As a second generation homeschooler, I have had many experiences that shaped my view of education. I was educated at home entirely until eighth grade when I decided that I wanted to take art and choir at the local middle school. I continued dual-enrollment through high school, eventually taking a math class and government in addition to art and choir. My brothers were “expelled” from homeschool (they did not meet the self-motivation criteria) to attend high school full-time their freshman year. They thrived and loved the structure placed on them by their teachers. All five of my siblings have had unique combinations of homeschool, online charter school, and public school through their K-12 education; each person received an education as unique as the individual themselves. My parents have always viewed education as home-centered and public-supported, but that idea never verbally materialized until The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced its plans to shift gospel instruction to be home-centered, church-supported. What my parents had believed about education and practiced all these years finally made sense.
I experienced a very unusual childhood being educated at home, at least compared to most children in America. I spent very little time doing “lessons” each day, while the majority of my time was spent outside exploring our farm, reading books, and working on my own projects. My mom received a lot of unsolicited advice regarding her children’s education: that we wouldn’t be independent adults, we wouldn’t be able to handle the rigor of college classes, and we would be so socially awkward that we wouldn’t be able to serve church missions or function in society. My mom felt the call to educate her children at home, but sometimes people’s opinions made her second-guess her choice.
Fortunately for us, none of those things happened. It turns out my family is not the only ones who have escaped the “side-effects” of home education; in fact, I cannot find a single study that shows people educated at home are statistically more likely to have any of those problems. Studies actually show the opposite: people who are educated at home turn out to be more mature, score higher on tests, and have less behavioral problems than their public school peers. I have met many home schooled children and public schooled children that might be perceived as being “weird.” People from both of these groups were quirky in their humor and hobbies, and maybe a little shy, but were perfectly able to carry on a conversation and developed mature social skills. It is important to not confuse conformity with social skills.
Education in America
I believe that we live in a society that has a distorted view of what real education looks like, and we have very little faith in the power of the family. For the vast majority of Americans and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, traditional education looks like this: children are required to attend school with a class of 25-35 other children of their same age. They are taught by a different teacher each year, where a pre-planned curriculum is followed. Traditionally, students:
- sit and listen to the teacher present a lesson about what he/she has read and feels is important for students to know
- fill out a worksheet or are engaged in an “hands-on” activity (if they have a motivated teacher)
- read textbooks instead of primary sources
- and are finally tested and graded based on if they retained information deemed “important”
This system of education has only been around for 150 years, yet it has dominated the way we think about education in America (1). It has permeated all institutions of education: public, private, and home. While I was researching the legality of home education in Connecticut (a state whose original laws influenced the Constitution), I was fascinated to find that the current system of education has not always existed in the United States; Connecticut’s original (and still existent) law states: “Duties of parents: All parents and those who have the care of children shall bring them up in some lawful and honest employment and instruct them or cause them to be instructed in reading, writing, spelling, English grammar, geography, arithmetic and United States history and in citizenship, including a study of the town, state and federal governments.”(2)
Education in early America (pre-public schools) was viewed first and foremost as the responsibility of parents. If they were unable or unwilling to fulfill those responsibilities, they were responsible to employ someone else to instruct their children. Over the years our view of parental responsibilities and government responsibilities has shifted; for the majority of America, the mindset is that the public schools are responsible for educating children and the parents’ role is to support the public schools. Unfortunately, despite the dedication of hardworking teachers and billions of dollars spent on education, American students are not performing as well as we would expect.(3)
John Taylor Gatto, an award-winning public school teacher, has written multiple books on his experiences as a teacher in New York State. In his book, Dumbing Us Down he writes:
“…no large-scale reform is ever going to work to repair our damaged children and our damaged society until we force open the idea of “school” to include family as the main engine of education. If we use schooling to break children away from parents…we’re going to continue to have the horror show we have right now.” (4)
Teachers, government officials, and parents have been contending and researching for years to figure out what needs to be changed to get the results we want, but I suspect the answer is not what they want to hear: children’s success or failure in life is largely based on their parents, not the quality of the school. Although there are many areas in which public education can improve, we must realize that education outside of the home will never have the ability to replace what is the responsibility of parents.
