Thursday, November 13, 2014

Education: The Discovery of Our Soul

Long-time readers of this blog know that I believe strongly in education that goes beyond skills. I've written several posts that hit on this topic:
Today's post reformulates much of these ideas but from a slightly different perspective. What constitutes "ourself?" There are many voices in today's society that advocate "finding one's self." This usually involves recommendations to act according to our desires without regard for the feelings, opinions, or approval of others. In short, these people suggest finding one's self by acting on impulse.

But I think this is a very weak and inherently broken philosophy. After all, our impulses represent what we already are, not what we can become. Exploring impulse is not discovery but acceptance. 

On the other hand, I think the discovery of self or one's soul is actually described somewhat accurately in an episode of the Simpsons entitled, "Bart Sells His Soul." In the beginning, Bart sells his soul to a friend for $5.00 because he doesn't believe in such a thing. After becoming convinced that his soul is real, he spends the rest of the episode trying to get back the sale's contract he wrote up in order to recover his soul. After failing, his final act is to pray to God for his soul's return. At that moment, his sister shows up having acquired the contract for him.

As Bart celebrates, his sister says the following:
But you know, Bart, some philosophers believe that nobody is born with a soul -- that you have to earn one through suffering and thought and prayer, like you did last night.
The idea here is not that you find yourself or your soul by indulging in impulses. In fact, acceptance of impulse and your own personal status quo is to be soulless. Rather, the journey of searching for a self beyond what we were born with, a quest to find just what and who we can become, creates (or at least refines and magnifies) what we were hoping to find all along.

In my mind, that journey, that quest, is true and living education.

Consider, by contrast, our modern world where students only learn mathematics by force while complaining that it has no practical value. Or what of our history classes that encourage students to self-righteously condemn the faults and weaknesses of forbearers that dealt with more pain, suffering, and physical want than our soft, fat society could ever dream? How about students that graduate from tax-payer provided public high schools, have access to tax-payer provided libraries, and even attend college on tax-payer subsidized loans only to turn around and blame the system for not teaching them how to do their taxes?

Does that sound soulless to you?

Let me finish this post with a few practical suggestions for how to have soul-creating education.

First: demand challenges. In our home schooling, we have required the children to reach for very high goals. We give the kids the hardest versions of a subject that we think they can possibly handle. Sometimes we're wrong, and we have to reduce expectations. Most of the time, we find that the kids rise to meet the challenge. Beyond the difficulty of the subject, we require the best scores they're capable of. Most of the time, they're capable of A's and we demand that level of performance. 

Let me emphasize that we lovingly demand, but we demand nonetheless. We spend significant time explaining why excellence is important, comforting when there are failures, and providing suggestions and resources for their improvement. But we have found that the kids don't push themselves to their full potential on their own. Sometimes it is simply because they don't know what they're capable of. Other times, it is because they lack the discipline to push themselves without the proper carrot and/or stick. By requiring what we know their best effort to be, they force themselves to unlock new study skills, better methods for managing time, and endeavor to use resources (such as teacher) to better help them learn the material.

Second: broaden horizons. We also require our children to take as broad of a range of subjects as possible. But beyond the breadth of subject, we also require a breadth of appreciation and respect. Our children are taught that there is no subject not worth learning at least something about. 

Significantly, we teach this by example as well as by words. Mom and Dad are constantly reading about new things and learning new things. The kids observe that Mom and Dad can talk with anyone about almost anything. There isn't a subject that Mom and Dad don't want to try and learn about, so why should it be any different for them?

Moreover, Mom and Dad are constantly working to improve the home school. We've had to improve our grammar in order to teach grammar. We've had to improve our math to teach math. We've had to improve our Physics, Biology, and Chemistry to teach science. We've had to improve our patience to teach children period. We've had to improve our explanations and examples, our tests and exercises, and our planning and scheduling. The kids see this, and I think it makes them willing to accept our requirements for their education.

Third: owning our vision. In my opinion, this is one of the most under-taught skills of our modern society. The President of the Mormon church once said to the youth,
You are good. But it is not enough just to be good. You must be good for something. You must contribute good to the world. The world must be a better place for your presence.
I believe that many of those graduating from High School have a vision that is decidedly too narrow. I've been talking to a number of graduates or near-graduates in recent months and I am shocked at how little they seem to understand about the world they are entering. They make plans for vocations without understanding what is required to do well in them, they make plans for college without any idea of what career path they will pursue, and they expect that simply doing well in their school subjects qualifies as "having a plan."

In our home, learning to take ownership of one's one education is a significant emphasis. We teach the children repeatedly that they must figure out what they want, what is necessary to reach those goals, and what they need to do to get from where they are now to where they want to be. This discussion is repeated for issues such as career, college major, marriage, finances, and so forth. We continue to emphasize that school systems, including their home school system, are designed to be tools for them to achieve their own vision of their future.

Homeschooling this way is a lot of work. In fact, it's suffering, thinking, and prayer. But I know that I've found more of my soul, and had more soul to find, through all of that. And I believe that my children have also. And for that, I am infinitely grateful.

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This blog is about education in general but is largely focused on home schooling and home education.

In case you didn't catch it, "type h personality" means "type homeschooled". As I explain in the original post, this title was originally meant to be derisive, but I liked it and have converted it, in my own mind, at least, into all the amazing things I see home schoolers do every day! Go Type-H'ers!!!!

(Note on Copyright and Usage: In addition to the posts themselves, various educational materials will be posted on this blog. You may use any materials developed by the authors for non commercial use provided that you give appropriate credit. In coming days, all content herein will be marked as Creative-Commons-Non-Commercial.)