Thursday, September 9, 2010

Homeschooling is School, II

Thanks so much for all the comments, ladies!

Here's some further information on the trend I'm noticing: it is specifically that character training is a subject, like math or reading, and that it is the most important subject. That is what I'm disagreeing with, because I don't think character can be taught as a subject. At least, I can see that it can, and maybe that should be a minor part of forming a child's character (after all, it's easier to try to be patient if you've been given a definition of "patience"), but I don't think it fits under the umbrella of "school" nearly as well as under "parenting" for the simple reason that most of our character development comes from what we see, do, and imitate.

School will be part of that, just because it's part of our day, but I don't think that character development is more particular to school than it is to, say, chores.

I suppose, when I look at school, I would say that the primary duty of a Christian teacher is good academics, just as the primary duty of a Christian carpenter is producing a good table (thank you Miss Sayers!).  In other words, if you let the academics slack because you're more concerned about a nebulous "character issue", you're actually having the opposite of your intended effect: you're producing a lazy, ignorant student.

But . . . I can certainly see viewing homeschooling as a weapon in your parenting arsenal. Much as you might use a chore chart to help produce diligence, you can use your schooling method to produce, well, diligence. :) And family closeness, and opportunities for Bible study, and on and on. That does make a lot of sense to me. What doesn't make sense to me is seeing the primary purpose of homeschooling as character development. I should think that the primary purpose of homeschooling is education - the primary purpose of any form of schooling is education. Now, the reason you most value education could well be character development. And you could certainly think that homeschooling, properly pursued, is more conducive to good character development than other forms of education. But I think if your schooling aims at a good character, you're not going to get it. But if your schooling aims at a good education, you will get that, and likely get a good character thrown in (if all the other necessities are in place, of course).

That said, as Kelly and Elena both pointed out, you can homeschool for developmental reasons, especially in the early years. I'd put my family in this group; we first started looking into homeschooling when we realized that public school would mean our five-year old would be out of the house for about the same amount of time my husband was at work! We honestly think homeschooling is better for our family dynamics (less stressed mom and kids!) right now. And that is connected to character - stress can lead to growth, but too much stress can stunt growth. But again, I would say that was a parenting decision . . . homeschooling was the right tool for the job (sometimes you want a Phillips screwdriver instead of a flat head screwdriver). 

But it was also what you might call an economic decision: I didn't think what we'd be getting would be worth what we'd be paying for it. I don't think that eight hours a day of my child's life is worth the return of an education that lacks history, foreign language and religion.  So the fact that my child would be unduly stressed was part of it, but also that she'd be unduly stressed and uneducated. Not worth it. Because, again, school should produced educated children.

Amie, I appreciate your point too, that Christians can educate better because we have the truth. I agree, actually. But I don't think that this is something that's impossible for Christian public school parents to do (I don't assume you do either!); there can be a lot of benefit from having teachers who disagree with you and then coming home and discussing it all with your parents, and having them help you form good arguments to support your own beliefs. Those parents are also educating Christianly, they're just doing it in a different manner.

So, in this particular case, it was literally the idea that the character issues I'm working on with my child (honesty, kindness, etc.) should be written down in my lesson plan book along with her math assignments. I just think it's miscategorization. I think those things exist alongside schooling, but if I had to categorize them, I'd certainly put them under parenting, and not schooling. I think that including them in schooling (perhaps unknowingly) assumes that public school parents couldn't possibly be discipling their children too, because it assumes that school is primarily about character growth, and not about education. (Again, if I'm cooking, I should be a good person while I'm cooking, sure, but when it comes to the job itself, what matters is not my character but how the chicken tastes!)

So, education certainly impacts character, and visa versa. But nothing in life is really unconnected to anything else, and just the fact that they're connected doesn't mean that they're in the same category. Huh. I suppose when it comes down to it, my frustration is really that I'm using the Dewey decimal system and they're using Library of Congress! 

(I.e., you're right, Amie, I should just ask more questions.)

Thanks again for the discussion; I'm very open to hearing yet more thoughts on the subject.

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell


Gabe said...

I think I disagree, but it would help me understand if you took a step back. What is the purpose of education? How does it relate (or not relate) to character?

It's a very classical notion that character, ethics, and moral formation are matters that need to be taught. Is there such a thing as moral knowledge? And if so, shouldn't we teach it? I'm thinking here of Aristotle, Dallas Willard, and C.S. Lewis (especially The Abolition of Man). And I haven't read Dr. Spear's new book Education for Human Flourishing, but the title makes me think it'll weigh in on the same side.

