A Lesson in Homeschooling From The Walking Dead

Sigh. The Walking Dead madness has finally caught up with me.

I just happened to watch one (count it – one) episode of the current season with my husband and I just happened to mention that I would – someday – maybe – like to watch the show from the beginning.

And then, before I knew it, that was that.

There I was, watching The Walking Dead from the beginning, getting upset at bad decisions as if I was watching sports, crying over babies been born and children growing up in nightmarish scenarios and generally making a mess of my evenings binge watching the show. And, oh by the way, thinking up ways The Walking Dead isn’t really that different from my comfortable, suburban, homeschooling world after all.

I know, I know. Overactive nerdy brains, unite!

So, yeah, you already know that I like to get my inspiration where I find it. And this particular time it was in Season 3. (No spoilers, please. I’m barely at the beginning of the fourth season.)

It was at the moment when the main character, Rick, is losing his grip on reality after his wife dies. The other people depending on him are understanding of his need to mourn, but in their rather, er, unnatural situation, their patience runs out and there are added dangers and complications which have to be solved. They need him. So they give him a singular perspective. They repeat to him what he has told them earlier when asserting his leadership.

“This is not a democracy,” they remind him, nudging him to regain his mental balance.

That phrase spoke to me.

As a homeschooling mom, I have used that phrase, often in jest, with my children.

“This is not a democracy, kids!”

“This is NOT a democracy! It’s a benevolent dictatorship.”

“Not a democracy. Do it because I said so.”

“You don’t always get to do what you want to. You don’t always get to pick. This is not a democracy, guys.”

I have said it more times than I can count with a scheduling chart.

The Walking Dead brought it into stark perspective. If it isn’t a democracy, that meant someone is in charge and that someone is me (and my husband, of course.)

On a daily basis, it is up to me to lead. As a classical unschooler, I am guided by my children’s needs and interests, but I am still required to steer, to know where we’re headed, to make decisions that affect all of us. I am required to lead.

It’s not just a good idea, it is absolutely necessary.

Our family isn’t a democracy. Neither is our homeschool. We have a leader. And it’s me.

It is a sobering, sobering thought. And a good reminder.

Who said watching TV was a waste of time?

How to Schedule an Effective Homeschooling Day (Part 3 of 3)

This is part 3 of a series of posts about scheduling an effective homeschooling day. If you have missed part 1 and part 2, you should go read them first.

In the final step, this is what I did.

How to Schedule an Effective Homeschooling Day Part 3 of 3 - The Classical Unschooler

I bought a thick cardboard – the kind you get at the Dollar Tree and some Post Its. Then I calculated how much we could realistically get done in a day. This is highly subjective, of course and can be changed depending on the age of the child, your style, your family’s idea of what is a priority and so on, which is why I love it.

I had already made a list of everything we needed to get done in a week of school, and so at this point all I needed to do was break it up into smaller chunks and get it done on a consistent basis.

Some people like to write this down in a planner. I prefer a board with Post Its.

Why? Because I’m a neat freak. (Sigh. Yes, I know.) Post Its give you freedom to move things around. If, for example, we ran out of a time because math took a little bit longer on one day, it is possible to just move the Post it over to a day when it needs to get done. Of course, you can also do this in a planner and move things around if you prefer, but I like having a template hanging somewhere that the children and I can see every day.

Organizing our day like this has two big advantages.

It clarifies what they need to get done and reduces daily dependence on me.

This, by far, has been the biggest advantage of our schedule. At some point, the children and I decided that waiting for me to say it was time to get sit down work done was not what we wanted to do with our day. They were always trying to do something rousing and enjoyable like play in the dirt and I – silly me – wanted them to think about math problems and how many tomatoes or pineapples a mythical person in a book received.

How to Schedule an Effective Homeschooling Day Part 3 of 3 - The Classical Unschooler

They had had enough. And, honestly, so had I. Now that we have this chart, they are free to get their work done whenever they want through the day. They choose to do it the night before it’s due. I only take a look at it and make sure it’s done and looks good.

It leaves us with lots of free time.

