Saturday, March 17, 2012

Agency Education: Being a Doer of the Word, and Not a Hearer Only

Early in the pregnancy of my sixth baby I was physically tired, lacked home schooling support (in fact I faced persecution) and was overwhelmed by my husbands expectations of what "home-schooling" was supposed to look like (he is learning!).  End result: *K was enrolled in 3rd grade at the local elementary school.

This is a top-rated school in our area which prides itself on great test scores.  At the very beginning of the school year they do a "pre-test" to determine where the children are on the scale.  Her teacher told me *K scored "at or above grade level" on all subjects. I admit this was somewhat of a surprise as she was never one of my children who would read much in her free-time.  She was FAR more interested in playing and leading other children (her siblings or from our neighborhood) in fun projects, activities and games.  And I certainly didn't spend large amounts of time or effort sitting at a table or desk "forcing" her to become a "book worm" (though I had attempted this for a short time when she was around six years old. :-) It wasn't fun...)  

Another surprise came after the mid-school year testing. After months of class time, hours and hours of home-work and projects, the teacher called me in and said *K's scores on the same test had actually gone DOWN.  Hmmm.  The teacher was understandably very concerned as this wasn't going to make her or the school look very good, so she very sincerely asked me this question: "How did you get her to where she was at the time you enrolled her here?"  I simply answered: "I let her play." Well, of course that wasn't an option for her at school or with her current school homework schedule. :)  *K told me years later she actually enjoyed her brief "school" experience due to all the "social" interaction, however, when it came to her academic education it doesn't appear she was very inspired. :-) She also told me she knew home education was the best thing for her and that if she had been raised with so many continual "social distractions" it wouldn't have been good for her.

Now I am staring straight in the face at this issue again with some younger children who also have very social personalities.  And interestingly I have been stumbling across the same principles of early education I studied years ago in my personal reading. And then we learned this week of *K's FULL tuition academic scholarship at Brigham Young University (in Provo)!  THIS for my daughter who always loved to socialize at all times, but not read much?  It's as if my Heavenly Father is saying:  "How much clearer do I need to make this for you?!  Stick to correct principles even when your children aren't book worms if you want the long term positive results."

A key book I read back when we first moved to Charlotte, a book which was required reading for the largest home-school group here, left an unmistakable impact on my family. Here is a timely quote from that book that I just randomly flipped open to:

  "Researchers compared fifteen hundred children who were taught in conventional elementary school classrooms with fifteen hundred who learned in very flexible situations or who were not taught at all--where adults were available only to answer questions or help the children find materials or information.  The children were paired by age, sex, social background, aptitude test scores, vocational interests, etc.  They were followed through high school and college for over eight years.

     The results astounded the researchers and study sponsors.  On every variable, on every parameter, including their grades in high school and college, academic honors, leadership capacity, and even attitude on the job, the children from the flexible classes outperformed those in the convention pressured classrooms.  But the children who were not formally taught at all had the highest scores of all in all areas measured. 

     Because of our long experience in schools and colleges, we have been convinced of the validity of this research.  Yet now, as we see creative parents applying the principles and methods of this research with great success, we are witnesses to a beautiful and unusual drama which overwhelmingly illustrates the possibilities for average parents.  Sometimes those parents, who themselves are products of formal schooling, trudge through trial and error when they can't quite get past their conventional backgrounds, but when they do, they have great success!" [The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook, by Raymond and Dorothy Moore]

(Also check out "Teach the Children: An Agency Approach to Education", by Neil Flinders.)  

Wow! Amazing! I have watched and am watching this happen right before my eyes, in spite of my many errors and great opposition!  I'm impressed that the above study even mentions the "leadership" aspect.  During her first year in college Kristine was the Relief Society President, a Gospel Doctrine teacher and an official mentor for new students (second semester.)  By her second year she won a spot on the Student Council, taught gospel doctrine again, graduated with honors and was admitted to BYU with scholarship money from LDS Business college.  But what's even more amazing to me is that several of her friends have written me letters or cards to thank me for raising Kristine as she has had such a great influence and been a strength in their lives.

I already wrote about Brooks, my second child and oldest son, in the "Agency Education" post.  He has been blessed with many learning opportunities and experiences due to his passion for music which seemed to grow with him as he grew.  What a surprise for him to attend the LDSEHE conference last Spring and before the conference ended have an offer for an apprenticeship in a professional opera company and possible full-tuition scholarship!  I found it interesting when Brooks told me last semester, while attending Utah State University with this music scholarship, that he audited a class called Music Pedagogy because he wasn't feeling very challenged in his other music courses.  When the other students in his class found out he was taking the class "just for fun" they were completely shocked as it is a very difficult course.  But it turned out to be my son's most enjoyable class!

