Homeschooling can seem like an unapproachable task until you have asked yourself some tough but fundamental questions about education, its purpose and how you believe the learning process works. Last week, we discussed why identifying your educational philosophy is so important and exactly how it can help you homeschool more purposefully. We also supplied a questionnaire to help you begin formulating your own philosophy (click here see last week’s article—Homeschooling 101, part 1—for more information).
We also stated that while it was necessary to formulate the basis for your philosophy, you didn’t have to create an entire philosophy on your own; there are common philosophies to choose from once you have specified what about education is important to your family. Below are basic summaries of 4 common philosophies that drive homeschool communities and curriculums. Each summary is a generalization, and different families may hold to the philosophies to greater or lesser degrees according to their individual beliefs and needs.
As you read through, I am hopeful that you will find one that is a close match with your answers to last week’s questionnaire. If so, you’ve found your starting point on your path to homeschooling and can effectively begin looking for homeschool groups, programs, and curriculum that value the same things you do! If not, just use the links at the end of the article to continue your search.
Charlotte Mason (CM) is based on the firm belief that education involves more than academic study. This philosophy holds that the true job of education is to educate the whole child, not just the mind. In order to achieve this, the CM approach focuses on “atmosphere,” “life,” and “discipline.”
“Atmosphere” refers to home environment. Are you familiar with the saying “more things are caught than taught”? CM believes that 1/3 of education is absorbed from the home environment and the ways that parents live their lives. Creating an atmosphere that reinforces your value system, a love of learning, and encourages exploration is a necessity.
“Life” means that academic study must contain “living thoughts and ideas.” Students should not just be given dry facts to learn or memorize. Mason emphasized “living books,” or books written by authors with a passion for a subject, books that narrate historical events, autobiographies, etc. Any book that makes the subject “come alive” should be used instead of a textbook. Spelling words and handwriting are better learned from passages of great books rather than lists. A student’s ability to narrate, or tell back, what they have read or learned in their own words, as well as the ability to tell about any connections they have made with other ideas that they already know is more important than written assessments. Additionally, spending time playing, creating, interacting with nature, and gaining experience through real life situations is important.
“Discipline” refers to the forming of character. Teaching good habits, especially those that lead to good character is an essential part of a child’s education. These habits and desired character traits should be reinforced by the academic material chosen.
Lastly, the CM approach believes that education should be teacher/parent directed, but with a flexible schedule and should consist of short lessons that render excellence. With 2/3 of the CM philosophy focusing on home and discipline, i.e. strong parenting and rich home life, many families see CM as a very desirable approach to use with young children. It works well for a child who enjoys completing tasks.
The Classical, or Socratic, approach believes that the goal of education is to create independent, critical thinkers and problem solvers. The Classical approach values a rigorous, structured, teacher/parent-led liberal arts education with an emphasis on Latin, logic, and rhetoric.
There is also high value placed on “great books,” or the classics of Western civilization, such as works by Homer, Sophocles, Plato, Dante, and Shakespeare. It is a literature intensive approach, believing that the more we see great thinking modeled, the more we are capable of being great thinkers ourselves.
This educational philosophy has its roots in ancient Greece but is more closely tied to the resurgence of interest in Greek and Latin studies known to the Renaissance. It centers on the belief that all human knowledge can be taught using a systematic, memorable framework, called the Trivium. In Latin, trivium literally means “the place where 3 roads meet.” Originally, those 3 roads were called grammar (the mechanic s of language and knowing what things are, i.e. definitions, etc), logic, and rhetoric. You will also hear the Trivium described in more modern terms as the phases of a child’s cognitive development:
- Concrete (k-6)- Children at these ages have an expansive capability for memory. These years should be used learning how to learn and to absorb facts and definitions to build the foundation of knowledge which later years will learn to use and apply.
- Analytical (7-8)- As a new level of self- awareness and awareness of the world emerges, this is the time to ask students to reflect on the facts and definitions they have learned in order to make connections, to hone critical thinking skills by asking how and why about that information, and to teach the basics of logic so that they can accurately make connections, critically think, and better discern the world around them.
