Mind The Gap

September 14, 2013

I have never actually set foot in England. However, a group of college friends came home from their month in London enamored with the voice of the Tube. They parroted this voice so often that one phrase is now etched in my own brain. So, when I hear a fellow homeschooling mom comment about possible or actual gaps in their child's education, I hear a British voice say, "Mind the gap." This mental scarring is an unexpected side effect of a theatre degree.

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This is something on which concerned citizens of the world love to quiz homeschool moms. Usually they do so at Walmart and Food Lion, which is where concerned citizens hang out, just waiting to ask other people personal questions like "How will you afford college with all those kids?" and "Aren't you concerned about gaps in their education?"

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We could say that perhaps these concerned citizens have shown a gap in their own education. Clearly they were absent the day their school taught how to mind one's own business. However, to point that gap out would only serve to antagonize concerned citizens. Instead, you have my permission to use one of the following witty responses.

"College? Wait, is college expensive?"

"Oh, I already have my bachelor's degree."

"Oh, man, I knew I was forgetting something! College! I'm going to have to really think on that."

"What does The Gap have to do with education? We don't even shop there."

"Gaps in their education? How could that happen when I know everything there is to know about everything?"

I admit, I don't give such funny, but rude, answers to strangers. I like to save them up and share them with my friends. It's how I make sure the world is a happier place.

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Homeschool parents do fret over the idea of gaps in their children's education, so let's ponder on that. First, let's admit that there is no method of education that can assure a student knows everything there is to know about everything. This brings to mind those television shows where hosts go to the man on the street and ask seemingly simple questions like "Who was the first man to walk on the moon?" I'm sure some people give the correct answer, but they love to show us the people who give answers like "Buck Rogers."

Perhaps those respondents spent their high school careers smoking dope. However, I bet the rest of us have some holes too. For instance, I never memorized the state capitals. I suspect this was a gap caused by moving as a child. Perhaps in Louisiana they memorized state capitals in 5th grade and in Virginia they did so in 4th? I don't know, but it is a spot of ignorance for me. I bet you have a similar spot. Or, maybe you really struggle with some of the basics like spelling, punctuation, or multiplication?

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So, now we all know that our 12 years of school were well wasted, whether we were wasted or not. Right?

Only if the goal of schooling is to cram as many facts into a child's brain as possible. I would say instead that the goal of any method of schooling would be to produce a well-educated adult. What does that mean exactly? To me, a well-educated adult speaks clearly to convey her thoughts in a firm but gentle manner, knows where she stands on a variety of issues but is willing to respectfully listen to the other side, reads with comprehension, writes with clarity, and has an understanding of math such as is useful in her walk of life. I could add a lot more to this, but I think that's a pretty good working definition. My point is, I don't know that the definition of a well-educated person includes ability to multiply in your head, ability to recite the state capitals or knowledge of who left those footprints on the moon. I will even go so far as to say that you can be well educated and not be able to spell to save your life.

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You could say those are important things to know. True. Yet, some of the most brilliant people I know don't know how to fix their lawn mower or their toilet. I think those are pretty important things to know too. However, I know that if they really wanted to fix their lawnmower or toilet, they could figure it out. I know they could figure it out because they know where to look to find the information they would need to accomplish those tasks. They would know which resources to read and how to use those resources. In short, they know how to learn and think.

That is what it comes down to. Sometimes we forget that we teach using good content, but knowledge of the content is not necessarily the end goal. When I teach my children to read, I start out using simple Bob Books. We progress to Dr. Seuss books like Green Eggs and Ham and then to books like Black Beauty. Now, I do not feel that it is of utter importance that every child be familiar with Bob Books or be able to recite Green Eggs and Ham. The content of the books I use matters somewhat, because I don't want to fill my children's heads with things that are evil or deceitful, but really these are carefully chosen tools used to teach them how to read.

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The same is true with subjects like history. Yes, we aim to expose them to at least a basic knowledge of the major events of world and U.S. history. More important is a basic understanding of why those events happened and the repercussions that were felt. Then, we want the student to extrapolate that knowledge into modern times and produce well-formed ideas about current events. We have them memorize names, dates and events to give them a framework, and then we start to discuss the nitty gritty parts of history to build the ability to think critically. I would far rather be around someone who can't remember when the Civil War ended, than be around someone who doesn't understand how the enslavement of black people prior to the Civil War still affects our country today.

So, I say to my fellow worry wart homeschooling parents, be still. Choose the content you teach wisely, focus on that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. Use that content to teach the skills that will leave your children able to teach themselves whatever they need to learn. Encourage them to pursue learning as a life-long endeavor and the gap will mind itself.

 

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