Practical Guides
to Homeschooling

Dr. Beechick's Homeschool Answer Book
By Dr. Ruth Beechick
Selected and Edited by Debbie Strayer

1. Philosophy and Learning Theory

Who Do You Ask WhenYou're the Teacher?
Ruth's Answers to Questions on Education Theory

I have been a teacher since 1977 when I finished my master's degree in special education, and a homeschooler since 1988 when my son became a Kindergartner. You would think that with all these experiences I would have a calm, cool and collected response for every question of an educational nature. The truth is that often I can come up with an answer in educational jargon; one that sounds good but may not mean a lot. I answer questions in this way when people are antagonistic about homeschooling, or are educators themselves. They seem to expect answers in this teacher-speak.

This section of questions and answers is not like that. Ruth answers questions about education theory by identifying the real issue for homeschoolers and then pointing them towards a commonsense answer. But don't mistake her answers for not being educationally sound. They certainly are that; they are just written in such a way that anyone can understand them. So thank you Ruth, for helping us demystify teaching and learning.

By the way—now that my children are older, I find that they can give the best answers to people's questions about homeschooling. Not only does it reassure the questioner about my children's abilities, it also enables them to hear homeschooling described on a first-hand level. Having listened to my answers and my husband's to questions about homeschooling for the past ten years, our children are more than able spokespeople. After all, to them, it's just the way we live.

      —Debbie

Q. Please help me understand the different types of educational philosophies I hear about at homeschool conventions. Do I need to formulate my own philosophy of education as the speakers tell me to?

A. One reason there is so much confusion is that we use the word philosophy on tow different levels. Used technically in education, it refers to underlying beliefs of truth and knowledge upon which we base decisions about what children should learn. Used in its everyday sense, it can mean almost anything. People can take a "philosophical attitude," being calm in the face of trouble. Or they say their philosophy on raising children is to be strict with them.

To further confuse the picture, the term is often interchanged with educational psychology, which refers to the underlying psychological views upon which we base decisions about how to teach children—the methods and the best ages and such. Philosophy helps us decide what to teach, and psychology helps us decide how to teach it.

I see no reason why homeschoolers should study the various educational philosophies to determine where they fit in, and especially not before they begin teaching. I can tell you ahead of time, if you're a Christian, that you won't fit into any of the philosophies they teach in a standard course. They'll say that you're "eclectic," that you draw a little from each of the philosophies. But they've got it backward. You're the one who has the correct and whole view of truth and knowledge, and each of the philosophies draws a little from that view.

It's really quite simple to just say that you have a Christian philosophy of education. When you're shopping for curriculum, you'll want to put the Bible itself in your plans. And all the other subjects you want from a biblical perspective. This biblical perspective is more important in subjects like literature and history than in a subject like arithmetic, but you'll know that without me telling you.

After you have homeschooled for a year or two is a better time to try writing the kind of essay that some of the speakers mean. By this time you can better express some meaningful thoughts about your Christian philosophy of education. Tell how it affects your choice of long-range goals (yes, mention goals), and some of the ways you plan to reach the goals. These latter points are your methods, of course, but you can mix it all up on your essay. Just write a plain language , down-home statement of what you want to accomplish in your homeschooling, and how you'll go about doing it.

Q. What is the Charlotte Mason approach and what do you think of it? What abut Raymond and Dorothy Moore's position that later is better than early for formal instruction? It is very confusing out there. Sometimes just buying a textbook and workbook seems to be the easiest answer to the curriculum questions I have!

A. Charlotte Mason had some good ideas for teaching children. If you like them you can try them anytime; it doesn't take special curriculum to do it. As I read her, she was writing to tell parents what they could do at home with their children, who were not strictly homeschoolers but who were also attending English schools of her time. Thus the ideas tend to be the more natural ones of enjoying stories, observing nature and such. The more systematic, structured teaching was left to the schools.

Raymond Moore's writings on beginning reading come from a good knowledge of the pertinent research. He is highly competent to evaluate the research, and one of he most experienced in modern times. Homeschoolers would do well to listen to him. I agree with him and Dorothy on this and on almost everything they write about homeschooling.

"Later is better" has come to be a slogan, and it sometimes is misused. I'd say that if you have a choice of starting too early or starting too late, it's better to start too late, since you won't damage eye development or something. But, actually, you don't have to make that kind of choice, and Dr. Moore's book doesn't say that. It mainly points out the dangers of starting too early. Your real problem is to find the optimum time for your individual child.

These writers, and others, can inform you on numerous aspects of teaching, and they can stimulate your thinking. But don't read with the idea that you have to get teaching all figured out before you know what books to buy. That's impossible. Your idea of just buying a book is okay while you still feel confused.

If you're just beginning, you may choose something more structured than you'll want the second year, so don't buy very much at first. You can use the books in many ways: you read or the child reads, a big chunk or a small chunk, and so on. But if you just can't make it fit at all, you won't be the first homeschooler to discard the early purchases and try again. I could add that even in the classroom some of this juggling goes on, especially at the beginning of a school year whan the teacher is learning to know the pupils.

Q. The classical approach is very popular right now. What is the classical approach? I see this advertised, and I wonder if it's as good as it sounds. Do you think all homeschoolers should adopt it?

A. Historically speaking, classical education is Hellenistic education, which of course was pagan. During the Roman times, Latin language and literature were added to the Greek form, and Christians then had various ways of Christianizing that Latin classical education. Christian leaders of the time debated whether they should do this or whether they should instead formulate a separate, fully Christian education. The Jews were doing so. But the Christians never managed to make the separation.

Now, interestingly, in the homeschool movement we seem to be in the same situation as those early Christians. We want a Christian education and we are casting about for the best way to do this. Most of the classical curriculums being offered to homeschoolers have Christian teaching added in one way or another.

The Catholics have long used their version of classical education in both Europe and America. Mortimer Adler with is long and brilliant education career and his Great Books program, has done a lot for classical education in our times. Today you will find homeschool writers describing their various versions of classical education. But most include study of the ancient Greek and Latin languages and their classic authors, along with the logic and thinking involved in debating the ideas of those authors. (Here's where the Christians say to compare the ideas with Bible teachings.) In addition, these curriculum writers have certain beliefs about what children should learn at various ages, such as memorizing facts first; then logic and thinking about those facts. This gets into the psychological aspects of learning, and I can't take space here to discuss those issues.

But for people like you who are wondering what to do with classical education, I would like to suggest putting the Bible first. This is the greatest of all the great books. With Bible education as the core, you can add on any classical education you like. Compare classical with Paul and other Bible writers, in a reverse of what happens if you have a core classical curriculum and add on the Bible. Every bit as much logic and thinking can happen in this way. In higher education during the Middle Ages, theology was called the Queen of the Sciences; everything else was to flow from that. Maybe that's an ancient ideal to revive.

Actually, I think some of you homeschoolers are heading in that direction. Instinctively, you know that the Bible should have preeminence. Wouldn't it be exciting if modern homeschoolers achieve what early Christians failed to achieve in education—not a Christianized pagan curriculum, but an education fully Christian at its core?

Note: If Debbie and I had had more Latin we probably would use the Latin plural form curricula, but we have chosen to use the more common English form curriculums in this book.

 

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