Tuesday, December 6, 2011
"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." - William Butler Yeats
Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. - William Butler Yeats
Are there some things that you really must know in order to be well-educated, well-rounded or at least functional in our world? This "filling of a pail" is wildly popular in the homeschool as well as the schooling community. Just think of the popularity of the core-curriculum ideas and the hottest selling homeschool book series ever; "What your Kindergartner (1st grader, etc.) Needs to Know." I once owned the whole series, but soon sold them all on ebay and made enough money to invest in a year's subscription to Home Education Magazine, my favorite periodical resource. I did keep the first one, only because it contains the story of The Velveteen Rabbit.
Back to my question. Of course there are some things that are good to know, a lot of them really; hitting is not the way to get your doll back, do you need to take a boat to go from China to Russia, how to hang up a picture frame, change your socks every day, but if you think about it, they are clearly too numerous for one teacher to ever get around to teaching to even one pupil, much less thirty.
Isn't it better to "light the fire", spark the curiosity and love of learning in a child and let it lead him where it will? A lifelong learner is someone who never grows old, who continues to hold the joy of discovery and novelty in their hearts.
Does this mean we give up teaching anything at all, and just let children "go for it?" Just go about your business, as John Holt once suggested, and let children see your own passion for what you love. Even Steiner said, repeatedly, that it was not what the children are learning, but how it is being presented. He also prescribed subjects to be taught to each developmental stage. These subjects answer to the soul's needs at each stage and prepare the children for a multi-cultural world in which living in peace with their fellow humans is the ultimate goal. The answer lies somewhere between Steiner and Holt, with a good dose of Yeats in between.
Parents: choose your battles, pick your subjects, the ones you believe in, the ones that speak to your child; her developmental readiness, his interests, and delve into them with all you've got. Let them have your time and energy and enthusiasm for this present moment, this present topic. Let them find their own passion with your help. Go ahead, read the fairy tales, the botany lesson, but give it all you've got. This is what is meant by blocks in Waldorf education, this is what is meant by unit study and by child-led learning. Depth, focus, fire.