- Abstract Thinking (9-12)- As students mature, they are ready to use the connections they’ve made between ideas, facts, definitions to formulate ideas of their own. This stage focuses on creating independent thinkers. This stage also focuses on honing a student’s abilities to articulate their thoughts, ideas, and beliefs—creating articulate and logical communicators who can inform and persuade.
Those who hold to this philosophy value the connection between language and thinking, the ability to use language to communicate knowledge and thoughts accurately, the ability to think logically and critically, and the value of finding the links between all fields of study in order to achieve a whole, or complete, understanding of the world.
In its truest form, this is an “empty sack” philosophy in which students should be filled with facts before they can become independent thinkers on their own. This philosophy values written and oral assessment, a specific progression of measurable achievement, standards, or benchmarks. It is an extremely academic approach that works well for an academically-oriented child.
True Classical education is not the same as Classical Christian education in the sense that Classical Christian philosophy integrates and emphasizes a Christian worldview in all subjects.
Unschooling (also called Child-Led or Natural Learning)
For those with a classroom background, unschooling is probably the most difficult of all philosophies to understand or trust. Unschooling holds that everything traditionally believed about education is detrimental to a child’s desire and ability to learn. Unschooling does not use curriculum or formal lesson plans; instead learning is led by a child’s interests, desires, and curiosities. Through exposure to a rich learning environment and a variety life experiences, children are encouraged to follow their interests and learn as curiosity is piqued.
Unschooling was created by Joh Holt, educator, author, education reformist, and pioneer in homeschooling in the late 1970s and early 80s. Holt’s “Teach Your Own,” published in 1981 and recently republished in 2003 is considered by many to be the bible of the early homeschooling movement. Holt’s philosophy of child-led learning was based on his 11 years of experience as a school teacher and his conclusion that children learn best when interested and self-motivated.
Unschooling done well focuses on purposefully creating a stimulating learning environment to which a child has full access at all times. Manipulatives and an assortment of resources such as microscopes, building materials, books, paints, etc. are left out to pique and guide curiosities. Students are allowed to pick or not pick items with full confidence that they will eventually develop an interest in what they need to know.
Exposure to a variety of life experiences can also encourage interests and inspire learning. As a result, life experiences are of high priority to those who follow this philosophy. Because Unschooling believes that living and learning are the same thing and that trying to separate the two is harmful to the student, when, where, or how learning takes place is not important. Unschooling finds the distinction between formal and informal education irrelevant.
Parents who unschool implicitly trust in a child’s natural desire to learn, have a willingness and the patience to allow children to pursue and possibly exhaust one area of study while putting other areas and activities on hold until later. Unschoolers do not value traditional standards for scope and sequences of learning (multiplication might be learned when the child is 12yrs instead of the standard age of 8) and do not believe that all learning needs to be or even can be measured or assessed in quantifiable terms.
This philosophy works best for families who want their children to have the freedom to pursue his own interests as they are ready and for children who are very curious, self-motivated, or who have strong interests, hobbies, or collections they want to pursue.
Eclectic, our last philosophy to discuss, is just what it sounds like- an individual philosophy made from bits and pieces of other philosophies. Eclectic philosophies are quite common as many families discover that their beliefs don’t fit neatly into any single category. As a result, a family might combine different elements from common philosophies to create an approach that uniquely reflects their own education ideals and goals.
These families see the value of exploring and using a variety of curriculums to find materials that suit their child’s interests and learning styles for different subjects. They also believe that multiple approaches can sometimes offer more well-rounded pictures of certain topics and do not mind spending extra time researching curriculums and materials in order to obtain the results they want.
Eclectic philosophies work best for families who do not feel the need to follow just one plan and for children who adjust easily to using materials of different styles. It is important to note that eclectic philosophies are not inherently inconsistent but can be if not carefully planned. Conscientious eclectic families do not jump from one thing to the next in search of the next best thing, but instead use a variety of ideas to create a complete educational picture.
Didn’t find a philosophy here that fits with your answers to the philosophy questionnaire? Check out these links for more information. Also check out my source links below.
What’s coming up next in this series?
• A sneak peek at my first educational philosophy when I began teaching 17yrs. ago.
• Common methods homeschool families use to put their philosophies into action and actually do this thing called home education.
Andres Porras, Cat Sanchez, Emily Yanez, Jonathan Stonehouse, Lawain Ng, Maya, Nicholas Buffler