Friday, February 14, 2014

What Does It Take to Educate a Child? 5 Points and 7 Recommended Readings

Another way of asking the same question is, “What should an adult be like, and how do you encourage a child to become like that?” I’ve been bookmarking articles and posts that address one sliver or another of that massive question.

Educating a child takes:

1. A love of one’s subject that manifests as zeal, or toughness, when teaching it to others.

In, “Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results,” Joanne Lipman recalls her high school orchestra teacher and points out that modern research supports his old-fashioned teaching methods.

I had a teacher once who called his students "idiots" when they screwed up. He was our orchestra conductor, a fierce Ukrainian immigrant named Jerry Kupchynsky, and when someone played out of tune, he would stop the entire group to yell, "Who eez deaf in first violins!?" He made us rehearse until our fingers almost bled. He corrected our wayward hands and arms by poking at us with a pencil.
 What did Mr. K do right? What can we learn from a teacher whose methods fly in the face of everything we think we know about education today, but who was undeniably effective?

2. The ability to inspire imagination.

In, “It Takes a Pirate to Raise a Child” Daniel B. Coupland makes it clear that character isn’t learned from lesson plans and check marks.

These tales of fantasy and adventure are an inheritance that provides concrete images of goodness and evil — often in vivid blacks and whites — to the still receptive minds of the young. Over time, these images become patterns, and the patterns become habits, and the habits become our way of looking at reality. Children need these sharp distinctions to navigate in a morally confusing world.

3. A realization that the purpose of literature is far greater than to provide an arena for superficial analyses or “skills development." 

In “How Common Core Devalues Great Literature,” Anthony Esolen has strong words for the way that literature is completely misunderstood when it is not read for pleasure.

It makes my gorge rise, after that breath of fresh air with the tang of the river in it, to have to utter the words “Common Core Curriculum,” and its relentless, contemptible, soul-cramping, story-killing, pseudo-sophisticated, utilitarian focus not on the beauty and truth and goodness that good art reveals, not on the imaginative worlds that good books can open up to someone simply willing to receive them as gifts on their own terms and enter into them with gratitude, but upon scrambling up supposed skills in suspicion, superficial criticism, and dissection.

In “The Tyranny of Finding Something Clever to Say,” Joshua Gibbs points out that the way we often approach literary material severely hinders our ability to learn from it.

The need to “say something interesting” often presumes that the text is not sufficiently interesting in and of itself, or that a cursory read of a text is sufficient to ring out the most compelling, profound truths. Of course, little of what I am here claiming can be made alloy with a “plunder the Egyptians” approach to reading, wherein the student is encouraged to get all the “good stuff” and condemn all the “bad stuff” in a book, quite often after only a single read. This manner of reading only sets the student on edge, anxious to pluck out a line here or there and proclaim to the class that a gem had been found. Most of the book washes over the student.

4. An appreciation for both academic and “poetic” knowledge.

In, “Paradigm shift: Curriculum is not something you buy,” Sarah Mackenzie reminds us that we need to make time for more than one kind of learning.

Curriculum isn’t something we buy. It’s something we teach. Something we embody. Something we love.  It is the form and content of our children’s learning experiences.

5. A willingness to see the value of an education that is broader, or more narrow, than other people think it should be

In “This College Professor Has A Message For Liberal Arts Majors,” Hunter Baker reports a study that found, “While students who major in a wide variety of professional fields out-earn their liberal arts peers at the outset, the liberal arts majors tend to pull ahead in later years.” He argues that a liberal arts education is broad enough to teach one to truly learn.

The person who has mastered a particular market-driven skill of today is in a good position to profit in the short term, but given that we live in a highly dynamic society, the better long term investment is an education that equips the person to learn for the rest of his life.  The liberal arts, if taught well and approached with desire by the student, have the ability to unlock almost any subject the student wishes to learn for years to come.  If you understand how to think, how to draw lessons from past experience, how to write and speak, how to calculate, and how to put information through the kinds of tests which yield knowledge, then you have the tools you need.

Yet "Indiana Jane," a blogger,  points out that being well-rounded may be silly in financial terms and does not necessarily increase personal satisfaction in Well-Rounded and Hating It.


  1. You seem to have gathered in one place all the articles I could want, by people who express articulately what I only vaguely intuit and can barely, and rarely, ramble on about. Clearly I lack the education I need, but I'm still trying to learn. :-) and you are helping me. Thank you, Anna!

    1. I'm still working on my education, too! These articles struck me as very helpful, so I'm glad that you found them so as well.

  2. Excellent Post! I've bookmarked it for future reference and to share with others. Thank you!


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