What Exactly Does ‘Being Educated’ Mean?

Ok, here I go.  You know me by now, so you know I’m a little iffy on the whole home school issue.  Not critical, just knowledge seeking, from an entirely different perspective — teacher for over 23 years, just retired.  So anyway, it looks like about 3 1/2 hours of school time?  Also, while independence is wonderful ( truly WONDERFUL), when is there real, in-depth instruction, conversation with peers, modeling, exploration of topics ( even topics not as “catchy” as pond study or Greek Olympics).  Where do you find the depth of information that the children need?  Who will teach algebra and calc and psychology and plate tectonics and Spanish and greek and biology and genetics?  And, again, I appreciate your letting me pick your brain.  the “school environment” is touchy right now, and with 4 grandchildren, the oldest being just 4, this topic comes up a lot in conversation….

This was a comment left on my blog last week.  Rather than a quick and essentially unsatisfying answer in the comments section, I offered to expand my thoughts in a post.  These are simply my thoughts.  Whilst I am passionate about home-schooling, I do not believe it is the answer to every problem a child may get.  I also do not see it through rose-tinted glasses.  I understand that when one choice is made another is not.  There are many advantages to home schooling, just as there are many disadvantages.  Where my children gain in some areas, they lose out in another.  I’m okay with that.  It reflects the adult life they will eventually live.  At no point can we have it all.  At no point can we do it all.  And I am certain at no point will we know it all.  Educated, uneducated, home schooled or schooled, this is true for every man.

Right, onto the questions, which I will try to reply to one at a time.


The first part of the question seems to be asking about school time.  I am making a (maybe unfair) assumption that 3 1/2 hours is considered here to be inadequate.  However, I’m not sure education can be measured in hours and minutes.  Yes, my children have sit-down, ‘formal’ schooling for around 4 hours each day.  But their learning isn’t confined to these times, only their schooling .  ‘Surely this is semantics?’  I hear you cry.  Maybe, maybe not.  I would suggest it  depends upon the environment the child is exposed to for his other 20 hours.


Home-schooling by its very nature means that I am with the children all day long, and if I am not then their father is.  We walk alongside them, talking with them; we work alongside them, talking with them and we sit and eat with them every night, talking with them.  Ultimately, this means in-depth discussions and instructions can happen at any time.

Schooling-wise I do put some time aside for more in-depth instruction.  During their quiet time, I read aloud to the older ones for about half an hour.  These tend to be the books they might struggle with on their own – Dante, Beowulf, Homer and the like.  At the moment we are ploughing through Marco Polo’s autobiography of his travels.  Written in the middle ages, the language is sometimes challenging even for me.  We chat about what we are reading, so I know they have understood.  In addition the children have 1 hour of more in-depth instruction in the afternoon, when Gary takes out the younger ones.


This, for me, would be one of the disadvantages of home-schooling.  I loved school, everything about it in fact, but especially the many friends I saw everyday.  You see it is in the seeing and talking with people on a daily basis that deep friendships are made.  My guys attend a few outside of home activities and have both schooled and home schooled friends.  But they see them maybe once or twice a week.  Deep friendships are thus not made.  But, as Maria from the Sound of Music said (yes, I apologise, I am indeed quoting from the Sound of Music!!),  ‘when one door shuts a window is sure to be opened’ or something like that.  And so it is.  My children may not spend quantity time with their peers.  Our school choice makes that impossible.  They do, though, spend everyday with each other and are far closer than they would be if they attended school.   It is one of my biggest joys, watching their friendships develop.


This part of the question surprised me the most.  I would have thought, on reading my blog, that anyone could see my children are explorers extraordinaire!  They have a mother who enjoys depth of study over breadth of study.  This is why it has taken us four years to reach the Middle Ages in our studies, and why after six months of anatomy study we have only learnt about our body’s cells, bones and muscles, but in huge detail.  No, in-depth exploration of topics, any topic, is not a problem in our school.


Again, given their ages, I believe we go into subject in great depth.  For any given subject or era of study, I utilise a varied bank of resources, all of which overlap, integrate and reinforce the concepts I wish the children to know.  I am blessed with avid readers, with an adult reading level, which naturally leads to books of greater depth being read and understood.  To the books I add videos, board games (occasionally), field trips and many, many hands on activities.  In addition, the children are given two hours of play time a day, which they inevitably use to explore the topics further, usually in the form of pretend play.


