There are four educational philosophies influencing home schooling today. Think of these philosophies as the underlying assumptions about what comprises an education and what the teaching materials should cover in a course of study. All of the common teaching approaches available to home educators contain elements of these four educational philosophies, but each teaching approach favors a different educational philosophy.
The first educational philosophy is essentialism. Essentialism assumes that there is a core body of knowledge that must be mastered in order for a person to be considered “educated.” It focuses on the “essentials” and is subject oriented. Essentialism could be summed up in this phrase: “Information is the key to a good education.”
Perennialism is more “idea” oriented, and considers education to consist of becoming acquainted with the great writing and thinking throughout history. To perennialists, “understanding is the key to a good education.”
Progressivism seeks to make education practical and applicable to the needs of students and society. It assumes that making knowledge and skills meaningful are the keys to a good education.
Existentialism stresses “authenticity”—the commitment to finding true being. To the existentialist, discovering one’s own meaning and purpose in life is the key to a good education.
What is your educational philosophy?
Whether you’re aware of it or not, you have an educational philosophy–an idea of what comprises a “good” education. And it’s that idea that you bring to the table when you start home schooling your children. It’s also that idea that causes you to be attracted to certain types of teaching materials.
So you might want to ask yourself the following questions:
1. If I had to tell what I thought was most important for my children to spend their home school years on, would it be….(Rank from 1 (most important) to 4 (least important)
____(a) Having my children learn a core body of knowledge that is universally recognized as a thorough education so they can be accepted to top colleges and have professional careers.
____(b) Having my children become acquainted with the great minds throughout history and the worldviews that influence history so that they become thinkers, leaders, and problem-solvers.
____(c) Having my children learn information and skills that are of practical use to them and prepare them for real-world living and family life.
____(d) Having my children discover their meaning and purpose in life and be equipped with the knowledge and skills to fulfil their God-given destinies.
2. What was I taught that I really needed to know? (Take out a piece of paper and make three columns. Label the columns “Academics,” “Practical Skills,” and “Relationships.” List as many things in each column that you were taught that in the course of your life you have found that you really needed to know.)
3. What do I wish I had been taught that I’ve found out that I really needed to know? (Do this exercise in the same way as #2, except your list is going to be of those things you weren’t taught that you wish you had been.)
4. What was I taught that I didn’t need to know and don’t ever foresee needing to know and I’ve never met anyone who needed to know it? (Do this exercise in the same way as #2, except your list is going to be of those things that you found were a waste of time for you and everyone else you know to learn.)
Where do we go from here?
Our recommendation is that you do the following five things:
1. First, take a long, hard look at the presuppositions and objectives of institutional education by reading books such as John Gatto’s and John Holt’s. Why? Because, as Pogo said, “We have seen the enemy and he is us!” We are so used to thinking of school as children sitting in desks, listening to lectures, and working on pre-packaged curriculum for six hours a day, 180 days a year, over a period of twelve years, that we have a hard time imagining any other way.
Also, many products for home educators are merely repackaged versions of public school materials, and we need to be able to recognize them as such. Otherwise, we unwittingly find ourselves adopting the same scope and sequence, the same methods, and the same standardized curriculum that was derived from the public school’s presuppositions and that seeks to achieve its objectives. We will worry if our children aren’t reading by the time they are six or doing fractions by nine. We will guide our children toward popular careers. We will feel unqualified to teach without an education degree.
In short, until we understand the misconceptions behind public schooling, we will think that some form of traditional institutionalized education is true education.
For most of us, our public school upbringing has steeped us in ideas about education that have to be discarded if we want to effectively educate our own children at home. As John Gatto says, “School was a lie from the beginning, and it continues to be a lie.” If we know no better, we may buy into the lie and perpetuate its thinking.
2. Second, examine the viewpoints and teaching approaches that currently influence home education. You can read about these in past issues of this e-journal and you can read books that more thoroughly explain the viewpoints and approaches. If there is a particular emphasis or teaching approach that appeals to you, take the time to learn about it. The fact that it appeals to you may be the Lord’s gentle nudge in that direction.
3. Third, try and get in touch with your family’s convictions and values and the real needs of your children (see the webpage on Learning Styles and also our Unconventional Guide about Learning Styles). Once you have an idea of what you really want for your children, you will be better prepared to chart your home schooling course.
4. Fourth, buy several home school resource books that give an overview of home schooling. These books will overwhelm you if you don’t already have an idea of where you want to go with home schooling, so don’t dig into them until you have some sense of your family’s convictions and the real needs of your children. Start with books such as Homeschooling: The Early Years, Homeschooling: The Middle Years, and Homeschooling: The Teen Years. They provide general information about teaching each age group.
From there begin looking at curriculum guides like Mary Pride’s or Cathy Duffey’s. Educate yourself about “what’s out there.”
5. Create your own Scope and Sequence. (See the Unconventional Homeschooling Guide to Creating Your Own Scope and Sequence.)