Monday, April 2, 2012

Giving our Children Answers Before they Know they have Questions

When I agreed to take control of my kids' education (i.e. to homeschool them), I started to really read and research, and to think and question.  And I came up with lots of questions about the current state of education in America. 

I looked more closely at how Drew and I were educated, and the pluses and minuses that showed in our lives because of them.  Drew's mom homeschooled them using Abeka.  And I grew up using the ACE curriculum in a small Christian school.  Our education taught us, in theory, to question and think, although in reality something was missing still.  It used a lot of the ideas that I have come to love and believe in, but yet Drew and I were not the people I thought such training should produce.

After a lot of thinking, I decided that one thing that was missing in both of our lives was a lack of passion for learning new information.  We grasped how to learn new things, but we didn't have the drive to actually do it.

After watching my own kids learn.  And after 6 years of intense learning on my part, one conclusion I have come to is that giving people answers when they don't have questions is a sure-fire way of killing their passion for learning. 

And what is the conveyor belt method of schooling in America today, but giving kids answers to questions they haven't even thought to ask yet.  We shove answers down their throats and expect them to ace tests that show they remember all of this information.  But yet, there are no 'pegs' on which to hang this information.  There is no passion to ignite further research on these subjects.  Therefore, only the kids with amazing memories do well in today's schools.  (That would not be me, fyi, or my bubby-we have terrible memories, but great passion for things we care about) 

If you happen to see a child excelling at something, or even an adult in reality, you realize it's because it's something they have a passion for, a subject they love and crave more information on.

People remember things when they have some connection to their own, personal lives.  They have drive and enthusiasm to pursue more knowledge, when they really care about a subject.

I read 'The School and Society' and 'The Child and the Curriculum' by John Dewey last year.  They were 2 essays collected in a small book that I found at the thrift store.  And since it's a passion I have, I read it quickly.  Granted, it was dry and infuriating.  But I'm glad I read it, as it gave me a bigger picture of America's public school system today. 

He had some pretty psycho ideas, and I can see how the family  has been degraded in school based on his recommendations and socialistic thinking.  But, I read this little gem and loved it: 'The need that the more ordinary, direct, and personal experience of the child shall furnish problems, motives, and interests that necessitate recourse to books for their solution, satisfaction, and pursuit.  Otherwise, the child approaches the book without intellectual hunger, without alertness, without a questioning attitude, and the result is the one so deplorably common: such abject dependence upon books as weakens and cripples vigor of thought and inquiry, combined with reading for mere random stimulation of fancy, emotional indulgence, and flight from the world of reality into a make-believe land.'  This was at a time when the education of children in America was being taken away from the family, and therefore, out of a context that gave them plenty of mentors and motivation to learn and grow.  And Dewey and others involved in the mandatory education policies coming into vogue at that time, realized that many kids were losing their motivation to learn or do anything worthwhile. 

Doesn't that beautifully explain the vast amount of reading material available today, that is strictly fantasy and of no moral or educational value?  And the dizzying amount of people who are addicted to them, as a way to pass the time?  The art of reading for learning has been mostly lost.  People only know how to read for entertainment or 'emotional indulgence' these days.  Not that I'm opposed to that some, but how many people know how to read a book for actual learning and self-betterment?  Not many!  And I think a lot of that is because from a young age, children have been given answers to 'important' questions, and then given books simply as entertainment.

When a person sees a problem, and decides it is worth pursuing an answer, they can't be stopped.  If they have been equipped with the tools to research and learn, they can and will carry on until they have thought and struggled with the ideas on that subject, until they have some definitely answers in their heads.

But, if they are taught that the important things in life are easy answers to given questions, they start to believe that life is easy, and they don't learn to think and question.  True learning is exhausting, mentally and emotionally.  It takes time and thought, questions and frustrations.  It is far from easy.  But it is worth every ounce of effort.  And the person who has learned something 'the hard way'-figuring out an answer after realizing there is a question worth the effort, knows how true that is.  Imagine an America filled with people with such drive!

I like how John Gatto put it:
' Life according to school is dull and stupid, only consumption promises relief: Coke, Big Macs, fashion jeans, that's where real meaning is found, that is the classroom's lesson, however indirectly delivered.
The decisive dynamics which make forced schooling poisonous to healthy human development aren't hard to spot.  Work in classrooms isn't significant work; it fails to satisfy real needs pressing on the individual; it doesn't answer real questions experience raises in the young mind; it doesn't contribute to solving any problem encountered in actual life.  The  net effect of making all schoolwork external to individual longings, experiences, questions, and problems is to render the victim listless.  Growth and mastery come only to those who vigorously self-direct.  Initiating, creating, doing, reflecting, freely associating, enjoying privacy-these are precisely what the structures of schooling are set up to prevent, on one pretext or another.'

My own experience meshes with this perfectly.  If I'm given a book on a subject I don't currently have a passion for, I can often read it, but I will remember very little, and it will affect my life even less. But, give me a book on a subject that affects my life, and is dear to my heart (i.e. nutrition, Scripture, marriage, parenting, education), and no matter how difficult it is, I will read it with great enthusiasm and turn around in a few months and realize how much it has changed my thinking and my life.  The difference is amazing!

I can see it in my kids' lives as well.  When I just give them random information on any subject, sometimes they remember it, sometimes they don't.  But, if they ask me a question based on something they have seen, heard or experienced that affected them in some way, they remember the answers, ask more questions and get really excited about the subject.  I've tried to talk to them about something I thought they should know, randomly, and it just never seems to stick.

As I educate and mentor my children, I am trying to create 'needs' for information, before providing the answers.  If I find they are lacking in information in a certain area, I am trying to learn to create the desire for that information, before giving them the actual info.  Sometimes that is as simple as asking a question at the right time.  Sometimes it means putting them in some awkward situations where they realize they really need some information they don't have.  But I think, mostly, it means just exposing them to lots of things in everyday life, and then watching for their interest to be piqued.  And then, following up on that with some books and discussion on the subject.

I do find that 'homeschooling' more naturally allows for this type of learning.  The amount of questions that come up in any given day is dizzying!  All of life is explored together in deep and meaningful ways, and so the questions tend to come up naturally, and we are in a position where we can naturally explore the questions and answers together.  

I believe it is this kind of passion and drive for thinking and learning, that will keep America free.  It's too important to let go! 


  1. What an enlightening post! You gave me a lot of insight and piqued my curiosity to learn more.... which proves your point exactly, lol! Job well done!

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  3. Nice post.

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  6. Thank you for this very interesting article! It impressive to think that we forget 90% of what we have learnt if we don’t practice, but it is even more impressive to think that we can remember 90% of it if we practice or try to teach it. I am passionate about how we can enhance the ability to retain what we learn, and it is actually easy! I learn a lot. And this is every single day. I learned about stuff in the last week that would make most people’s head spin. So first,What an enlightening post! You gave me a lot of insight and piqued my curiosity to learn more.... which proves your point exactly, lol! Job well done! what I do is write it down. The act of writing in, sorting it, helps. But then I might write a little piece about it. It’s not always easy to do so. All this writing takes time. If it’s in audio, I’ll listen to it. Once, twice, many times. The brain is not designed to retain everything at full volume. It’s a natural spam filter.Thank you for sharing your article about So much to Learn. If You interested to know more information please visit

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