Category: public school

Homeschooling Help: Education and The Skills That Matter

Homeschooling Help Education and The Skills That MatterMore money, more time and more effort toward federal education has had one result: less real, meaningful education and even failing standards by the system’s own measure. If you are thinking about homeschooling, I challenge you to dive into some research and see that it isn’t as difficult as you might think and that “school” doesn’t always equal education. Really, what have you got to lose?

And if you’re already homeschooling, congratulations! And relax. Education doesn’t always look exactly like we think it does. Remember, the classroom model isn’t very impressive. Even in research where test scores are high, experts are beginning to realize test scores have much less to do with what employers are looking for and what makes a successful person in the real world.

Here are some important think-outside-the-classroom things you should consider:

1. Refuse the notion that “earlier is better” when it comes to formal academics. There is so much research not only refuting the idea that a jump-start in formal academics benefits children, but we now know that it can actually have negative effects on their ability to learn and process information.

Children have a unique ability to process information and they need a load of tangible experiences in which to do it. Old fashion play is not just play; it’s an important, tactile form of education, preparing them for more abstract learning in the future and hindering them, if they don’t get enough of it.   Why Kids Can’t Think

2. Conversation, conversation, conversation. I’ve written over and over on this one, and it seems quite obvious, but conversation becomes more scarce as we immerse ourselves into the technological world. It takes deliberate effort to cultivate an atmosphere of extensive conversation in the home, but so much learning takes place through this one medium! Talk, listen and ask questions. Talk in the car, in the kitchen, around the table and throughout the day. Challenge thoughts and opinions by asking probing questions and even play “devil’s advocate” to help your children formulate solid reasoning and communication skills. To be able to give an answer, in and of itself, of what we believe and think and feel, is a rare but valuable asset.

3. Be convinced of the skills that matter most and hone those. Guess what the seven most desired universal job skills, according to Forbes are:

  • The art of communicating clearly and concisely
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Good writing ability
  • Getting along with others
  • Able to learn (re-engineering skills)
  • Computer skills

There’s no algebra, physics or chemistry in that list, though those skills might be helpful in specific, specialized areas, and yet most of us are far more concerned with developing those measurable facts over diving into these. We need to at least be spending as much time on what is recognized as the most important skills for success, don’t you think?

4. Give them experience. The Chinese Proverbs well states: “Tell me, and I’ll forget. Show me, and I’ll remember. Involve me, and I’ll understand.”

This is why the “play” I mentioned earlier is so important in the early years. Experience (tactile learning) creates the foundation for knowledge. But experience continues to be THE GREATEST teacher throughout life. Look for ways to let your child do things. And it can be simple. Cooking, planting a garden, making their own purchases, making phone calls, writing letters, dabbling with the computer, building a fire, changing a tire, using tools, yard maintenance, taking pictures…the list is endless.

We have found that teaching is a form of hands-on experience that is very beneficial. Even after six years of college, grammar never became so clear to me until I started teaching it. I’ve tried to remember this in our home education and have an older child teach a younger child some concept. The older child thinks it’s for the benefit of the younger, but it’s not so much.

5.  Nurture creativity and business skills. Once upon a time, we were such an entrepreneurially-minded people. But with the advent of forced, compulsory schooling, there was a mass, deliberate effort to change all that–to make a mostly docile, following society instead of risk-taking leaders. That effort literally changed the entire face of our culture. We need to resurrect some of that ingenuity again in our children instead of drugging it out of them. We need to teach our children the value of starting their own businesses, developing strategies for earning multiple streams of income, and breaking the notion that the only option in life is becoming an employee. I love Cameron Herold’s message on raising entrepreneurs.

Most kids get excited about making a dollar or two, so let them! Help them create a simple business plan (learning basic economics in the process in invaluable, something else we don’t teach enough). Let them feel, by experience, the relationship between an idea, developing the idea and turning it into a profit. They may hate it. It may solidify for them the fact that they DO want to be an employee and not deal with the challenges of owning a business. But give them the chance to know that.

