Does schooling equal educating?

…and are we truly educating anyone anymore?

I have to pick my kids up from class in 30 minutes, so we’ll see if I can eke this out quickly while also inducing curiosity and conversation.

One of my children, recently 13, shared with me a video that a fellow homeschooled friend shared with her. It’s about 8 minutes long, but he’s engaging enough that you won’t get bored. Well, I didn’t get bored.

I don’t agree with every point this young man makes, but he does make a few excellent points that are rarely questioned in the current educational climate. The powers that be spend so much time clamoring for more money to education, no one stops to ask if money is the cure for what ails our education system. Meanwhile, the parents who have the time, money, and life margin to do so opt out of the system, leaving it mostly filled with students from families without the time, money and life margin to exercise alternative options.

It is easy to dismiss the “roll call of the uneducated” that this guy rattles off in defense of his condemnation of school. After all, most of the contemporary drop-outs he mentions were college drop-outs, not secondary school drop-outs. The older names he mentions carry much more weight. As a homeschooling parent, it resonates. It resonates because I recognize that “schooling” and “education” are not synonymous. That is why men such as Abraham Lincoln was sharp of mind and intellect despite a lack of formal schooling.

Right before I watched this video, I read this very insightful piece by Joshua Gibbs. We are heavily invested in the classical education model, including its ideals, so Gibbs’ ideas speak to me even as I recognize that present practical realities mean you have to tick off some boxes for the sake of expediency and legality.

In the ideal world of the passionate classical educator, however, grades, grade levels and all that jazz fade away into obsolescence as education returns to a focus on the good, the true and the beautiful:

Gibbs: As a conservative who generally sides with tradition, I don’t care a fig about progress, but I do care quite a bit about stability and sustainability. What most modern people call “progress,” I call “instability.” The changes this school has made over the last several years have not been accomplished in the name of “progress.” It would be fairer to say the changes are regressive, because they’re aimed at the past, not the future.

Parent: “Regressive” doesn’t sound good, though.

Gibbs: It doesn’t sound good to ears accustomed to hearing the word “progress” used as an unqualified good. Most progressive things are relatively new and based on theories, but conservatives are interested in what has worked and progressives are interested in what might work better.

Parent: So, will using catechisms work better than not using catechisms?

Gibbs: I believe catechisms have worked in the past. Catechisms aren’t something I dreamed up. They don’t work in theory, but in fact. The catechism is one of the most traditional forms of transmitting knowledge there is. Catechisms were abandoned some time ago to make room for progressive models of education, so in returning to catechisms, this school is actually removing what was unsustainable and unstable. A return to stability always involves change—not change for the sake of change but change for the sake of changelessness. I would say the same of the other changes the school has made lately, as well.

Parent: If catechisms and Greek are so traditional, why weren’t they put in place years ago when this school started?

Gibbs: I’ve been reading Ecclesiastes for many years and one of the most important lessons Solomon offers in that book is that no one gets everything they want. Not even the king gets everything he wants. To be frank, I would love to do away with grades entirely. You would be surprised how many teachers at classical schools would love to snap their fingers and make grades disappear. But I know how that would look to many parents. It would look like capitulation to the zeitgeist. It would look like this school was bowing to relativism or forsaking the objectivity of truth. I tend to think that in 20 years, grades are going to be so obviously broken and meaningless that everyone will see it, but I’m content to wait until then.

Go read the whole thing and if inclined, share your thoughts.

None of this is to say that practical things can’t be a part of formal education. By practical I mean the things mentioned in the above linked video: financial education and money management, cooking, practical hands-on skills in order to handle fundamental household needs, and  basic technological skills. To those, I would add statistics and bare bones, no frills studies of the U.S. Constitution. Young people need to know these things and for everything else they need to be equipped with the tools to teach themselves.

Our classical education revolves around studies of writing, literature, logic, history, Latin, and contemplation. Math and science are handled in a more standard educational format for now. We’re not particularly interested in state standards and metrics for where my kid should be, but that doesn’t mean we disregard assessments and measuring progress. We simply know that those are not the principle things, and that at the end of the day, they aren’t the determining factor of success in life.

