Spoon Feeding vs Independent Learning: A False Dichotomy

A persistent myth in the homeschooling community is that independent learning is what all homeschoolers should strive for, and if you do it any other way, you’re “spoon feeding” information.

I disagree.

Some homeschoolers seem to believe that, especially during the high school years, students should be handed their books and a list of assignments and told to go for it. This approach may be optimal for some students, but I’m pretty sure that for the vast majority it is not.

Generally, textbook authors assume that their books will be used as part of the traditional school model, which features the presence of a teacher to distill the important information and explain it in a way that is accessible to students.  The teacher is available to answer questions, act as a role model for problem solving, and lead discussions about interesting, difficult, or ambiguous points.  Furthermore, a good teacher will also demonstrate his or her passion for the subject at hand.  Only after this interaction takes place do students engage in the solitary part of learning:  studying, writing, solving problems, test taking.  In this model, learning is a social and solitary act by turns.

Contrast the traditional school model with the fully independent learner method of homeschooling.  The student sits alone with a textbook, perhaps taking notes, answering the questions at the end of the chapter, or completing a problem set.  Finally, the student takes a test to demonstrate his newly acquired knowledge.  There are variations to this basic model, but the essence is the same:  intellectual discourse is static, as it is taking place between the author of the book and the mind of the student.  The dynamic social element is lost.

Unfortunately, most, parents aren’t in the position to be one end of scintillating discussion on a myriad of topics.  So, what to do?  A video lecturer can sometimes convey passion about the subject matter through the screen.  A mentor in the community can help provide intellectual discourse about a particular topic.  But frequently these options aren’t feasible for whatever reason.

Even if parents are learning along with their children, they can act as a role model for problem solving, perhaps in some ways even better than a real teacher would.  When Son14 asks me a question these days, I don’t always know the answer off the top of my head anymore.  I must do what he should be doing: I go to the book and figure it out.  It’s good for my son to see this, that knowledge is acquired and not ever-present.

Instead of total independent learning, I try to balance independence–wrestling with ideas in isolation–with some sort of human discourse, albeit not always as intellectual as I would like.  I do this partially with videos and mentors (well, *a* mentor), but mostly what it takes is a lot of work on my end–reading ahead, watching video lectures, solving math problems and sometimes having difficulty doing so, and translating Latin passages.  I can’t wing it anymore, but in order to make homeschooling a better choice than traditional school, I must act as a both a leader and a partner in the journey.

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2 Responses to Spoon Feeding vs Independent Learning: A False Dichotomy

  1. MissMOE says:

    Well said. I especially appreciate the last sentence–in order to make homeschooling a better choice than traditional school, I must act as a both a leader and a partner in the journey. If not trying to do better than traditional schools, why do we have our school at home,

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