January-February 2008 Selected Content
Learning 101 - Tamra Orr
If They Need It, They Will Learn
During a recent dinner conversation, a guest mentioned Jimmy Carter and one of my children (who asked to remain nameless) said, "Who is that? Is he a friend of yours?"
I quickly took the child aside and gave a 30 second explanation that Carter was a former president, and then we returned to the table talk. The moment was done and gone but I found myself going through SHG, or sudden homeschooling guilt. How could my children not know who the past presidents were? I mean, just because we've never really sat down and studied the subject is no excuse, right?
SHG led directly to the WHTSTN panic, otherwise known as We Have to Study This Now panic. I laid in bed that night thinking about creating unit studies, asking myself which president to start with, wondering whether I should bring in the Declaration of Independence, and so on. But wait! Knowing the presidents wasn't enough. These children need to know about current events. They need to know what is going on in the world. We should read or watch CNN each morning. Then we should start current event journals. They could each write a report on - argh. There are those old tapes again. Just when I think I have erased them all, they pop back up in my head unexpectedly.
The incident did make me sit down and do an evaluation of what my children need to know and what they don't. I came up with this list:
1. They need to know they are loved and appreciated. Check.
2. They need to know how to communicate with others and us. Check.
3. They need to know how to stay as safe as possible in this world. Check.
4. They need to know how to read and do basic math. Check.
5. They need to have many different experiences with people, life, and the world. Ongoing check.
6. They need to know themselves well enough to know what and whom they want in life. Ongoing check.
7. They need to know it is okay to reach out and help or be helped by other human beings. Check.
8. They need to know that compassion will get them much further in life than resentment. Check.
9. They need to know that while they are each monumentally important, most of the time "it is not all about you." Check--well, they are teens, so partial check.
10. They need to develop the self-confidence and self-esteem that will carry them through life's rougher moments. Working on it check.
11. They need to know that they can achieve anything they want if they set their minds to it. Check.
12. They need to know that the world is an exciting, diverse place full of endless opportunities for joy, laughter, and success. Hopefully check.
Odd. I see nothing about Jimmy Carter in there.
Looking over my list, I realized that homeschooling gives us all the chance to instill each one of these needs on a daily basis. Of course, peoples' lists will change from family to family, but the bottom line stays the same. We have the chance to fill our children's heads with the "big picture" material, rather than the capitols of all the states, the multiplication tables, or the names of all past presidents.
Each day brings us all the chance to share information with our children that we feel is essential and important. What that information is, of course, is up to each individual family, but the opportunity is open to all of us. If you are like me, you have some pretty loud old tapes running in your head about what you should be filling those minds with. For most of us, those are public school based tapes, too. While some of that information is important, so much of it is questionable. Perhaps the best advice is just to honestly ask ourselves each time we start to "teach" our children something if they need to know it or we think they need to know it. The difference can be subtle but it can also be the difference between a decent education and an excellent one.
The famous line from Field of Dreams that says, "If you build it, they will come" certainly comes to mind when I think of our family's homeschooling attitude. In our case, it is closer to, "If you need to know it, you will learn it." I have seen this again and again with my kids. Three weeks ago, my eldest child told me she wanted to learn the process of how to buy a house. I gave her some ideas to start rolling. Yesterday, they signed the closing papers on their first home. She needed to know it and so it was learned.
I see the same thing in my youngest daughter. She had joined the county division of Search and Rescue and has to know how to figure out compass declination (something her mother has never even heard of, mind you!). Now she and her father are looking it up online and then going on eBay together. I hear ooohs and aaahs coming from her as she looks at compasses. She needs to know this so she is learning it. My eldest son who struggles harder to hold a pencil correctly than most people struggle to learn to do advanced calculus created an anniversary card for my husband and me yesterday. His handwriting was the best we had ever seen. He had needed it and so it was learned.
A sincere warning: This attitude almost guarantees awkward moments like the one described above. Your kids will almost certainly come up against people like my youngest son did recently. "Oh, you're homeschooled?" asked one woman who had just met my son for the first time. "Well, then how do you spell 'sophisticated'?"
He looked at her blankly and then quietly said, "I don't know."
"Ah," she muttered and off she went with her opinion of homeschooling validated.
Too bad she didn't hang around to hear the rest of what he had to say. "Sophisticated means high class and well mannered."
Too bad she also missed mama's ticked off whispered comment too. "The opposite of the behavior we just saw."
By the way, the same child of mine that did not know who Jimmy Carter was once gave me this as her off the top of her head definition of the word intelligence:
"Intelligence is the ability to recognize that you need to know something, the ability to know how to go out and get that information, and the ability to understand and apply it to your own life as you need it."
© 2008, Tamra Orr