I’ve learned exponentially more about nearly every subject over the past ten years (except math) than I learned throughout my entire K-12 education plus college years. I have had to actively unlearn many things, in fact.

Lastly, I was conversing with a friend lately and she asked the question: If a high school diploma and 13 years of school cannot even secure a young person a decent job, why are we constantly being asked to pay more and more money in taxes to prop up K-12 education? The short, pat answer of course, is to get our students college ready so that they can pay tens of thousands more dollars to earn a degree and still not necessarily obtain lucrative employment.  But now I just sound cynical when I don’t mean to. The real issue here is:

Can mass schooling produce a genuinely useful, valuable education? And if it can, how do we fix the systemic problems within it which currently prohibit that outcome?

By the way, I wasn’t able to crank this post out in the allotted time. I decided it was more important to peel and dice the sweet potatoes for dinner before picking up the kids. Such is the nature of homeschool life.

 

18 thoughts on “Does schooling equal educating?

  1. bikebubba says:

    I would argue that mass public schooling is going to have trouble delivering real education simply because so many political advocacy groups don’t want it. Corporate types want good worker bees, not people who can do logic, because what matters is working the system. The left doesn’t want people to think and handle data because so many of their positions defy reality, and for that matter too many on the right confuse control with persuasion.

    It is, as Mr. Gibbs is prone to noting I believe, a reality that those who want real education are going to have to do it for themselves, probably while warning the kids that there are certain disadvantages to knowing how to think–starting with the fact that you’re no longer going to be someone who goes along to get along in any particular group. That can make you unpopular or dissatisfied in a hurry.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Elspeth says:

    I would argue that mass public schooling is going to have trouble delivering real education simply because so many political advocacy groups don’t want it.

    Yes to this. This is so blatantly obvious I marvel at how many people simply cannot see it.

    It is, as Mr. Gibbs is prone to noting I believe, a reality that those who want real education are going to have to do it for themselves, probably while warning the kids that there are certain disadvantages to knowing how to think–starting with the fact that you’re no longer going to be someone who goes along to get along in any particular group. That can make you unpopular or dissatisfied in a hurry.

    Many people who are still using mass public schooling (and the numbers dwindle steadily year after year) are already doing a lot of it themselves anyway. Every family I know who uses public school and still has a kid with intelligence, thoughtfulness, and ability to think are doing a lot of heavy lifting at home. A lot of it.

    But I’m finding more and more people (including the bright SAHM young teacher I use for my kids’ state evaluation) are looking at the landscape and saying, “Nah. I can do this better myself.”

    Or when they can, they go the private school route

    Liked by 2 people

  3. bikebubba says:

    Every family I know who uses public school and still has a kid with intelligence, thoughtfulness, and ability to think are doing a lot of heavy lifting at home. A lot of it.

    When I was young, my school started a talented and gifted program, and my mom was always astounded at how many parents didn’t want to lift a finger for their kids. She was especially appalled because the great museums of Chicago were only an hour away, and really the parents merely needed to get on the South Shore with their kids and a book–and watch the history/economics lesson unfold in front of them as they went through Gary and Hammond up towards the Loop.

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  4. smkoseki says:

    Discussions about “education” like the linked video are silly because everyone has different definitions & premises anyway. Mine:

    1. School = Credential Factory.
    2. Education = Acquisition of some undefined body of knowledge.

    Most confuse education with the application of IQ = intelligence (g), AKA measurable mental ability which correlates with measurable societal achievements (and is >50% genetic). Hence all the pother about the high-IQ dropouts.

    Most also confuse school/education/IQ. The average lacks the requisite levels of them anyway for a public discussion. But I think many are at least starting to grok that our multicultural society can never agree on much regarding school/education. Why? We are no longer one people.

    One thing about the video that struck me? The boy’s mother mattered greatly, but the father was never mentioned, not even in the graduation pictures. Yet it is the father’s involvement (or lack thereof) that statistically correlates so much to school academic results. Hmmm. So school seemed like a proxy or scapegoat for a missing “father” to me in this video. Just random feelings; YMMV.