Getting everyone together is the largest time waster in the world. Look at how much time government schools spend every day taking attendance and enforcing discipline.

The reason homeschooling is so efficient is precisely because we are not spending time herding cats. So why would I want to stick a routine of collecting everyone, bringing them to the table and making them do sit down work when it kills me slowly and painfully on the inside?

This way leaves us tons of free time. We are free to pursue Bible reading, singing, learning to play the piano, learning to cook, Science experiments, reading aloud and, yes, video games.

How to Schedule an Effective Homeschooling Day Part 3 of 3 - The Classical Unschooler

The drudgery is done. The promise of homeschooling is finally ours.

All because of an effective schedule.

However…

No talk of scheduling is complete without the mention of the fact that it must be one that is adaptable. That is, after all, the beauty of homeschooling. I do occasionally fall into the trap of making a schedule and then regimenting it so rigidly that I begin to dread and hate our day. When that happens, I know something has to change. Usually, it’s that same schedule. It is the combination of flexibility and habit that makes our homeschooling work smoothly.

What works for you when it comes to scheduling your homeschool day? Please share what has worked or what you thought would work but did not. 

Monsters, Busy Bodies and Other Scary Things

I’ve been following “America’s Worst Mom” for a while now. Ever since a friend picked her book Free Range Kids as her book club pick, I have shared in Skenazy’s hatred for busy bodies and a deep desire to give my children the kind of freedom that allows them to make as many choices as possible – choices that were a given for the kids just a few generations ago.

So I have to share the latest news here, one which came to my attention because it was shared by none other that Skenazy herself, who has become one of my personal heroes of a sort. I may not agree with everything she says, but her voice of sanity in a nation gone crazy with the idea of never letting a child be left alone, anywhere, any time is a welcome and necessary one.

As a homeschooler that leans toward unschooling, I find this trend disturbing. Busy bodies don’t need more permission to run wild and boss others around.

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. – C.S.Lewis

It comes close on the heels of a news story where a homeschooling family was sued for letting their children play in their backyard during “school hours” and this one where the mother was doing dishes while her children played in the back yard and this one andandand

And now, “Operation Round Up” (what are we doing, killing weeds?) is hiring busy bodies like the ones mentioned above to report truancy, calling it “community help.”

Here’s a direct quote from the article:

“Sometimes if these citizens don’t call me, I have no way of knowing,” explained Williams, “so if its a nosy neighbor, be a nosy neighbor. Just call me and let me check out the situation.”

Williams also explained how sometimes people can mistake home-schooled children as truant because they usually don’t have a set schedule like students who attend public or private school. Despite this, the school board still encourages people to speak up with their suspicions.

You can’t make this stuff up.

The Three Lessons of Monopoly

We have a new obsession around here. It’s Monopoly.

At any given opportunity, my children will pull it out and begin playing. It’s surprising to me, really, how often they will beg me to play it with them and I find myself saying, “Are you kidding? We have to leave in thirty minutes!”

“Please?” they will whine then, “please, please, please?” with the blithe carelessness children have for time.

I usually cave and we end up forgetting lunch and extend bedtime. I play with them, but not only because I usually win. (And they still want to play. I’m in awe.) And not even because I’ve waited a long time to find anyone else as in love with it as I was as a kid.

I agree to play it so much because Monopoly has some fantastic lessons. (And before you roll your eyes, let me say, of course it’s okay to play it just for fun. Not everything has to have a lesson.)

However, if you’re an overthinker like me and you appreciate myriad reminders of frugality, budgeting, cash reserves, you’ll know where I’m coming from. Otherwise, maybe it’s best to go read about how to win at Monopoly each and every time.

Here are three lessons “the world’s most popular game” has taught me.

Pay attention

Children (did I say that out loud? I meant people – in general, but let’s stay focused) tend to have tunnel vision, especially when something looks fun. I find that Monopoly is a fantastic reminder to get them to be aware of their surroundings.

The Lessons of Monopoly

When a property goes to an auction, my children almost always reject if they’re not actively seeking it out as a monopoly or if they think it’s unimportant for whatever reason. (The light blue properties, for instance, are treated like trash and sold back to the bank with the least hesitation.) Here’s where I remind them.

