Home Education Magazine
March-April 1997 - Articles
On Self-Doubt - Lenita Harsch
It is a quiet Sunday morning. I've just finished reading an article (actually an excerpt from a book) by a college professor in which she expresses her doubt about how well she is actually teaching her students. A well-educated woman, she is obviously experienced and articulate. She teaches at a prestigious college - the top of the heap, so to speak, in the rocky landscape that is the American educational system. And yet she has doubts.
After four years of homeschooling I've come to the conclusion that self-doubt is a part of homeschooling life. I've yet to meet a homeschooling parent who has not expressed doubt at one time or another. For my husband and me it began with the initial decision to homeschool. Could we actually do it? Was it really possible? After deciding to take one day at a time we now look back from the vantage point of many days and say enthusiastically, Yes! It's not only possible, it's a lovely way of life.
But life rarely flows smoothly. A stray comment is made by someone we talk to, an unwanted opinion is given, or we read about other homeschooled children who are doing fantastic things, and the doubting begins again. Are we exposing our daughter to enough knowledge, giving her enough learning experiences? Another homeschooling family is studying Aztec history. We aren't. Will there be a gap In her knowledge of the world, a serious lapse that might permanently harm her?
Enough! I say to myself, and I come right back to the one basic truth that has gotten us this far. Trust yourself. Trust your child. So simple to say, so hard to do.
I reflect back on the learning experiences of my youth. In the course of a traditional public school education my mind was crowded with thousands of facts and figures that I no longer remember or need to know. But the things I taught myself, pursuing on my own, I still use today. As I was cramming names and dates into my head at school, I was teaching myself to sew- and type at home. I was reading Little House on the Prairie and various craft, poetry and mystery books. I can still recall passages from those books that helped me understand the fascinating world around me. School stood in the way of all the books I wanted to read and explore on my own.
Albert Einstein, The greatest minds of our century, felt held back in school and was considered a poor student. (I wonder if his teachers ever doubted their abilities when trying to teach him?) He later spoke of the need for freedom in education - the freedom to be curious and inquisitive, and to explore independently. His own education blossomed only after he took charge of K himself. No longer held back, his curiosity led him to new and wonderful discoveries about the universe.
This leads me back to the true meaning of "teaching". No "teacher" will ever have all the answers all the time. And this is as it should be. Because, as John Holt has repeatedly stated, no person can truly teach another person anything. We cannot place images inside another persons head. We cannot make the necessary connections in anothers brain. They must do it for themselves. All we can do is encourage them, show them the way, then allow them to make the journey themselves. In the end we are all self-taught.
My job as parent and teacher is not to cram knowledge into my daughters head so that later she can recite it back. My job is to help her learn for herself what she needs to know at the time, to provide resources, to show her how to find the answers for herself. My job is to have faith in her and her own inherent thirst for knowledge. As John Holt wrote in How Children Fail, true intelligence is not the measure of how much we know how to do, but of how we behave when we don't know what to do. it has to do with our ability to think up important questions and then to find ways to get useful answers. This can't be taught, we're born with it.
I notice that when I explore a subject of interest to me, reading books, researching, taking notes, my daughter picks up on that. When a subject comes up that fascinates her, I see her following my example. Once again reinforcing the principle that the best way to teach is by example and the best way to learn is by doing. It's interesting that at the very time when I'm not worrying if I'm doing enough for her (in fact pursuing my own enthusiasms) I am actually showing her how to explore the work on her own.
As her teacher (substitute the word "encourager" here) I will at times continue to doubt that I am doing enough, but I now see myself in great company. I see clearly that self doubt is a part of every teachers life. I'm in the company of all the teachers of the past and the present, the famous and the obscure, the well-known college professor writing a book about her experiences and the unknown parent lovingly teaching lessons from life. We all doubt ourselves at times, we all continue to teach.
In the end we're not really teaching at all - we're pointing out the way as our children teach themselves. © Lenita Harsch
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