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Homeschool Fiction

Follow homeschoolers Nadia and Aidan as they travel the USA! Each book in this series explores a new state and a new research topic. Along with their parents and pet turtle, they find adventure and learning everywhere.

...and just what is that mysterious device of theirs?

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February 2008
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Topics: Arizona,education,empowerment,finances,homeschooling,mindful parenting,photographs,Tucson,Unschooling

Core Knowledge

Phosphorescent Minerals

Recently, my 11 year old daughter had a lovely conversation with an approximately 50 year old mineral specialist at the world famous Tucson Gem and Mineral Show in Tucson, AZ. The man was very impressed with my daughter’s knowledge of various minerals and wondered if she wanted to be a geologist when she grew up. She doesn’t, necessarily, she’s just interested in minerals. Her current goal is to learn-learn-learn everything she can and work on the Jeopardy! Clue Crew as soon as she’s old enough. That goal could change tomorrow; that is fine with us. For now, she’s following her interests which include earth sciences and geology at the moment. We, as her parents, support her and whatever she wants to do in her life.

This geologist/mineral specialist and my daughter continued their conversation for a few minutes. She was looking for three specific minerals to add to her collection and they were talking about various composites and where they could be found, etc. All fascinating, and all could have been a discussion between two adults. Then, he asked the question, “What grade are you in?”

“I’m homeschooled and we don’t do grades,” my daughter replied.

Perplexed and bewildered, the man looked at me and said, “But, but, but, everyone needs a core knowledge of information. How can you do that without grades?” [Note, his questions immediately came to me at that point, when they’d been directed to my daughter up until that point. He no longer knew how to talk to her.]

My daughter had a full conversation with a man who was a complete stranger and he saw that she was brilliant, articulate, and “well rounded” (for what that’s worth). Yet, he was dumbfounded and had nothing new to add to the conversation as soon as he found out that my daughter wasn’t in a particular grade. My husband and I briefly talked with him at that point, answering his questions, but he never quite understood.

Later, as a family, we talked about the discussion. We wondered if he would have acknowledged that he was continuing to learn in his life even though he clearly isn’t “school age”. I think he would. He told us of recent digs he’d been on and he was full of recent knowledge and brimming with excitement. We liked him and found talking with him to be compelling. We wondered if we should have asked him what grade he was in, or if he would have considered that a sarcastic remark. It wouldn’t have meant to have been, just a logical question poised to make him think about how learning should occur — and that it shouldn’t be at particular ages.

That brings me to the topic of core knowledge. Is it true that every 5 year old should know certain things, every 15 year old should know other certain things, every 25 year old additional things, and every 55 year old others? I know that wasn’t this man’s question (I’m not dense; he was thinking that every “schooled” child needs to learn certain reading, writing, and arithmetic topics in a certain order during their school years), but I ask the above for real.

My answer: Yes, I absolutely believe that every person should have a core knowledge of information. However, schooled children are coming out of the school system at age 22+ not knowing a third of this information. They are graduating from college without the skills necessary to fully live on their own. My children know most of society’s core knowledge already and they are only 7 and 11 (my 7 year old knows less). Take my 11 year old: she understands the logistics of shopping, paying bills, buying a house, budgets, starting and running a business, how to read, how to write so people understand you (how many e-mails have you read lately that were incomprehensible?), how to do all the mathematics she’ll need for basic living in society, how to cook, how to clean, how to do laundry, how the government was built to work, how to sew, how to read a map, etc. She could not only survive on her own, but thrive, if need be. She can’t drive yet, and I do believe that to be a useful skill to have as an adult in our society, but she’s only just recently become physically large enough for this to even be a consideration (for the record, she’s not currently considering it, but my 7 year old is). If my family was living according to society’s rules, I could take the next 7-11 years off as a parent since my daughter doesn’t need to learn much more… and this doesn’t even start to mention all the non “core knowledge” bits of information she has in her brain (which outnumbers the core).

If information is meant to be “core information”, then the people that should know it are forced — by living — to learn it. Our stomachs growl, we learn that by putting food into them we feel better. This is natural learning. What is needed for today’s world is not the same as fifty years ago. My great grandparents didn’t need to know how to use Google. My kids do. Thus, they do. Living today makes you learn how to continue living today. It becomes very clear very quickly if you aren’t up to speed on something. I already know that I don’t currently have the knowledge I’ll need in fifty years. I just hope that I have the wisdom to know that I need to learn it. I know my descendants will.