What is a teacher? What is teaching?
According to Gregory, the art of education — that is, teaching — is two-fold:
- Teaching is the art of training. Teaching is leading the students into paths of physical, mental, and moral fitness.
- Teaching is the art of instructing. Teaching stimulates a love of learning and forms habits of independent study.
Thus, a successful teacher is working himself out of his position. He is moving his pupils not into but out of dependence on his guidance.
We can only train by teaching and we teach best when we train best.
Every act of teaching — purposefully or not, done rightly or not — trains the student in good or bad habits of work and thinking. Likewise, every act of skills-training teaches knowledge, even if there is no lecture.
The work of teaching, says Gregory, is the work of assigning, explaining, and hearing lessons. These days we don’t generally speak of “hearing lessons,” but when we hear an oral narration after independent reading, when we give feedback on a written narration, or when we prompt a discussion, we are hearing lessons. So, “lecture” is only a third of the work of teaching.
Gregory also writes that
Teaching is the communication of experience.
Experience includes facts, truths, doctrines, ideas, ideals, skills, art.
Communication includes words, signs, objects, actions, and examples.
By this definition, then, it is clear that the homeschool mother is not the students’ sole teacher. It is the books used more than the mother that teach. This relieves a lot of the pressure. Even more pressure can be relieved if the teaching we do give and the books we provide work with the grain of nature rather than against it. That’s why it’s important we know these laws.
Begin with the introduction, summary, and table of contents for The Seven Laws of Teaching Your Own series.
The book is available for free online.
Summary of the Seven Laws of Teaching
Summary of Law 6: The pupil must reproduce in his own mind the truth to be learned.Gregory wishes us to remember that in all our planning and teaching, “there is a clear and distinct act or process which we wish [the student] to accomplish”: learning. It is primarily the learner’s task, not the teacher’s. He must drink freely and it cannot be forced. Learning is more directly the work of the student than the teacher.The work of education is much more the work of the pupil than the teacher. Learning comes by processes of interpretation. Until the knowledge coming forth from the teacher (the mother or the books), is churned and assimilated within the learner, that knowledge does not become the possession of the learner. We want to aim that our students gain clear and distinct conceptions of new facts and principles. How can we facilitate such acts? By giving them opportunities to digest their material and derive its benefits. Basically, narrate, narrate, narrate.
It is indispensable that the student should become an investigator.That is, his knowledge should not come to him too directly or too easily. He will not grow strong and curious by getting quick and easy answers from Mom and Dad. He should lead expeditions, wander in forests, brave new worlds -- he should seek.In this process of learning, of digesting and assimilating knowledge, goes through a regular progression, from the weak starting point to the goal:
- Committing a lesson verbatim to memory is not learning. It might be necessary or useful groundwork, but it is not learning.
- Understanding the thought behind the lesson is not learning. This is the superficial level.
- The ability to paraphrase an idea without loss of meaning shows the beginnings of learning.
- Knowledge of proofs and evidences (whys and wherefores) for or against ideas or facts shows a growing capacity.
- Application of the knowledge personally is the end goal of learning: not merely possessing but using one’s knowledge. Learning is not complete until it has been applied.
The boy who finds a use for what he has learned in his lesson becomes doubly interested and successful in his school work.However, Gregory warns us again to remember the age of our pupils and do not expect of them what is beyond them. Children begin by learning with their senses, then they progress to understanding the practical, and only later do they achieve the reasoning capacity they need to delve deep into the world of ideas.
Applications to the HomeschoolHere is a great relief and a great challenge. Education is not so much our work as our children’s work -- our duty is to oversee, to guide, to motivate, to ensure it happens. Now, that means more pushing and hassling and prodding won’t work. But it also means we have to trust God with our children -- we can’t make them learn.
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Now, I have always been skeptical and dubious of any who claim that children naturally love knowledge and learning. After all, they are fallen and sinful. Can we say that something good is natural to them? However, I now understand that it is “natural” to humans as image-bearers and dominion-takers to desire and love knowledge and understanding. So, the more sinful tendencies of all sorts exist in us and in our children, the more that right love is squelched. The first and most essential step in education, then, is the early training in obedience and good temper and self-control. Without those, the relationship between parent and child will too often center around dominance and obstinacy and battle. Of course, obedience and the corresponding fruit of the Spirit are always an ongoing refinement, but if the parents are not the recognized authorities, generally submitted to with love and joy, well, then schooling really isn’t going happen. It will be a constant struggle. Once that battle is won in the main (ideally long before lessons begin), then the child’s spirit is free to focus as it ought. And, with us all, I think, the more our hearts are directed toward God, right living, and thankfulness, the greater will be our thirst for knowledge about Him Who is the source of all knowledge and to Whom all knowledge points. For true learning, for true joy of learning and desire for learning, rebelliousness must be banished.
Applications of the Law of the Learning Process
- Give students a clear outline of their work to be done. Children function best when the expectations are clear and laid out ahead of time.
- Require both exact recitations and paraphrased narrations. There is a place for both, but remember that paraphrased narrations demonstrate thought, whereas exact recitations do not necessarily mean they understand.
- Ask him perpetually ‘Why?’ so he knows that a reason for one’s statements is always required. The child has no authority to make statements; don’t trust him. Ask him why, make him defend himself, and by so doing teach him to question himself and others.
- Make him a student of nature and a seeker of truth, a researcher. The daily metaphor should be one of a quest, not a grind.
- Seek a profound regard for truth and a hatred for shams and sophistries. “It sounds good” isn’t a defense, much as I like to think it is.
Violations of the Law of the Learning ProcessGregory claims that violations of this law are the ones that prove most fatal. Certainly, the whole point of teaching is moot if there is no learning process happening.
- Haste to move on precludes time for thinking things into clearness. Your focus should always be more on the student than on covering a certain amount of material in a certain time (lest that material be covered).
- Failure to insist on original thinking. We don’t want regurgitation, spewed out. We want internalization, assimilation, digestion.
- Teaching implicit belief in the books, rather than expecting reasons and proofs. We want thinking children, not brainwashed children.
Questioning is not, therefore, merely one of the devices of teaching, it is really the whole of teaching.