I was intrigued with a tagline I saw online awhile ago: Don’t let school get in the way of your education.
We make distinctions by saying we home educate rather than homeschool. We say “school-at-home” dismissively.
Why do we do this? Is there a difference? What is the difference?
Should we prefer the word educate? Should we eschew the word school?
Let’s look at the words, their meanings, and their history while exploring what it is we’re trying to do during the week with our kids. Is it school? Is it education?
Can school get in the way of education?
School at Home
On the one hand, we have phrases like this for a reason: we want to avoid getting into a box-checking mode and losing touch with a guiding vision. We don’t want jobs or test scores to be our guiding vision, and that is the distinguishing goal for education in the modern world.
We want something different, and so we seek to express ourselves differently and make distinctions.
But let’s not lose touch with words and their meanings. Let’s not use a perfectly good word as a bad word.
There is, in fact, no problem with school.
- An institution for the instruction of children or people under college age.
- An institution for instruction in a skill or business
- The process of being educated formally, especially education constituting a planned series of courses over a number of years.
- To train or discipline.
So, we see in the definition the hints of what we’re distancing ourselves from: “institution” and the sense of learning for “skill or business.” We want something more than learning for future economic advantage and we have rejected an institutionalized approach as well. Learning is not something done to students along a conveyor belt, but is individual and idiosyncratic.
All education is self-education.
Some go so far as to distance themselves from “a planned series of courses,” but that is a mistake – both school and education (as we will see) are comprised of an accepted body of knowledge and set of thinking and reasoning skills.
Still, thinking of school as an institutionalized approach to learning is only contained in a fragment of the word, and only because school refers to the building and the activity that goes on in it.
Do we not also do school at home? Yes, we do. School does not have to be institutional to be school.
In fact, what we do at home is more like school than schools.
We see the hint of it in the modern dictionary definition: train, discipline, instruction.
But what we’re really looking for in our home-based education efforts is seen most clearly in the history of the word school itself.
/ Middle English scole, from Old English scōl, from Latin schola, scola, from Greek skholē /
Yes, scholé of course.
School is what people who have time on their hands do.
Learning is the best use of any spare time we have.
Reading, thinking, discussing are the activities of the leisured class; they are what educated, noble, free people do.
We do school as “a planned series of courses over a number of years” so that both our children and ourselves will continue in learning and growing and knowing our whole lives. School is making us all – ourselves included – into lifelong learners.
From the Online Etymological Dictionary:
“place of instruction,” Old English scol, from Latin schola “intermission of work, leisure for learning; learned conversation, debate; lecture; meeting place for teachers and students, place of instruction; disciples of a teacher, body of followers, sect,” from Greek skhole “spare time, leisure, rest ease; idleness; that in which leisure is employed; learned discussion;” also “a place for lectures, school;” originally “a holding back, a keeping clear,” from skhein “to get”
School doesn’t kill our objective of raising lifelong learners. School is that goal. Scholé is that goal.
We school in order to scholé. We school through scholé, through “learned conversation,” “discipleship,” and a “keeping clear” of anxieties, ulterior motives, and other improper motivators.
Again, from Online Etymological Dictionary:
The original notion is “leisure,” which passed to “otiose discussion” (in Athens or Rome the favorite or proper use for free time), then “place for such discussion.”
Let us remember to keep our homeschools as clearings for convivial conversation, for such is best use of free leisure time, for them and us, for now and for the rest of our lives.
Let us not abandon the word school nor sneer at it, but reclaim it and return it to its proper use.
Do we prefer the word education because it makes us sound smarter? I think too often the attraction of classical education is not in its aims or its syllabus, but in that it makes us sound smarter, better, more elite. That’s a bad motivator, and not one that will actually deliver a classical education in the long run.
It is because learning and learned conversation required clearings of time and space, of leisure time and extra income that it acquired its reputation (sometimes closely guarded and protected) as being for elites. That is unfortunate, because it does not require anything special to pursue – at least, nothing special in modern America where books and time are much more available than they ever have been.
However, it does bestow something special. That something special shouldn’t be guarded and kept from other classes or nations, nor is it an occasion for pride, for feeling special. Rather, it should be a cause for humility – it is not you that is special, but what has been given you – and gratitude – for it has been given you.
That something special is wisdom.
- The act or process of educating or being educated.
- The knowledge or skill obtained or developed by a learning process.
- An instructive or enlightening experience.
- To develop the mental, moral, or social capabilities of, especially by schooling or instruction.
- To provide with knowledge or training in a particular area or for a particular purpose.
- To provide with information, as in an effort to gain support for a position or to influence behavior.
- To develop or refine (one’s taste or appreciation).
Education has a definite goal and a definite process. It is a development, and it is provided. All education is self-education, but it doesn’t happen by oneself. It is work done by individuals, but not without guidance and shared experience.
Even the totally self-taught rely on books, of which Socrates famously said:
Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have labored hard for.
Education encompasses knowledge and experience, and is achieved by processes through guidance and training.
Again, the history of the word is enlightening:
/ Middle English educaten, from Latin ēducāre, ēducātus, past participle of educare to rear, educate, from educere to lead forth /
Those who educate – that includes all homeschool moms – are leaders. We lead forth, banishing ignorance (our own as well as our children’s) and encouraging connections, understanding, and knowledge (our own as well as our children’s).
We who educate also become educated. We don’t have to start out as educated to lead, we just have to be willing to lead the way – to stay out in front, calling our children to follow our example and keep up.
Soon we will find they outpace us, and in that we will rejoice and begin to follow them.
Don’t let your education get in the way of your school.
The education we received at school is less important to our homeschools than the one we are receiving while we homeschool.
Embrace school at home. Embrace home education. For yourself as well as your children. Make it a lifestyle. Do it on purpose. Lead, guide, and learn.
Don’t get caught up in fussy distinctions, but do make room in your own schoolroom, around your own dining room table, for conversation and conviviality.