Essay / Education

Understanding and Engagement

How does a parent know that their children are being educated? To say that someone is educated necessarily entails assessment but, often in today’s academic institutions much of what turns out to be an attempt at education and assessment turns out to be a mindless comportment to a set of dictated standards. Parents are often so busy that they overly rely on the educational system to determine the success or failure of their student’s intellectual development.

For example, an elementary school student has been attending from kindergarten to fifth grade a classical elementary school. The student’s family moves to another part of the state, and there is no classical school for her to attend so she goes to a traditional public elementary school. When that student’s academic ability is assessed by her new public school teacher her parents are told that she has fallen behind the other students academically. The reason is not that she is missing some fundamental academic skill such as reading, writing or mathematics, but that there is a gap in her knowledge of the daily lives of people who occupied the missions in her state. So the child and her family are informed that she is “behind academically” because she does not know the correct “facts” about life in a coastal mission. How is this information a fundamental need in her academic development? Are people in other states not flourishing intellectually because they have not learned about mission life? While an understanding of your states history is good, it is not as fundamental as reading, writing and mathematics nor does the lack of it indicate some sort of academic deficiency.

It is at this point parents need to be plugged into their children’s academic life. Many parents will feel that their previous school (the classical one) must not have properly educated their child. There is a sort of unthinking trust in the “educational authority” that manifests itself at this time in the form of the public school teacher. People are taught that the educational system is where the experts are. Teachers are trained to assert their authority by saying, “As an educator I would say…” I think the right response when they say that is, “As the parent of my child I say…”

Ultimately, you as a parent are responsible for your child’s education, and you should see yourself as a co-laborer with your school and teacher. Even if you spend the money to send your children to a Christian private school the mere fact that you have paid money to educate your children does not alleviate you of your need to be a diligent participant in your child’s education.

One fundamental problem is that the way we assess academic success has been streamlined. This difficulty is seen very clearly in testing methods. Most educational institutions have adopted a method of academic assessment called “objective testing” which consists of filling in the blank, multiple choice and matching types of tests. These types of test do not enable you to assess a student’s holistic knowledge, but only their ability to know “recognition knowledge”.

Recognition knowledge is the type of knowledge we have that we don’t remember until we are in the midst of a situation. For example, you can’t give directions to your favorite restaurant to someone, but you can drive there yourself. When you are in the middle of a multiple choice test you correlate or match answers to questions rather than holistically understand the complexities of a certain aspect of an intellectual discipline. If you were asked to explain more completely the correct answer you gave on a multiple choice test you may not be able to say why it is right because you got the answer right through guessing or elimination. This type of “correct” answer does not constitute holistic knowledge.

It is because of the efficiency of the objective testing method (that is it is easier to grade and proctor) that most schools have adopted it, and, yet, it is woefully ineffective in actually determining a student’s educational acumen. Some information about a students understanding is garnered when a student takes an objective test, but the assessment you can do with a student is very limited. You know that they understand certain things like the chemical makeup of water (H2O) or the year that the United States Constitution was ratified (1787), but not the implications surrounding the crafting of the Constitution.

Students learn very quickly how to take a test, and they often equate success on those tests with actually having mastered a complex subject (say 18th century United States history). It turns out that all they really know is how to quickly scan a test and select the answers that they recognize, and by doing so they believe they know (history).

Education is a constant conversation. One of the major benefits of home schooling is that children can be in an ongoing dialog with their parents about their academic undertakings. It is this ongoing integration of life and learning that can enable the students to much more effectively cement their knowledge. When parents are active participants in the students academic lives they can engage them in a variety of ways that would be impossible to reproduce in a static classroom. Now you don’t have to be a home school parent to do this, but you must know your children’s curriculum and be diligently interacting with your children about all they are learning.

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