Educate them–live life with them, let them explore, experience and expand their ideas. These things will transpose to invaluable assets no matter what they end up doing in life.


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The Good Life and What Matters (What School Doesn’t Teach)

One book has left me speechless. Every time I read from it. A speechless soon met with an urgent compulsion to shout from the mountains. Every word.

A Different Kind of Teacher, by John Taylor Gatto, is not just about the devastation of schooling on America (the world?), but about humanity and what makes us strong and weak. (Go now and buy the book. It will change your life. I’m not making that up. Seriously. I’ll be here waiting.)

And since I can’t quote the whole book here, or even address many of his profound points (every paragraph), there’s this one:

“Owning a home is the foremost American dream but few schools bother with teaching you how to build one.

Why is that? Everyone thinks owning a home matters.

Last year at Southern Illinois University I gave a workshop in what the basic skills of a good life are as I understand them. Toward the end a young man rose in back and shouted, ‘I’m twenty-five and I don’t know how to do anything except pass tests! If the fan belt on my car broke on a lonely road in a snow storm I’d freeze to death. Why have you done this to me?’…

Does going to school matter if it uses up the time you need to learn to build a house? Or grow vegetables? Or make a dress? Or love your family hard enough you don’t need to switch them on and off like a TV set? Education matters, of course, but only flimflam artists try to convince you that school and education are the same thing.”

What should matter is so obvious and we still believe the lie that “grades” are what matter, or awards or test scores. Our kids grow up and marry but don’t know how to serve and love and commit. They have children but don’t know how to parent. They work but become financially shackled to things for which they don’t have the money. They have nice houses but don’t know anything about having a home. They drive nice cars and wear nice clothes and take nice vacations but they need medication to deal with what’s still missing.

But none of that scares us.How am I going to pay for my kids’ college?!” I just heard a Dad panic, as if college is the magic bullet that will give his kids the good life and he’ll sacrifice everything for the illusion.

In short, we tell them they need to “find the good life” then lie to them about what that is.

In a society that raises cumulative generations of children who grow up clawing for a prize for just the prize’s sake, we lose empathy, joy, purpose and love. And that is a society that will self-destruct.

What do we do? We understand how to set our children up for real success. We give them space to learn, time to think and discover, freedom to grow and stumble, and examples of what’s valuable–relationships, work, responsibility, service and productivity.

We give them the good life.



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An Open Letter of Apology to My Former High School Student

Dear Jacob,

I taught you in English class when you were eighteen years old and I owe you an apology. In fact, all your teachers do.

I bought the lie and I lied to you, and it had a profoundly negative impact on you.

I told you that since you weren’t interested in dissecting Shakespeare, you wouldn’t amount to much in life. Oh I didn’t say it in those exact words, but close.

I remember taking you into the hallway–I know you remember it too (shame on me for shaming you) and telling you that “successful people pay attention and do well in class and study and make good grades.”

Your eyes filled with tears because that news must have been a crushing blow. (I can’t imagine being told that if I didn’t paint as well as the others in my art class, I wasn’t as good as them, and doomed to a life of failure.)

That’s what we’re all brainwashed to believe. That’s what the “smart” people say, and no one really sees how stupid it is. That grades are what makes someone successful? How were we even convinced of such nonsense?

You were smart. You were smart in a hundred ways but we used our tiny little measuring stick in our tiny little boxes and the ones who refused to jump through our tiny little hoops were made to feel stupid.

Thousands of children still suffer every day the way I made you suffer.

You knew back then what I refused to see. That there is nothing normal or productive about forcing energetic, curious boys to sit in desks all day and force-feed them Chaucer. Some are even being drugged to sit there. Perfectly wonderful boys, sedated to act like something they aren’t, to waste valuable time on a lecture they won’t remember when they could be learning so much more–stuff that will really give them a good life. I can’t believe we sit by and let it happen.

