Monday, April 21, 2014



As a soon-to-be parent, education is much on my mind.  It is especially on my mind after reading this:

N.J. college suspends professor over ‘Game of Thrones’ shirt perceived as ‘threat’

A picture posted online of a New Jersey professor’s young daughter sporting a “Game of Thrones” T-shirt got Francis Schmidt banished from the Bergen Community College campus for eight days without pay because school officials took the quote as a threat.

“I will take what is mine with fire and blood,” the shirt worn by smiling 7-year-old Sophia reads in a picture the art and animation professor took in January and shared with his Google+ contacts. (1)

This is what our education system has come to.  I haven't only got to worry about whether or not my daughter is learning her "Three R's".  I haven't only got to worry about whether or not she's being bullied at school.  I haven't only got to worry about whether or not she's being exposed in her school to alcohol, drugs, sex or other undesirable behaviors.  I haven't only got to worry that some loony will go to her school with a gun.  I also have to worry about pinhead administrators who may so object to a t-shirt that she might wear, or a picture that she might draw, or a report that she might write (for that matter, something that *I* might write), or even a gesture she might make, that they'll toss her out of school and haul me up in front of the local DA.

Homeschooling has never looked better.


Naturally, educating my daughter is very important to me.  If every door she comes to in life isn't open to her, then I at least want her to have the capability to force it if such is her choice.  A good education is (if I may extend the metaphor) part of a very effective battering ram.  But of what does a "good education" consist?
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
--- Proverbs 22:6

It seems to me that a good education teaches a child a few basic but highly important things:

1.  Self-discipline.  People very naturally like to get their own way.  They like to do as they please, when they please.  Unfortunately, quite aside from any immediate consequences from a life of hedonism, a purely selfish pursuit of one's own pleasure pretty rapidly brings conflict with other people who may well be in a position to make life... unpleasant... for the hedonist.  It seems to me that teaching a child to put off his own wants (or, at least, prioritize them) will be a great advantage to him later in life.
It seems plain to me, that the principle of all virtue and excellency lies in a power of denying ourselves the satisfaction of our own desires, where reason does not authorize them. This power is to be got and improv’d by custom, made easy and familiar by an early practice. If therefore I might be heard, I would advise, that, contrary to the ordinary way, children should be us’d to submit their desires, and go without their longings, even from their very cradles. [emphasis original]
--- John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education, sec. 38 (2)
2.  Compassion.  I define "compassion" here not simply as giving to others less fortunate, but rather dealing fairly with all people, of NOT looking to take advantage but rather of trying to reach an outcome that is equitable to all sides, and of trying to understand the other person's point of view.  This is not to say that a person should be a doormat; there will be times (plenty of them) when he has to stand up for what he thinks is right or even best for himself.  But this should be after mature consideration in which not only his own wants and needs are accounted for, but the wants and needs of all.
He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
--- Micah 6:8 
3.  The ability to learn.  Here we get into what it commonly considered to be "education": the teaching of facts and method.  We send children to school to learn to read, write, solve math problems, etc.  This is mostly an exercise in teaching them "fact".  To be sure, learning facts are important: one cannot do arithmetic without learning his numbers first.  What is equally important - perhaps MORE important - is the ability to learn method, to learn how to learn.  Key to this is critical thinking, questioning, skepticism, refusing to stop with the pat answer.  I can TELL my daughter that 2 + 2 = 4, but I would much rather that she learn how to work that out for herself.  If I can teach her how to do that, then all the learning and wisdom in the world is hers for the taking, because she will know HOW to know.
“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” 
--- Albert Einstein 
I want my daughter to understand.  I want her to learn to deal justly with others and to treat them with the courtesy that they deserve.  I want her to behave well and to be honest NOT because she fears punishment if she is a brat or tells lies, but because she understands within herself that honesty, integrity, courtesy, mercy, compassion, generosity, charity and fair play are traits that a decent person should strive to have.  I want her to love learning NOT because she fears my wrath if she brings home a bad grade, but because she understands that improving her mind will be an aid to her as she grows older, providing her with opportunities not only for her career, but also for her pleasure.
I don't know if she will get these things in public school.  I don't know if *I* can teach them to her.  We shall see.




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