Several days ago I shared a post, Teach Your Children Well, which elicited a rather impassioned response from one of our readers. The point which aroused the strongest protest was this: “Children can’t teach themselves.” In her response, the reader challenged that statement repeatedly. So, I asked myself, CAN children teach themselves?
At the outset, I want to stress that this post is not an indictment of unschooling. Unschooling is not the method that I have chosen for my own homeschool, but I see the value in the approach and believe that children CAN learn in a less structured environment that depends heavily on the child’s natural desire to learn. However, I do not believe that children—even in unschooling homes—teach themselves.
I know many good homeschoolers. They employ a wide variety of methods and means to accomplish their end goal. They all desire to see their children grow into adulthood as capable people, able to function with a high level of success. And regardless of the method chosen, good homeschoolers are ALL actively involved in the education of their children. That involvement does not look the same for all parents, or for all children.
Parents are teachers. Siblings are teachers. Books are teachers. Experience is a teacher. Curriculum is a teacher. Life is a teacher. If a child has none of these placed within his grasp, I would suggest that he will learn very little. A traditional homeschooler may take a much more active role in teaching her children than the unschooler does, but the unschooler invests much in ensuring that her children are provided with the experiences and resources that are required to learn successfully. In her comment, the reader who challenged my post stated that her children learned “with only guidance from herself”. By her own admission, her children did not teach themselves. She guided them toward the necessary resources and experiences that taught them. Children may be able to learn independently, but they cannot teach themselves.
She also suggested that “Maybe it is you that should go back and read history books about the education of Abe Lincoln, Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison…I doubt they used teacher’s guides.”
I took the challenge. After a quick google search, I learned something very interesting. We homeschoolers often throw around the names of famous Americans who were home educated. In many cases, these folks were in fact effectively schooled at home. However, in some cases, we may be attributing the term “homeschooled” to a mere absence of formal education. This appears to be the case for Abraham Lincoln. Here is Abraham Lincoln’s description of his own education:
“My father, at the death of his father, was but six years of age; and he grew up, litterally [sic] without education. He removed from Kentucky to what is now Spencer County, Indiana, in my eighth year. We reached our new home about the time the State came into the Union. It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals, still in the woods. There I grew up. There were some schools, so called; but no qualification was ever required of a teacher beyond "readin, writin, and cipherin" to the Rule of Three. If a straggler supposed to understand latin happened to sojourn in the neighborhood, he was looked upon as a wizzard [sic]. There was absolutely nothing to excite ambition for education. Of course when I came of age I did not know much. Still somehow, I could read, write, and cipher to the Rule of Three; but that was all. I have not been to school since. The little advance I now have upon this store of education, I have picked up from time to time under the pressure of necessity.”
And this third person description was written by Lincoln himself for a campaign biography published by the Chicago Press and Tribune in 1860.
“Abraham now thinks that the aggregate of all his schooling did not amount to one year. He was never in a college or academy as a student, and never inside of a college or academy building till since he had a law license. What he has in the way of education he has picked up. After he was twenty-three and had separated from his father, he studied English grammar--imperfectly, of course, but so as to speak and write as well as he now does. He studied and nearly mastered the six books of Euclid since he was a member of Congress. He regrets his want of education, and does what he can to supply the want.”
So back to my point from the original post. If you homeschool, what is your goal? To simply homeschool your children? Or to teach them well? Because, in fact, your children won't teach themselves.