You didn’t need Chaucer.

You needed freedom. You needed to work with your hands and do what you were good at. To improve those skills that were uniquely yours and uniquely wonderful and just as important as writing essays.

And you needed us to tell you that. To say that there are a thousand ways to be smart. Some people do love Chaucer and some people love taking a car apart and putting it back together. Both of those things are good and needful and should receive equal attention and affirmation.

We told you it was good and normal to be isolated from real life all day in small cells, requiring permission to even go to the bathroom. You were a man and you couldn’t go to the bathroom unless I let you! We used bells to program you to stop and start on command, essentially saying that nothing is worth pouring your time and energy into until it’s finished.

We told you we were the experts and we defined “success” and we got to stamp your card for life to tell the world you were either a “good student” or a “bad student.”

Jacob, I am so ashamed to have claimed to be helping children, all the while hurting you and many others.

You survived despite our efforts to keep you confined within that box. That’s what the human spirit does. But I’m sure you would have been so much better off without us.

Well I’m different now, Jacob. I fight, in my little corner of the world, for people like you. For people like my own children–for the majority of children who are having their creativity, their originality, their unique gifts and interests crushed by those they trust.

Please forgive me. And don’t buy the lie. I was wrong. They are wrong.


There is an alternative to forced-schooling. Think Outside the Classroom.

“Schools are for showing off, not for learning.  When we enroll our children in school, we enroll them into a never ending series of contests—to see who is best, who can get the highest grades, the highest scores on standardized tests, win the most honors, make it into the most advanced placement classes, get into the best colleges.  We see those grades and hoops jumped through as measures not only of our children, but also of ourselves as parents.  We find ways, subtly or not so subtly, to brag about them to our friends and relatives. All this has nothing to do with learning, and, really, we all know it.” -Dr. Peter Gray, Schools Are Good For Showing Off, Not for Learning


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Practical Ideas for a Real Education-John Taylor Gatto Part 3

Part 1: Schooling Has Nothing to Do With Real Education, Part 2:Learning What Matters Most

The tricky part outlining a “how-to” for a real education (provided you don’t want your children to have a fake one–that’s kind of tongue in cheek,just so you know), is that it takes your life, your experiences, your children and your opportunities to make it happen.

So I’m going to offer you what I’ve been using to give me inspiration, guidelines, ideas and direction about how to implement a real, living education. You may simply scour these ideas to supplement a more structured routine. Either way, this is where your comments could be SO helpful. Because the idea of a “real” education is so foreign to us, the more tangible the ideas, the better. I would personally love to hear specific ways some of you carry out these ideas.

General Thoughts:

“In centuries past, the time of a child or adolescent would be occupied in real work, real charity, real adventure, and the real search for mentors who might teach what he or she really wanted to learn. A great deal of time was spent in community pursuits, practicing affection, meeting and studying every level of the community, learning how to make a home, and dozens of other tasks necessary to becoming a whole man or woman.” -Gatto, A Different Kind of Teacher


“Once you understand the logic behind modern schooling, its tricks and traps are fairly easy to avoid. School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently. Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own to develop an inner life so they’ll never be bored. Urge them to take on the serious material, the grown-up material, in history, literature, philosophy, music, art, economics, theology—all the stuff schoolteachers know well enough to avoid. Challenge your kids with plenty of solitude so they learn to enjoy their own company, to conduct inner dialogues. Well-schooled people are conditioned to dread being alone, and seek constant companionship through the TV, the computer, the cellphone, and through shallow friendships quickly acquired and quickly abandoned. Your children should have a more meaningful life, and they can.” -Gatto, Should School Be Boring?

Gatto listed 15 Themes for Private Education I found helpful:

1. A theory of human nature (as embodied in history, philosophy, theology, literature and law).

2. Skill in the active literacies (writing, public speaking).

3. Insight into the major institutional forms (courts, corporations, military, education).

4. Repeated exercises in the forms of good manners and politeness; based on the truth that politeness and civility are the foundation of all future relationships, all future alliances, and access to places that you might want to go.