Faith in the FamilyThe family truly has the potential to be “… the ultimate setting for learning, living, and becoming.”(5) Research studies support this truth: children do better with one teacher over many years (6), learn better social skills in mixed-age classrooms (7), and retain more information when they engage in real, meaningful life experiences. The family offers all of those things and more. The family is not an earthly institution, but an eternal structure. The more I’ve learned about the Plan of Salvation and eternal principles of education, the more convinced I am of the value of the family unit to teach and train the children of God. In the beginning, God did not institute schools to educate people; in the beginning there were families that learned together, and in the celestial kingdom the family will continue to be the primary mode of education.
“I think that by the end of the millennium, for those who occupy the celestial kingdom, the home will be the only media for teaching children. Teaching will be through the family.” (8)
As members of The Restored Church of Jesus Christ, it is our duty to prepare ourselves and our families to be centers of learning for all subjects, not just religion. In 2018, Russell M. Nelson, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, revealed a new way of teaching the gospel in the Church: Come, Follow Me. In this revealed method of learning the “objectives,” teacher scripts, and pointed questions of past curriculum are removed and replaced by focus on reading the primary source (scriptures), and asking a few open-ended questions to invite discussion. These methods take the responsibility of learning off of the teacher and puts them on the student. It also focuses on most of the learning happening at home, with parents teaching their children and the church supporting that teaching once a week.
In the past, home-education was sometimes not possible or practical. Parents worked long hours on the family farm or in factories. They did not have the knowledge or materials to educate their children. Today, however, is very different; Technology and libraries have made it easier to nurture the mind and spirit by granting access to almost any book in the world, not to mention the greatest music and art, for free right in our home. Mother’s are more educated and better prepared to teach their children than ever before. In The Family: A Proclamation to the World it states that “Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.” To nurture something means to encourage growth and development; physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. Innovation has freed women from time-consuming, labor-intensive housework that was required for the basic nurturing of the body (food, house, clothes) making it possible to spend time nurturing the mind and spirit. The difficulty now lies in resisting the temptation to use that time for less edifying pursuits. We have slowly been accustomed to the worldly idea that mothers are not meant to be teachers (unless they have a degree) and that the government is responsible for the education of its citizens. However, the Lord’s way has never been in-line with the world’s way, and He has felt the need to remind us of His ways.
“The Lord intended parents to be the primary teachers of their children. He is not concerned about credentials, degrees, curriculum and such–only about parents’ love for their children. He expects parents to sacrifice for their families. He expects learning and the search for truth in all areas to be a family quest and a lifetime pursuit. He expects excellence, integrity, and refinement. And He stands ready to pour out blessings and directions upon the family. With the heavens working with us, how can we fail?” (9)
The family was created with everything a child would need for development: mature, loving adults to mentor them, mixed-age peers to play with, and real-life experiences. School outside the home can supplement this teaching, but should not replace it. The Lord gave parents stewardship over His children and He has commanded them to teach and train their children. Parents will be held accountable for the information their children learn and the habits they develop while they are under their stewardship, whether that is in school or at home.
Teach and Train
Amanda Ripley is a journalist who decided to take a unique look at education in America. She followed three high school seniors from the U.S. as they spent a school year studying in a foreign country. The three countries–Poland, South Korea, and Finland–are considered educational superpowers because they claimed the highest scores on the PISA test — a worldwide test administered to 80 countries every 3 years to test 15-year olds’ competence on reading, math, science, and collaborative problem solving skills. The test does not consist of multiple choice questions to test how much information the students have gained during their education, it is a test to understand problem-solving skills, creativity, a way to test how the students learned to think during their education. It is not a multiple-choice format to test how much information a student knows; it requires students to apply what they’ve learned to real-life situations. Through interviews with the U.S. students and teachers, as well as foreign students and teachers, she is able to compare and contrast the educational methods and results of all four countries in her book, The Smartest Kids in the World. (10) The observations in this book do not favor any one country, but instead looks at what each country is doing right to give us a more complete picture of what a high-quality education could look like. Ms. Ripley’s observations support almost everything Charlotte Mason’s writings teach about education:
- We should have high expectations of all children (regardless of background).
