"But Aren't Schools
the Best Way to Learn?"
by Michael Pearl
This article was
excerpted from an article
"The Reformed School of Alexandria?" that appeared in
the Feb/Mar 1998
issue of the "No Greater Joy" newsletter.
appears at the end of this article.
I am often asked, "But aren't schools the best way to learn?" ... H.G. Wells, a noted humanist and historian, wrote concerning the schools of Alexandria, Egypt between the second and seventh centuries AD:
"Wisdom passed away from Alexandria... For the use of books was substituted the worship of books... The learned became a specialized queer class with unpleasant characteristics of its own... a new type of human being: shy, eccentric, unpracticed, incapable of essentials, strangely fierce upon trivialities of literary detail. ... He was a sort of by-product of the intellectual process of mankind. For many precious generations the new-lit fires of the human intelligence were to be seriously banked down by this by-product."
I have observed the by-product of America's modern counterpart to the Alexandrian school. Their frail bodies, white with the tan of florescent lights, shoulders humped, eyes squinted, poor complexion from the junk food consumed between lessons, stumble from their classrooms to stand in line for the next culturally pre-ordained phase of life. Their mentality is that since they have given themselves to the system, the system owes them a good job, good wages, medical coverage, fair play, protection, entertainment, a vacation, retirement, old age convalescence, and a proper burial. God save us from being average. I don't want to be a part. I don't want to rear children to be a cog in this wheel.
It is obvious that many homeschooling families are nothing more than reformed public educational systems. A system faulty at the very core of its philosophy doesn't need reformation. It needs dismissal. The educational system in America doesn't need a new teacher; it needs a new birth.
Whether in the home, dictated by parents, or in the corporate classroom, John Dewey style education has taken an invasive, destructive course. Intensive, time-consuming mental discipline – out of proportion to working with the hands – is alien to natural humanity and a threat to normal development.
It is a perversion to take a five-to-twelve-year-old child and enter him in a demanding competition for academic excellence. We would all find fault with an ambitious adult that put his seven-year-old child through a demanding schedule of football training. Is the seven-year-old any better equipped to handle the emotional demands of professional study? How can we justify raping a child's youth by forced confinement in full-time study? Child prodigies usually end up as abnormal, unfulfilled adults. Head-starters often become late finishers with no desire to continue their education.
Just as the motions of crawling are essential to the development of an infant, and the four-year-old hanging onto his mama's skirts is essential to a child's sense of security, so the ten-year-old following his daddy around is an integral part of his psychological development into manhood.
Schooling will fill their brains with facts, enabling them to pass tests, but it will not teach them to relate to society. When children should be developing confidence, creativity, individuality, strong bodies, and work ethics, instead they are made to ease independent decision making and march (or rather sit) in formation to the drum-beat of a lifeless curriculum. If you have wondered where the real men went, they disappeared into textbooks and went through puberty with books in their laps rather than tools in their hands.
Let us not go through another upper-class Alexandrian Dark Age. There is no ignorance as great as book ignorance – not ignorance OF books, ignorance IN books. Just so you understand my perspective: I am a college graduate. I write this while sitting in a room with thousands of books lining all available wall space from the floor to ceiling. I have read a meaningful portion of most of them. My children all read for enjoyment and as research to satisfy curiosity or to fill a need. Rebekah, our only child who thus far has found it needful to go to college, earned a four-point average. My present purpose is not to brag on my kids. I am willing enough to do that, but I want you to understand that book education is shallow without a larger education in real life. When book education becomes predominate, the student is no longer living in the real world.
I know that there comes a time when a mature adult may need to immerse himself in studies, shutting out the real world, but this should be the burden of a mature adult who has a goal that can only be realized through the weariness of much study. A child who is yet growing and developing a personality and character should not spend long periods of time withdrawn in study.
