Reflecting on the Value of Materials and Classes
I had been doing a major cleanout in my home, going through bookshelves and taking no prisoners - if it would not be used again, or only used another time or two, it was outta' here.
I finally came to the part I'd been dreading the most: the homeschool section. My son was almost 19, and starting into college classes, so it was time....All those lovely books, workbooks, math manipulatives, educational games - how could I ever make the break with them and move them out? Well, it was easier than I'd expected. Some brought back fond memories. There were so many others, though, that had barely been touched. It was amazing as I took down one item after another, looked it over, thought about what a wonderful resource it was, and smiled as I recalled that we barely used it or never used it - and my son had learned all the things it had promised to teach him...without it!
There's no doubt that it would have felt satisfying for me to see him methodically working through all those lovely things; but it would only have been an illusion that it was how he was learning the subjects. That's something I think he intuitively knew at the time, even if I didn't. There's generally no one who knows how a mind learns better than the person it belongs to.
It's so hard to let go of the notion that children need to be led through all that stuff in order to learn what it has to teach. Those of us who attended school all learned; and we were all led through all kinds of lessons and books and tests and drills - so we grew up assuming it was from those things that we learned it all. In retrospect, I think most of what we learned was from exposure and use. Using the language teaches us the language. Reading and otherwise exploring things we're interested in teaches us reading and about things we're interested in. The things we retain the most deeply are simply not the things someone else tried to drill into us - they're the things that were brought into our memories from an inner pull.
There are some things along the way that require materials and texts or classes, but so much of the basics simply do not. I passed those materials along to the Recycled Resource Room at an upcoming conference; and I know that the people who got them must have thought they struck gold. Wonderful things... But you know what? In a way, any resource, no matter how great, can be about as valuable as "fools' gold" if you're attached to using it. A parent can end up trying to push her child to use it even when the child knows he doesn't need it for learning the subject - or doesn't yet have any interest in the subject. You really need very little in the way of bought materials to provide a rich education for a child.
I don't mean to say we don't learn anything from good materials or classes - and classes can be a great resource. When my son was ten, for instance, he started taking enrichment classes at a local college that had a summer program for kids who were there only for enjoyment.
His favorite of those classes had to do with a favorite period of history. It was taught by a delightfully enthusiastic teacher who spent the whole class time excitedly sharing her knowledge of the more interesting things of the period - the things she knew would stir their imaginations. She showed them books and slides and pictures, and she led them through a couple of simple crafts while she talked and talked and talked in animated fashion. He used to come home SPEWING information. Continually during the evening, he'd suddenly burst out, "And they used to...", "And there were..." "And all the..." His mind was afire with the excitement of learning
Then one year he couldn't get into any of her classes, so he signed up for a history class with someone else. That was his introduction to what it's like to be "taught." He never mentioned anything after the classes - he was quiet, and he looked disappointed. I finally asked him about it
"I notice you haven't mentioned the class - aren't you enjoying it? You enjoy history so much..."
"Well, it's different," he said.
Different? How?, I asked.
There was obviously something disturbing him, but he was having a hard time trying to figure out how to describe it.
Well...she stands up there and gives these speeches, he said.
"Speeches?" I was puzzled at the thought of a teacher giving speeches in the middle of a class.
"Yes, she talks in this funny way... I mean it isn't as if she doesn't talk about interesting things, but...," he trailed off.
Suddenly, I got the picture. "Oh! Those 'speeches' are called lectures ," I chuckled.
"And she makes us write it all down."
I grinned, "Oh! She's having you take notes."
"Yes - that's what she calls it. I hate it. And it's so frustrating, because here she is talking about all these interesting things - but I'm trying to get it all written down, so I don't even get to listen!
She says we're going to have to do this in college, so [and he imitated her stern tone of voice ] 'we might as well get used to it now.'
College! I'm only twelve! It will be years before I go to college!
"And," he went on, "she asks us a bunch of questions every morning about the things she said in her speeches the day before. She has a name for it......" He was thinking.
"Pop quizzes?" I offered.
"Yes - I think that's what she calls them - 'pop quizzes'...," he said. "And she gives you a Tootsie Roll if you get the answer right! Tootsie Rolls!," he sputtered.
By this time I was doubled over with laughter. This whole scene was striking me so funny because it was sounding like a report of a visit to another planet - and yet they were things I had grown up with without questioning. This is an unusually easy-going kid who rarely complains about anything, and I couldn't remember when I'd seen him so indignant. I might not have found the situation so humorous if it weren't for the fact that we were homeschooling, so he wasn't going to have to deal with these kinds of things.
"It's ridiculous..." And after a pause, "I don't even like Tootsie Rolls!"
Same subject. Same kid. Which class do you think he learned the most from?
Note: When he went on to college classes years later, he enjoyed and thrived in his classes in spite of never having practiced for it again after the two weeks in that summer class.
Copyright 2005 Lillian Jones
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