I was asked specifically about algebra, calculus, psychology, plate tectonics, Spanish and greek and biology and genetics?  I had to giggle (primarily at myself) as I mentally ticked off at least half of those as being studied.  Could I pat myself on the back then, knowing I had a good few years left to cover the rest of the topics?  No.  I understand that the topics chosen were simply pulled out of the air as examples.  The bigger question (I think) is: Am I going to be able to meet all their educational needs in terms of the variety of subjects they traditionally would be taught at school?  The answer is undoubtedly a resounding no!  This possibly bothers me less than it should.

And I believe it is here we meet the crux of the home-school/traditional school issue.  There is a discrepancy in the meaning of education for different people.  Those coming from a more traditional back ground point out that examinations are important, so a child needs to cover certain information in order to pass these exams.  Home schoolers tend to have a different take on education, and their takes are many and varied.  It is not my business to judge who is right or who is wrong.  My business is solely that of bringing up my children in the best possible way I am capable, using all of the skills and talents I have been given and utilising others with the resources I have been blessed with.  And most importantly, doing all this in keeping with the goals of our family.


The goals I refer to here are solely the educational ones.  For our family, the purpose of education is not knowledge.  Knowledge is merely the by-product.  Our purpose is to produce independent, life long learners, capable of seeking out any additional information we have not provided.  In addition, it is very important to us that we help the children learn to think for themselves; to be confident in their thoughts and opinions, yet to enjoy listening to those of others.  In this day and age, when media plays such a huge role in what is deemed acceptable and not acceptable, thinking adults are essential to prevent the lemming syndrome of following the lead of others, whether beneficial to the individual or not.

In conclusion, my thoughts are that education is a life long journey and one that begins at home.  I believe it is my job to teach my children to be able to step forward on their own; to be confident enough, hard-working enough to press onwards against adversity and eventually reach the pinnacle of their goals for their life.  I am responsible for the first few miles, they are responsible for the rest.

Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years



  1. There is much to debate here, I am sure. The two things that struck me the most was the question about the amount of hours and the question about what to do about the various subjects such as “algebra and calc and psychology and plate tectonics and Spanish and greek and biology and genetics.” For the question about the hours, when I went to school and when my now eighteen-year old was briefly in school, the school day, if you boiled it down into actual learning time was about a hour if I had a good day. The vast majority of the day was waiting…waiting while we stood in line, went from classroom to library or cafeteria and the like, waiting endlessly for the other students to finish their work so we could go on to the next topic, etc., etc. My kids get more done in a day than I ever did in a public school day by far. Quantity does not equal quality.
    As far as the various subjects, the answer is simple, we learn along with them anything we don’t already know or remember. I didn’t learn half the subjects you mentioned in public school (and they are not available to my own kids if I were to put them in school) but I have learned them since we have been homeschooling. The only one I haven’t learned so far is calculus, but I might if we get to them. If there was a subject that they wanted to learn that I, for some reason, couldn’t learn, then I would find someone who could…another homeschool parent versed in that particular subject, a tutor, or perhaps a community college class. For a look on the other side, I can’t imagine now the value of learning each subject in isolation from all the rest. Isn’t it much better if your English teacher also teaches you science and history and that all these subjects can be taught as one inter-related learning? Also from one year to the next, each subject is picked up where the year before left off? I never learned Modern History, for example, past the Civil War in America, before I started over the next year back from the beginning. I had to learn any Modern History on my own. I am not in isolation, either, as I have discussed this with a number of people and they shared my experience. And can’t a teacher with a much smaller class size, like mine of four who have them for twelve years straight, know the strengths and weaknesses of their students much better than a teacher of many who have them for only one year?

