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Children Learn by Example

By Dr. Arthur Robinson
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #22, 1998.

Children learn by example.
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Dr. Arthur Robinson

The single most important thing that homeschool families must keep in mind is this:

Children learn by example.

Actually, adults learn largely by example, too, and this also has a profound effect upon homeschool families.

With this in mind, a visit to a typical tax-financed socialist "public" school provides more than enough motivation to homeschool. Do responsible parents want their children to emulate the behavior of the teachers and children there? Disorder, ignorance, misbehavior, disrespect for parents and family, and worse are the norms in such schools, so they obviously do not provide the examples we want for our children. Even the mobs of immature children and typical adults found in most private and Christian schools are often poor examples.

Once the children are at home, however, learning by example does not end. It simply transfers to the home itself. If you read, the children will read. If you value academic achievement for yourself, so will they. If your Christian faith is strong, theirs will be. Conversely, if you watch TV, so will they. If you form your opinions from shallow sources of propaganda such as TV news commentators and local newspapers, instead of by responsible independent thought based on accurate information, so will they.

If you permit government agencies to confiscate the earnings of your neighbors and fellow citizens by forced taxation, and then partake of a share of the loot through government payments, and if you carefully vote for politicians who promise you a greater share of the loot, then your children will learn that it is acceptable to steal. If you earn your own way, even when it seems more difficult to do so, your children will learn the virtues of hard work and honesty.

Academic study is only part of the home environment, but it is an essential part. This study best takes place in a quiet, comfortable atmosphere with an adult example nearby. For instance, if a separate room is available, each child should have a large desk in that room, as should at least one adult. The tops of these desks should be completely clear of all items except those immediately in use. The room should be free from distractions such as toys and other interests. Even school wall hangings can be distractions. The action is on the desks - between the students and the books - not on the walls, floors, and ceilings. Anything that interposes itself between the student and those books is a negative influence, whether it be an overly solicitous teacher or a distracting toy (even a toy that pretends to be educational). Academic knowledge is in books, and it is from books that the student must learn to extract it.

The students need one primary thing from their teacher - they need an example. An adult should, if at all possible, do his or her own reading and paperwork, such as accounting and bill paying, at a desk in the school room. I know of fathers with desk-intensive professions who have had great success by simply taking their children to work. The students are given desks in the corners of the father's office and taught to conduct themselves in complete quiet. They work at their desks, while Daddy works at his desk. The children soon learn to tune out distractions such as telephone conversations or other workers visiting the father - and they emulate the father.

There are, of course, a great many possible variations. If, for example, the parents' work requires that another adult supervise the children for part of the day, that adult should be chosen with academic example (as well as moral, spiritual, and ethical example) in mind. The supervisory adult will become the students' role model. Is that person an example of the sort of adults you want your children to become?

It is ridiculous to have children - the greatest blessing that our life in this world offers - and then turn them over to the state or to mobs of other immature children and disinterested adults to raise. When we keep them at home, our homes prosper, strengthening our family lives and our spiritual lives.

None of us are, of course, perfect. The typical adult - as is present in the Robinson home, for instance - has many faults and foibles which he will probably never outgrow. But to a certain extent, my children invert my foibles, having learned from my example about habits (such as sugar addiction) that they should not acquire.

Our children even serve, in many ways, as examples for us. There are great stores of inherent wisdom within the minds and hearts of children, especially those who are fortunate to live "out of the world." If an adult shelters a child from the negative influences of the world and then emulates, himself, the wonderful person that automatically emerges as the child grows, that adult is likely to improve greatly in heart and mind.

Academic mental achievement - learning to think and learning to find accurate, reliable information upon which to base our thoughts - is an important aspect of life. Homeschools foster this achievement. The principal duties of parents in this process are to provide a good study environment, excellent study materials conducive to self-learning, good study rules, and - above all else - a good example for the students to emulate.

Dr. Arthur Robinson is a scientist who works on various aspects of fundamental biochemistry, nutrition, and preventive medicine. He is President and Research Professor of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine. His wife Lauralee, who was also a scientist, homeschooled their children until her death in November 1988, when the children were 12, 10, 8, 6, 6, and 16 months. During the past seven years, Dr. Robinson and the children have continued their homeschooling by developing a program entirely based upon self-teaching.

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