I believe in self-educating. I do not believe in schooling for schooling’s sake. Schooling can be an effective way of getting an education, but it is not the only way. My wife and I are educating our children. We wish to help them learn through natural stages: exploring, investigating, replicating, cultivating, and propagating.
Early learners enjoy exploring
Think of taking a toddler by the hand, through a flower garden. The child stops to touch a leaf, chase a grasshopper, or inhale a flower—even taste it. This introduction to the world of knowledge is fun and awakens an immature mind to what he or she does not know.
Before he was two, one of my sons developed a love for animals. Today, his future career seems to be geared toward an animal industry. His sister, also before she was two, showed a strong dislike for animals. Over a decade later, she has maintained this aversion and is honing a few non-animal skills. Simple interests in childhood for each of my six children have slowly blossomed into continuing areas of focus and interest as they have grown.
Elementary learners investigate
The details of history, science, and literature we expose growing learners to will probably not stick with them for life. Yes, we wish they would remember it all because we find it so fascinating as we teach it. However, we are tour guides. We point out the topics of interest along the way, but they leave with a general sense of how it all works. I was an A+ student, but I still have to work hard to recall the dates or even decades of certain wars and significant events. However, I do retain a general flow of historical events and that was the purpose.
During my elementary years, my interest in key concepts blossomed into life-long pursuits of knowledge and experience. I believe this stage prepares a child for a healthy teen life. Negative influences during childhood lead to troubled teen years. You cannot try to fix a mis-directed 15-year-old as easily as you can guide a child who is five. You will not be able to completely shelter your child from negative influences, but by being an involved parent, you can deflect the negative influences and block your children from investigating evil. Your own interests have a multi-generational impact on your family.
High school replicates what others have done
Many schools offer electives to high-schoolers because they realize at this phase a growing learner wants to focus on certain areas of interest. At age thirteen, I started building my library of Bible study tools, learning Hebrew, and intensifying my spiritual life. I was unconsciously preparing for a life in ministry and writing. I was simply replicating what I liked in others and found captivating to my interests.
I remember going to a Oneness Pentecostal Symposium when I was in my early teens. I talked to theologians and asked questions. I read everything doctrinal I could get my hands on. I did not realize that the point of learning was to teach others. People would ask if I wanted to be a preacher and I would flat deny it. I was not preparing for a purpose, I was just following my curiosity.
Undergrad studies help one cultivate an area of expertise
In young adulthood, I saw that my efforts and interests did lead to an obvious conclusion. I made a pointed effort to gather the skills and knowledge I would need for my lifework. I majored in English and minored in Spanish. I had already been published at age 15 and knew by 16 that writing would be my lifework. Throughout my teen years I read about writing and wrote stuff for reading. My stint in college beat out a lot of my writing flaws and honed my strengths.
I do not believe a person “has to” go to college. Any more, people see schooling as the “way to a better job.” However, just a degree means nothing if you have not grown as a person. I saw as many zombies in college as I see at Wal-Mart. They are there for lack of a better place to be. These upper level studies should be fulfilling a personal pursuit. They should contribute to the whole of a person who is intent on being an expert at something.
Graduate-level work helps one propagate others in an area of mastery
The child walks through the garden in awe of each leaf and creepy-crawly. The adolescent stops to examine how many lobes a leaf has or how many petals a flower presents. The teen learns to prune, weed, and replant to keep the garden lively. The young adult develops an affinity for roses and begins planting a field of them. That leads us to the next level of learning: helping someone else find their way through the garden.
Graduate studies help a person learn how to train other rose-planters or to best help others in their examination, investigation, replication, and/or cultivation of knowledge. All skills are tied to knowledge. Teachers understand how to connect people with the knowledge they need.
Parents help their children through the first three levels at least. Even those who send their kids out to be educated by others will find themselves still taking their young ones by the hand, helping with the homework, answering their curiosities, and helping them through the stages of learning. I argue that home educators are doing this intentionally while traditional homes do this accidentally. Whatever the case, we are all on a journey of educating ourselves and others.
Some areas of interest cannot be fulfilled by classroom learning. Every skill, trade, or knowledge sector needs an activity component—a learning by doing. Some parents bemoan their lack of education or their misguided attempts at it, wishing they could have a do-over. However, I would suggest that one of the most fulfilling things a person could do would be to help others find their area of expertise and encourage them until they mastered it.