"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

29 July 2005


Hunting for home school curriculum is always frustrating at best. It used to be because the choices were so few; now it’s because they are so many. I think I preferred the former problem; at least one did not feel compelled to read five hundred reviews of each potential resource to figure out which would work best for one’s unique children and situation.

So far I’m happy with the choices I’ve made for this year. But the review-reading process once again brought me up against the favorite game of people with strong opinions and little actual experience: overreaction.

The word “process,” for example, appears to have become anathema in many Christian circles. “If it says it will teach ‘process,’ run! It will be relativistic and your child will learn nothing! It is touchy-feely worthlessness! Back to the basics, to rote memorization and the way Laura Ingalls Wilder learned!”


At one time, perhaps children learned a great deal more at home about how to learn. I don’t know. Undeniably, children learned a great deal more than most of us know today, and with a very different kind of curriculum. However, it is simple truth that if one does not know how to solve a problem or write an essay, one will not do so through rote memorization of facts to be used in the problem or essay. How children learned these processes in the past I do not know, but they are not learning them today.

The problem, of course, is that “process-oriented” education has been taken to a foolish extreme by too many teachers and school systems. The process becomes the point, and little Johnny can pass math with an A while missing the actual answers to most of the problems – because he followed the right “process,” though not having bothered to pay attention to minor details such as adding or subtracting correctly. “But he understands how to do it!” the proud teacher gushes. I say the bridge will still fall down if he gets the wrong answers for the building of it, no matter how he arrived at them.

Balance. Where, oh, where is our sense of balance? If a child doesn’t understand the process by which to solve an algebraic equation, he will struggle with the next concept even if he manages to memorize this particular one. But the process is not an end in itself. He must pay attention to the product it leads to, as well. In writing, students for years were left in the dark as to how to create the kinds of essays their teachers expected of them. Because most of them don’t read and never write on their own initiative, they must be taught the process of writing – but not for its own sake. The point of the process, always, is to arrive at a product which effectively communicates a worthy idea to an audience.

My brothers and sisters who despise and demean the methods of education in use today would do well to step back and consider carefully what they might be missing. Some of today’s methods are ill-conceived and should be avoided, yes. But others might be very helpful if appropriately balanced with the legitimate goals of education. We need some education about education in the homeschool movement, I begin to think.

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