One of the great unintended benefits of homeschooling is the amount of literature that I get to immerse myself in now, that I should have immersed myself in when I was younger. My favorite read-alouds were the Little House books. The values, history, and examples of good behavior were a huge part of our homeschooling for a few years and contributed to discussions of many subjects. I just can’t recommend them enough.
The interesting thing about my appreciation for these books, however, is how applicable so much of what happened to the Ingalls family is to my life, even today. And as an adult reading the book, I have a different perspective than I would have as a child. Kids still love the books for the adventure and mostly happy endings. But considering that Laura Ingalls Wilder was an adult at the time she penned her memoirs, I think that her point of view was more closely aligned with mine. For that reason, I’ve decided to tell you what I’ve garnered from her experiences, especially as they relate to education.
- Attitude is everything. If you keep persevering, work hard, complain little (tough one for me), you can have a full, successful, satisfying life.
- Respect authority, but don’t be a lemming. At nearly every turn, teacher, government officials, parents, were obeyed; however, initiative was often taken to be independent and self-sufficient. Good judgment trumped blind obedience, especially when it came to helping your neighbor or your family.
- Use your brain. While you respect laws and authorities, in the end you answer only to God. So stop believing that you need a body of people who don’t even know what you look like to help you out of whatever your current crisis is. The Ingalls embodied the American spirit. They were brave and full of ingenuity and creativity. The federal government was only meant to provide general military protection and ensure property rights and that basic laws were enforced. That was it. Even education was their own responsibility and they took it seriously.
- A strong family influence is the single greatest measure of success academically. You want your children to be intellectual giants? Then make it a priority. Commit to do everything in your power to help your child. Whatever your academic situation with your children, you can get the best results. Not a teacher, not an administrator… you. If your child has a learning disability, it is up to you to advocate for that child, to do the teaching yourself if necessary, to find the resources. Case in point – Mary Ingalls. Blinded as a child due to an illness, it did not stop the Ingalls from helping her to learn as much as she could at home and then later do everything in their power to send her hundreds of miles away to a school that could help her, and (huge shocker!) all without the aid of any of the information you have at your fingertips today or a government subsidy.
- Public education was a privilege, not a right. Yep, no one demanded that their children be educated by someone else… period. If the community could come together and pay a teacher, decide on how long a school term could be, and find an acceptable building and some books, a school may have existed. In that case, children were happy to be able to go. Poor behavior was not tolerated. Expulsion was a real threat, not just a few days off to do as you pleased. If no school existed, it was up to the parents to decide if formal education was a priority and how to impart such knowledge to their children.
- Public education was local. See number 5. Let me note, though, that this was essential in helping to make education a more practical experience that was relevant to a particular community, and aided in making education more readily individualized.
- Education was a skeleton which could later be fleshed out by the individual student. Students were not required to learn everything, but rather to learn how to learn anything. They were given the basic skills to find the answers themselves. While they were expected to perfect those specific skills, they were not required to perfect all the skills that they would ever need. They stuck to the basics. The rest was self-determination.
- Grade level and age were not necessarily one in the same and there was no shame in it. The textbook levels were meant for the individual not for a herd of cattle. If you caught on quickly, you could progress quickly. If you didn’t, you were given extra instruction and time to study until it was mastered. A ten year old who had never been to school started his reading at the same point as the fortunate seven year old who was enrolled on his/her first eligible day. (By the way, reading was taught in several ways. By rote or sight, phonics, and through writing the words. Often it was a combination of the three. The readers were set up so that a number of strategies could be employed. The emphasis was not on the mechanics as much as the results.)
- Socializing with other kids (of many age groups) was an added bonus of the educational experience. Teaching children to interact with their peers (although many age groups usually co-existed and mingled) according to the current social standards was not seen as another duty of the teacher or administrators. The Golden Rule was the clear standard for the school yard and class room. If broken, the consequences were just as clear and administered immediately. Parents took care of any other needed character development.
- The school did not own the child. Students filled the classroom at the discretion of the parents, and when school was not in session, learning continued to take place; either through the textbooks or a bible owned by each student, or through the learning of skills during labor. Hard work was an opportunity for stretching the mind and character, as well as the muscles. One hundred and eighty school days were not essential to ensure that all the subject matter was covered and the standardized tests sufficiently taught. It all stopped for terrible winters, or for planting and harvesting.
- The only real requirements for great teachers were that they have desire and commitment to teach, and that they have at least as much knowledge and grasp of the subjects they were teaching as a graduating senior on their last day of school. No inservices, no extra training days, and no special conferences where your teachers’ union officials told you how you deserved tenure, more pay, more benefits, etc. just because you have an education degree. If you passed high school, you knew enough to pass that information it on to someone else.
- The separation of church and state existed to keep the government from interfering with religion, not to keep God from the classroom. While most of the spiritual education was left to the family and the church, it was impossible at that point to study the history of the fledgling nation without learning about the pious principles of freedom and liberty espoused by the forefathers. True patriotism (love of God and country) was part of the fabric of the education system. Something we have lacked now for decades. Not only have we stripped God from the classroom, we have trivialized the reasons for the revolution and the foundations of American exceptionalism. We have watered it down to a fight over a tea tax.
- The latest and greatest technology was not required, which meant education costs were low. Books were basic. To keep up to date with new inventions and discoveries, required the student to be self-motivated. If they could read, write, and do basic math, then they had all they needed to be lifelong learners and creators.
I’ve got much more to say about the subject, especially with the new Common Core controversy, but I’ll save it for later. For now, you understand how my thinking about education has been reshaped over the years. And you can see how far off the path to education excellence we’ve wandered. Let’s pray we can find our way back.