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March 24, 2006

Education: What's the point?

By Tammy

Education: What's the point? We all know how important an “education” is, and how, in our modern culture, the perception of  how to be successful is deeply tied to education. But what does having an education really mean? What does success really mean? Who gets to define these words for us? What is the crux of what makes us happy humans in our world if not our life-long culmination of experience and education?

There are no universal answers to these questions, yet millions of families around the world prescribe to the notion that there is such a thing as a definable education, and a definable potion to success. To that, we say “Nay!” By dethroning school as the not-so-benevolent king of knowledge, our family is not shunning education; we are challenging the idea that there is such a thing as a universal definition of a successful human being. We also refuse the idea that there’s one sure-fire way to achieve "a good and productive life".

So, we have adopted a kind of school-is-not-all-that-relevant approach to getting along in the world. We recognize that the majority of children go to school, and that most of the programs and options cater to these children. We work around these things, making them fit our needs. But other than the external influences of school that permeates into our American culture, our daily life doesn’t look like school because, well, real life doesn’t look like school.

As parents, our focus is to help our kids navigate life. Most of life’s navigation doesn’t involve comparing ourselves to one another and competition (although, sometimes it does); most of life’s journey doesn’t involved being critiqued and assessed (although, sometimes it does); most of life’s challenges don’t stem from being forced to do things we don’t want to do (although, sometimes it does). How much our kids do in order to satisfy their own needs and how much they do to please others reflects life’s natural forces that people face in the “real world” when living their everyday lives.

The key to our approach to learning and life is that as parents, we aren’t trying to “give” our kids any particular education, nor are we attempting to steer them in any particular direction (ok, well, not on purpose :). Yet, we teach them the things that we think are important – the things that we use in our lives. We do not teach these things because we think they will need them at some later date, but because they can benefit from these skills today. Or, something interests us and we want to share it with our children. (That's how we unconsciously steer our children in certain directions, by showing them the stuff we love.)

But whatever we teach, it isn’t because we think these things are necessarily all-important things that everyone should know. We impart our knowledge of things that our children need to know because of where they live, who they live with, who they are and what they are doing in their lives. Things like culture and language and how to make friends; these are an integral part of what we experience around us. And, to boot, we are not worried about academics, because that too emerges as the children seek more complicated answers and discover more complicated problems. It’s amazing what we all learn when we are simply engaged in the world around us.

And we push our children. We challenge them, as we challenge ourselves. We give them a peek into the discoveries they might find one step further from where they are at. We point things out, we ask hard questions, and we make it OK that many questions don’t have a definitive answer. And probably most importantly of all, we allow them to push our envelope of comfort, leading to some wonderfully insightful conversations about impossible things.

When it comes to “how” we educate our children, the answer is, “however we can.” Anything is fair game, so long as it is fun, purposeful, interesting or compelling. Because those are the elements of what we learn from in “real life” when we discount the will of others to impose their reality upon us.

What does “education” mean when we are learning every minute of our lives, no matter what is happening to us or around us? Education, although it may have a long term effect on our children, is 100% based on what we are doing today. The now is the only education that exists. We might as well use the time we have to enjoy the process and use our limited resources and energy to pursue the things that have some kind of meaning. That’s our unofficial goal, to do things that have meaning—today.

Tammy Takahashi lives and learns with her three children (7, 5 and 2) and supportive husband in California. She serves as the editor of the California HomeSchooler magazine, a bi-monthly publication for the Homeschool Association of California. She contributes to magazines such as Home Education magazine, Live Free Learn Free and Life Learning magazine. You can find out what she's up to at her personal blog: http://www.jabober.com. And you can email her at tammy @ jabober(dot)com.

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