In education today, there is a raging tug of war. On the one hand, there are schools and teachers that ask students to learn extensive facts and demonstrate their learning proficiency through tests. In other educational environments, teachers encourage self-expression so that no set of rules is ever stated – the truth is whatever the student believes it to be. In that view, every point of view needs to be considered, and nostudent has the correct point of view. Between educators believing that there is a story that must be memorized and those that say there is no concrete right story, and memorizing facts won’t help because, no one is right – which is it? What is the right course for educators to steer?
There are a few basic approaches educators – both classroom teachers and homeschoolers – can take to cover all of these bases. The first step is to contextualize lessons. This step is the most important for history and science; these areas can seem as though they are outside of a young student’s framework; these disciplines have lots of facets to learn. It can be challenging for a student to truly put themselves in a different period. Also, contextualization helps to fight against the problem of students having to memorize disembodied facts. Reading stories and going on field trips – where students can see, feel, smell, hear, and touch the “information” – gives students an experiential anchor upon which to add important facts.
The next step is to use widely agreed upon references. These books will give students exposure to the information their friends at other schools are learning when they have weekly tests. The information does not have to be memorized, but the broad order of science and history should be present for students. The Kingfisher Encyclopedia and DK Eyewitness Books provide excellent resources students will enjoy. Caldecott Medal winner historical fiction books are also good picks; they are well researched, and used in many classroom settings.
Finally, and most importantly, children should know that the story they are learning, will be changed. It will be updated. They should know the old story gets updated as new information becomes available. One example of this: In Christopher Columbus’ time, we (parents between ages 35-60), were led to believe during the age of exploration, the elite and the Catholic church believed that the world was flat. We were told Columbus was brighter than those forces and he thought otherwise – which is why he needed to make that groundbreaking voyage. It has been written about recently that this view is actually a view not from Columbus’ time, but rather one that originated in the 1800’s with popular books such as Washington Irving’s book about Christopher Columbus. This view that the elite believed that the world was flat and Columbus was going to prove it round through his voyage to the Indies – was just not true. It had been known since Greek and Roman times that the world was round; most learned people in the Middle Ages would have taken this view also. Why has the view of Columbus going to prove the church wrong persisted? Perhaps to demonize the church, and make the church look out of step with science. This illustration demonstrates that history and subjects are revised over time. Children should be prepared for this to happen; they should know it will.
Hit on these three approaches in teaching, and children will be prepared for whatever comes their way. Education is in a state of flux – it will be for the forseeable future. Stay grounded with widely believed facts, but be honest with children that these facts may eventually lead to different conclusions!