Friday 16 October 2009

Education in the Family

Anyone who wants to discuss the educational implications of Beauty for Truth's Sake can now do so at our discussion board under EDUCATION. In connection with this you might like to read an article I wrote some time ago in Communio called Towards a Distinctively Catholic School. But these ideas on education are not just for Catholics - and not just for schools and colleges. Parents are the primary educators of their children, and the home is the natural place for a revolution in education. If you want to be involved in the discussion with and among homeschoolers you can append a comment here, send me an email, or post something in the education forum.

Recently I also became aware of a growing Catholic UNSCHOOLING movement inspired by the work of John Holt. According to Suzie Andres, the author of Homeschooling with Gentleness, "St. Thomas and Aristotle both clearly affirm the following four educational principles: 1) education should be for the good of the learner; 2) all men by nature desire to know; 3) the learner is the principal agent in learning; and 4) different learners are fitted to learn different things at different times." These principles underpin the case for "unschooling", the "Little Way" of homeschooling as she calls it, which is based on trust - trust that a child will seek out and learn what he or she needs to know, when he needs to know it, without coercion, without school or school-type methods, in the freedom and safety of his family. The role of parents is to facilitate this exploration of the world.

This won't work for some families and some children, but I can imagine it working for others. After all, every subject is connected to every other, and one thing leads to the next. Give a child a globe for Christmas, and it may lead to an interest in geography, or history, or astronomy. Start them on a musical instrument, and it might open up mathematics or history. Drawing a circle or triangle points to architecture or theology. In fact the principles of unschooling are very close in some ways to the idea of my book, which is all about interconnectedness and lifelong, self-motivated learning.

Picture by Rose-Marie Caldecott. Rights reserved.


  1. I especially like your last paragraph - it's really amazing to watch that happen!!!

  2. I just adore Aquinas and Aristotle, but somehow I don't think they were talking about the education of children. . . I am more inclined to think they were discussing higher learning, for people who, possibly, have already formed the discipline required explore a subject themselves. Kids don't always want to learn what they need to know, ask any kid. They will want to "know" something, but it will not always be what they need to progress in their education. It would take an exceptionally bright and personally virtuous child to devote himself to any subject for long. And I think this is an unfair expectation for most children. I was homeschooled for many years, and I will tell you mathematics was last on the list of things I wanted to learn. If it wasn't for my mom "coercing" me, I would never have. But now that I am in Catholic High School in Advanced/Honors Math courses, I do understand its importance and I am grateful for her guidance. I fear that parents, following this method, might allow their kids to choose what they want to know, which might put them at a disadvantage when it comes to higher learning.