- Curriculum should have structure, but freedom within that structure.
- Curriculum should cover less material, but more thoroughly.
- Require fewer tests and less homework.
- Parents should view education as their responsibility.
- Children need freedom to fail and learn from their mistakes.
I will be focusing on each of these points throughout this book, but for now, let’s talk about the parents’ role in a child’s education.
Coach, not Cheerleader
The PISA researchers wanted to understand how parents influence their children’s scores on the PISA test, so they sent questionnaires to parents to determine how much time they spent with their children, time spent volunteering at school, time spent reading to their children, etc. The only consistent variable between all the successful countries (even down to individual test scores) was that parents in countries who scored well on the PISA spent more time with their kids and less time volunteering at school. The researchers were confused. Wouldn’t a child do better if their parents were more involved in their school? They ran their analysis again, but came back with the same results.
Their conclusion was that when parents do not volunteer at their child’s school, they are spending that time one-on-one with their child instead. That one-on-one time is more powerful than managing fundraisers and splitting time between other children in the classroom. Ms. Ripley called this the “coach” versus “cheerleader” mentality. In general, parents of teens who did well on the PISA viewed their role as a coach (the primary educator), while teachers and tutors were the cheerleaders (support). Teens who did not do as well on the test had parents who viewed their role as the cheerleader; they spent more time supporting the school and cheering their child on than spending one-on-one time reading and tutoring their child.
I believe the reason that parents are such effective teachers is that the motivation behind teaching is parental love and a genuine concern for their children. There are certainly many public school teachers who deeply love and are concerned about their students, but that love is spread out across thirty or more students and they only have three to nine months to bond with each other; their time and effort is finite. As much as teachers would like to slow down and individualize learning for each student, they are bound to the rigid curriculum of the public schools and under scrutinizing pressure from administrators for their students to perform well on state tests. Teachers sacrifice immense amounts of time and effort to teach thirty or more children, but are we putting in the same amount of time to teach our own? We are expecting teachers to perform the duties that were originally assigned to parents, and then wondering why they aren’t meeting our high expectations.
There are many reasons that family is so effective at educating individual children, but one important and overlooked reason is that parents can customize their child’s education using methods. Methods can be much more effective than a system, and much easier to implement on an individual level.
System Versus Method
I love using public transportation to get to my family’s favorite places like the zoo, nature park, and downtown. We walk to the nearest station, wait for the next train to come–according to the strict schedule–and ride it to one of the many places along its route. It is a very efficient system that is able to transport thousands of people to locations all over the metropolitan area. However, it is a system that works only if people adhere to its schedule and limitations. Most of the places my family needs to go are not along its route and are miles away from our home. Fortunately, I have multiple methods of transportation available to me: a car, a bike, and my two feet. I can utilize any of these methods to get me to where I want to be, exactly when I need to be there.
Public education is a system set in place to efficiently educate thousands of children in each school district. It runs on schedules, time constraints, and efficiency. Just like public transportation, it cannot stop and wait for individuals if they are late, or speed up if they are early. It cannot personalize your itinerary to get you to the exact place you want to be. Home-centered learning is based on methodology. As the parent/teacher, you utilize different methods to get your child to where you want to be, exactly when you need it. It is individualized, and usually more effective than using a system. However, there are downsides of methods; they require more resources and effort than a one-size-fits-all system. And for many parents teaching their children entirely at home just isn’t practical, and they seek support from a system.
On the other hand, many parents recognize the shortcomings of the public school system, but are wary of home education because of five pernicious myths that saturate our society.
MYTH ONE | GOD HAS NO PLACE IN EDUCATION
“The idea that the religion of Christ is one thing and science is another is a mistaken idea, for there is no true religion without true science nor, consequently, no true science without true religion.” (11)
This is one myth that can have serious consequences, as education is a vital part of our eternal progression. Russell M. Nelson explained in his talk “Where is Wisdom?” that the scriptures contain more than just knowledge about spiritual matters. He relates the fact that millions of people have died over time due to the ignorance of infection. Yet, in Leviticus chapter fifteen, the Lord explains to Moses, in detail, how to properly care for someone who has a contagious disease. President Nelson comments,
“Thus, our loving Heavenly Father had clearly revealed principles of clean technique in the handling of infected patients more than three thousand years ago! These scriptures are in complete harmony with modern medical guidelines. But during those many millennia, how many mothers needlessly perished? How many children suffered because man’s quest for knowledge had failed to incorporate the word of the Lord?”