“Look, I’m picking it up for a song.”

Shrug.

“No, look!” I insist, as I turn back around and resell the property to the bank and make some extra cash or hold it until it becomes obvious that it’s valuable to someone else wanting a monopoly. It’s been a hard lesson for my children to learn that even if they’re not interested in a property and it isn’t as expensive or high rent as Park Place or Boardwalk, it’s still a great way to make some money by what we now call “flipping.”

Also related to the auction is keeping an eye on what the other players have in terms of money and / or properties. Many a time, it is a good idea to let a property go to auction and not buy it for asking price if the other players don’t have ready cash available. My children rarely notice this and happily pay asking price if they’re excited about landing on a past favorite.

In terms of developing the art of paying attention, Monopoly is as good as a game as the Where’s Waldo puzzle books or playing Spot It and Spot It Jr. with younger children.

It teaches them that gathering information at all stages of the game – not just when it’s your turn – is a fantastic skill to develop.

Currency is not Value

My children never, ever want to part with their hundred dollar notes. Never. Ever. And this is not an exaggeration.

If there is ever a time that they have to pay fifty dollars, they would rather gather up all their change in five and one dollar notes rather than break the hundred dollar notes.

Also, once they own a specific property, even if they owe another player rent, they will get rid of all their cash and refuse to liquidate it, claiming they have “no money.”

Indeed, they will make all kinds of arrangements to simply keep playing. It’s fascinating to watch the odd combinations and permutations they come up with – including debts, forgiveness of said debts, even paying each others’ rents!

At some point, my husband declares, they’re not even playing Monopoly; they’re playing “rotten economy,” if such a game exists.

The Lessons of Monopoly

“So what is money?” my daughter finally asked at the dinner table the other day after a long conversation with my husband trying to explain the concepts of money, price, value and currency.

She may not have got it all, but at least the conversation had begun. And I understood that based on the classical model of education, they are still in the grammar stage and money versus currency is definitely a logic stage conversation, but there had been a hint in that direction.

“What is money, then?” she asked. I wanted to applaud. She’s only eight. It took me until I was in my mid-twenties to ask that question.

Fortunes change, be kind

This is one we all stumble on, but one specific child (I won’t mention who) really, really likes to win. I mean, really. And this specific child likes to rub our noses in the dirt when such a victory is about to take place, takes place and after it takes place.

I’m all for celebrating, but learning to be kind has been one of the best lessons from this game. And yes, while I will say that there is a tipping point after which fortunes certainly can not change, we have had some very interesting reversals.

Helping my children to manage their emotions and temper both their wins and losses has been challenging, to say the least. What are the chances that I would get one of each child who loves to win and one who hates to lose? (That sounds redundant, but I assure you, it’s not.)

So we have to learn, I guess, in one word, humility. Me too.

The Lessons of Monopoly

This is one subject with no lesson plan. I can’t put “kindness” in our daily planner. So we practice when we play. And when the winner loses, we remember the quote I had glued above my desk when I was much, much younger, a quote from Kipling’s poem If that I still recall with fondness.

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;”

And if you’re here reading this post and nodding up and down, saying, We knew this for years, maybe consider the Monopoly Luxury Edition! I can’t show this to my kids yet, because they’ll want it for tomorrow instead of for Christmas. *wink

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The Trouble With Eclectic Homeschooling

I was going to title this post “The Trouble With Classical Unschooling” but chose to go with “eclectic homeschooling” because I think defining the term “classical unschooling” is its own beast. (Which, by the way, if you’re interested in what that’s all about – go read my book.)

But I also chose the title because I think it defines the battle for us finger-in-every-pie kind of homeschoolers.

The struggle is real, people.

I wish, I really do, on some days that I was one of those who knew exactly what style of homeschooling I fell into, that I wasn’t one to pick the best from this style and the most from that one.

Yes, it gives me immense freedom to be able to do so, but it’s also a great burden. Being eclectic means, amongst other things, never being settled in a nice, neat routine.

