A few months ago, a homeschooling friend called in tears. The curriculum she’d purchased for her three children was patently unsuited to her 16-year-old daughter, Jane. Jane was rebelling for the first time.
“She tells me she doesn’t want to learn physics,” my friend sobbed.
“Does Jane know what she wants to do when she grows up?” I asked.
“Yes. She wants to be a paralegal. She’s wanted to do that for years.”
“What’s wrong with being a paralegal? That’s an excellent career choice.”
“Nothing. I’m proud of her. But she won’t know any physics.”
“What does a paralegal need with physics?” I asked.
My friend was silent a moment. “Nothing,” she admitted.
After a lengthy discussion, my friend decided her daughter was mature enough to choose her own studies, which she could tailor toward her career choice. End of rebellion.
This conversation led me to give some serious thought about the purpose of education, especially for older teens. Is it to cram every subject down every adolescent’s throat, despite his natural talent, interest or future career plans? Or is it to prepare a teen to enter the adult world as a useful, productive member of society? Needless to say I’m inclined toward the latter, not the former.
Obviously, there are things children must know. I happen to think it’s useful if a 12th-grader knows where the United States is on a map and can multiply 12 x 12. I believe a working knowledge of history and science come in handy no matter what career they choose. I believe the ability to communicate in English, verbally and in writing, is critical. These are the foundations for education.
But most children eventually reach an age – like Jane – when the foundations are achieved. What’s left is higher learning in various subjects. Then what?
If your daughter wants to be a paralegal, is it necessary – really necessary – for her to know physics? If your son wants to be a physicist, is it really necessary that he knows the imports and exports of Zimbabwe?
I know a lot of you are sputtering right now, particularly the physicists. Doubtless some of you think I’m an unedjikated troglodyte, unappreciative of the finer points of a sound education. Let me assure you that my husband and I both have master’s degrees in the sciences and a passion for history. Our admiration for academics is second to none.
But I believe most kids, given sufficient time to think it through, have a pretty good idea what they want to be when they grow up. After the foundations are achieved, why not let them decide what areas they should study? Why make them miserable forcing them to “learn” subjects they may grow to hate because they’re being, well, forced?
In times past, children learned whatever basic education was necessary. But when they reached a certain age, they apprenticed into a discipline that would allow them to learn a trade and make a living.
Maybe we should allow our children to do the same, whether it’s auto mechanics or particle physics, mass-producing socks on an industrial machine or conducting open-heart surgery. All these skills are essential in our society.
For most schools, individual likes and dislikes make little difference. Your child is told to learn whatever the district deems appropriate, including novel definitions of what constitutes a family and creative ways to apply prophylactics to fruit. Somewhere along the way, multiplication and geography come in second next to social justice, diversity and self-esteem. There’s only so much time, after all, and the system is geared to produce drones of the state rather than (horrors) independent thinkers.
But homeschooling parents are blessed with choices as to what (and how) their children learn, and therein lies the beauty of a personalized education.
By not causing our older teens to hate learning by forcing their hand, and instead giving them a reasonable amount of freedom to learn what they want, they become lifetime learners. Countless graduates of government schools never voluntarily open a book after they graduate. Is this success? Have they been “educated”? How much better is it to give a child the love of learning, so he can keep expanding his mind after leaving school?
Not everyone is cut out to be a particle physicist or a lawyer. Some people are quite content to work a modest job that provides for their family without it being a time-sucking “career.” And unlike the educated elite, I don’t look down on the so-called “humble professions,” because they are the oil that lubricates our society. Can you imagine what our world would be like without bus drivers, garbage collectors, janitors, seamstresses or day-care workers? We would grind to a halt.
A homeschooling neighbor commented, “We want our children to be productive members of society. The world has a lot of smart people but not necessarily good people.” She added, “Only a small portion of education is academic. We also educate for morals and virtues. The morals and virtues taught in school may not agree with ours.”
I strongly believe parents have the right to influence their children’s education in accordance with their beliefs and opinions. Progressives like to call this “parental brainwashing,” while parents quaintly believe otherwise. The more children are away from their parents and under the influence of progressive teachers, the more the kids grow to look upon their teachers as correct and their parents as blithering idiots.
Like nearly every other homeschooling parent, I sometimes worry that I’m doing the wrong thing with my kids. Perhaps I’m hindering their understanding of some critical academic subject or impeding their social skills. (These fears are laid to rest the moment I go to a mall and see groups of publicly schooled teens.) But I firmly believe the best chance for my girls to grow up with sound morals and a thorough education is to educate them myself – and allow them the dignity of choosing where that education will lead them.
Non-homeschooling parents want these things for their children, too. The difference is they’re willing to entrust such important issues to a succession of strangers and take their chances.