While policy-makers, school boards, and taxpayers argue over the state of education in America, I want to simplify the steps to a well educated student. This is specifically for the benefit of the homeschooling parent who strives to plan a great education for their children. But it’s also a thoughtful look at the question: What Does it Mean to be Well Educated?
Is it 12 years spent in a classroom, with a checklist of completed tasks and a beautifully inscribed diploma? Or is there more to being well-educated? As we are all most painfully aware, the public school system is an assembly line in a factory, and the students (with their transcripts) are the end product. If the product doesn’t meet the standards of the factory owner, the factory is called into question and changes are made along the line. The question and the answer are almost always about money. Though money is not really the problem or the solution, it’s the language of the factory mindset.
In a homeschool setting, the flexibility and freedom to determine a great education far outweigh (in my opinion) the scope and sequence of the state education standards.
As each of my kids enters high school, we sit down and discuss the future of their education. We talk about their plans, ideas, interests, and hopes for the future. I take those into consideration when determining which direction they need to go in the math and sciences.
But there is a common denominator in the basic education of each of my kids, and that’s what I want to share here. It’s the answer to the question, “What makes a good person, a good member of society, a productive adult?”
Back to Basics
These are the basic components of a well-educated person, since ancient times and still relevant today. All else builds on this foundation.
Love of Learning I list this first, because if we can encourage this in our children from a young age, and if we can avoid killing this love, we have given our students the most important part of their education. Additionally, giving them the skills for self-education will create life-long students, allowing them to be open to continual learning. More on life-long learning below.
Strong Language Skills Every person should know how to read, write, spell, and use the written form of their native language. Reading is the foundation to all other learning. It cannot be rushed, but it should not be neglected. Following that, the ability to write well, spell correctly, compose coherent sentences (and more), and have strong communication skills.
Communication will be an important part of every life, no matter what path that life takes. It comes in the form of conversation, public speaking, and writing in hundreds of different ways. Yes, even a homemaker finds the need to be a strong communicator. Strong language skills cannot be overlooked for any student.
- phonics and reading
- writing and research skills, from paragraphs to essays
- reading all kinds of books – not just “selected text” in a textbook, but fiction and non-fiction whole books
- cursive writing
- conversation and debate
Math and Science The knowledge of our natural world is bound up in math and science. Without basic math, we could not function in this world. Cooking, working, purchasing — as you are well aware, numbers are all around us. The ability to use them drives our world. At a very basic level, the understanding of numbers and money are vital to each individual. I always include a course in personal finance math for my high-school students.
The sciences are some of the most exciting parts of education, despite being the most intimidating. (A love of learning and a child-like wonder are so important in this area.) Knowledge of the earth, the seasons, animals, our bodies, our universe — it’s all so fascinating, and all so important. With a basic foundation in all of these sciences, we can make educated choices in every part of our lives, from proper gardening methods to how to prevent cancer.
History History is one of the most-often neglected subjects in public schools today, and by neglected I mean reduced, whitewashed, opinionated, and revised. It is usually boring, forgetful, and in high school it is often relegated to the coaches to teach (at least, that’s how it happens in Texas). It is a complete mess.
The knowledge of human history is as important as math and science, yet our high school graduates are entering society with a partial knowledge that has been mostly reduced to chapters in a textbook, written by corporations and social warriors with an agenda. And most of the adults you will talk to either hated history or forgot the little they knew.
I have written extensively on this topic, so I refer you to my HISTORY page for why it is so important. Here’s just a taste:
Without the long view of history, what courage can we muster? What hope do we have when history repeats itself? Because it will. If we were to find ourselves in the threatened with martyrdom for our faith, would we cower and bow, or would we draw strength from knowing that we join a host of thousands — from the first century church to the modern day Christians under communist and Muslim rule? Even children are inspired to be courageous when they know what their ancestors did! Read this great poem “When Mother Reads Aloud.”
If our sons grow up and find themselves in a position to risk their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honors for the freedom of the next generation, would they be more likely to risk it all knowing they follow in the footsteps of courageous men of history — like William Wallace or Patrick Henry?
Geography This may seem like a less important subject (and if you take a look around you, it’s obvious that it’s not getting the treatment it deserves), but no matter who you are, where you live, or what your future holds, the geography of the world is important. And not just the names and countries on a map, but also the people that live in those countries, their culture, religion, and way of life.