5. Independent work.

(This is an area I’m finding more difficult to wrap flesh around. My best idea is to create a springboard of questions that might ignite curiosity, having a child set out in search of the answers, hoping he gets lost in the pursuit. Or it could be a far more structured assignment with a topic of his choice, documented or completed with an essay.)

6. Energetic physical sports

7. A complete theory of access to any place and any person. (This is interesting and big.)

8. Responsibility as an utterly essential part of the curriculum; always to grab responsibility when it is offered and always to deliver more than is asked for. (Applause and standing ovation.)

9. Arrival at a personal code of standards (in production, behavior and morality).

10. To have a familiarity with, and to be at ease with, the fine arts. (cultural capital)

11. The power of accurate observation and recording. For example, sharpen the perception by being able to draw accurately. (Huge.)

12. The ability to deal with challenges of all sorts.

13. A habit of caution in reasoning to conclusions.

14. The constant development and testing of prior judgments: you make judgments, you discriminate value, and then you follow up and “keep an eye” on your predictions to see how far skewed, or how consistent, your predictions were.

15. Family  Curriculum-Gatto placed high value on family life and the inner workings of the home, the routines created there, and the dependence of family members on each other. From knowing how to set a table to being familiar with changing diapers, unlike our culture, he esteemed these as essential lessons that both bonded family members and better prepared children for families of their own. We’ve added to our routine two different children planing for and preparing supper each night. This leaves me with one night with a younger child and overseeing the others until they get the hang of different dishes. So far, everyone is excited about it. Remember too, the value children feel when they can participate in real ways, regularly, to the functioning of a home. We should verbally remind them of that value, both inherent and added as they work willingly.

My random notes:

  • Much of Gatto’s insight has helped me to relax and allow my children to spend significant time doing what they love. Solving problems happens while playing, building, creating and dreaming. Let them.
  • We have designated Friday’s as “Good Deeds Friday”, and a large part of that is writing letters to express gratitude or encouragement to those who may need it. Having a piece of writing that someone else will see encourages them to work on syntax and grammar.
  • Letting them, as young as possible, do things like make purchases, pump gas, grocery shop with a small list, use a debit card, etc. builds confidence. Often they rise to whatever challenge you treat as expected.
  • Service, whether in the form of organized volunteer work or more organic meeting of needs in your community and church cannot be underestimated for its importance both in teaching and developing important character qualities.

Real life. Equipping men and women to think, process, analyze and DO things; to work out conflict in relationships, to live lives that are a continual blessing to others; to foster a deep gratitude–a life-changing kind that transforms the way they live; to make choices grounded in wisdom; to grasp the power of contentment; to love, laugh and inherit the peace that comes with trusting in God’s will in their lives. This is the education we want for our children.


“This book changed our lives. I had no idea how I was squelching my children’s love of learning by trying to reproduce something that we already knew doesn’t work very well. Now they thrive and we’re all much happier!” -Sandra L.









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Matt Walsh: College or Misery

Reading Matt Walsh almost makes me feel like not writing anymore, simply because he has said it all and he has said it so brilliantly.

I had to share one of my most recent favorites because I know you’ll love it. You will. Trust me.

Kids, Go to College or You’ll Die Alone in Misery

“I’ve written this Message About Education. Call your kids into the room, this is addressed to them:

Hi kids! Hey, let’s discuss college! Actually, this is not a discussion. You WILL go. You MUST go. Only lazy, dirty losers don’t go to college. You aren’t a lazy, dirty loser, are you? ARE YOU?….” Read the rest

Follow up with his answer to a letter he received:

“My child is gifted. He’s also 29, unemployed, and living in my basement”

Don’t forget to come back and tell me what you think…



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What if Learning Isn’t Anything Like School?

