In his novel “Hard Times,” Charles Dickens introduces us to Mr. Gradgrind, an “eminently practical” man who runs a school in northern England. In this book, as in so many of his novels, Dickens exposed the darker side of the industrial revolution.
Mr. Gradgrind’s utilitarian view of education valued “Facts…nothing but Facts,” often at the expense of developing imagination or learning how to think, instead of merely what to think. His industrial model of education prioritized a one-size-fits-all curriculum intended to produce workers, with highly-structured school days marked by ringing bells reminiscent of an assembly line. You might say that Mr. Gradgrind’s educational philosophy fails to teach children how to evaluate or intentionally develop a worldview.
Now that school has been moved home for everyone, at least for the remainder of this school year, we’ve been given an unexpected gift. We now have the opportunity to re-think and reclaim what education is really for, or in other words, what it means to be an educated human being.
In no way am I suggesting that every family in the U.S. should now homeschool. In fact, many are learning a deeper appreciation of their schools and teachers. (Or, as one of my favorite COVID-19 memes put it, a bunch of parents are learning it really wasn’t their kids’ teacher’s fault after all). At the same time, the COVID-19 crisis is reminding us of an uncomfortable but essential truth: Parents are the primary stewards of their children’s education, not the state.
“Primary steward,” of course, is not the same thing as “sole teacher.” I know countless parents who successfully pursued just about every type of school and education route, and I’ve met countless remarkable students who are the product of each one. Yet, so many parents fail to recognize that it isn’t the job of a school to educate their kids as whole people—mind, body, heart, and soul. It especially isn’t the school’s job to shape their child’s worldview. In fact, schools simply can’t do that job. It belongs to mom and dad.
Now that schools have closed, many parents feel overwhelmed and ill-equipped to continue the school year at home. Well-meaning schools have responded by implementing distance-learning programs, some that even attempt to mimic an average school day, right down to breaks from the computer in order to have “recess.”
On the other hand, many bloggers and curriculum companies are sharing their abundance of resources for the thousands who have unexpectedly joined their homeschool ranks. It’s easy to see why some parents, flooded with so many resources and ideas, are ready to throw up their hands and give their kids over to Netflix for the next few months.
Here’s the good news: There’s a middle way between mimicking a rigid school structure at home and doing no school at all. After all, the goal is learning, and learning is something that kids do naturally. And, this cultural moment is rife with opportunities for families to reflect on what truly matters in life.
If you find yourself lost about where to even start to educate your kids at home, here’s three things you can try:
First, read aloud as a family as much as possible. Not only will this develop literacy skills, it’s a meaningful opportunity to connect with your children on a physical and emotional level during a stressful time, having conversations about things that really matter. Thankfully, there are many great book lists that can help parents choose age-appropriate stories that also build moral character, not to mention library apps that provide access to thousands of audiobooks and e-books for free.
Second, engage in worldview conversations. Current events have turned our world upside down. Ask your kids what they are thinking about all of this. The coronavirus pandemic will be a marker in their life they won’t forget, and an incredible opportunity for many real-life lessons. My recent book, “A Student’s Guide to Culture,” as well as our upcoming Truth.Love.Together. virtual event, can help fuel your worldview discussions around the dinner table. I hear from many families who use these daily BreakPoint commentaries as fodder for their meal-time conversations.
Finally, create space for self-directed learning. Invite each child to pursue a special project during this extra-ordinary time. A budding writer can start a diary about life during the 2020 Coronavirus Quarantine. A young entrepreneur might work on a website to support a charitable cause. Sometimes the best schooling looks nothing at all like school.
This unusual time will be one of the most profound learning experiences every single one of us will have. Have confidence in your ability to lead and guide your children through it. You can do this.
John Stonestreet | David C. Cook | 2020
Sarah Mackenzie | Zondervan | 2018
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