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Build Confidence Through Independent Learning

By Dr. Arthur Robinson
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #11, 1996.

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Dr. Arthur Robinson


Zachary, my oldest son, started college at Oregon State University this week. He expects to complete his chemistry major in two years. On the basis of College Board Advanced Placement Tests, he was allowed to skip the first two years of courses.

When I looked over his schedule of junior level chemistry and mathematics courses, I began to think I should help. After all, I had taught the same sorts of chemistry courses when I was a university faculty member. So, I said, “If you wish, I will help you with this material.”

There was then a long silence.

Both of us were thinking the same thing. How would I help? Would I lecture to him? Show him how to work the problems? Check his homework assignments for errors? Provide workbooks or other study aids? Give practice examinations? In 12 years of homeschooling, I have never done those things. His brain has no experience in the use of such crutches.

Actually, although his university instructors may not realize it, most of their job was over when they selected the textbooks and required that Zachary learn the material in them. Their periodic examinations will reflect that he has learned the material, but the professors will probably never realize that he learned it without further help.

Learning to Learn

For those people who think for themselves, most of life is a self-teaching experience. Otherwise, what would they do when they needed to learn new information or academic skills? Should they re-enroll in the university and ask to be taught? Perhaps they should not learn those things for which no teacher is available?

Unfortunately, for a great many Americans, learning only the things they are actively taught is the usual way. After school, television and the people in their immediate peer group become their primary sources of information and, all too often, misinformation. They lack the ability to learn on their own. Most importantly, they lack the ability to think independently.

From the very first day that a child begins formal academic instruction (at ages five to seven), the ultimate adult mind that will be formed by that child’s education should be uppermost in the parents’ thoughts. Their goal should be to mold an adult who can learn without help, since there will be no formal schools and teachers for most of the information that he needs in life.

Moreover, each person should have the self-confidence that arises from independent leaning. That self-confidence is an essential part of the process of independent thought—a requirement of individual freedom. And, your child will require individual freedom for the best possible life before man and God.

What Should We Teach?

Elementary education is a race between the biological development of a child’s mind and the learning of skills and information required for the optimum use of that mind. Facts and information are important, but even more important are skills that must be developed early in life for optimum mental development. Some such skills, such as mathematics and writing, are also an integral part of the factual information. Other skills are a part of the organization of the school itself and consist of a collection of mental habits and attitudes.

In designing homeschool curricula for our children, we should, therefore, ask ourselves several important questions: (1) Are the facts we teach fundamental information of primary importance to productive thought? (2) Are the study habits and attitudes we teach suitable for the adult that our child will become? (3) Are these things acquired in such a way and with sufficient mastery that the child will develop self-confidence in his independent individual abilities?

Ultimately, no authority can answer these questions. Parents know their child best, and it is their responsibility to answer these questions for their family. Parents should realize, however, the importance of these questions.

These questions lead to some surprising conclusions: First, much of the information traditionally a part of grades 1–12 is of lesser importance than other often-neglected information. Book selection is of crucial importance. Second, study environment and habits are very important, whereas learning tools and active teacher tutoring are of lesser importance and potentially harmful. Three, children learn by example. Most importantly homeschool teachers must serve, through their own behavior regarding their own work, as good examples for their students.

Author’s Note: The future editions of this column will discuss specific parts of homeschooling and the ways in which each of them fits into these goals. I am delighted to have this opportunity to share these thoughts with you. I hope that you will find among them an occasional gem that proves beneficial for your students.


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