What is Real Learning?

Educating a child’s mind is a primary goal of home education and is absolutely essential to helping our children become what God wants them to be. Edith Stein believed in balanced formation—the heart, soul and mind all need to be educated. She was a strong critic of the education system of her day which stressed memorization and the acquisition of unrelated facts. Charlotte Mason concurs when she writes,

“Upon the knowledge of these great matters—History, Literature, Nature, Science, Art—the Mind feeds and grows. It assimilates such knowledge as the body assimilates food, and the person becomes what is called magnanimous, that is a person of great mind, wide interests, incapable of occupying himself much about petty, personal matters. What a pity to lose sight of such a possibility for the sake of miserable scraps of information about persons and things that have little connection with one another and little connection with ourselves!” (Ourselves, p.78)

Edith Stein deplored the fact that the idea of education typically is:

“that of encyclopedic knowledge: the presumed concept of the mind [is] that of the tabula rasa onto which as many impressions as possible [are] to be registered through intellectual perceptions and memorizations." (Woman, Edith Stein, p.130)

Like Charlotte Mason, she recognized that education is so much more than the acquisition of encyclopedic knowledge. In the poetic words of William Butler Yeats, “Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.”

Edith Stein wrote that the teacher’s job was to encourage the student’s “inner participation” in the educational process. She was to get the student excited about the material, encourage a response, offer guidance, but ultimately the child was to make it his own.

“The teacher’s role in the formation of the students is an indirect one since all development is self-development. All training is self-training” (Woman, p. 5)

With these three forces in mind, we can look at a new paradigm for home education, one which focuses upon developing the whole personality of the child—the heart, soul and mind using the wisdom of Edith Stein, Charlotte Mason and others to pursue a happy, wholehearted, academically excellent, spiritually complete childhood. Over and over again, both Edith Stein and Charlotte Mason articulate beautifully the need to reach a child’s heart in order to truly educate him. We cannot limit education to that which is poured into a child’s brain. Instead, we seek to touch the core of the child. Stein writes,

“Actual formative material is received not merely by the senses and intellect but is integrated by the ‘heart and soul’ as well. But if it actually becomes transformed into the soul, then it ceases to be mere material: it works itself, forming, developing; it helps the soul to reach its intended gestalt." (Woman, p.131)

I don’t consider education from the perspective of filling buckets because I don’t consider children from that perspective. When I look at a child, I see a living breathing person made in God’s image for whom God has a plan. As parent educators, we need to embrace a new notion of learning. We need to help the child discern the Lord’s will and equip him to answer his particular call. It is the heart and soul of the child we want to touch. For our purposes, we need to engage the heart in order to effectively educate the child. Our vision of a well-educated child is a child who has a heart for learning, a child who has the tools he needs to continue to learn for a lifetime and the love to want to do it. He has been led to a lifetime of learning all the time. We must be absolutely certain of our goals in education. When we know where we are going, we can confidently chart our course. We want children who know, love, and serve the Lord. As their primary educators, it is our privilege and our duty to equip them for that task. I want my children to love learning. I want them to revel in their curiosity and delight in their discoveries. And I want to learn alongside them.

If such a style of learning interests you, you might be interested in reading Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home, from which the above was taken.

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