why different schooling methods work for different kids, even in the same family!

Anonymous said...

we are a homeschooling family with 4, soon to be 5 kids. We incorporate many of the teaching of Charlotte Mason in our homeschool. she does not advocate simply having fun, non-structured time as some have assumed. She believes in challenging children to become the people God has created them to be. To fulfull their purpose on this earth. I highly recommend her style of teaching. "School" and the entire "system" of school is such an artificial environment. No other time in your life will you have to sit in a room with only people you age, be expected to only speak if you raise your hand, and have to compete for grades with the others. One can not compare school settings to "real life". Our children are absolutely thriving in our homeschool. they have the freedom to move on in areas where in the schools, they would have to wait until a certain grade level to do. Or, if they need a little more time to understand a topic, they have that freedom too. We do math, reading, spelling, language, etc - all of the same subjects in school - but it's HOW we do them that makes the difference. My kids truly WANT to learn, it is not unpleasant for them like other children who attend school. They do their best at all times, not just to memorize some facts for a test and then forget what they learned. They love learning and ask to learn even more. Some days I feel like I cant supply them with enough materials for all they want to know about!
God bless you!