Estimated reading time: 6 minute(s)
I always thought that word had something to do with Macadamia nuts, or vice versa. But, that’s for another blog.
We were chatting tonight about our son Ian’s reading abilities. He’s phenomenal. During last weekend’s visit with Grandma & Grandpa, Ian was reading like crazy because he loves it, and equally wowing the grandparents as he did. He is only six years old and can read just about anything he picks up. A very smart little boy, and if you compared reading ability and comprehension skills, he would beat just about anyone in his age group, and probably several years older.
Why is that, I wondered? Is it because he’s super smart? Yes. His memory (which I suppose is connected to other intellectual capabilities) is simply outstanding. He effortlessly remembers details that would be hard for me (who also has a fairly decent memory) to retain after studying the subject. He routinely has us shaking our heads in disbelief at his retention prowess.
But it’s more than that. I am not ready to say Ian is so super special, that he is somehow specially gifted and that is how he excels far above his peers. I love my son, and I think he’s got some amazing gifts from God built into him, but I think that’s selling everyone else a little short. Ian has not always liked to read. He used to dislike it very much. He does not like to get things wrong (which is very much like his Dad) and so, he would not even try. It was very hard to get him started, but after some gentle coaxing from Mom, he discovered many new, exciting worlds through reading. And now, he’s fantastic! As I have mentioned, he is far beyond many of his peers in that academic skill.
Which leads me back to why.
Now, bear with me here. I am not a wacko who thinks everyone should homeschool or (1) you’re not a Christian, or (2) if you’re already not a Christian, then you just don’t love your kids if you don’t homeschool. However, I’d like to put in a little plug for the way we have chosen to mentor and train, or “educate” our kids.
I believe that Ian has excelled because of his learning environment. It’s not the institutional setting of academia, as most of his peers, where 20-30 or more kids all try and learn academic skills and knowledge via one 20-something teacher who is giving his or her all to impart these skills to the kids. Ian’s learning environment is … life. He is never really in school or out of school. Yes, there are times during the day when Jen will sit down and work on academic skills (such as reading and writing, or math) but those times are pretty limited. The real learning comes as life happens. And the teaching is more of a mentor/apprentice relationship, rather than a presenter of knowledge, facilitating the absorption of facts and information. Ian is taught the facts in the course of life every day within a family who loves him.
That, to me, seems so different from what we think of as education. And, I am speaking now as a student and product of such a system. I survived the educational institution and have not suffered any long term damage that I am aware of. (Which some people point to as a reason not to home school, but that’s sort of like being on an airplane that you knew had several mechanical defects, and encouraging people not to choose alternate means of transportation because the plane didn’t crash with you on it yet.) We are so concerned with transferring all of the facts and intellectual knowledge we have attained over the years, that our educational system has become only that: a means of filling young minds with information.
The institutional structure somewhat necessitates that. If you have 1000 kids from so many different backgrounds in life, and you are bring them together in one place to “teach” them, then you are not really going to ever agree on any sort of life training, such as moral, or ethical, or spiritual beliefs. So, we try to steer clear of those and create as sterile a package as possible, which, to a degree makes sense. Except for the fact that we are not computers, who can just be filled with data, and then perform at peak capacity. We are more than that.
But in such a public setting, true discipleship (which, means teaching, training) can not happen effectively. Sometimes it happens as a side product. My wife and I fondly remember our high school Chorale teacher. (That made him sound dead… as far as I know he’s still alive and kickin’…) He did more than teach, he definitely shared his life with his students as well. I think we learned more from him than just how to sing. And there are lots of great people in the system, who are trying to do more than teach. But, when we create a place where the teachers (who could be like mentors) are restricted from even touching students (such as a hug, or an encouraging pat on the shoulder), then we are depriving the students of a much richer learning environment.
History is not facts. History is people. Reading is not a means to more input, it is a bridge to other people’s hearts and minds. Math is important, but only secondary at best to learning to live selflessly and consider other people even ahead of yourself. You can’t learn those things in a classroom. They are not imparted through academia. Life is only learned by observing it in action, and then living it.
Life is meant to be lived.
This is nothing new. Every time I get a chance to think through something that at least seems new to me, I usually end up realizing that someone else has been here before. But, mostly when I consider it worthy of exploring through these writings, it is something that I feel we generally have not gotten right, even if someone (or many someones) have already been here before. So what do we do? Should everyone homeschool their kids, and that would make the world a better place? Well, based on how I feel about that, I would say yes. But, the world is a great place because God made us all differently, and gave us the amazing gift of choice. So, I would have to intellectually disagree with my own conclusion. 🙂
However, I do feel so strongly that we are so focused on the wrong thing. If we want to help our kids prepare for life… we must shift our focus. Life is not about facts, but about relationship. We are built to relate. We learn through relationships. Mentor, student, apprentice, teacher. We are made to excel through hands on discipleship, one-on-one, rather than mass dissemination of information. Academia has missed the true fullness of education. I think we do a fine job of passing along the facts. But we have tied our hands by virtue of the system we have created as far as equipping kids for life.
Academia is a reality we have manufactured that does not allow our kids to excel, but I would argue, holds them back, and teaches them that wisdom is correspondent to the amount of knowledge we have managed to pack into our cranium. It’s not. Real education incorporates academic skills and knowledge into a much bigger package, that is lived out everyday. Every day life is full of chances to learn, and to live that out. To make decisions based on what you have learned so far. To me, that is superior to a passing grade on a test, or knowing the right answer to a question.
I think Ian is a testament to that. And he could tell you, after he’s done reading this.