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Some Thoughts on Education (6) – FAQs (A) How do I give my children what I lack? And (B) why must students learn things they will never “use”?

If parents are the most important factor in their children’s education, what chance do my children have? I didn’t get a good education, how do I give my children what I lack?

As a parent you don’t need to know everything, none of us do. In fact, some parents with great educations help their children too much and thereby inhibit them. What you should seek to do is something that every parent, regardless of their education, can do: hold your children accountable and create an environment conducive to learning.

My Dad left school somewhere between 8th and 10th grade, I’m not exactly sure when. He couldn’t help me with my homework, but he expected that I do it and do it well. Time and again he would say ‘if you are only going to do that half-heartedly, then you may as well quick school. I don’t care. But then get you butt outside and shovel the cow manure out my trailer.’ (My Dad hauls cattle for a living.)

Ultimately it is the student that determines the quality of education that they receive, even the best teacher is merely a facilitator. So if you hold your child accountable, if you make it unquestionably clear that they will do their work and will do it well, they will learn.

The second thing you can do is create an environment conducive to learning. If you as a parent didn’t get a good education, then start now and learn with your kids. Read books together. Discuss what you or they are learning. Don’t make a screen the center of your home, but rather put your television in the basement or in an out of the way room. Have screen free times, days, or even months. Get outside. Get active. Go on walks, go to parks, draw with chalk, jump rope—don’t just sign your kids up for an activity, ship them off, and delegate their leisure to “professionals”, be active and engage with them yourself. Play games. Talk. Laugh. Cook together. Linger over your meals. Pray together. Study God’s word together. Sing hymns together. Watch documentaries or thoughtful movies you can discuss. Travel to places of historical importance or natural beauty. Visit museums. Ask your parents or grandparents to share stories of their childhood. Have friends over and make your kids play outside—they will come up with great things to do! Education is a life long endeavor and something not bound by the four walls of a school. There are many things you can do to allow education to happen organically in your home.   

Helping your children receive a good education by keeping them accountable and creating an environment conducive to learning is hard, but it is rewarding. The same is true of everything in life! Is not marriage hard yet rewarding? Or parenting? Is an easy, mindless job rewarding? No, challenging jobs tend to be more rewarding. The level of value in a thing is generally commensurate with what you have to give up to attain it. Keep that in mind as you sacrifice your comforts to help your children get a good education.

Why do our students study things they will never “use”?

To answer this we need to consider what a person is and what they are made for. If a person were just a body, then the goal of education would be to develop that body, extend its life, and find ways to make the body have a pleasant time on earth. Anything that didn’t further that would be pointless. There might be a place for virtue, but only so far as it helped one get ahead—otherwise the goal would be advancement over others and the accumulation of wealth and power to provide one with the comforts one desires.

But man is not just a body, he is a soul as well. As such, education will involve a number of things that train the soul. But the soul isn’t a slab of marble, one can’t work on it directly. One can’t, for example, simply instill within oneself the virtue of perseverance. One has to, well, persevere through difficult things to develop that!

Something like math is going to be directly used by an engineer, but it will no less benefit a seamstress or poet. For in studying math one learns to think through things logically and to be successful at it one must develop habits of concentration, diligence, and perseverance, habits that will benefit one in any vocation and indeed in all areas of life.

But can’t one learn these habits another way? For example, cannot one learn concentration, diligence, and perseverance by playing piano? Indeed one can! I don’t believe there is any such thing as one “right” educational path for all people. If the goal of education is the formation of the soul then there are multiple ways to go about it—Jesus never studied Calculus or Physics and yet He was The Fully Formed Man. So would I support a young person that wanted to forego math so that he or she had time to master the piano? Given the right circumstances, yes. But the fact of the matter is that most students that want to get out of studying math (or any subject) generally don’t want to do something else of value and difficulty, rather they want to do nothing or something of negligible worth.

I think the very question “why should we study things we will never use?” is mistaken. To begin with, no young person knows what they will end up using. And secondly, and most importantly, a person is not a thing to be trained! A person is more than their accumulated skills so education must be more than the mere transmission of skills and useful knowledge.