homeschooling / self-directed learning / what is an education

the art and science of an education

Education cannot make a person into something; it can only provide space for a person to discover who they are. Being fully human is not derived from doing things the way that someone or something has told us to, but by being who we are, the person we were born to be”.

Life Learning Magazine

There’s an art and science in medicine, I’ve been told. If one could type symptoms into the Google bar and spit out a diagnosis, would medical doctors be required? There’s a certain experience, constant exposure, tangential thought life that surrounds the work and diagnosis in medicine that isn’t captured in the Google bar.

I’d say the same is true for the idea of an education. We could try to jam a bunch of facts into the minds of our children and hope that they spit out a requested amount of knowledge, then believe that an education would be judged inadequate, adequate, above average, or excellent. But isn’t an education more than just cramming knowledge bits into our brains?

At least once a week, I participate in this conversation:

So you homeschool?

Yup. Smile. I’ve learned not to explain my choice, nor defend it.

So there is a government curriculum you follow?

Nope, we’re independent.


The curious bystander wonders how I would survive without the auspices of the government. They wonder where I find curriculum (um, it’s everywhere). They might ask how do we do math, if we have any academic expectations, if we spend more time than a schooled kid, if I’m a trained schoolteacher, if they should assume our children are geniuses or illiterate?

Yes, we do formal studies, at formal times…the kids know the drill, the schedule, the seasonal shifts from project-based unschooling to a child-directed, formal approach.

But what is an ‘education‘ anyways? Workbooks and textbooks might be an element but an education is not defined by government determined bookwork. Or shiny test scores. Or cleverly worded lectures. Or trying to fulfill the Core Curriculum or endless legalese-looking, learning outcomes.

I’m not teaching twenty five kids or responsible for a few hundred. I am watching to my four children develop and listening to their interests. I’m trying to influence who they will become (and being influenced by them) and trying to provide them with an intentional and tailored experiences and exposures.

When they’re especially interested, they absorb information quickly. Zach stares out the window as I am washing up dishes…”Mom, the sun is refracting a rainbow!” No kidding, my five year old knows about refracting. Didn’t know he knew that–probably learned from his older sisters, could be Sid the Science Kid, maybe retained from our discussion on qualities of light when he was three.

My husband and I both thought we would be a helpful resource in helping our thirteen year old daughter as she learned her lines for the summer play of Dr. Doolittle. She was General Bellows. Turns out she preferred memorizing them independently. She always prefers working that way. And she works like a machine when she sets her mind to it. When production day came, we were mighty surprised at the difficulty of the words in her lines, and she pulled them off perfectly, without our help.

I was energized by a conversation I had with an HSLDA lawyer (Homeschool Legal Defense Association), who was homeschooled himself. He told me he had to learn to play the “academic game” in order to complete his qualifications to become a lawyer, but “learning” is a different animal. He had to learn to jump through hoops, learn to effectively test and write papers and participate in group work, all of this is necessary for many professions in some form or fashion. But those things didn’t equate to an education.

Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist: it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to tackle the big challenges: it should allow you to find values which will be your road map through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing; wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important, how to live and how to die”. John Taylor Gatto

11 thoughts on “the art and science of an education

  1. “What my kids won’t miss is a tailored education.”

    What they won’t miss is being schooled… not at all the same as gaining an education. (Gatto)
    What they won’t miss is losing the parental attachment in favour of peer attachment. (Neufeld, Mate)
    What they won’t miss is the endless pursuit of achievement at the expense of their psychological well-being. (Wong Keltner)

    Kudos to you… this is an excellent blog!

      • Are you practicing enough daily attachment rituals? Keep it on the down low until you have reeled her back in, however. Or if you meant she is now grown, you can still reach out to her… it is never too late.

      • Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate recently wrote, ” Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers. It’s all about breaking through peer orientation and re-attaching to our kids. Best book on parenting I have ever read. It cuts right through all the new age solutions and gets to heart of the matter.

        However, once you are done that, you may realize that there are a lot of emotions that interfere with creating and implementing the much needed attachment rituals – this can be from the parents and the child(ren). To solve that problem, I use EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) combined with the teachings of the Enneagram (personality typing index) I use the two together because you have to truly understand what makes you tick in order to figure out which emotions are likely tripping you up.

        In other words, I work on my own issues and that frees me up to help my children solve their issues and eventually, I taught my kids EFT and the Enneagram as well and they use it to self manage their own needs now that they are older. It’s all about keeping our own internal house in order so that the relationship can be the priority. Good luck and cheers!

  2. Thanks for this great post. It’s really encouraging as I’m entering my second year homeschooling, and my first with two kids being educated. The other ones will tag along but are still under 5.
    I’m enjoying writing more about homeschool on my blog, too, and am going to put a link to this post in one of mine soon. I really like the flexible, passion driven approach to learning…I think kids can benefit so much from this. This morning my 6 year old read a phonics reader, “Fat Cat on the Mat” to herself. She read the whole thing because she wanted to, and because she had time. It’s only a line per page, but is nearly 200 pages! I love that she was able to do this, and that it was her initiative.
    Keep up the great work, and happy homeschooling!

  3. Pingback: Laying the Foundation for Homeschool | Just East Of Crazy Land

    • Thank you Anna! My five year old hast Fat Cat on the Mat…still can’t read it entirely, but soon enough. All the best in your first year–a fun year, and also self-revealing. Have fun!

  4. I really connected with this piece. Hun and I, who plan (are) to homeschool often discuss the difference in learning and knowledge versus education. School is everything and everywhere. Right now, with our 3yo and our 10mo, they know so much more than family members’ children who are older and/or attend school settings. Monkey Boy (3yo) is very very interested in reading and words, writing, and letters these days. I’m working to foster that as he directs – sometimes with sheets I’ve printed for him to trace names, other times through identifying letters in books/movies/signs. It’s amazing to watch our children grown and learn and connect things, even just practical skills. 🙂

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