The topic of “Are They Learning What They SHOULD?” comes up over and over in relation to children’s education. Homeschoolers, public schoolers, and private schoolers alike. Parents and teachers and school officials all want to know that the children are learning, and learning what they “should.” In any of these cases, this question is based on a huge assumption…That there is a “right schedule” of “right” things to learn at certain ages. There are even homeschoolers that follow this philosophy, as the very popular “What Your (insert grade)’er Needs to Know” series is evidence of, as well as perusing any homeschool forum will turn up thread after thread after thread of newbie homeschoolers (even veteran homeschoolers!) worrying about their kids learning the “right” things. *I* have even succumbed to this myself! I own the kindergartner book in that series mentioned above and have printed up the “Typical Course of Study” from World Book. It’s only recently that I’m finally seeing the problem with the question of what “should” my child know…
The problem with this question is that the answer is completely subjective…It’s open to interpretation. If you take a public school teacher, and a private Montessori school teacher and a private parochial (i.e., Catholic school) school teacher and a private Waldorf school teacher and a homeschooler following the unschool approach, or a homeschooler following the Enki approach, or a homeschooler following the Charlotte Mason approach….you will get completely different answers as to what children “should” be learning, how and when. There simply is no cut and dry answer when it comes to education.
Not only that, but what might be right for one child might not be right for another. Some children will thrive under the Waldorf approach, others will do better in a classical approach to education. Some children are ready to start learning to read in kindergarten and some are just not ready until after 1st or 2nd grade or even later and no amount of cramming it at them in any form will get them to learn it any faster, and may even be detrimental to the process.
So when someone learns that I am homeschooling my daughter, and they ask me “How do you make sure she’s learning what she SHOULD be learning?” I know that they are basing their question on the assumption that there is a model of education (usually people are referring to public school because that’s what they know) that has the “right” order to learn a specific order of skills and topics. And along with this assumption is the belief that my child should be learning things in just the same order and timing that the children her age in public school are learning them.
But I would like to open the eyes of people who see things this simply. I would like to help them see that just because the California public schools have decided that their children should all learn about the California Missions in a certain grade and learn algebra in a certain grade doesn’t mean that my homeschooled child needs to be on that same timetable. There’s nothing in child development that says these topics HAVE to be learned at a certain age, or even learned at all! There’s no reason why my child can’t learn about the Missions earlier, if she and I are interested, or wait until later to work on algebra.
Take the topic of evolution. In many parochial schools they don’t believe in evolution and so they do not teach it at all. Public school kids will learn it in the time frame that the system has (most likely, arbitrarily) decided they need to learn it. Private schools may introduce a modified version of this topic in a completely different timetable. What about the first introduction of academics (reading, writing, arithmetic, etc)? Public school has kindergartners doing worksheets and homework on math and reading topics, whereas Waldorf and Enki schools will not begin to introduce any academics at all until 1st grade, believing it is actually detrimental to children before that age and will instead focus on supporting young children’s imaginative play.
And here’s another thought…What IF they don’t learn a topic? What happens then? Does the world fall apart because my high school aged homeschooler never learned trigonometry? Or my college bound child didn’t learn how to diagram sentences? (Incidentally…do all children leave public or private school fully understanding all these topics? I think not! We’ve all heard stories of children graduating high school still not knowing how to read! I think that says a lot right there!) Is it a huge catastrophe and your lives will never recover if you, horror, missed a topic during their home education? No, they will learn! And probably learn a lot faster and internalize the info better than the average student who was drilled on the subject in a way that didn’t make sense to them anyway. Teach the love of learning and the children do the rest willingly and far more efficiently! If you missed anything, they’ll catch up.
One of the (many) beautiful things about America is that I have the right to have MY child educated in the manner in which I choose. And my right is upheld by the law. So if I don’t agree with the government (public school) model of education, I can choose another form of education for my child…be it private school or homeschooling or whatever other mix of methods I may choose…it is MY choice because it is MY child.
So the answer to the question: “How do you make sure they are learning what they should be learning?” is….I do my research and I decide, using my own belief system and values. No one knows better than their parents what MY children should be learning and when and how. I make it my life to know this information. No one has invested as much in my children and no one gets more out of the outcome of my children’s education, than their own parents. No teacher, no school board, no government, NO ONE.