Home schooling versus home education

The truth is schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders. It’s not the fault of bad teachers or too little money spent. It’s just impossible for education and schooling ever to be the same thing.

Schools were designed…to be instruments of the scientific management of a mass population. Schools are intended to produce, through the application of formulae, human beings whose behavior can be predicted and controlled.

John Taylor Gatto, Schooling is Not Education

(See complete video at end of post)

I don’t know why it took me so long to have this aha moment, but it did. It wasn’t until last week that I fully grasped that I am not a homeschooler.  I am a home educator. Then I found this little video that confirmed what I was thinking.

This should have been obvious to me.  After all, I left the teaching profession, in part, because although I loved children and teaching, I did not enjoy school.  Just last week at a gathering for educators at Barnes and Noble, I was talking with another woman who is both a home educating mom and works in a school. When she asked if I missed the classroom, I gave the answer I always give. I miss teaching children. I do not miss school.

So why have I called us homeschoolers?  Because it is the most widely used term.  But as I’ve watched our adventure in home schooling educating unfold, I’ve realized that I really have no desire to “do” school at home.  I care deeply about educating Caroline. But I have no desire to subject her to “school” at home.

We’re fortunate that the laws in Michigan are very lax. It is great because I don’t have to document every minute of everything we do.  At the same time, I find it challenging to keep track of everything we do because so much of our learning is spontaneous and unplanned.

Two weeks ago, about five minutes before bedtime, Caroline announced that she wanted to make a solar system on large paper. She’s been fascinated with everything space for months now. We said okay. So she went to bed about an hour and a half later than usual. But she created by herself (with a little help from Daddy) a solar system on two large pieces of black paper.  The next day she drew in comets, the International Space Station, and many other details she’s learned from spending literally hours pouring over books about space, listening to Daddy read to her about space, etc.

The other night, she found a page from my Fall Literacy and Math Activity Pack that was in the office recycled paper pile. It was a measuring with pumpkins page. I didn’t even know she had it (and I hadn’t done it with her yet). She discovered it, figured out what she was supposed to do by reading the directions, and had already started on it by the time David found her. This, too, was at bedtime.  I certainly wasn’t going to derail her learning, so we let her finish the page.

So much of her inspired learning seems to take place at the “wrong” time.  Just before dinner, at bedtime, as we’re heading out the door, etc. But I try to accommodate her as much as possible.  If she is interested in something, I do whatever I can to make that possible for her. This has always been our philosophy, starting when she was little and would ask us to read books.  Our rule was to read to her any time she asked, even if it wasn’t the most convenient thing for us.  When the teachable moments arrive, I make the most of them.

And so we do very little “formal” schooling where we sit down and I instruct Caroline directly.  We do some handwriting, calendar time, and math pages. I do plan reading activities and books for her to read to me. Beyond that we are pretty wide open. But we are educating every day. Caroline is getting a wonderful education.  Will it get a little more formally organized as she gets older?  Probably. But I’m happy to let her continue to delight in open-ended creativity, discovering things for herself, and exploring whatever interests her.  Her time as a small child is so brief. I want her to enjoy the wonder of the world for as long as possible without endless details and educational pressures and expectations.

Why are children in first grade given high pressured, standardized tests? The answer is right up there in the Gatto quote. It isn’t because it is good for the children at that age. Teachers in the early grades hate standardized testing and know it isn’t a good practice.  But everyone in a school must be measured scientifically and so the tests happen. Children who are barely six years old are told that they can’t pass to the next grade if they don’t pass certain tests. What are we doing to these precious children? The stress we are inflicting on them because of these tests is truly criminal.

I think, too, this is why even though there is much I like about Charlotte Mason, I don’t feel especially drawn to using the Ambleside curriculum.  I’ve looked at it many times, but it just feels so formal and rigid to me. I look at the heavy books suggested even for Year 1 and think that it isn’t at all where Caroline is right now. Even from a parent’s perspective it looks stress-inducing.  There is so much there! Might we someday use Ambleside?  Maybe. But there is a heaviness to that curriculum that I just can’t embrace, at least at this time.

God has given us a delightful world, full of His wonders. I want to enjoy those wonders with my child. When we get home from a wedding reception after dark, I want her to enjoy getting out a chair and finding Orion and the Big Dipper with her daddy.

God is an immensely creative God. I want my child to embrace her creativity. I want her to have craft materials and boxes and ideas that cause her to be absorbed for an hour with anticipation of what she is creating.

God is Truth. I want to discuss Truth with my child. I want us to talk about Jesus and sin. About the election and God’s hand. About music and beauty.

God delights in the individuality of each person He creates. I want my child to discover who God created her to be as a individual with unique giftings and a purpose in His Kingdom.