A wealth of knowledge is at our fingertips, if only we would be wise enough to use it. We are doing our children (and ourselves!) a great disservice by not utilizing scriptures in our studies of all subjects. Harold B. Lee taught: “We [must] measure every teaching to be found in the world of book learning by the teachings of revealed truth, as contained in the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we find in a school text claims that contradict the word of the Lord as pertaining to the creation of the world, the origin of man, or the determination of what is right or wrong in the conduct of human souls, we may be certain that such teachings are but the theories of men.” In public school, children are exposed to 6 or more hours a day of the theories of men; but are they receiving the same amount of time being exposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ? In a home-centered learning environment the majority of learning should be happening at home.
The early prophets of the restored church–Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, and John Taylor–knew that Zion is built on celestial principles (12) and since education is a vital component of the plan of salvation, it is a vital part of building up Zion. A celestial organization of education was revealed to them: to learn all subjects (both temporal and spiritual) from spiritual sources: the Holy Ghost, a righteous teacher, and the scriptures. The leaders of the church were commanded to organize church schools, also called academies. In these church schools they used “the best books” about science, history, and the liberal arts in addition to spiritual sources, but they were supplemental and completely in line with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Lord directed the prophets to organize church schools for children to receive an education, but once the academies were organized the members did not obey the counsel to enroll their children. In response, President George Q. Cannon observed “Whenever this people shall fellowship a spirit to disregard the counsels of the Priesthood, seeking to accomplish end by methods that are popular in the world, then they become like other people, and their strength leaves them…Our strength consists not of being part of [the world], but the very opposite of that.” (13)
Philosophers over the past two centuries have worked hard to remove all religion from public education. John Dewey and Karl Marx were two of the most influential in this effort. John Dewey is the father of Secular Humanism, which is the belief that is taught in schools today; that there is no God and we do not need Him to become good people. Karl Marx was also an advocate of removing religious beliefs from public education, which seems logical since there are many different religions in the U.S. and it would be a conflict of church and state to include Christian beliefs in school curriculum. However, President Benson counters this logic by explaining the consequences of separating God from education. In a 1970 General Conference address he warned:
“The tenth plank of Karl Marx’s Manifesto for destroying our kind of civilization advocated the establishment of free education for all children in public schools…It is self-evident that on this scheme, if it is consistently and persistently carried out in all parts of the country, the United States system of popular education will be the most efficient and widespread instrument for the propagation of atheism which the world has ever seen.”
Knowing this, should it really come as a surprise to us that young adult retention in the church is at an all-time low? The retention rate for members of our grandparents and parents generations hovered around 75%. Now it is estimated that 30-46% of young adults stay active in the church after high school graduation. (14) Twenty years ago, Boyd K. Packer also warned us of this spiritual danger, and the climate in the schools have only worsened since then. He warned:
“In many places it is literally not safe physically for youngsters to go to school. And in many schools (and it’s becoming almost generally true) it is spiritually unsafe to attend public schools. Look back over the history of education to the turn of the century and the beginning of the educational philosophies pragmatism and humanism were the early ones, and they branched out into a number of other philosophies which have led us now into a circumstance where our schools are producing the problems that we face.” (15)
When we separate God from all other subjects it makes it much easier to disregard His existence altogether. When we isolate eternal truths to religion only we are halting our own progression. Heavenly Father has knowledge of all truth and has promised “… the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things,
and bring all things to your remembrance.” Although I did enjoy having discussions with my classmates in high school, I will never forget the inspiration and learning experiences I received when I was quietly reading at home in my room, in complete solitude to ponder on ideas and listen to the Spirit. I was free to compare scriptures to my textbooks with no time-constraints or interruptions.
