First though, for all my friends who have read The Republic, a question: would you characterize it as a treatise on education? And, to follow up: would you take Plato's recommendations about education within his thought-experiment republic literally, i.e., do you think that that is how he actually thought children should be educated?
My memory of the book has me answering "no" to both questions, but that memory is also fuzzy enough that I'm realizing I really ought to just go and read the book again. Still. A lecture I attended tonight made me curious (okay, riled up) about the subject, and I'd love to have an answer in a shorter time than it will take me to reread the masterpiece. (Patience, thy name is . . . well, not me.)
(Also, would you say that the man who came up with the theory of recollection considered children to be a tabula rasa, as Locke did? That seems inconsistent to me, but I'm probably missing something.)
Right, that done, a bit more on education and academics.
I really appreciated all the comments on my last post. I was especially grateful to Stephanie for suggesting the distinction between education and schooling. She said:
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.
This, I think, encapsulates exactly what was bothering me about the educational philosophies I've been running into, the ones that imply (and sometimes explicitly state) that if a homeschooling parent raises a child who loves God and loves others - but is not academically excellent or competent - than that homeschooling parent has still succeeded.
To which I would answer: Well, she has mostly succeeded as a parent. She has failed as a teacher. (Or, I suppose, her children have failed as students. It's a two-player game, after all.)
And I'm not arguing that the latter is more important than the former. I don't think it is. I would rather my children loved God and their neighbor than that they were academically successful.
But, if I am incompetent to lead them to academic success, I don't have any business homeschooling them.
I suppose I should modify that slightly. I suppose that there could be circumstances where it was homeschool or end up with a child who didn't love God and his neighbor, in which case it would be an either/or choice: homeschool and be an academic failure or public school and be a moral failure. But I really don't think that choice happens very often, if at all, and it bothers me when it's framed as an either/or, as if all public school students were automatically destined for hell.
So, back to education and schooling. I think that children should, ideally, have both. Education is more important to the whole person, especially if we take Gabe's definition. He says:
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.
So, in his view (correct me if I'm getting it wrong, Gabe), education would tend to lead to schooling (e.g., the desire to train the mind and gain insight into the ordered mind of God would lead us to study Geometry). But, presumably, you could be educated without being schooled in the manner required by modern American law: say you're a member of a non-literate society who is nonetheless raised in the church, aurally receives the Word of God and meditates on it, is apprenticed to a trade, etc. It wouldn't pass muster legally here, but you're educated - you've been given the tools for becoming a whole, virtuous, well-balanced individual.
But also, this view leads me to say that whatever schooling your education does lead you to ought to be good schooling. If you really want to study Geometry because you want insight into the mind of God, doing a bad job at Geometry is unacceptable. Attacking it lazily, without care for the right answer, is not going to lead the results you want.
So, in this view, academic excellence should be considered important, right? And, if you slack on your academics because "character is what matters" aren't you, ironically, developing bad (slothful) character? In our Geometry example, if you are slack, sloppy and lazy in your endeavor, aren't you failing to bow your neck beneath the yoke of immutable mathematical law? Aren't you missing the chance to learn humility when you finally (as you will) come to the branches of math high enough to defeat your intellect? Aren't you failing to learn the virtue that comes when you have to do something that not only bores you, but that you are bad at?
And yes, in every subject save the few (or one) that become your specialty, there comes a point where you admit defeat, and you can quit. But unless there's a developmental disability, that point is not in the first grade! And I think it does a disservice to the homeschooling parent to constantly imply that the academics are not important. The academics are a legal requirement, and not an unreasonable one, in the culture we live in. In taking over your child's schooling (given the definitions above, you are already primarily responsible for her education), you have in effect promised that you will see that she is academically competent. And, given what you believe about education and virtue, why wouldn't you see that she was, as far as her abilities allow, academically excellent?
So, to conclude, I think the emphasis on character bothers me for two reasons:
1) It seems to say that a rigorous education somehow excludes the possibility of being a person of excellent character. This is seen in the many, "If only they're good people who love Jesus, their SAT scores don't matter" talk. Well, yes. Of course. But why are you linking those two things together anyway? Because you're scared you're going to make a hash of the academics, that's why, and you want to point to the part you did well.*
(But if we're going there, I'd actually much rather think I was responsible for my child's poor SAT score than her damnation. Doesn't taking credit for your child's good character scare anyone else? Doesn't taking credit for it also mean you have to take the blame? Oh dear, that could be an whole other post . . . the idea that homeschooling = salvation . . . so I have two, no, Three! reasons for disliking the emphasis on character. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition . . .)
2) It assumes that character training is only done by homeschooling parents, that education is only done by homeschooling parents.
That second one might be another subject for another post. This one is already too long, I know. Thanks for listening to me think this out, friends. If you've got a corrective line of reasoning for me to follow, a helpful definition, or anything else, please chime in. I'm new to thinking hard about this, so I'd love to have help.**
Peace of Christ to you,
*See Jess. See Jess assume. Assume, Jess, assume.
**Among other things, this is code for, "I'm aware of the fact that a few more years of growth and maturity might have me eating my words." :D