Last night I grabbed my copy of One-to-One: A Practical Guide to Learning at Home Age 0-11 by Martin Williams, for bedtime reading. I simply must read before falling asleep, and if I’m out of magazines and library books I rummage till I find some dusty book to fall in love with again. I have fallen in love with One-to-One many times. I kept getting to quotes that made me stop and think. Here’s a little one:
The object of primary education is to teach a child to read, to write and to be able to do simple arithmetic. This can be achieved by any parents in a few hours per day (for a few months at a time) at some point before a child is ten or eleven years old. It does not require five or six years of full-time school work.
Wow. For a non-unschooling book, that’s a pretty radical statement! And I’m not so sure he’s very far off. If we really think about it, what are SOTH (School Outside The Home) kids learning all day?
- Reading, often from an early age when it is going to take much longer than it ought to, just because it’s simply too soon. Which kids really do on their own and gobble up if just left alone 95% of the time.
- Writing, which is another one of those things they’ll do anyway.
- Basic math and math concepts like time, money and measurement (and the time, money and measurement… more stuff they learn on their own anyway).
- History, which is generally taught on a 3 year loop of ancient history, world history and then American history, and taught over and over so they learn the same things in elementary, middle and high school (in different ways and in different depths, of course).
- Art, if they get it (it seems to be a once a week thing, if that, these days) and in creativity-stifling ways like predesigned projects.
- Science, which I always hear is so good in public school (they have equipment!) but in primary years is so effortlessly taught through life (gardening, cooking, nature studies, etc.). Again, this is a subject that many schools are eliminating to focus more on the tested subjects.
- Social studies, which seems to be a whole lot of learning what jobs people do and how people live in various places, which being out in the world and renting some cool Netflix DVD’s can pretty much handle.
What else do SOTH kids learn? Labels. It seems as if most of the work they do in school for the elementary years consists of learning labels. What’s a participle? What’s the commutative property? What part of the letter is the salutation? What’s the divisor? What’s a homophone?
I occasionally see lists of things children “should” know in elementary years and freak out because I don’t even know what half the words mean. They should know ordinal and cardinal numbers. Ooh. Yeah, if memory serves me, that’s numbers– 1, 2, 3 and 1st, 2nd, 3rd. I’m not even sure of that, and I’m an adult! But I think it’s okay since I know how to count.
When is the last time in adulthood you EVER needed to know the definition of a homophone? Why do we require such exhausting lists of nothing for young children? Could it be that Williams is right, that schools were originally designed to teach kids these 3 things and now they’re just using filler to still seem relevant, educational and worthy?
We always hear how our schools have to do better at teaching our kids because they have to be able to compete in the global market. Someone tell me how teaching a 4th grader how to diagram a sentence or the definition of a homophone will help her compete in the global market as an adult. How will these things be relevant in any way in her adult life?
As homeschoolers, I think it’s easy to look at the stuff they’re learning at the local schools and panic. Eek! Not only do my kids NOT know the commutative property, but I don’t think I know it! How can I be qualified to teach them? Never mind that we all know it (3+2 is the same as 2+3), we just didn’t know the label.
Besides that, this is all short-term memory learning, especially for young children. This is the stuff that we all learned 3 or 4 times in school, retained long enough to be tested on it, never needed it and promptly shook right out of our brains. So why dedicate so many hours of their lives to “learning” it?
Williams is not saying that children don’t need to learn lots more. He just is of the opinion that what they need in primary grades is pretty basic and pretty easy to handle. And then his book is filled with fun ways to do it.
Just wait till you hear what he does think is important in primary grades though…… 😉
I’m not saying I completely agree, but I love the question of all of this. And the things that I think are important to teach in these years tend to be completely absent in SOTH classrooms.
So what do you think? How much of early education is busywork? How much will just have to be taught again when they’re older? Do HSers try too hard to keep up with artificial educational goals that really aren’t needed? Just how much “schooling” do elementary aged HS kids need? And what things are important to you when you teach yours? And just what is the difference between a homophone and a homonym?
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