Not for the amateurs

Continuing in the series for those considering their educational options, I invite you to join me in exploring the question: Is education a job for amateurs?

In the Christchurch Methodist Mission’s guidelines for social workers in interviewing clients, which I had the opportunity to see a number of years ago, I noted a remarkable item which went something like this: “The client is regarded as being expert in self and own life experience.” This sounds remarkably like stating the obvious, until you start to think about it. How many people do you know, for instance, who treat you as a complete non-expert on your own life and insist on telling you what kind of person you really are, what really happened to you, and how you really felt about it? For some of us, the figure would probably be equivalent to about half the people we know!

So let me begin by saying that I regard you as expert in self and own life experience. And let me go further and say that, if you have any children, you are probably the world expert, or at least one of a very few world experts, on your children’s selves and experiences, their strengths and weaknesses, their needs and loves. I hope you know them well enough to know what their plans, hopes and dreams are too.

Now let’s put education into the mix. The word ‘education’, etymologically, means “drawing out” – not pouring knowledge into a person, but drawing out the person’s abilities and gifts. Who, do you think, would be best at doing that? Maybe it would just happen to be the world experts. A professional teacher might be an expert on some things, but will be a complete amateur when it comes to your children.

A pianist once said of her best teacher, “He didn’t only teach me piano. He taught me.”(1) I am likewise fond of saying that the only subjects I teach are British subjects.The important thing, you see, is not what you’re teaching, but whom you’re teaching. If you’re not the world expert on the subject matter, you can always call in help. But if you surrender your children to the school system, you will have practically no control over what is taught, or how, or in what way. You will have no way of drawing out what is in your children, or determining who will do that task. A child might be very fortunate and strike a wonderful teacher who can do all the right things for him, or he might not. It’s a bit too much to leave to chance.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau has been rightly criticized for some of his views on education, but he also made some excellent points, like this one: “I fancy the father who realizes the value of a good tutor will contrive to do without one, for it will be harder to find one than to become such a tutor himself.” (2)

So as you consider the educational options, may I suggest once again that the right people to bring up your children are simply the world experts. This is just not a job for amateurs.

(1) Michiko Yurko, Music Mind Games, Alfred Publishing Co., 1992

(2) Rousseau, Emile, tr. Barbara Foxley, pub. Dent.

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