MYTH TWO | DIRECT-INSTRUCTION IS THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAY TO TEACH
“[And] the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself … And because that [men] are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever … to act for themselves and not to be acted upon” (17)
Agency is key to the Plan of Salvation; Heavenly Father gave His children agency to choose between right and wrong. He did this knowing that we would sometimes fail, but He knew that we cannot learn without making mistakes, and that forced compliance is not real knowledge. As Charlotte Mason said, “Self-education is the only possible education; the rest is mere veneer laid on the surface of a child’s nature.”
Traditional education relies heavily on the teacher’s role to schedule, prepare, and impart knowledge to students. The student’s role is to read assigned material, listen quietly to the teacher’s lectures, complete assignments (mostly in the form of worksheets), and regurgitate information deemed important through multiple-choice tests. A teacher cannot possibly follow the interests of every child or listen to every question or commentary on the material. It just isn’t feasible. But here’s the problem: it is vital for children to ask questions (even if they aren’t related to the material). It is essential for children to work through their thoughts and ideas and express them verbally, and feel that someone is listening. Children thrive in a child-led, parent-supported (or teacher-supported) environment. And, it should be our goal to create this environment at home and look for it in quality teachers.
Compare traditional education to the new Youth Program the Church has recently released: a simple framework is given within which individuals are free to choose their own goals, set their own deadlines, and assess their own progress. Parents are there to guide and assist when needed. This is what education should look like. Some schools are implementing these methods, but they are rare and usually expensive. Implementing these methods at home is always an option and all it takes is some time and effort. We want our children to be self-reliant, so we need to take them out of an environment where they are passively being acted upon and allow them freedom to choose and act for themselves.
MYTH THREE | CHILDREN LEARN HEALTHY SOCIAL SKILLS FROM PEERS
“If socializing with peers leads to getting along and becoming responsible members of society, the more time a child spent with her peers, the better the relating would tend to be. In actual fact, the more children spend time with one another, the less likely they are to get along and the less likely they are to fit into civilized society. If we take the socialization assumption to the extreme-to orphanage children, street children, children involved in gangs-the flaw in thinking becomes obvious. If socializing were the key to socialization, gang members and street kids would be model citizens.” (18)
This myth originated with John Dewey and his theory that children needed to be removed from their homes where traditions and cultures of their parents were taught, and be “socialized” in a central place with their peers. But like most philosophers, his beliefs were based on theories, not truth. The changes made to public school based on Dewey’s theories has been a social experiment since it was instituted in the beginning of the 20th century. We’ve been told that “by their fruits ye shall know them.” (19) So let’s briefly look at the fruits of Dewey’s theory that children should be socialized by their peers. In his book, Hold On to Your Kids, Dr. Gordon Neufeld presents evidence to prove that ever since the transmission of culture was switched from parent-child to peer-child society has slowly been deteriorating; aggression (20) and violence are increasing in schools (21,22), more teens are committing suicide (23), and prison populations have increased by 500% over the past 40 years. (24) Although there are many contributing factors to these issues, my belief is that the underlying factor is the deterioration of the parent-child relationship and the unnatural phenomenon of peer-orientation. The structure of the public schools–same-age peers, high student-to-teacher ratio, and long school days–encourages children to orient to their peers instead of mature adults.
A child naturally attaches to someone that they are physically and emotionally close to. If there is a void (either physical presence or emotional availability) then children fill that attachment gap with peers. When a child is peer-oriented they can never get enough peer interaction. They would rather be spending time with friends (in person or online) than spending time with family. They start to behave like their peers, believe what they believe, and value those relationships more than anything else. Dr. Neufeld explains that children need to be attached to loving, mature adults in order to learn mature social skills.
