This First Things column on homeschooling addresses some of the topics Dom and I have been discussing recently, especially the way education is not a series of discrete subjects, but integrated into all aspects of life.
When people think of school, typically they think of a day dominated by a roster of discrete subjects. In English, you do reading, writing, spelling, and grammar. In math, you do numbers. In history, you do what�s been done before.
In our homeschool, though we cover all these necessary subjects, the delineations between subjects are often far from clear. For example, this fall my math-tutor brother gave us a book entitled Famous Mathematicians, a series of little biographies beginning with Euclid and ending with Norbert Wiener in the twentieth century. The nine-year-old asked if he could read it, so twice a week, during our math time, instead of doing regular computational math, I let him read. When he finished the book, he chose one famous mathematician to profile and wrote a little report. As I was describing this exercise for our friends, I kept thinking that we had either done an awful lot of math and given English the short end of the stick, or else had done a lot of English and shafted math. But then I realized that in fact we had done it all. He had learned math concepts, he had learned history, he had practiced reading and writing and spelling and editing�all by reading one book and writing about it. . . .
At home we can do what�s nearly impossible in a school setting: We can weave learning into the fabric of our family life, so that the lines between �learning� and �everything else� have largely ceased to exist. The older children do a daily schedule of what I call sit-down work: math lessons, English and foreign-language exercises, and readings for history and science. The nine-year-old does roughly two hours of sit-down work a day, while the twelve-year-old spends three to four hours. But those hours hardly constitute the sum total of their education.
If you think about it, that’s how infants learn. We don’t sit Bella down for an hour of language acquisition followed by an hour of gross motor skills and an hour of fine motor skills. She simply tumbles through her day and with no apparent effort on our part, she learns and grows and passes from one stage to another. My hope is that for her learning will continue to be as natural a part of life, woven into the very fabric of existence, not something segregated away to “school hours”.
But what I really liked about this piece was the image she begins and ends with of St Daniel the Stylite. I think I like her proposal of Daniel as a patron saint of homeschoolers. Just go read the article to find out why….