“…one thing we do not have to worry about is how to educate children. We do not have to worry about curricula, lesson plans, motivating children to learn, testing them, and all the rest that comes under the rubric of pedagogy….The more we try to control it, the more we interfere.” Peter Gray, PhD, Children Educate Themselves

Think about it…

Ignore, just for a minute, everything you think about school, learning and education.

You just had a baby. Probably the most important thing your child must learn is how to communicate. You’re a smart parent so how do you prepare for this most important educational feat? Well first you must find an expert to teach her. No? You’re going to attempt it yourself?! Then certainly you have researched and found the most rigorous, well-known language curriculum money can buy, right? Long hours of study? Co-op classes?

NONE OF THAT?! What will become of her? What kind of lazy parent doesn’t teach her child the most important subject she’ll ever learn, the most crucial life skill without which she will be a failure?

See? Until our children are about five years old, we don’t worry about how they will learn, even though they’ll learn more in that span of time than in all their years combined. No one is testing them to make sure they’re on target,  no one is questioning our academic capabilities requiring us to keep progress reports, or threatening us with an over-the-shoulder “I’ve got my eye on you.”

Yet our children learn what they need to learn, remarkably well, without any of that. Through a natural process of interacting with the world and people around them, they have the miraculous aptitude to combine knowledge with experience, resulting in real education.

Just what if that kind of learning continued past the age of five? What if we didn’t worry and fret so much about how many facts they memorized or how much information we could pack into their minds? What if we let them learn what they needed to, what they wanted to, when they needed it?

Can we not think of a thousand things we’ve learned that way?

But we have to do things we don’t always like…

I used to think that since part of living in the real world includes doing things one doesn’t want to do, that was sufficient reason to force-teach children. But reason prevails: there are many opportunities in life to learn that lesson. Why should we sacrifice a child’s natural propensity to learn and enjoy learning, for the sake of a lesson we can teach in another way?

I still have reservations.

I believe in the logic of people learning on their own, I recognize that schools are failing monumentally despite their best efforts, and I know that generally, kids hate school, something that should be a red flag to all of us. Admittedly though, even as I’ve been thinking outside the box for a while, I still have reservations, difficulty breaking out of my own indoctrination of “how school should be done.” Scary, isn’t it, how we can be so convinced of one thing, that even when faced with the reality that it might be wrong, we continue to cling to it. We are afraid of having our familiar methods yanked out from under us. But fear enslaves. Thus, I write and think and continue to push the questions.

I haven’t thrown the text books out, by the way. I may one day, who knows. My intent here, with such a one-sided look at education, is to get us to look at all, past our preconceived ideas that conventional schooling has all the answers. We’re so bent to the left, sometimes we have to bend severely to the right, then maybe we can come up with a more balanced view of things.

Perhaps unschooling (as this method is best-known) is merely one color of a rainbow of ideas about the best way to educate. But at best, it cannot be ignored as a powerful theory, and conventional, test-driven methods, failing so often as they are, need to be highly scrutinized.

Great thoughts by some others.

A few other thinkers like Gatto, Gray and  Schank have dared to propose this simple observation, but it’s doubtful that the mainstream American will ever be able to shake his ingrained philosophy of education, so radical from the idea of natural learning. Still for the few who dare to question the status quo, there is a world of opportunity and freedom awaiting.

What about higher education?

And for those who think this style of learning can’t prepare children who desire to go to college, think again. An increasing number of unschooled adults are sharing their testimonies which include college degrees and successful businesses.

“Children learn wonderfully without anyone systematically or deliberately teaching them, but yet, we adults do have, or should have, the responsibility of providing the conditions that allow children to take charge of their own learning. Real educational reform, in my view, is reform that provides those conditions.

The most important condition is freedom. To learn on their own, children need unlimited time to play, explore, become bored, overcome boredom, discover their own interests, and pursue those interests.” -Peter Gray, PhD, Is Real Educational Reform Possible?



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