Playing with friends is called “social play” in developmental psychology terms. It is being acted upon by outside sources with little or no active role itself. Peer interaction offers novelty—which is addictive to the brain—and detracts from personal growth. Only when the child is alone with their thoughts and no novel experiences will they blossom and reach their full potential. In this setting, the mind will become hungry and crave stimulation to the point of creating new experiences for itself (i.e creativity and imagination). The play that children need for healthy development is “emergent play” which involves the child creating their own narratives, problem solving, talking to themselves (yes, this is healthy), and learning who they truly are without the outside influence of peers. For some children, this unscheduled time alone may feel uncomfortable, and maybe even distressing, to not be constantly stimulated, but this is not actually healthy. Children absolutely need to be able to play for a few hours a day without friends, parents, or planned activities. But don’t children need to play with one another? Dr. Gordon Neufeld–psychologist, author and founder of the Neufeld Institute– counters: “We have to see the difference here between what children want and what they need. The play that children need for healthy development is emergent play, not social play.” (25)
Children need lots of self-directed play to develop their sense of self. Social interaction actually delays the development of personality and creative thinking, so although social play is healthy for certain aspects of development, it is only needed in small doses.
“And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” (26)
We are starting to see the “curse” of peer attachment in today’s increasing deterioration of the family and social issues.
MYTH FOUR | CHILDREN NEED TO ATTEND PUBLIC SCHOOL TO BE A "LIGHT"
“Ye are the light of the world, a city that set is set on a hill cannot be hid.” (27)
One of the most common concerns that parents have of educating children at home is that their children cannot be a light to the world if they are not attending public school. First, I would like to point out that as adults we do not attend school anymore, but still interact with people on a daily basis and are perfectly capable of being a positive influence. Additionally, education does not mean that you stay home all day; most children are involved in music lessons, sports teams, play groups, library visits, community service, etc. where they meet and socialize with people of diverse backgrounds.
A close friend of mine was converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ while in high school, and she is now homeschooling her own children. I asked her about her conversion experience and the role that her peers played in it. She said the most influential person in her conversion was not one of the kids at school, but a neighborhood girl who befriended her. The one-on-one time with that friend was more influential than the time with a large number of kids at school.
Paul advised the Corinthians “be ye not unequally yoked with the unbelievers.” When two oxen are yoked together they need to be equal in strength and influence, otherwise one will drag the other along, causing problems and possible injury. When our children are in a place where they are outnumbered and over-influenced they are essentially unequally yoked and can be injured spiritually.
There are actually many studies that support Paul’s advice to the Corinthians. One research study found that when one unproductive employee is placed in a group of productive employees, the efficiency of the whole group decreases, instead of the one worker’s productivity increasing. (28) Another interesting study aimed at understanding peer-pressure took a participant and put them in a room with one or more other people–these other people were actors who knew the purpose of the study and were given a script to follow. The participant and actors were given two pieces of paper, one with a black line on it, the other with three black lines, numbered 1-3. The task was for all the people in the room to come to a consensus on which of the three lines was the same length as the single black line, and write down the number the group decided on. The actors’ job was to choose the wrong answer, even though it was very obvious that the line was not the same length. When an unknowing participant went into the room with one actor, they stood their ground and would not be satisfied by submitting a wrong answer. However, if there were two actors insisting on the wrong answer the participant eventually gave in and submitted the wrong answer. If there were three or more actors, the study participant wouldn’t even mention their doubts, they simply went along with what the majority believed. (29)
Following the Crowd
James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, observes that people are most influenced by these three groups:
- The powerful.
- The many.
- The close.
He goes on to advise those who want to develop good habits that “One of the most effective things you can do to build better habits is to join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior.” (30) Children and adults are influenced by people they see as powerful, the majority of people around them, and the people closest to them. The children at school will be influenced most by their teachers, the habits and values of the majority of children, and their closest friends. And the same is true for your own children. This is not a theory or a personal belief; it is a truth written in the scriptures and proven by science. This is one reason why so many parents want their children to attend a church university, like Brigham Young University; the culture is different from a public university, and it stands as a light to the world inviting everyone to “enter to learn; go forth to serve.”
A child’s brain structure is programmed to learn and imitate the beliefs and habits of those around them, especially if it is one of the three groups above. Parents and teachers naturally have more power to influence those around us than children do. Instead of putting so much responsibility on our children to be a light in their young, vulnerable state, we should focus on what we can do as adults to be a positive influence. Right now, young children need to be taught how to be a light before they can do it effectively as teens and adults.
