Homeschooling To Learn To Think (It Don’t Get Taught In School)

Today, I read an article from 1991, written by a biology teacher, Paul Grobstein. It should be required reading for all homeschoolers (and all non-homeschoolers too, if they are brave).

I was floored. Not because I was surprised at how little thinking actually goes on in school (of all levels), but because of 1) when the article was written, 2) who wrote it and 3) that adults, who were in a college class, and supposedly “well-educated” were so unhappy with being required to think.

School was not ever, nor is currently, designed to teach people to think. Learning “things” is not thinking. Taking the time to allow people to try things, ask questions, be wrong and move through problems in their own unique way does not work in the school model. It requires too much time, resources and cannot be tested.

It is not efficient.

Efficiency is the school model. And efficiency is not a road to learn how to think. Thinking takes time. It takes an unpredictable path. It takes patience. There is no space or time to learn to think in schools. You have only so many weeks to teach and learn so many things, that the only way to learn them is to churn out data. Data can be measured. Whether or not a person can think is completely irrelevant. It’s about doing what everyone else is doing, exactly the same way, at the same pace as everyone else. Without questioning it.

Which leads to another important conclusion that Grobstein makes – teaching/allowing people to know how to think is risky. It means they will question the teachers. It means they will question the system. And when they do, how can you keep them from screwing things up? When kids think, they can rock the boat, make things take way too long and point out flaws in the system. The hope is that by the time they are old enough to do that, they will have learned it to be futile.

Getting beyond the limitations of learning for a system is what a life without school is about – it’s about learning to think. Breaking out of the school mold and thinking about why we do things the way way do. And to allow mistakes.

That is a huge HUGE problem in the school system, which then translates into our society – people are not allowed to make mistakes. And the less you allow people to make mistakes, the less they are allowed to think for themselves. Making mistakes is one of the most important parts of learning.

And I don’t mean making mistakes so that other people can correct those mistakes – I mean truly allowing people to own their own mistakes and then own their solutions to the problem.

That’s why grades, correcting papers, asking kids to do worksheets all day, all that school crap that is really just demanding that kids do things “the right way” is not teaching them to think.

Teaching them to think takes time, takes trust and takes a teacher who is willing to say, “I’m here to help you find your way, but I’m not here to make you go where I want you to go.”

Thinking, in essence, is being able to determine ON OUR OWN, what is right, what works and even what the problem is in the first place. Being able to think is being able to ask hard questions, not be afraid to be wrong, and to step out and say, “I have an idea” even if it may not be popular. Being able to think is to know that someone else having a different opinion is not a threat. Being able to think is to first recognize when something is not working and having the ability and willingness to consider different options, and ask for help in unlikely places.

Now, could a child who really can think for themselves succeed this way in school?

No. A child who can really think for themselves this way has to TURN OFF his thinking cap to succeed in school, and then have some kind of non-school place to use his thinking abilities.

If a child doesn’t have this, then what happens?

And on the flip side, if 99.9% of his life is a thinking adventure, where does that lead?

Homeschoolers, please don’t get caught in the school trap. Don’t focus on the whats, focus on the whys. The hows. Let the kids make mistakes. And don’t give them grades. Don’t correct their papers. Give them space to think.

1) Talk with them about the things you want them to know about. Don’t make them read a book/curriculum/text. You read the book and share with them what you learned. If it’s really that interesting, and useful and awesome, they will want to learn more too.

2) Talk with them about the things they like. Ask what is in the books that they read (without being assigned). (Not to drill them, but to get to know them.)

3) Go out in the world and do things that give kids (and you!) lots of opportunities to try new things and makes mistakes. Don’t force them to do things they don’t like. And don’t feel like you have to be perfect all the time either. Try things you haven’t done before. Let them see you step out of your comfort zone.

4) If you use workbooks, do it as a game. Don’t correct their work, let them do it. Or, talk about the things that you don’t think are right. Maybe they have a good explanation as to why they are right.

For example, my daughter was doing a book where you had to put the first letter of every word under the picture. She wrote “L” under a picture of a cat. I said, “why L?” She said, “It’s Lestat” (the name of our cat). According to the book, she was wrong. But from her perspective is was very right. If a teacher saw that on a page, what would the teacher, who wasn’t sitting with the child and having a conversation, put on the paper?

5) If they don’t want to learn it right now, the way you want to teach it – let go. By making them do the work the way you want to on your time table, you are not teaching them to think. You are teaching them to acquiesce.

And don’t give me the “but they have to learn to do things they don’t like” schpeal. After you left school, and became an adult, how many times do you do things that you don’t like just because someone says they want to you to? And if you say “a lot”, is that a good thing? If your job is like that, why are you still in that horrible job? Quit!

Doing things we don’t want to because life demands it, is one thing. Doing things we don’t want because someone is controlling our lives, and how we think, is not good. Well, it’s not good if what you want to do is make it a habit of thinking.

So, what do you think? What is it to be able to think? And does being able to think have anything to do with getting good grades? Also, does being able to think have anything to do with how much knowledge we have?

This is your first assignment in thinking: What can we do, as homeschoolers, to allow everyone in the family opportunity to think?

2 Responses to “Homeschooling To Learn To Think (It Don’t Get Taught In School)”

  1. Mark Weiss Says:

    Still working on the assignment, but do have a question.
    Is there a substantive difference between thinking and awareness?


  2. fortheloveofcharcoal Says:

    I am not a home schooler, but an after schooler, but hope I can do this assignment anyway.
    I think it isn’t one thing, but many, that lead to allowing for another person to develop their thought process. And each person has a different way to do it. Son is very kinetic. If he were to sit and brainstorm on paper, it would be a disaster. He is very much in his head. He thinks in short incomplete sentences, with all the wrong grammar. He has to do it that way and as parents we don’t step in and tell him how to organize his way to thinking. (I have spent much time with his teachers who are disturbed by this process, attempting to make them see that he needs to do things this way and most of the time, they are receptive) He has a system that I respect because it works for him. Daughter is a note taker and very organized. She needs quiet and time. This is the more acceptable way for many, but the task for her is to learn to be more spontaneous and that has come with age and encouragement from us as parents. (again, I have spent time with her teachers in an attempt to have them encourage more spontaneity and this doesn’t go over as well for obvious reasons).
    How, if I did I send my kids to public school, do they still think anyway? First, my kids are basically aware that they are not allowed to think in school which makes them want to think harder (natural rebels). But it all started from day 1, at home.
    We have an open forum type of communication system. We allow for all ideas. We prompt. We ask for and listen to opinions. We ask for backup to those opinions when necessary. We encourage each other to delve deeper. We have heated debates.
    I am also a student and the kids are just as involved in my education as I am in theirs. This gives them the sense that they can tackle higher education when the time comes, but also it makes us equal as learners.
    Some parents would look in on us and think that we were being disrespected during our debates, but really that isn’t the case. We as parents, never felt the need to come across to our children as intellectual authority figures because we are not the end all of knowledge. Our attitude has been that we are also still learning and learning takes thinking, not memorizing. Working inside the system has actually been somewhat of a learning experience in itself, but we didn’t allow it to hinder our children. We used it as subject matter.
    Needless to say, while my children are not trouble makers, I have kept a close eye on their public schools and when some teacher gets in the way of thinking, they hear it loud and clear from me.

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