Thursday, August 14, 2008

On gaps

We're still waiting for Fiona's first dental gap to appear. She has a very wiggly lower incisor that she is determined will fall out before the Olympics are over. I'm not sure why this time-line is important to her, but she's shooting for it anyway.

This post is about a different type of gap, the kind that happens when you blissfully ignore the curriculum outcomes by grade and allow your children to learn by way of curiosity, passion and serendipity. When you don't teach your Grade 5 kid all about Canada's pioneers and the solar system, instead allowing him to delve deeply into the history of science, physical and organic chemistry, ancient worlds and the origin of man. I wrote this on a message board in response to a parent who was asking "What if your homeschooled child ends up entering the school system at some point? What do you do to ensure he doesn't have serious gaps?"

When you read those scary studies about what school students actually know (like that 60% of American high schoolers can't find Japan on a world map) you start to appreciate that most of what is taught at school is not actually learned in any permanent meaningful way. There may be all sorts of impressive things on the curriculum outline, but only a portion of that is actually taught by the teacher, only a portion of what's taught is actually absorbed long enough to produce an acceptable unit-end test result, and most of that which is regurgitated on the test is not retained for longer than a few weeks at most. So to my mind it makes absolutely no sense to fuss with "what they're supposed to be learning" according to the school curriculum outcomes. If my kids only learn 80%, or 50%, or even 30% of what's on the Grade 5 science and social studies school curriculum, but they truly learn it because it's stuff that has meaning for them and is motivated by their own interests, they'll probably be farther ahead in the long run, with fewer 'gaps' than kids who supposedly covered it all in Grade 5 but then had most of that learning fall out of their heads after the chapter tests.


  1. A very good point indeed!

  2. Amanda3:04 pm

    You could also point out that children often have to change school systems - if you moved (say) to France, knowledge of Canadian pioneers wouldn't be particularly relevant - in the humanities it is generally more important to have studied well rather than to have studied particular things.

  3. Great response. My son is only 20 months, but we've decided already to 'unschool'. I've been reading John Gatto and Grace Llewelyn for starters and I'm wondering where the Llewelyn book was when I was in high school (being written, I suppose).

    Anyway, I taught middle school for 7 years and, honey, they ALLLL have gaps... I excelled at public school for 13 years and maybe, just maybe I could name 10 things I actually learned while there as opposed to having learned them on my own or out in the world.

  4. hello,
    what a wonderful post to read this morning. With sept coming up fast I struggle with finding a balance between meeting the learning outcomes and allowing the kids to focus on thier interests. Learning is so much more meaningful when it is coming from them rather than our ideas and wishes! I look at all the info at the beginning of the year and wonder how on earth we will touch on all of it. Amazingly, the kids cover most of it on thier own, in thier own wonderful, creative way. All I need to do is introduce it, amazing what they come up with!!! I find I can get into a rut of "schooling" when I am tired and lacking energy. The kids become frustrated, difficult, and not interested in anything! Time to refocus and "let go!"
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I look forward to reading more.

  5. I love reading about Fiona, what with her being just that little bit older than DS. Gives me ideas that could be fun, or things I should look into soon. So I need to be thinking of teeth! Actually mine only fell out when I was 6½, so it's probably going to be a while for him. Poor kid, what with mixing mainly with older kids, he already feels like he should be losing them!


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