I’ve always found it hard to explain to questioners what we do as homeschoolers. Not because I don’t know what we do, but because most questioners have preconceived ideas of what constitutes education. They want to know what grade a child is in, what their letter or number grades are, what subjects they are taking, etc. Even babies and toddlers are expected to learn according to curriculum and schedules. The concept of learning in any other way is foreign to most of the modern world.
The truth is that all those preconceived ideas are a relatively recently created box. Once upon a time, education occurred from reading living books, experimenting, discussing, researching, and writing. The concept of grade levels did not exist; tests and scores would have no meaning. Mastery was determined by how well ideas learned could be practically implemented by students, or by how well a student could reason using what they had been taught. A successful education was considered to be the ability to think, discuss, and work, rather than the ability to regurgitate disembodied facts or fill out an answer key.
In the past the difficulty and expense of dispensing information restricted education to those with the means to pay such costs, but much has changed since that argument was used to support the founding of public school systems. Books are inexpensively printed on paper that costs pennies; photography and digital recording have replaced the tedious work of sketching anything to be studied later, as well as made records less destructable, and both can be done by anyone from a handheld device at the touch of a button. Technology has advanced to the point that communication from any point to any other point can be instantaneous with a miniscule cost. Because of the many tools now available, the education coveted and treasured by our ancestors lies at the tip of our fingers, and yet we can no longer comprehend its nature.
So, when I say we don’t know our grade level, I really mean my children are motivated to read books of greater difficulty in order to research their interests. When I say we don’t use a scoring system, I really mean that we work together on projects and correct mistakes until we understand all the elements of the project and produce the appropriate results. When I say that we have never taken a test, I really mean that my children can carry on an hour conversation with anyone who will listen about minute details of complicated subjects. When I say they haven’t memorized standard lists of facts, I really mean that they are capable of reasoning and arriving at conclusions on their own, often putting me to shame. When I say that I don’t have lesson plans or assign lessons, I really mean that my children have the desire to know and keep up with their own educational activities in special journals with my supervision and approval.
This is possible because not only do we function outside of mental boxes, but my children do not spend most of their life in the physical box of the classroom. As a mom of five, I can attest to the difficulty of monitoring, interacting with, and teaching discipline to only five children with five separate personalities and sets of needs. The classroom box renders such attention impossible and reduces everything within it to either rote and drone or total chaos. Neither lead to actual education, no matter how dedicated and caring the teacher; there is simply no space or time to do more than establish the ability to fall in line.
The world desperately needs a return to learning outside the box. I’m grateful for the freedom and the tools to pursue it.