Lately this concern has centered around extra curricular activities. Mainly because how you feel about your children being in various activities will likely be influenced by your style of homeschooling, if not parenting. Do you think they need to be in activities? Do you believe they will learn by being in a classroom?

And do you need a teacher to teach the things you are not able to teach them? Is music important? Is art? Do you sign them up? Or do you merely wish to expose them to various things and wait for them to decide? Do you make them continue when they do not want to?

If you know the answer to these questions, you, my friend, know exactly where you stand and are, very likely, not an eclectic homeschooler.

Because those questions put me in a tizzy. I do not like a bunch of activities. I have sworn to never be the mom who is rushing from one engagement to the next and driving kids around to various sports and activities they are not interested in. Never, ever, ever. Ever. Not happening.

However…

What do you do when you want to simply expose them to something they might just be good at? Do you force them into something non-academic that makes them unhappy? Or do you pick your battles and let the rest go?

That is my current predicament.

And that is the trouble, in essence, with being an eclectic homeschooler. Of course, this can be a problem with homeschooling in general, but one that is definitely accentuated by a style that tries to incorporate more than one style.

What do you think? If you are an eclectic homeschooler, how do you navigate the zone of activities for your children? 

Teaching Children to Quit

When was the last time you quit something? When did your children stop doing something? Here’s why we need to seriously consider teaching children to quit. 

“I have been thinking about quitting,” someone says and there is immediate silence.

Most of the time, “quitting” makes us feel like we’re giving up. We immediately assume quitting something is a negative thing.

I know I do.

Teach Your Kids to Quit - The Classical Unschooler

About a year ago, when I still felt green about homeschooling (okay, okay, so I don’t have a doctorate in homeschooling now, but it’s our fifth year and I’m quite “settled in,” if you will) I asked some friends a question about a read aloud (that shall go unnamed) we hated. Here was the question:

“…if a read-aloud sucks, do you dump it? […] I hate, hate, hate it. I think it’s uselessly dumbed down. I don’t care for it, but we only have one more full day of reading it. Ugh. I’ll plod through if I must. But we all hate it. Thoughts?”

I got various responses – everything that ran the gamut from “dump it!” to “children need to learn perseverance” to “it’s just one more day – get it done!”

It’s been a whole year since then and looking back, I think I have something to say to myself about this internal struggle. Because looking back I can see slightly more clearly now. What I want to say to myself has to do with quitting.

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Quitting is a skill. We need to cultivate it. Knowing when and how to quit and when and how to persevere is perhaps the most important skill our children (not to mention we ourselves) need to learn.

“Winners quit fast, quit often, and quit without guilt.” – Seth Godin.

We need to learn to quit fast.

As homeschoolers, we tend to stick it out far longer than most people sending their children to public schools. This is not derision, it’s truth. We persevere with the co-op, the program, the curriculum, the classes even when we see that they are not working.

We do this because we worry that there might be something we are not seeing. Or we stick with it because we know the importance of time and developmental stages and we have paid attention to such things in our homeschool.

But by the same token, we wait too long on some other things. We need to be able to tell the difference between what is working, what it not and be able to quit faster.

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Teaching this skill to children can be tricky, but effective. If the way they are thinking of a math problem, for instance, is not helping them figure things out, they need to drop it and think of it some other way. There is no inherent value in doing things a certain way only because a text book says so.

(For full disclosure, I will mention that we have memorize math facts, but even as I saw my children memorize, I saw how differently they came to the same answer. I saw no reason to teach them my way when their own way was unique to them.)

We need to learn to quit often.

My personal challenge is to read 100 books by the end of 2016 and December is drawing close extremely fast. (You can check out my Goodreads profile and follow me here.)

Having never before made the decision to read as many books, I got a little carried away in the winter months and read a lot. Then came summer. I get almost no reading done in the summer because we dig deep into homeschooling. At last count, I have read 82 books – something I have never done in any other year.

How did I manage? The truth is I read as many books by quitting many, many more after the first page or the first chapter. I did not persevere in these instances. In fact, it was by dumping the wrong books that I was able to read the ones I truly enjoyed and thus achieved my goal.