An experienced gardener and homeschool mother once explained to me how she gets the most productive plants for her garden: she starts her plants indoors before planting them outside in the elements. She gives them a temperate environment with lots of nurturing, and when their roots are strong enough, she starts “hardening” them to the elements, slowly increasing the time outside before planting them in the soil. If she plants them too soon they either wither and die, or their growth is stunted and they never produce fruit. If she waits too long, their roots outgrow the pot and they will eventually die or stop growing. The key is knowing the plant and the weather, and watching for when its roots are strong enough to survive. After this explanation she then compared this truth in nature to children and their spiritual growth. Home-centered learning is not about deciding if your child will be a light, but when and where.
MYTH FIVE | TEACH TO THE TEST
“The nearer we get to God, the more easily our spirits are touched by refined and beautiful things. If we could part the veil and observe our heavenly home, we would be impressed with the cultivated minds and hearts of those who so happily live there. I imagine that our heavenly parents are exquisitely refined. In this great gospel of emulation, one of the purposes of our earthly probation is to become like them in every conceivable way so that we may be comfortable in the presence of heavenly parentage and, in the language of Enos, see their faces ‘with pleasure.’”(31)
Slowly over time, traditional education has slowly warped into a system of information, worksheets, and testing. By no fault of their own, schools resort to these tactics because of pressure for their students to perform well in state tests. Although a lot of genuine learning may be happening in the school, if the students are not learning information that is on the test, the schools will suffer negative repercussions in the form of funding. Testing ignores the emotional and spiritual aspects of the human soul; those things that cannot be seen, but are true. Faith, integrity, imagination, and compassion are just a few of those truths that cannot be experienced with the five senses. They need to be felt with spiritual senses, or in other words, the “heart.” The heart consists of the faculties that sense beauty, eternal truth, and Christlike attributes. These are impossible to test and quantify, and therefore are drowned out by the subjects that can be tested, and therefore deemed more urgent by school administrators and state governments. And this can have negative repercussions for the child. Many parents I speak to know this is true and understand the consequences, but continue sending their children to a place that employs traditional methods of education, hoping that something will eventually change, or that their child will escape unscathed.
Imagination Breeds Empathy
Dr. Samuel Curry, author of Imagination and Dramatic Instinct beautifully defined the imagination as “The thinking of the heart.” (32) Marlene Peterson, the founder of The Well-Educated Heart, observed that there is a “sacred combination” when heart and mind are nurtured. History and scriptures are full of examples of both people who have nurtured their heart and mind, and those who have not. The phrase “hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds” (33) is quoted many times to describe people who were wicked and would not believe in God or Jesus Christ. Right now we see a period when education neglects the heart and, consequently, there is a decline in creativity, compassion, religious belief, and an appreciation of beauty.
“In the curriculum of most of our institutions of learning no place is given to that instruction which has for its end the cultivation of the imagination, and the sentiments through the refining of the perceptions and quickening of the love of beauty. ‘Education,’ say some of our legislators, ‘must give a means of making a living, our public schools must train up practical citizens, boys and girls must be educated in the practical arts of life. The ornamental has no place in the schoolroom.’ They utterly fail to grasp the nature of the imagination and its relation to everyday life.” (34)
Jack Monnett–a doctorate of education, author, and experienced educator in the public schools–said this of educating the heart: “By amplifying the intellect and dyeing character curriculum, schools have assisted in the creation of an out of balance society that is ‘ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.’” (35) In addition, David O. McKay cautioned that “The principal aim of schools and colleges seems to be to give the students purely intellectual attainments and give but passing regard to the nobler and more necessary development along moral lines.” (36)
The Liberal Arts Feed Imagination
The heart is nurtured through stories, nature, music, art, dance, and poetry. Yet those are the subjects that are becoming extinct in most classrooms and homes because they are not easy to test and do not stand up to the standard of “real-world skills.” As Dr. Curry mentioned, we disregard the importance of the imagination in everyday life, like understanding how another person is feeling (empathy) and believing in something you cannot see (faith).
A child needs to fall in love with a subject before they will retain the information in their mind; nature study before science, reading-aloud before grammar, and speaking before writing. Children understand and remember when they love something; when their curiosity and imagination have been sparked. This is the business of the heart, and it is vital to a deep understanding of all subjects. Johann Pestalozzi, the influential German educator and founder of kindergarten, wisely stated, “it is the business of the heart for a long time before it is the business of the mind.”
