Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What Children Need to Learn

Have you ever thought about what your children actually need to know, to become adults?  As a homeschooling parent, this question is on my mind a lot.  But I don't think you have to be a homeschooler to think about it.  Schools teach a lot of things, but can they, or should they, teach a person to be a grown-up?  I don't really know the answer to that one, but since I am the teacher for my kids, I know that it is up to me.

I've spent a lot of hours over the past few years looking at books and curricula.  I've read many books about educational philosophies, homeschool and otherwise.  And all this on top of a Bachelor's degree in music education.  But I've come to the conclusion that knowing a prescribed set of information will not turn a child into an adult.

So what do our children need to learn?  Here's my list:

  1. Children need to learn how to find truth.  I can't say that I know all truth.  And I don't believe that the schools do, either.  In fact, I can't point to one person who knows the truth about everything.  But it's important to be able to know when something is true or not.  As I've gone through life, I've constantly come across different opinions about everything from politics and religion to science and history.  I've had to evaluate the things I've heard and read.  Children need to know how to research, and especially how to think for themselves, because everything they hear is susceptible to falsehood.  It's like those multiple-choice tests.  A lot of times you can figure out the right answer by determining which ones are wrong.  And sometimes they're partly right, so you have to think carefully.
  2. Children need to learn how to get along with people who don't believe as they do.  The flip side of knowing the truth is that there are always going to be people who disagree with you.  In fact, it's unlikely that you will find someone who agrees with you on every point.  I don't mean to say that "everyone has their own truth," as the current philosophy has it.  But there can be different ways of looking at things, and our children need to know how to courteously agree to disagree.  It is important that they aren't swayed by every new idea that comes along (see point 1), but it is also not necessary that they convert everyone to their own way of thinking.  Living in this world sometimes means letting others have their own opinion, and also being open to change if you realize that they are actually right!  This involves humility mixed with strength...difficult for even us seasoned adults!
  3. Children need to learn how to direct their own lives.  Hopefully, our children will grow up to be productive members of society.  And sometimes this means following the directions of others (especially their boss!)  But being productive involves being able to do what needs to be done even if no one is telling you what to do.  At this stage of life, I am not working outside the home.  But I am responsible for getting work done each day, from keeping the house to taking care of the finances, and especially taking care of the kids and the animals.  I also have responsibilities at church, and in my community.  It is very easy for me to get distracted and let things slide, or do them haphazardly at the last minute, so I am still learning this one!  
  4. Children need to learn how to learn.  I come from the generation that basically had to teach ourselves computers.  I never took a computer class in school, and don't remember using one until I was out of college.  And then, it was a glorified typewriter for years!  Just this fall, I taught a class about the United States electoral process for our homeschool group.  That was a challenge!  I realized that I knew next to nothing about it myself, and spent many nights burning the midnight oil with huge, dusty books from the library about history, democracy, and the constitution.  I also spent hours of research on the internet to get more up-to-date information.  My grandmother used to say "you can learn something new every day," and I believe her.  We never need to stop learning.  And the world is moving faster than it did even when I was young, so our children will need to be able to learn even faster than we do.  Who knows what they will need to know by the time they are our age?
  5. Children need to learn to be content.  This is another hard one.  And in our society, it only seems to get harder.  The whole point seems to be to make us discontent with what we have and who we are, so that we will buy more stuff and "help the economy."  The media plays on our desire to have a better life by showing us all of the things that we don't have.  There is always someone who has more.  The gospel of physical beauty, even perfection, is preached from every  TV set, magazine rack, and toy shelf.  But we are none of us perfect.  And we won't be, even with expensive clothes and creams and exercise machines.  In this day and age, it is difficult to discern true needs from mere wants.  They kind of get mixed up together until we feel we will not survive without a big house, fashionable clothes, and cable TV.  The idea of doing without something that we want is painful to us.  But our children need to learn that they will not have everything they want, and everything will not go their way.  
  6. Children need to learn how to express themselves.  Our children may not get everything they want, but they need to be able to stand up for what they need.  They may not agree with everyone, but they need to be able to state their opinion clearly and logically.  When they have the truth, or as my pastor says when they "know, that they know, that they know," they need to be able to communicate that truth to others.  I am fearful that this skill is getting lost in our world of text messaging and social media.  We now major in the trivial, rather than the profound.  Everything is broken up into small, easily digestible pieces, much like pureeing peas for a baby.  No one is dealing with the T-bone steak and corn on the cob anymore.  But the world needs people who will deal with the big issues, and will communicate them effectively to the rest.  
Okay, that's my list for today.  There are probably many things that I've missed, so if you have something to add, please leave a comment!  And yes, I still make my kids learn reading, writing, arithmetic, history, science, and literature, and (the dreaded) piano!  But I'm trying to learn how to use these subjects as ways to get to those greater goals, rather than as goals in themselves.  Because as much as I enjoy my little children, my responsibility is to train them to be adults some day.

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