To answer my own question - education is for developing whole, virtuous, well-balanced people. It's not primarily for learning a trade or accumulating facts or getting a piece of paper. That can be said of all the subjects, and if you approach them from a utilitarian perspective I think you miss the point. For example: we don't learn Geometry because it will be useful at our job, we learn it because mathematics trains our minds and teaches us discipline and gives us insight into the ordered mind of God.

Stephanie S said...

Has anyone here thought about the difference between schooling and education? I think there is a lot of confusion about this today, especially among Christian homeschoolers.
I think there is a difference (or that people often use the words interchangeably but in fact mean two different things by them). Eighteenth-century Americans from various denominations often used the term "education" to mean Christian/religious training and "schooling" to mean learning to read, write, and do math. Obviously, there was also the character aspect, although that generally fell under "education." (Not, of course, that they were right about everything. It just means that the words have unrecognized historical baggage.) It's true, unfortunately, that a number of homeschoolers leave out the schooling in favor of the education.
It's also true that a good deal of education (in the secular "religions" of today) occurs in public schools, and sometimes schooling gets thrown by the wayside there as well.
When it comes down to it, I think that yes, homeschooling parents need to be diligent about shepherding their children's minds as well as their character, and they need to teach them the academic subjects necessary to live in today's world. This often occurs in time set aside as school time.
Education occurs all day, every day, and sometimes touches on what was learned in school (counting and weighing oranges at the store, practical physics lessons while loading a trailer, etc.). This means that all parents, not just Christians, not just homeschoolers, are responsible for their children's education in the larger sense. (This is not to say, of course, that parents shouldn't be involved with the academic side of things if their children attend school.)
Sigh. This might be getting really convoluted. Does anyone have any thoughts to add or problems to point out? I have more I could say here, but my time is short tonight, and this is already a bit long.

melanie said...

Since becoming Catholic, I have loved learning more about virtue and everything that goes with it. As a protestant, I had some sort of idea that if I was 'saved' I was supposed to just be this good Christian right away.. 'poof!'. It left me feeling very guilty on the inside because I would play the 'part' of a good christian, but struggle mightily on the inside.

As a Catholic, there has been this treasury of the virtues given to me. The idea that a virtue is something, through the grace of God, that we need to work towards. That we can develop and allow God to develop in us, if we take small steps each day.

This is what character formation is about for us. Forming virtue in my children and in myself. It can be a 'subject' in a sense that we are purposeful about teaching it one small step at a time... but it's far from an academic course that they are 'marked' on.

For example, through lent we work on virtue by increasing our prayer, offering small sacrifices for Jesus and almsgiving. Some families have each family member choose a virtue to focus on for the whole year. Some have taken the feast of Pentecost to choose a 'fruit or gift of the holy spirit' to pray for and try to develop within themselves for the year.

Homeschooling allows this to become part of the fabric of your daily life. There are less distractions and interruptions. Everything flows together. I agree with Gabe that Academics are just a part of a complete education.

Anne Kennedy said...

This whole subject is extremely interesting and one that has never entered my mind over the last 4 years or so. I certainly never considered putting my children in public school because of character or spiritual reasons, but equal to that was the matter of academics. I knew they'd get a second rate education. As we've walked down the classical road, its been 99% of rigor in academics. And we've finally decided to start our own 'school' because the order and structure of a classroom fits the model efficiently and well. It never occurred to me to think anything about character building. If my children misbehave in school, or in the course of a home school day, its because I've neglected my discipline of them them. In fact, the first three days of school have shown some big gaps in character that were missed because of our cozy home school life. Of course, character is important in this fledgling school life, because it makes learning more efficient. Children who obey immediately and respectfully have more time to stuff their minds because they aren't arguing with you. I will go and ponder this subject more. Thank you for an excellent subject.

Elisabeth said...

This conversation has been helpful for me to sort out some ideas cluttering my mind. My husband is against homeschooling at this point. Why? I think because he agrees with Gabe's definition of education, and thinks it would be arrogant to think that as parents we could do a better job at this (cultivating the soul) than society. Namely, the child, being exposed to a bigger world than just the family during the day will have to learn to work with different teachers and classmates, and this will develop character more than just dealing with the same virtues/vices that he would deal with in the immediate family.

Pulling our kids out of society, to be able to make them more brilliant, he would argue we are doing them a disservice by NOT giving them the opportunity to ripen their character. Of course, this ripening is only going to happen if the children are open with their parents, and they see their parents are the "home-base" out of which to talk through the situations they have encountered at school. Shorter school days (especially for little ones)would be very helpful in allowing time for this parent/child interaction to take place.

Anyway, your posting helped me to realize the reason I am drawn to homeschooling is for the academic side of it. That was helpful. Thanks!