What horrors, to see a small child quivering under the condemnation of his mother because he can't keep his mind on a dead book lying in front of him! Long hours of boredom and pretended study stunts the intellectual growth of young children. Yes, we want our children to be educationally equipped to enter into any field or
discipline they may choose, but mind-set is more important than mind content. It is far more important for a child to grow into personal confidence, creativity and vision than to rush into academic excellence.
The reality is that most homeschooling parents are following the current pop philosophy (of "school at home"), sacrificing the humanity of their children for the promise of academic
There must be a balance. Rather than the imbalance of six hours of study and one hour of recess, for the 6
to 10-year-old let there be one hour of study, five hours of recess, and two hours of work.
10 to14-year-old with two hours of play, one hour of study and five hours of work.
15 to16-year-old with seven hours of work, one hour of study and let him find time to play.
Following a natural course as I have described, the
17 to18-year-old won't need your
balancing; he will be a man in every sense of the word. The 17-year-old girl will be a lady of poise and confidence, ready to meet whatever
challenges await her.
I am just aware that children and young people should not be pushed by anxious parents who feel that their children's happiness depends on cramming them full of book knowledge as early as possible. When they are old enough to send themselves through college, they can make that decision to become a professional student. The self confidence and working skills learned in their youth will better equip them for higher education than will the long
hours of wimpish study in youth.
Over the last 40 years I have observed many families who believed the greater the education, the greater the success in life. Many of those college graduates have never provided adequate support for their own families. Opportunity existed, but they were not able to do anything other than sit at a desk on a weekly salary. If the economy were to collapse, they would not know how to survive.
I know that what I have said is radical. A little light in a great darkness is always radical. I have not advocated ignorance. Quite the contrary. It is isolated book learning that is ignorance, ignorance of real life. College professors don't make better spouses and parents than do farmers. Corporate executives can be terribly ignorant in human relationships. Engineers can be insecure wimps who are paralyzed with fear at the thought of being cast upon their own bare resources. Politicians can negotiate a peace treaty with a foreign power but have not the power to negotiate a peace with their own teenagers. (From Barb: This is precisely the case with
Sam Hill who designed what is now called the Mary Hill Mansion (art
museum) near Goldendale, WA. He did amazing things for mankind, but the
photo of him with his teen-age son who Sam was never able to get a
relationship with will forever haunt me.)
Computer programmers can solve the most complex problems but not be able to deal with the complexities of marital relationships.
The profession with the lowest divorce rate and the lowest suicide rate is that of farmer. Again, I am not advocating avoidance of the higher trained professions. I am just aware that children and young people should not be pushed by anxious parents who feel that their children's happiness depends on cramming them full of book knowledge as early as possible. When they are old enough to send themselves through college, they can make that decision to become a professional student. The self confidence and working skills learned in their youth will better equip them for higher education than will the long hours of wimpish study in youth.
In your heart you know that the present public school system is anti-human as well as anti-God. Homeschoolers have eliminated the anti-God aspect, but most of them have retained the anti-human elements in their schooling.
Children need a mother who has the time and energy to mother them, not a teacher who has neither the time nor the patience to appreciate them as people. Lay down your stern professor's mantle and pick up your apron. Next time you meet eyes with your child, make sure it is with approval and not with academic disappointment... In your desire to see your children "educated," don't stop being a mama or a daddy.
Relax and give them time to develop emotionally. Allow them to be three years behind the normally accepted standard in academic achievement, and by the time they are sixteen they will be three years ahead. Twelve to fifteen is a very good age for "catching up." The twelve-year-old who has not developed a disposition against schooling will learn more in six months than most kids know when they graduate. A child who is confident and secure will learn with ease. Fear of failure and rejection will close the mind up worse than retardation. Many children fear learning because they associate it with painful boredom and/or rejection.
So, now to answer the question posed earlier: "But aren't schools the best way to learn?" My answer? Where did you get a ridiculous idea like that? †
Used with permission. Author Michael Pearl is the editor and main
writer of the free-upon-request monthly newsletter entitled "No Greater Joy"
which is based on this verse in III John 4: "I have no greater joy than to
hear that my children walk in truth." His book, To Train Up a Child
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