Are you a DIYer? Is there any area of your life where you have the confidence to tackle a task that most people leave to the experts?
What about the task of educating your children? Any DIY tendencies there?
Most people leave that little job to the experts. And no wonder–what an array of experts, all properly trained and credentialed, it takes to run the average school. Besides teachers, there are teacher’s aides, psychologists, social workers, curriculum specialists, librarians, deans, secretaries, academic counselors, safety officers, and attendance improvement specialists, not to mention all the levels of administration, which often includes at least a couple of layers of principals and a school board–and that’s just at the local level. You’ve also got regional offices and the state bureaucracy, all the way on up to the various arms of the Department of Education in Washington, D.C. It’s official: They know what everybody’s kids should learn, when they should learn it, and how the instruction should proceed.
How could a parent possibly have any confidence in their own abilities in comparison with the force of that mass of human capital?
And yet some parents do.
Their DIY approach to education–also known as homeschooling–means that they cut through all the layers of outside control and make the decisions themselves about what their children will study and how they will study it. That means they’ll get the credit or the blame for how their children turn out and where they end up in society. (Scary. Or exhilarating.)
But most parents, when the time comes, enroll their children in a school, public or private, and rely on that institution to educate their offspring.
You can tell from my tone that I don’t think this is necessarily the best approach. In theory, I believe that far more kids than are currently being homeschooled would be better off with a parent as their instructor. However, I have no illusions that the masses of parents are going to stop relying on the formal school systems in place to educate their children. There is simply too much inertia in favor of “letting the schools do their job.”
What I do think is realistic–and absolutely necessary–is for parents to be aware of what sort of an education their children are getting in their formal school setting. How can any expert, no matter what their credentials, make a claim to a level of investment in a child that the parent has?
I will develop this idea further in future posts. For now, consider the example of Cato the Elder, the Roman statesman who lived in the second century before Christ. The common practice among well-to-do Romans in Cato’s day (and for many years afterwards) was to turn over the foundational education of their children to a well-educated Greek slave, who was a valued and trusted member of the household. Cato, however, thought that instruction should be given by the father himself, who not only would impart the basics of schooling but also would shape the child’s character.
What was the term used to describe this Greek slave? He was a pedagogue, from which we get our word pedagogy, ‘the art or profession of teaching’.