In other words, I quit often.

We need to quit without guilt.

The kids and I were playing Monopoly yesterday and the game was dragging. We all knew the rules fairly well and fortune was favoring no one. We all had managed to block the others’ attempts at a monopoly and were basically moving our tokens around the board paying rent and collecting it.

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What was interesting is that no one wanted to quit for fear that someone would feel bad. We often do this – as homeschooling parents, as people in general. We have misplaced guilt. We are too polite to quit.

Please note that I am not talking about issues of morality here.

Of course there will be times when we need to persevere and stick through it come what may, but when it comes to the mundane, practical tasks, we need to be able to see them as such as quit without guilt.

Yesterday, I saw how my desire not to hurt my children’s feelings had been internalized by them. Never again, I assure you.

Quitting faster, more often and without guilt helps us to focus on what is important by getting rid of the trivial. It is something I intend to be incorporate into our homeschool.
What do you think? Do you think we need to teach our children to quit or persevere? How do you teach this important skill?

Homeschoolers and Sports

Homeschoolers and if they should be playing on public school teams are in the news again, albeit locally. The idea surfaces every few years or so, it seems.

Often referred to as the Tebow debate, there are two sides to this argument.

One side argues that they pay the same taxes as the others and since schools are funded by tax payers, that their children shouldn’t be held behind just because the student isn’t part of the traditional school setting. The other side claims that “high school is a privilege, not a right.” Read the rest of the argument here as covered in Time Magazine.

On a personal level, we’ve never been a family interested in sports. We do not shun all extra curricular activities, but require that our children show a certain level of commitment before we insist that they compete on any level. But I am following this argument with some general inquisitiveness if not interest.

What do you think? Are sports considered important in your family? What options do you have and where are your children enrolled?

Of course the final say is that of the state where you are located. The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) has published the state laws for each state so you can find out if joining your local high school sports team is an option for your child. You can find that list here.

As a self-proclaimed unschooler though, I wonder about what the unschoolers among my readers think about this argument. Most unschoolers want little to do with any kind of organized event and so it would probably follow that high school sports are not an attraction for their families.

What say you? Are you a homeschooler or an unschooler and involved in sports? Does your state allow the involvement of homeschoolers in public school teams?  

Does College Scare Homeschoolers?

Every once in a while, we receive those questions: the odd ones from people who don’t know any homeschoolers and weren’t educated at home themselves.

I have had numerous conversations with people who swore up and down that the only reason they have sent their children to public school was because they wanted them to get exposure to all the diversity out there and be able to have conversations with people.

I had to laugh. Because all that day our children were with us talking with everyone just fine. Imagine that!

Perhaps the most annoying of all those questions is how homeschoolers will adjust to college. The question isn’t ever about academic achievement, mind you, it’s about how they will adjust to the socialization that the new environment requires because they haven’t shared in the popular culture.

So here’s a great article I recently read that deals expressly with the homeschoolers in college question. It’s written by someone who was homeschooled herself. Perhaps my favorite part is this one:

Ultimately, the transition from homeschool to college isn’t a matter of getting out of the house and talking to people for a change, but merely of continuing academic studies in a different venue and in a different manner. Unlike many who feel that college is unstructured, for me, college feels more structured than high school did (for instance, my classes start at the same time each week). While my peers might feel at a loss with their newfound freedom and scheduling flexibility, I am eager to fill the slots in my schedule so that my week runs like clockwork. I’m used to self-imposing order and routine, rather than being forced into a routine by a public high school.

Oh, and if you were wondering about homeschoolers and how they interact with college, there are numerous articles about homeschoolers attending college, not just here, but worldwide.

Or perhaps we should just stop trying to get into college in the first place?

Do you get the odd questions about college as a homeschooling parent? Were you homeschooled and attended college? Please share your experiences!

Our Three Read Aloud Rules

Ah, reading aloud.

Cozy blankets, some squabbling to find the right spot, rainy days and a book – the longer, the better. How inviting, right? Especially now that it is fall – if summer will ever accept that! Everyone – okay, maybe almost everyone – reads aloud.

