"Practical" vs. "Traditional" Education

I fear this post may be controversial, but I didn’t start blogging to hold back my true feelings, so here goes!!  (Readers are ALWAYS free to leave their KIND dissent!)

Last week I followed a discussion on a Homeschooling High School email group which troubled me.  The issue began with someone raising the question of whether diagramming sentences was an "impractical" skill and therefore a waste of time for both teacher and student.  As the discussion continued, it became evident that there were those who believe that ALL grammar instruction ("Does every word in a sentence really have to have a name?"), Algebra, Geometry ("Who ever really uses Algebra and Geometry anyway?") and essentially much of what  can be classified as "traditional" education should be discarded in favor of teaching practical life skills.  I was left wondering what these folks actually DO teach their children.

As a parent who has chosen to teach my children at home, I have a wonderful privilege and responsibility.  I have taken on the task of preparing my children spiritually, emotionally, and practically to live life in our world.  This is a huge responsibility.  Please don’t misunderstand me.  I am all for instruction in life skills having a significant place in our children’s education.  What I am not for is the teaching of practical life skills in place of critical academic instruction. 

It seems to me that there is an important question that ALL homeschoolers must ask themselves: 

In preparing our children to live, work, and minister in the 21st century,
should we teach and HOW should we teach it? 

As I reflect on the discussion of "practical" vs. "traditional" education, I’m forced to ask myself these questions:  As the homeschooling movement moves away from the traditional school model, do we run the risk of throwing out the baby with the bathwater?  Are we ridding our homeschools of valuable academic instruction simply because it seems a little dry….or perhaps a little too much like "school"? 

I am not going to attempt to suggest what the ratio of "practical" to "traditional" should be.  I AM suggesting that as we attempt to avoid the pitfalls found in the school model, we also need to be mindful of the danger of allowing the pendulum to swing too far in the other direction.


7 responses

  1. What a great post! I completely agree. I read an interesting book in late winter last year – Climbing Parnassus – that had some great commentary on the modern trend toward education just for "skill". Toward a job, a vocation, etc. The author makes excellent points regarding the "point" of education. You're right on track with what he wrote.


  2. heyo, thanx for the comment!

    and good Qs in your post…none of which i have any opinion on cuz…no one thought me how to have one on that issue!!! ahg! lol

  3. I think there should be a balance. Parents are going to pick and choose what they feel is relevant for their child's education. I think much of traditional schooling is *too* practical- all nuts and bolts and no joy. But skipping thru the woods picking berries and conversing with squirrels doesn't pay the light bill either.

    What makes homeschooling so fulfilling is that I can tailor my kids' education for their interests, needs, strengths, and weaknesses. I honestly don't see the point in stressing art and music for a kid who wants to go into a technical field- I feel his/her time is better spent on higher math and advanced science. Art and music can become something done for enjoyment, and not as a 'class'. Or for a child that is interested in business and entrepenurial pursuits- what IS the point of geometry, if they'd rather spend time learning the stock market?

    I think what some HSers write on discussion boards and in blogs can be easily misunderstood, as we often take for granted that our audience understands our educational philosophies.

  4. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comments, Sunnymom! I agree with you in regards to tailoring our curriculum to our children's interests and needs. That is why I wouldn't begin to try to suggest what ratio of practical to traditional would be appropriate….that ratio will be different for every child…because of their interests and pursuits. I have 4 children. 2 are graduates and 1 is a junior. They each have different interests and goals for the future. Those goals have shaped our high school curriculum. HOWEVER, I am convinced that there IS benefit to learning grammar, algebra and geometry for use in LIFE. Need to figure out how much paint to buy for your living room or how many pavers you need for your patio? Use geometry. Need to figure out how many miles to the gallon you got on that trip you took or how many hours you need to work to pay for that new television you want to buy? Use algebra. The fact is, both algebra and geometry are extremely useful subjects which we DO use daily! We just don't always think about it when we use the principles!!

  5. I agree- I don't want to sound like I am advocating not learning ANY principles of subjects such as Geometry- I was speaking more of focus, and pursuing advanced math just for the sake of saying "I took Algebra III". I think HSers sometimes feel like they *must* make their kids take EVERY subject under the sun in order to be well-rounded, learn the violin and cure cancer while they're at it. :p

    The other side of the cliff, that I believe that you are referring to, is to completely ignore what some might consider esoteric subjects, almost a reverse snobbery, if you will. I also agree that no one could accurately come up with a percentage of practical vs. traditional. Homeschooling is the antithesis of One Size Fits All. 😀

    Thanks for responding to my comments- I have enjoyed reading your blog.

  6. Thanks for your comment.
    You've made some great points here. I think in trying to break from traditional school, many homeschoolers try to prove how different they are (e.g.- we don't stay home, we learn from everything, etc.). While I don't agree with all traditional schooling methods, like hyperfocusing on historical dates and endless repetitive writing exercises, I do believe we need a firm base to build the thinkers of tomorrow. Grammar is necessary for communication. Algebra and Geometry do come up daily, but you need to study them to recognize that connection. I could go on, I am somewhat long-winded. :o)
    Thanks for the thought provoking post!
    Peace and Laughter,

  7. Thought-provoking post. I always believed diagramming sentences was counter-productive, once you got past the basics. When children are in the habit of reading well-written literature, they pick up good sentence structure along the way, by osmosis, as it were. We never used anything harder than Winston Grammar, yet my son graduated from college (magna cum laude). That said, I probably went through several red pens correcting their essays while they were homeschooled. Even my dh says I use my red pen like a weapon 😉

    Wishing you a blessed thanksgiving,

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