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  5. Elspeth says:

    Well that kid (well, young man in the video) has both a college degree and the critical thinking skills to see that schools don’t truly educate. Somehow he gets it.

    I don’t know that I would assume he had no father based on those two things alone.

    More later…

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  6. smkoseki says:

    I don’t know that I would assume he had no father based on those two things alone.

    Just to be clear: I thought the video is merely a persuasive piece and assumed the kid was an actor. That’s not my point at all; my point is that to persuade us they felt comfortable leaving the father out but not mother too. They could have left parents out altogether. Mom the hero, Dad the forgotten. Not statistically accurate was my random thought.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Elspeth says:

    Okay, I have a few minutes.

    I wanted to say that I know many people, myself included, whose definitions of education and schooling are almost identical to yours. And I would argue that whoever was the producer of that video has a similar definition. Credentialism vs. Knowledge.

    The problem is that overall, the people in power and those making the decisions about so-called education are invested in the mass public schooling models for many reasons, and education is at the bottom of that list, if it’s on there at all.

    I

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  8. Robyn says:

    I believe classical (and mass) education has reached the end of its usefulness and application. This method of education is based on pre-industrial ideas and grew exponentially, as did all advancements made. However, Joshua G is right, it is now regressive. All you need to do is compare the methods and outcomes to know if any advancement is truly progressive for all of us. Take the phone as a great example. In keeping with the current methods of public education, we’d still be teaching students how a dial phone works and what the cord means and the inner workings of the outdate system (operators and directory assistance). Then send them out into the world of the internet; where operators and directory assistance is not needed — and they use mobile phones … everything they’ve been taught about the old corded wall mounted phone, is, irrelevant. It begs the question that all the brightest thinking students ask, “When am I ever going to use THIS in my life outside of school?”

    Liked by 1 person

  9. bikebubba says:

    Interesting that a dial phone is brought up, because the same principles that underlie it–basically an adaptation of Morse code–are the ones that work with cell phones. Perhaps we might find agreement that the great tragedy of modern education–I remember seeing this vividly a time or two–is that when students ask “when am I ever going to use this?”, teachers don’t understand the subject well enough to answer. I remember a kid asking that about fractions, and to this day, I’m astounded that the teacher never brought up trades like carpentry, machining, and the like. Or if someone questions Latin–um, you remember that it’s the language underlying medicine, theology, most of the sciences, English, etc..?

    All too often, we assume that if we cannot directly use something in our daily lives, it’s of no use. That renders us, as Lewis noted, “trousered apes”.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. smkoseki says:

    What is fascinating to me is how much GDP education is swallowing up with very little agreement as to what it is supposed to accomplish.

    Asked another way? Is education for practical knowledge to be used (say personal finances) or just for the joy of learning (say philosophy/religion) or to learn non-practical knowledge in the hope it becomes practical, say indirectly like Bike says (say Latin or history)? The kid in the video was upset he wasn’t getting practical knowledge. Fair enough. Myself, I don’t want to pay for it since I think personal finances, home economics, auto mechanics, etc. is the parents job (like I don’t think we should pay for the kid’s lunch either). But my view is fading fast, for better or worse, into our “it takes a village” mindset. And since 80% of women work and we now need school to babysit for the whole economy to work. People like me are dinosaurs.

    The unspoken truth is that today the economy doesn’t want or need average people for labor anymore (not even the military!) which is the very reason why schools used to exist. Today, we only need the top 25-50% of world IQ to produce all our necessities and hope the rest just go away. The average person isn’t even smart or organized enough to work with the very machines that made their labor obsolete (I once toured a group of Russian engineers through in a US plant run by <100 & they simply couldn't believe what we could produce with so few people. I find it hard to believe myself). In my own lifetime I've seen thousands of jobs vanish and good, hardworking men go home for life, to sit on the couch and draw welfare and never have a decent job again. And I've personally been tangentially involved replacing dozens of Americans with high IQ foreigners. They were from Asia, South America, Europe, Middle East, Africa. And every one was way sharper and harder working that the Americans who got replaced. This is a reality. And more or better education cannot help this reality. Basically, education is getting slammed for the Flynn Effect.

