The Case for Independent Education

Modern education is going through some significant changes. Many of these changes are good, or have the potential for good, but have equal potential to be… less than good.

For instance, advances in technology are good. Technology (particularly Information Technology) makes it easier for educational resources to be delivered, and even delivered in a way which is more engaging (sometimes “fun” but at least engaging), so that a variety of learning styles can glean skills and knowledge.

Too much of a focus on technology, however, has drawbacks. The most obvious is how much time is spent focused on screens, which besides having negative consequences by itself, the more time is spent on screens, the less time is spent using their hands for other things, moving around, talking to humans, engaging with the world.

Another positive trend is a “student-driven,” vs. “teacher-driven” education. Young people, for the most part, really do want to learn about the world around them, and when they’re given a little autonomy they can explore the world in ways that will stick with them more effectively. Where “student-driven” becomes problematic is when all respect for precedent and experience becomes secondary.  At the university level this has become a problem to the nth degree, where an entrenched ideology, which ironically seeks to dismiss years of established civilization — presumably in search of the new and enlightened — results in an “inmates-running-the-asylum” scenario.

The key to student-driven education is not that students should be given all authority to determine what is good or right, or worthy of pursuit, but that they should develop the habits and skills to be able to teach themselves what is required to flourish — in their careers, in their communities, as citizens and leaders.

The challenge is that there has been a lot of double speak about “flipped classrooms” where teachers serve as mentors instead of lecturers, which sounds great, until parents realize that they become the main teachers, especially in the rare circumstance (wink, wink) where a young person’s desire to learn may not be matched by a real motivation to learn. Though flipped classrooms are actually an active improvement on the current situation (a maximum 2 or 3 hours of actual learning at school, followed by 3 to 4 hours of homework at home, with no real concrete learning goal in mind), it still leaves a lot to be desired. It puts a lot of onus on parents to do a lot of the heavy lifting of learning, without their having the impetus of developing the paths of learning that would work best for their kids.

A previous post asked the question of what the role of parents should be in modern education (using the shaky metaphor of education being like making a movie), and we answered the question thusly:

Perhaps, though, the right balance is that the “education movie” is always an adaptation, with their child in the starring role, and parents are the novelists. After all, students are humans first. They are complete beings, and their education is more than just schooling. A novelist is very often QUITE involved in the script (though they aren’t always the writer of their adapted movie script), and the optioning contract can be such that they have to be, or the movie doesn’t get made.

Which brings us to homeschooling. Parents who homeschool have essentially decided to be the director, producer, writer, camera operator, set designer, and they feel — logically — overwhelmed.

The good news is there is more information, more help, more support, and more resources than ever before for homeschoolers. The help is sometimes more philosophical and pedagogical than anything else. To one extreme, you have “unschooling” which basically says that no formal curriculum is necessary and that the kids should just learn through living and deciding for themselves what and how they learn. The “unlearning” scenario even takes parents out of the equation.

To the other extreme, programs can be bought for a reasonable price which can plan out EVERY DAY to the hour, leaving very little to chance, and offering great quality.  Detailed granular programs are possibly more appropriate for those who wish to homeschool for values-based reasons. For those who seek to homeschool because their son or daughter learns differently, or needs more hands-on learning, or needs a more flexible and tailored education…then a detailed plan, almost by definition, is not going to work for everyone.

There are a myriad of circumstances where, even with all of the support, and all the resources available, homeschooling is not in the cards for a family. Parents can still take charge of their kids’ education through thinking outside the traditional school box. Enrichment programs, with a focus on Project-based Learning — though the term is sort of a buzzword — can be a great asset. If done right, they focus on the process of learning and not the technology, and it can be used as a way to tailor-make a student’s education from the ground up. Project-based learning serves as an integral part of the IndED Method, in which it forms the foundation of every child’s education.

In the end, independent education is about parents calling the shots, and being in charge of their kids’ education, but it is not necessarily about their doing all the work of walking their students through every step of their education. With high-quality enrichment programming, and a little bit of patience, students can do a lot of that work themselves. With a little guidance, and support, encouragement and mentoring from different sources, the parents can make sure the work is headed in a productive direction. Just like parenting, there is only so much that can be done for our kids anyway.

Butch Porter is the owner/operator of “IndED” which is an educational enrichment program for public, private, and homeschooled students. IndED recently launched a science program for homeschooled students, as well as after-school programs in Citizenship, the Arts, and Science. The focus is on learning science through the scientists, experiencing culture through the arts, and engaging with the community in learning about government and citizenship.

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