Whether verbally acknowledged or not there are rules all homeschoolers use to pick their next read aloud book.

Either they eschew what Charlotte Mason referred to as twaddle, or they stick to a list recommended by a particular person or a group that they admire to find good books or they undertake the great and wonderful task of researching and digging through Facebook groups, online encyclopedia and asking friends and family. Sometimes, they even go (gasp!) through boxed curricula lists.

Our 3 Read Aloud Rules

I have written before about reading aloud and how we got a bit of a late start on it. I am happy to say that as of today I consider nothing else more important. Although we tend to favor read alouds of the fantasy genre more than others, I have nevertheless developed some “rules” around which I base our reading.

Here they are.

Read Aloud Rule #1: I pick what I want to read

Homeschooling parents are some of the most resourceful people I have ever met. When we stop by our public library – something we do almost every week –  I can almost always tell when a homeschooler has visited before me by the number of good books I can find sitting next to each other. That said, I will add that sadly I can also tell when someone is following a boxed curriculum.

Not all boxed curricula are created equal, of course, some like Sonlight have excellent books which I am delighted to find. However, I don’t insist that we read all of them for the simple reason that I don’t like them.

I will no longer pick books based on the idea that they are great works of literature, that everyone else is reading them, that they are in this list or that one or that there is a connection with something else we are currently studying in a different subject.

Reading aloud for introverted, taciturn me takes a lot of time and effort. As such, I want to make the most of it for all of us. Reading a book that I hate makes the entire process so tedious that I am likely to avoid it. And the children sense it as well.

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They catch my boredom and begin getting listless, or worse, fidgety. And pretty soon, what should be an enjoyable activity that brings us together, helps us share a world, increases comprehension and develops language devolves into an unrewarding, unfulfilling task. After learning that lesson from trudging through a particularly boring book or two, my read aloud rule #1 states that I will read a book aloud only if it’s something I am personally interested in. I will no longer pick books based on the idea that they are great works of literature, that everyone else is reading them, that they are in this list or that one or that there is a connection with something else we are currently studying in a different subject.

In other words, if I am not going to enjoy reading them, out they go. They’ll just have to wait until my kids are older and can read them on their own.

Read Aloud Rule #2: I don’t stick to grade levels

The first book we read that we all thoroughly enjoyed and still talk about to this day was The Hobbit. My older two children were 6 and 5 at the time. I am still amazed when I write that they understood and appreciated what we read. Sure, I paraphrased and of course some themes that we explored needed a little grappling with to be understood. It wasn’t easy, but it was immensely rewarding.

The vision of the world we came away with was more than what was contained in the plot, the characters or the fantasy in the book itself. The vision we came away with that settled itself into the recesses of our minds was that of freedom. Because it was the freedom to be able to look at something and discuss it, regardless of the time of day, the age of the person talking or the issue we were mulling over.

It was reading aloud that I finally believed that my children had the ability to surprise me, surpass me and no boxed curriculum or boxed in classroom would ever take that away from us.

Nothing was out of reach; nothing was “too mature,” nothing that they would only understand when they grew up. Sure, they probably did not fully comprehend certain nuances, but do we ever capture every nuance in every book? However, I discovered the true strength and beauty of homeschooling in reading aloud. It was here that I finally believed that my children had the ability to surprise me, surpass me and no boxed curriculum or boxed in classroom would ever take that away from us.

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By the same token, I will also read good picture books to my older children. Sometimes, the youngest wants a picture book and the olders will come and hang out and enjoy it as well and expressly ask for one the next time. And I have already written about my love for graphic novels, which I will not read aloud, but my daughter will!

Read Aloud Rule #3: Kids don’t have to sit still

When reading aloud, silence is necessary. However, sitting stock still is not. I read tons of blogs before I started homeschooling and made the mistake of trying to incorporate the practice of getting my children to sit still as recommended by some of them. One particularly annoying post suggested that getting children to sit still while reading aloud made it easier for them to sit in other situations like classrooms, restaurants, church and so on. Great, I thought, extend their time of sitting still so that they can sit still.