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  11. Elspeth says:

    Classical education (not to be confused with “traditional” mass education), never reaches the end of its usefulness. In this particular instance, Gibbs is using regressive as a compliment.

    For the heck of it, I sat in on my 6th graders lit class today. They started with a catechism, recitation of the poem If by Rudyard Kipling and the Glory Be prayer.

    That was before they started the work of dissecting their book and studying their writing curriculum (how to set up a basis for a persuasive essay, with organization, outline, and thesis).

    Does any of that necessarily translate into an automatic 6-figure salary? No. But there is a combination of practical skills (communication skills are woefully lacking among most people today) and a study of the good, true, and beautiful. These are things that grow the soul. We lived in a soul-starved environment, full of darkness.

    We take our responsibility to teach our kids what is right and true very seriously, but having some reinforcement and some fellow travelers from other families along the way is a huge blessing.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Elspeth says:

    Is education for practical knowledge to be used (say personal finances) or just for the joy of learning (say philosophy/religion) or to learn non-practical knowledge in the hope it becomes practical, say indirectly like Bike says (say Latin or history)? The kid in the video was upset he wasn’t getting practical knowledge. Fair enough. Myself, I don’t want to pay for it since I think personal finances, home economics, auto mechanics, etc. is the parents job (like I don’t think we should pay for the kid’s lunch either).

    I actually agree with you and am not convinced your view is all that rare, but if we’re going to pay for education (and we are for the foreseeable future), and if the majority of parents aren’t going to teach practical life skills (because they either don’t know them or can’t be bothered), we might as well direct some of those education dollars towards useful skills that will actually serve the students in life and by extension the greater…whatever.

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  13. Robyn says:

    ahhhh, ok. classical or traditional are subjective terms and depend largely on each persons perspective. Perhaps I should refer to it as public/secular/tax based system. I see that system as obsolete and in need of a complete over-haul. Not much different than all government funded programs.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Elspeth says:

    classical or traditional are subjective terms and depend largely on each person’s perspective. Perhaps I should refer to it as public/secular/tax based system. I see that system as obsolete and in need of a complete over-haul.

    I kind of figured that’s what you meant. Classical education is currently a movement centered around teaching timeless truths, beauty, Truth, critical thinking and effective communication. From a Christian perspective, and usually with an emphasis on the Western Tradition.

    The madness that most think of when we refer to education is that traditional, tax-based system that our family abandoned years ago.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Elspeth says:

    All too often, we assume that if we cannot directly use something in our daily lives, it’s of no use. That renders us, as Lewis noted, “trousered apes”.

    I completely agree, Bike! So true, and it’s a large part of the reason the larger culture is becoming less and less civilized.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. bikebubba says:

    Robyn, the way I’ve seen the term defined, “classical education” tends to be about equivalent to what the term “liberal education” meant a century ago. Grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy–really the mental occupations that a “free” man (hence liberal from Latin “libero” or “free”) would have had all the way back into antiquity. And since it goes back to the time that the literary classics were written, hence “classical”.

    I’d be very interested to see sources that equivocate classical education with public or “government” education, and where and why they started to do that. At first glance, the two things are so different that to use the terms interchangeably reminds me of “Newspeak” a la Orwell. That’s “double plus ungood”, so to speak.

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  17. Robyn says:

    Bike: “Newspeak” a la Orwell. ” it’s true. We also use so much ‘smackspeak’ (that’s a Robynism, don’t look it up 😉 it just means being lazy in language ‘arts’ and using coded shorts and abbreviations). Meaning that, more than half of the time we don’t know what any one particular persons vague description means. I think it might have something to do with the exchanging truth for false, otherwise known as politically correct. Or, language is breaking down along with everything else.

    Liked by 1 person

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