Another book I just read last week is called, "A Lucky Child:  A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy" spoke to this education theme.  The author is Thomas Buergenthal, who has served over a decade as the American judge on the International Court of Justice in The Hague and is currently a professor of international law and human rights at the George Washington University Law School. (Unfortunately, due to his many losses during the war, and likely due to the fact that is parents weren't religious, he doesn't express faith in God.)  Nevertheless, I found his book most educational and eye opening.  His comments on his education after the war nearly astounded me due to something I had read a day or two before (in David A. Bednar's book "Increase in Learning" quoted later):

"[...Mother] found a retired high school teacher who tutored me for a little over a year.  During that year, I made up the six or seven years of school I had missed... He was a wonderful teacher who, probably more than any of the teachers I had thereafter, introduced me to the joy of learning." (p. 163) 

"Mr. Biedermann once told [Mother] that teaching me was an experience like none he had ever had.  On the one hand, he told her, I was a child who lacked even the most rudimentary educational background and needed to be tutored as if I were a six year old; on the other hand, I had the life experience and maturity of a grown-up and could discuss subjects with him that no child my age would normally be aware of or interested in. While learning German and European History, I would ask him about life during the Nazi period and the reasons why he thought the Nazis had come to power, whether he had known any Nazis and what kind of people they were.  I wanted to know about his expulsion from Upper Silesia and whether he blamed the Poles or Hitler for what happened to him and other refugees.  When studying geography, we talked about the places I knew, countries I would want to live in, what types of food they grew, and the animals that could be found there.  Learning was fun with him and I missed that type of learning very much when I eventually entered school." (p. 166)

He later credits him for laying the great academic foundation which enabled him to rise to the very high levels he has achieved.  This is key: the best FOUNDATION, based on correct principles is absolutely CRUCIAL for our children!  Too many people face tremendous challenges with their youth due in large part to the shaky educational foundation that was laid and that was based on worldly philosophies.  

Now, Tommy certainly obtained his experiential education at great risk to his life!  Many, many miracles occurred which spared him repeatedly from certain death.  We would never hope for that same kind of experience education for our children, but it also doesn't seem to make much sense to lock them in a classroom during the best hours of their day for the majority of their developing years!  And MUCH research is available to back up that assumption.  Just because nearly "everyone" in U.S. current history seems to be raising their children this way doesn't make the principle true. :-)

Will your children be different if you choose a less conventional path of education?  Of course!  But if you want to see what many "normal" youth are like after going through many years in our society's popularly accepted form of education, I suggest spending a day on any public high school campus while simply listening and observing.  You might change your mind about how "normal" you want your children to turn out. :-)  Do I think children can spiritually "survive" this system of education if they are being effectively taught the gospel of Jesus Christ DAILY both by word and example in their home ?  Absolutely!  My husband and I are (hopefully!) examples of this in addition to many others we know.  But I just happen to be an idealist and want to see my children have the opportunity and TIME to reach their highest potential...not just survive.  And to hopefully have less unnecessary baggage to carry around!

From Elder David Bednar's book, "Increase in Learning":

"You and I are blessed in mortality with a multitude and variety of opportunities to learn and increase in intelligence--the intelligence defined as applying what we know for righteousness.  Consequently, we should not equate intelligence with formal education, academic degrees, or wordly success.  Some of the most educated people I have ever known had little or no intelligence.  And some of the most intelligent people I have ever known had little or no formal education.

A pattern of knowledge related to doing, performing, and applying what we know for righteous purposes is found throughout the scriptures. ...We are to use our moral agency to obtain and act in accordance with truth.  We thus become agents who act rather than objects that are acted upon; we become 'doers of the word, and not hearers only' (James 1:22)."

[I just had my husband read this and he said this post has the potential to come across as if everything at our house is "perfect" when it comes to education.  So just for the record, we still have a long way to go! *smile*]


  1. Your blog has come at just the right time! Thank you for taking the time to write and share your life experiences. I have been looking for someone who has homeschooled successfully, meaning kids get into college! To hear that it WORKS is so inspiring! The things you say, are the way that homeschooling brings the most peace in our home, and yet I get scared and worried when we don't do it the way the schools are. THANK YOU!! Keep writing!

  2. Dear Emily,
    It's great to hear from you! Keep up the great work and don't ever doubt those "gentle whisperings" of the Spirit. I know all about the world drowning out those messages! :-)

  3. Hi Karolyn!
    This is awesome! Thanks for sharing. I also sent my son to grade school for one year (5th grade) and saw the same results. Ahead at the beginning of the year and scores lower at the end. It baffles me still to this day! The first few months back home were tough for him (and for me watching him pining over his lost social life) but happy to say he's back to realizing life at home is pretty darn good. :-)

    I'm curious to know what your "normal" schedule might look like at your house. I love hearing about how other homeschoolers structure their days to see if there's something I like better. :-) We have six now, ages 10mths to 12, so I have yet to see some real examples of success...but I am starting to feel a bit more grounded and sure of what we are doing. Still, new ideas are always welcome. :-)

    Your blog is inspiration!

    Julia (Fawson) Hathaway

  4. Julia! You are doing wonderful! For a very inspiring example re: schedules and many other areas please go to It is great!!!

  5. Awesome is the most appropriate word to portray this blog.


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