All of these have happened in our home over the past week. None of these endeavors were stress-inducing and nor should they be. Education is an amazing adventure when parents and child are interested in the world God has created for them to enjoy. Education should not suck the life out of a child. Education should not be drudgery. Education should cause them to pause in wonder at God and how He is at work in the world.

The following video is about ten minutes long.  The presentation of the material is kind of slow, but there is good food for thought there.


7 thoughts on “Home schooling versus home education

  1. Brandy @ Afterthoughts

    I love that you said this. :) Gatto was a very eye-opening read for me, too. I have had a hard time letting go of the word homeschooling because it is the word everyone else uses. When we named our local conference, though, the host families all agree that we’d call it the Home *Education* Conference rather than using the word school, for this exact reason.

    Thanks for mentioning your rule of reading to Caroline no matter what. I need to go back to that with my youngest; it is so easy to get caught up in the older children, poor baby…

  2. Peggy

    There is so much pressure here for both parents to work outside the home, so that the family can afford to live in a “good” school district and their children have a chance at a “good” education. But if we did that, we would miss all the best teachable moments….

  3. Sallie Post author

    Brandy – I have been making an effort to use the word “education” instead of “school” when I talk with people. It doesn’t flow as easily, though, after years of saying home schooling. But it does remind me of the end goal – a well-rounded child who loves God, can intelligently and compassionately contend for the faith, and is academically well-equipped to do whatever God leads her to do. How it all comes together? I have no idea. We just take it one week and one month and one year at a time.

    Peggy – What is ironic is that we do live in a good school district and pay the corresponding taxes. Although that is even relative. There are many good districts in the state that have much higher taxes than ours and Michigan taxes are low compared to many states such as those in the northeast US. But, yes, the teachable moments just don’t happen in the classroom. Well, they do, but not really for individual students very often. Yes, a good teacher will take advantage of a teachable moment for the class when it arises and it will usually be brief. But there isn’t much opportunity for individual children in the classroom to benefit from the nearly endless possible teachable moments a parent can find during the day at home.

  4. Christian @ Modobject at Home

    Sallie, I read this post at 7:30 this morning, shortly after sending my boys out the door to go to school, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since… actually I’ve been thinking about a lot of these themes regarding education quite a bit for the past few months. Once again you have eloquently and concisely articulated the much-less-cohesive thoughts that have been swimming around in my head lately. To me, this is education done beautifully, not dutifully. As I read this I was nodding yes over and over…

    And yet, my two school aged children are in classical Christian, traditional classrooms, a fact that both delights me and grieves me, depending on the day. I’ve always wondered (and lately I’ve really, really been wondering) if God might lead us to home education at some point. I don’t know… sometimes I sense that we might be approaching a crossroads of sorts, maybe not. For now I pray, because there are mountains to be moved no matter which way we go. Thank you for this wonderful post; it truly has helped me organize my own thoughts about some things regarding education.

  5. Sallie Post author

    Christian – Thank you so much for leaving this comment. It really blessed me. I trust God has good things in store for your family either way. Educational choices are so hard. I have just really in the past couple of weeks gotten to the point where I no longer wonder if we should try to somehow (miraculously) afford Christian school for Caroline. I know home education is best for her. She really is a homebody. We’ve been home a lot this week because I’ve been down with a cold. She has been so happy and content. She just loves being home and doing her thing. All three of us do. 😀 It really is the right thing for our family and I’m thankful that it has become clearer to me because even into the first month of school I struggled to know if we were doing the right thing. I don’t wonder anymore. But it took time to get to that point.

  6. Lindsey

    Yes, yes, and a thousand times yes. I have the same philosophy and the longer we home *educate* the more solid that philosophy becomes. This is our 6th year of home education. It is far more relaxed and “unschoolish” than I ever imagined it would be. But it is wonderful and I treasure it. After having to send the kids back to traditional school for 2 long and horrible years, I know the grass is not greener on the other side, for our family at least.

  7. Margo, Thrift at Home

    Oh, I have such mixed feelings here! I was a high school English teacher in a great Christian school, now we have children and they are in public school. It’s the neighborhood school, so that connection is important to our city life and to us. But always, always, I have doubts. I HATE the standardized testing, yet I want my children to learn to deal with boring work, strident teachers, other peoples’ values, etc. etc. Sometimes I think we should homeschool. Sometimes I think we should pursue the classical Christian school that’s a long drive away (and $$$). My husband and I discuss this so often! What I’m doing right now, however, is being very deliberate with home instruction. Not academics – we’ve never worried about that at all – but more on character, work ethic, home skills, etc. Our children are happy and thriving. . . so far. . . .we’ll see. I appreciated reading your post!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Please enter the CAPTCHA text