There are parts of our spirit and heart that are touched by the refined things of life: art, music, and poetry. Pure joy comes from creating something beautiful. We are children of a Heavenly King; the desire to create is in our nature. Education should nurture that divinity within us and prepare us to meet our Heavenly Father and someday become like Him; this is the reason we came to earth and this should be the purpose of education.
A MORE EXCELLENT WAY
“God does not begin by asking us about our ability, but only about our availability, and if we then prove our dependability, he will increase our capability.” (37)
Parents have been given the responsibility to teach their children all truth, whether by themselves or by actively seeking out someone they trust to teach their children. Too often we assume that all teachers are of high moral character, or have good intentions. Too often we assume that the public schools are using the most effective teaching methods based on time-tested principles and/or research. As parents it is our moral duty to educate ourselves on what excellent, Christlike teaching methods look like and seek out teachers and schools that employ them. We also need to have the courage and faith to pull our children out of an environment (or change our methods at home) that is not in-line with correct doctrine.
When the Saints first arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, they established schools where all subjects would be taught hand-in-hand with the gospel. In order for Utah to become a state, they were required to organize a public school system. However, as soon as free education was instituted, the members of the Church abandoned the church academies and enrolled their children in the public schools. The leaders of the church warned and pleaded with the saints in general conference addresses until the church schools were dissolved in 1920. (38) But free education was too enticing for the members, and eventually all the original church academies were closed, except one: Brigham Young University.
The Lord has not instructed the Church to organize primary and secondary church schools since that time, but He still expects parents to take responsibility to “teach and train” their children, and to seek support from outside sources when needed. Through Come, Follow Me and the new Youth Program, we are being given the tools we need to become more Christlike teachers. The teaching philosophy and methods used in the Church are nearly identical to the methods Charlotte Mason used in her schools and outlined in her six volumes of education.
The philosophy and methods may be foreign to most of us because they are not the methods used in traditional education, but I know that they work. Traditional education strips away the agency of the learner, and relies on the teacher to do the work of learning (compiling information, giving lectures, testing). Traditional education can be found in home, public, and private schools. Which is a significant reason why many parents become burnt out after attempting homeschooling and conclude that home education just isn’t right for their family. School-at-home is not the same as home-centered learning. Christ’s methods of teaching individuals are not the same as the world’s. When we attempt to educate our children by the world’s standards failure is inevitable. What I am proposing is that parents need to understand what constitutes Christlike teaching and learn how to apply his methods so we can enrich home-centered learning and know what to look for when we seek support in outside sources. I feel much like Alma when I say “Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but… by small and simple things are great things brought to pass… and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.” (39). At first glance these methods may not seem effective because of their simplicity and inability to produce immediate results. But like all eternal principles it requires faith to take action. We need to strive to become more Christlike teachers and have the faith to utilize a more excellent way of learning in all subjects.
“But in the gift of his Son hath God prepared a more excellent way; and it is by faith that it hath been fulfilled.”
- History of Education in United States
- Chapter 168, Sec. 10-184. https://www.cga.ct.gov/current/pub/chap_168.htm
- U.S. Ranking in World PISA Test 2018
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- John 14:26, emphasis added
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- Matthew 7:16
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- Neufeld, Gordon. Hold On to Your Kids, pg 252
- Malachi 4:6
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- Asch, Solomon. Conforming to Social Norms. (1950)
- Clear, James, Atomic Habits. Pg 117
- Douglas Callister, Your Refined Heavenly Home, BYU Speech 2006
- Curry, Samuel Silas., Imagination and Dramatic Instinct. (1896)
- Ether 15:19
- Curry, Samuel Silas., Imagination and Dramatic Instinct. (1896)
- Monnett, Jack. (2000) Revealed Educational Principles and the Public Schools. Archive Publishers. Pg 123
- McKay, David. Gospel Ideas pg 441
- Maxwell, Neal A. “It’s Service, Not Status, That Counts.” Ensign (July 1975)
- Monnett, Jack. Revealed Educational Principles and the Public Schools (2000) pg 29
- Ether 12:11