Recently I was reading a book on the intersection of faith and science. It is no doubt a wonderful book, but the simple truth is that I had a hard time understanding it. Science has never been my strongest subject and I got bogged down in the explanations. What the book did do for me for was get me thinking about the gift of sight.
The author of that book could see amazing things in the natural world that I could never comprehend. The study of science came easy to her. It was what she was meant to do. I have my own gifts, the areas in which I see most clearly. I am a writer. I am an artist. I am deeply religious. I can see beauty in things others might simply overlook. I can see the hand of God working in the world.
When we are children, we tend to think everyone is like us. I can remember wondering why others seemed to struggle with tasks I found so easy. With age and maturity, we come to appreciate the differences inherent in each person. We come to realize that the world needs those who can see differently.
What does that have to do with education and homeschooling? It means that the young people sitting in front of us have their own gifts of sight, waiting to be encouraged and cultivated. It is important to provide children with a broad education, to give them at least a nodding acquaintance with the major areas of learning and ideas. But children often realize at an early age, usually by high school, what general areas they are good at. They know what they can “see.”
They know whether they are better at art or at math. They know whether working in a medical field or in a business or a school or in the great outdoors appeals to them more. Some may not be good at academic subjects at all, but they may be able to build amazing creations. They may have athletic abilities or musical prowess or be great at reading people’s emotions and helping people cope with hard times. Everyone has a gift.
Yet our current academic system doesn’t adequately provide for those differences in sight. As a young person, I knew that I enjoyed history, English, and the arts. I was never going to be a mathematician or a scientist. I was a strong academic student. I studied exceedingly hard and got good grades, but I studied for the test and then my brain promptly dumped the information. In high school, I had to take courses that made little sense to me. I studied calculus my senior year. Why? As far as math goes, what I really needed to know was how to make a budget and balance a checkbook (a feat I have never mastered). As a member of the honors track, I never had time in my schedule to take the art class I would have loved, and I’m pretty sure there were at least a few people who thought I lost my mind when I went to college as an art major (I would later add a second major in history.)
Students are more engaged when they are studying subjects that interest them. While certainly there are more options in high schools than there were when I was young, we need still need many more opportunities for students to study what they are good at. We need to stop trying to fit everyone into the same boxes. I would love to see greater access to apprenticeships and the ability for young people to have on-the-job training. There should be fewer required courses and more opportunities for electives. Those who want a traditional program of education would still be able to obtain that and to excel at it, but it would be their choice.
But while we are waiting for the educational world to adapt to a changing world, we homeschoolers do have the opportunity to customize our children’s education. We can allow them to pursue those areas they are passionate about. We can expose them to many things so that they can figure out what they want to do with their lives. We don’t have to tell them that real life begins when they graduate from high school or college. This is their real life – right now. They own it and can make the most of it. They already have their gifts of sight. Our job as homeschooling parents is to cultivate them.