If we want our children to grow up to be world-changers (in every sense of that word) they must know about the world they live in. They must not live in a sheltered mindset that their own home, their town, or even their country are all there is.
Government and Economics Both of these topics are incredibly relative to every part of our lives, whether we like it or not. If you pay taxes, you are involved. (When your teen gets their first job, it’s time to start instruction in both of these; they will want to understand who took money out of their paycheck and WHY?)
Understanding the different forms of government and the different theories of economics will put your students far ahead of their peers, and make them wise citizens when they work, think, converse, and vote.
Critical Thinking Skills This one should be constant and overall, a little bit every day, in every conversation. Critical thinking skills are sorely lacking in this society. You can see it with a simple perusal of social media. The simple acceptance of every statement and every idea illustrates the problem.
If your child can watch a YouTube video, read a statement, or hear a speech and immediately accept the idea presented, without question, they need critical thinking skills. They need, instead, the ability to listen, question, verify, and even dismiss what they’ve heard if doesn’t ring true.
Worldview As Christian parents, a Biblical worldview dominates everyone of these aspects of education. For us, it goes hand-in-hand with critical thinking. Math, science, literature, government, economics, and history are all intertwined with your worldview, whether it’s a biblical one or a humanistic one. This should also be a daily, constant study. I’ve written more about it HERE.
What About Technology?
Understanding and learning to use current technology is, of course, important in our world. However, I have not known too many school students who did not know how to operate all forms of technology. Ask yourself, who is it that adults turn to for help? It’s the younger generation. Their knowledge and ability in this area are not lacking. But the basic foundation in education helps to steer them in the proper use and application of any new tech.
As I’ve stated elsewhere, the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century and the boom in technology of the 20th century were the result of millions of American students being educated with very basic, but solid, methods, like the ones I just listed.
So, I do not jump on the STEM bandwagon, because if my kids are learning science, math, and the moral and correct application of everything else they’ve learned, a genuine desire and aptitude in technology will come naturally for those who are so inclined. And guess what? Not every child is so inclined, so there’s no need to force it on everyone.
So how does all of this translate into a well-rounded graduate? There are two possible answers to this question.
If you are homeschooling your child all the way through their school years, you are laying the basic foundation from day one. You teach them to read and write and how to do math, first with the basics, and then the application in later years. You read them stories from history, explain the timeline of history, and connect it to today. You teach science, first in a basic “discovery” method, and later with formulas, facts, and experiments.
Each year, you build all of this with a combination of worldview discussions and critical thinking exercises. You talk, you engage, you think and build and learn and discuss together. You help your children to connect all of their knowledge and make it relevant and useful, instead of a list of “school subjects” that must be learned before they can become adults.
If you have withdrawn a child from school at any point and will begin homeschooling, assess what they know, and start this well-educated schooling method right where they are. Whether 3rd grade or 11th grade, combine all of the elements on the list above.
If you are beginning the homeschool journey at the high school level, it’s imperative to make sure that critical thinking, worldview, and independent learning are uppermost in your mind each day. Then, check to see if the core subject areas are strong or need more work.
And all along the way, you encourage the LOVE of learning, so that as your children grow year by year, they always keep that curiosity to KNOW and to explore and to further their own education. How? By encouraging exploration, observation, reading, and research without busy work that feels (and is) mundane and mostly pointless. Don’t over-test. Do read good books. Don’t insist on a book report for every book. Do let your children choose good books to read. Don’t let all of their education come from the internet. Do mix materials, such as videos, books, reference materials, hands on learning, field trips, and interviews.
Teach your children how to find information. Teach them how to read, to look up reference information, to study old books, to figure things out by observation, and to teach themselves new things. THIS is what will aid them long after their graduation. This produces a well-rounded adult.
This method looks a lot different than the average public school/high school plan. Instead of focusing on how many English, Math, and History credits a student has, you focus on the content and its application to the future. Do they KNOW how to read, communicate, study, and think? Whether they go to college, begin a trade, or start a family, these skills will serve them well. Yes, put each subject learned in its proper place on the transcript, but be sure that each credit earned represents a deep understanding of the world, and not just a checkmark on a list.
So what do you think? Comment below! Have you created your own plan for a well-educated student? How does it look? What do you include?