Nope.

Our 3 Read Aloud Rules

Sitting still might be required in classrooms where the teachers have to deal with multiple students, but it is an unnecessary burden to place on yourself as a homeschooling parent. I abandoned that practice very early on.

My children find themselves in all kinds of positions while I’m reading to them. Some will hang upside down, some will listen lying down. My daughter prefers to sit up and listen, but that’s just her personality. I will sometimes catch my kids at breakfast or lunch and read to them. Some days, very rarely, we do sit still and read with the occasional run to the kitchen for snacks.

So there you have it. Our three simple rules for read alouds. Do you have any rules for picking the right read aloud? I’d love to hear them! 

“Teach Kids How to Think, Not What to Think” is Terrible Advice

I was having an online “conversation” a.k.a. argument with someone yesterday. Actually, let me rephrase that: I had asked for resources for teaching something specific and had instead been admonished by someone “not trying to be rude but just wanting to say” that I should teach my children how to think, not what to think.

Harumph.

I did my best to explain why I would pointedly not be doing so and left it at that and the argument ended. However, since that phrase and that ridiculous bit of advice is bandied about incessantly over the internet every single day, prattled out by homeschoolers, teachers, and other (usually) well-intentioned folks, I wanted to write about why I hate that phrase so very much and I wish it would die.

If wishes were curses, about 80% of the internet would be writhing in pain and flames on my living room floor. Sigh. One can hope.

So here are my reasons for why I think the argument to teach kids how to think and not what to think is terrible advice.

Children are not ready to think well until they have mastered the grammar of whatever it is they will be thinking about.

If you have read my book, The Classical Unschoooleryou probably know that I tend to value the classical system of learning as much as the unschooling side. In the classical system, logic (and what people usually mean when they refer to as “how to think”) is the natural progression of the grammar stage. In other words, it’s the second step after the child has developed a good grasp of the grammar of a subject.

This is essentially where public schools get it all wrong. With their supposed emphasis on “critical thinking,” that is, how to think and not what to think, they jump ahead to the logic stage before the children have had a chance to grasp anything in the grammar stage. I have seen a history curriculum start to teach history with a fictional story designed to evoke an emotion. The children are then asked to comment on how they felt through it. I’m sorry, but how is that history? And, by the way, how is appealing to their emotions and then asking them to have an opinion about a real, historical event teaching them to think critically?

I tend to agree with Don Bartletti (who wrote that above article about critical thinking – seriously, go read it) that most of what passes as critical thinking is just “uninformed opinion lacking intellectual valence.” And I am loathe to teach that kind of intellectual laziness to my children.

Logic and reason carried to its pure, objective end can justify almost anything.

The biggest lie out there is that only religion justifies murder and that if people would only turn to reason and logic, we would all live happily ever after in Science Land. It’s as if Critical Thinking is the beautiful Cinderella kept captive by her ugly stepsisters of religious war. All we need to do, say the princes of Science Land is to get that glass slipper and go rescue her. Thinkerella is our salvation.

The unfortunate fact is that Thinkerella has some skeletons of her own in her fireplace she should consider first: the Nazis, abortion and infanticide, and racism to name just a few.

Thinking does not exist in a vacuum.

Even with the purest logic, there is still an overarching morality (call it world view, if you will) you subscribe to and that will come through. And maybe that is my problem with this kind of advice all along. It shows that people haven’t really – excuse the redundancy – thought about it hard enough.

If the personal is political, I would argue that the personal is also universal. Even the most objective thinking does not exist in a vacuum. It requires a personal philosophy which is the lens through which you are seeing it. Now, it might be a purely materialistic / empirical lens, but there is a lens all the same. So, right there, you are teaching people not just how to think but also what to think, no matter how desperately you think you are avoiding doing so.

To clarify, let me add that I’m not, in any way, saying that we should not be teaching children how to think. In fact, that is the basis of all education after all – to teach someone to learn and think for themselves. My argument is simply with the idea that we can teach people how to think without teaching them what to think.

Then again, maybe I’m just splitting hairs. Either way, I’m glad I got you to think while telling you what to think.