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About education

A few days ago there was a rather disturbing report that U.S. schools would be encouraged to replace books like Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird with more practical informational texts like Recommended Levels of Insulation by the the US Environmental Protection Agency. (Okay, I’ve never been a huge fan of Catcher in the Rye, but To Kill a Mockingbird is essential!)

The push back from advocates of the Common Core Standards is that teachers won’t need to eliminate literature, they’ll just need to increase non-fiction material across all disciplines. (Math teachers must love that.)  The Washington Post reports, “The new standards… require that nonfiction texts represent 50 percent of reading assignments in elementary schools, and the requirement grows to 70 percent by grade 12.”

Naturally, there is much fuss and debate about the whole thing, and it makes me more glad than ever that I homeschool. Nobody tells me what I must assign, my children are able to read all sorts of books that interest them–both fiction and non-fiction, and there is nary an insulation texts to be seen.

The current debate over what type of reading material stems from the larger problem facing our educational system: Johnny can’t read (well), he’s not prepared for college, and he certainly isn’t prepared for the workforce.

But if we can just get the proper reading list in place, we can fix this mess.


Like so many efficiency experts fiddling at the factory layout, modern educational “experts” seem to be think that if they just hit upon the right formula, then their little widgets will come out perfectly.  But they all seems to miss the point of the true nature of education. (Read the whole article for great insight into what education is, and what it is not.)

Charlotte Mason, a 19th century British educator, wrote:
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“Education is the Science of Relations; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we must train him upon physical exercises, nature, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books; for we know that our business is, not to teach him all about anything, but to help him make valid, as many as may be of—

‘Those first born affinities
That fit our new existence to existing things.’

I love the idea of “the science of relations.” As mother and chief educator, it is my job to provide a feast of many varied and interesting topics to explore, and to help them connect those dots through conversation and explorations and living books.  Another excellent quote from the link, “Our aim in education is to give children vital interests in as many directions as possible—to set their feet in a large room…”

Living Books, in Miss Mason’s parlance, are books written with passion and writes in a narrative style. Generally written by one author (rather than by committee as is common in a textbook or encyclopedia), the book comes alive to the reader.  Needless to say, I doubt the insulation tome would have met with her approval.

Of course, education is  not merely a matter of having a good booklist.  In Charlotte’s view, the function of education is “to develop a person.”  Proper education seeks to provide the child with many interests, with a knowledge of his own immediate world, with many good and interesting books to feast upon, and with the habits and discipline that develop a good character.

There might be some difficulty fitting that into Common Core Standards.

And of course this would be a major stumbling block, ““Education is part and parcel of religion and every enthusiastic teacher knows that he is obeying the precept,—’feed my lambs’—feed with all those things which are good and wholesome for the spirit of a man; and, before all and including all, with the knowledge of God.”

I’m rather glad our family’s homeschool standards are uncommon.

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