The other day, I asked my friends: what are the most important things for children to learn? I got a variety of answers:
- How to think
- How to do research
- Problem solving
What I didn’t get were answers like “All of the U.S. presidents’ names and the dates they were in office.” “Geometry.” “What earthworms do in the garden.”
I found that interesting. And, I agree. You see, what you teach your children really isn’t that important. A lot of moms who homeschool, or who are considering it, worry endlessly that their children won’t “know the right stuff.” And they mean trivia, facts about stuff. They worry that their children will be seen as less smart or somehow failures if they don’t have their heads crammed full of mostly useless information.
This post is for you, mamas: curriculum doesn’t matter.
The Core of Education
The very core of education isn’t in the “stuff” that you know. You will spend the rest of your life learning “stuff.” You will be able to learn “stuff” on your own, every time you talk to someone new, read a book, even watch a movie. There is always time to learn stuff, and not knowing it doesn’t make you smart or stupid.
The importance of education is learning the skills to work hard and learn on your own.
Learning how to think is important. That is, learning to examine situations and problems with a critical eye, and apply logic to it. Learning how to solve problems by using that logic is important. Being able to understand the world around you is important.
Learning how to do research is important. It’s important to know where to look for viable information, how to evaluate a source’s trustworthiness. To know how to evaluate the information at hand, and how to cross-reference it with similar information. It’s important to know how to pick out truth among several different sources based on what consistently shows up. Important to know to remain skeptical of new information until there is enough quality evidence to support it.
It’s important to learn to be creative — or at least, not to unlearn creativity. It’s important to know how to look for solutions no one has ever thought of, and how to implement those solutions successfully. Important to know how to test a variety of solutions before finding the right one. It’s important to understand that finding solutions can take time and not to get frustrated or give up.
It’s important to know how to take the time to explore different subjects, perspectives, and ideas.
Why Curriculum Doesn’t Matter in Education
Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t know who the U.S. presidents were or what earthworms do. I’m not arguing that you shouldn’t teach them facts, figures, and history. Because you should.
I’m arguing that this trivia isn’t the core of education. It isn’t the most important part.
Each year, children will grow in their ability to reason and understand the world around them. Their abilities should be stretched at a pace that stays slightly ahead of them without frustrating them. They should be challenged to think in new ways, learn, and grow.
The “how” of this growth is the curriculum you choose.
The “stuff” your children are learning is, in a way, a means to an end. You choose new facts, new subjects, new topics each year because you want to teach them and your children want to learn them. Each year they’ll grow in their knowledge of “stuff” in the world around them. (Because yeah, it’s important to have a well-rounded perspective on world cultures, solid basic math skills, reading skills, writing skills, communications, and so on. It is.)
When planning what to learn, though, don’t get caught up in what “others” are learning this year. Don’t get caught up in what the public school is teaching. It really doesn’t matter if your child does U.S. history this year or next year — really.
What matters is that when you are teaching your children, you are making sure that all the lessons are geared towards the core of education — solving problems. Knowing how to research and learn. Creative solutions.
After School is Done
Whatever “stuff” your children still don’t know when their education is finished doesn’t really matter if they know how to learn it. Whatever they realize they are lacking — and all children are lacking somewhere, regardless of where they went to school — they will know how to find the information they need, make sense of it, and incorporate it. They’ll learn it better because they know how to learn.
I think of homeschooling as an opportunity for my children and I to explore, together, new topics and new information. I know I don’t remember a lot of the trivia I was taught in school. But I do know how to write, how to read, how to research information, how to communicate. I do know how to logically challenge ideas. I know how to help my children think through their own problems instead of simply telling them the answers.
So we’ll learn together. Because we never stop learning.
Older children who have a passion for a particular subject can apply all of the learning skills that they practiced in their early years to that topic when they are teens or young adults, which will help them immensely as they study.
It’s why the absolute core of education is not the “stuff” you know, but how you learn it. Don’t ever let the “stuff” make you feel inadequate again.
What do you think is most important in education?