  2. Here in California there have been serious budget cuts to education that drastically reduce its quality. Both of my sons were in public schools when my husband and I decided to pull them out. Their teachers were excellent. But the class sizes were too large for the teachers to be able to do their job adequately. Especially, when the system throws in children with learning and behavioral difficulties. Often these children are left to sink. My sons were ahead of the class in many subjects, which also had its problems. Much of the time the my sons would sit and wait for the other students to catch up. The teachers can only do so much for the kids who do not go at the exact pace as the majority of the class. I would help out in their classrooms daily and saw how much time was wasted during my sons’ day. The actual learning time was not close to the amount of time he spent in the classroom. The teachers had 35 other kids to work with. How could it be? I work one-on-one with two boys. There is no comparing how fast we can go through a lesson to how fast a teacher with over 35 kids can get through that same lesson. Since pulling them out of school (a year ago) both of my sons have gone up a grade level above their peers in math and language arts. Am I making them work like crazy academically? No, we only do about 45 minutes of math and an hour and a half of language arts. But I can go faster through topics they understand easily and slow down where they need more time. There is no sitting and waiting for everyone else to catch up.
    It is true we cannot teach them everything, but we are not exactly uneducated ourselves. I have a Bachelors of Science in Microbiology and worked as a public health scientist before deciding to stay at home with my kids. My sister worked as a lawyer before homeschooling. There are MANY other homeschooling parents we know who do hold degrees in various areas and worked as professionals (such as teachers) before deciding to homeschool. We are people who love education, but may not hold degrees in it. We are creative and find ways to teach our children subjects that may not be our area of expertise. Tonight I will be attending a Co-op meeting for homeschoolers. We will be seeing what classes we can teach each others kids to fill in any gaps.
    My list can go on and on but the bottom line is my children are happy, doing well academically, and when asked if they would like to return ( I let them chose) their response is a definite “No”.

  3. I can tell this is a post that will be fun to read.

    I’m coming at this from a former public school teacher, and I can tell you that in elementary school at least, 4 hours of educational time is doing pretty good, when you factor in: time spent standing in line, time spent at lunch, recess, specials (PE, art, music), time spent packing up for dismissal, time spent getting into the classroom.

    My take on the whole gaps in knowledge thing, or what if you can’t teach them Calculus. (Okay, I’ve had to delete what I wrote twice now because it was too sarcastic) First, there’s coops to help you teach them. Second, every education has gaps, regardless of how great it is.

  4. Very well written and throughtful post, Claire. I like how you’ve articulated your family and homeschooling goals so clearly. I also appreciate that your reader comes from a genuinely interested position in asking this question, rather than from a defensive, critical position. I get asked similar questions very often, in person. When I feel that they are genuinely interested to know more, we get into interesting discussions to address their various concerns.

    As homeschoolers we have already thought through many of the issues that come up, but I find them coming up for those who are still struggling to free themselves from the many years of public school conditioning that there is only a certain, prescribed way to teach or learn.

  5. Great question, and a wonderful answer, Claire. Such a good idea to make a post of it. And you have, as always, found such a respectful balance between what works for your family and the path others may choose.

    ” For our family, the purpose of education is not knowledge. Knowledge is merely the by-product. Our purpose is to produce independent, life long learners, capable of seeking out any additional information we have not provided.”

    Absolutely. The world has changed. Children used to go to school to acquire knowledge they would use for the rest of their lives. These days, information about just about anything is instantly available at the touch of a button. In this new world-order, some of my goals are: to inspire in my children a love of learning, to give them the skills to find the information they need, and to help them present the information in ways that make a contribution to others.

    There’s no way I could teach my children everything. But just as now, at the age of 42, I’m learning Ancient Greek, Norwegian, classical guitar and watercolour painting (among other things), my children have their whole lives to explore this wonderful world and learn everything they desire to know.

  6. Very good post. My second grader is currently enrolled in public school. We will be enrolling her into a virtual public school next year.

    I would like to add a couple of comments/observations: in the elementary school she attends the students are not allow to socialize at any point during the day; they do not have recess, they are only allowed structured play at PE; during music on many days they simple watch a classic movie.

    Regarding the more advanced subjects, there is the possibility of taking dual credit courses with the local college; however, I have a bachelor’s degree and have never taken many of the subjects mentioned above.

    Keep up the good work and keep doing what is in the best interest of your kids.

  7. We’ve actually developed deep friendships through consistent attendance at a weekly park day. The children celebrate birthdays and holidays together. They have played and grown together over the years. Now that the children are teens, they still meet with their friends as a group and individually. Perhaps my children did not have the intensity of seeing their friends everyday, but they have still made deep friendships that have stood the test of time.

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