Home homeschooling Re-thinking Education: Are School Subjects Necessary?

Re-thinking Education: Are School Subjects Necessary?

by Kelly Crawford

Rethinking Education: Are School Subjects Necessary

Ever since I taught in a high school classroom, I have felt that something was inherently wrong with the way we teach. But I still came home, fourteen years ago to homeschool, and tried to recreate all I knew–all any of us know–the only way to “do school.”

But what if a method, so ingrained that the suggestion of something different sounds like heresy, is a bad way? That is, I feel, precisely the case with our modern education.

But as I have studied, prayed and researched about education lately, I am so grateful to come upon the readings of authorities like Roger Schank. He confirmed everything.

We guard our sacred institution with all that is in us, disregarding the fact that the same subjects we teach today, and the way we teach them, were decided upon by a group of professors at Harvard in 1892, interested in educating the next group of professors (mainstream society didn’t attend college at that time), not necessarily concerned with equipping people for real life.

There is so much I want to say on this topic that I’m literally not able to write the post I want because I am bubbling over. This is the third post I’ve started, and still, I’m going to leave you with some of Schank’s own observations about “why everything you think about school is wrong.”

We are slowly gaining the confidence to do what we have believed and observed all along about education, discipleship, and real learning.

Which is why I wrote the book, Think Outside the Classroom, a great start for a practical overview of what I call “relaxed homeschooling”, a more natural approach to learning. (You can grab it here.)

“Nothing gave me more confidence as a homeschool mom than this book. Thank you a thousand times!” -Rosa M.

I would love, love, love your input in the comment section after reading the articles below!

“It is not easy to question something that everyone takes for granted. It is especially not easy when the very source of all our concerns in education can be easily traced to this one decision: to organize school around academic subjects. How else might school be organized? There is an easy answer to this: organize school around thought processes. In 1892, when the American high school was designed, we didn’t know much about thought processes. Now we do. It is time to re-think school.”Roger Schank, What Cognitive Science Tells Us About What We Really Need to Learn

“No change in education will ever happen in the US until the testing mentality is done away with. No average high functioning adult could pass them so why make kids do it? This makes no sense. What also makes no sense is the idea that math and science are important subjects. You can live a happy life without ever having taken a physics course or knowing what a logarithm is.

On the other hand, being able to reason on the basis of evidence actually is important. Thinking rationally and logically is important. Knowing how to function in a world that includes new technology and all kinds of health issues is important. Knowing how things work and being able to fix them and perhaps design them is important.

Let’s get serious. We don’t need more math and science. We need more people who can think. We need to teach job skills, people skills, and reasoning skills. And we need to make education exciting and interesting. We need performance tests not competence tests.” Wrong Problem, Wrong Solution

“Stop making lists of what one must know and start putting students into situations where they can learn from experience while attempting to accomplish goals that they set out for themselves, just as people did before there were schools. Education has always been the same: learning from experience with the help from wiser mentors. School has screwed that all up and it is time to go back to basics.” Why Do We Still Have Schools

Part 2: Rethinking Education: School Kills Creativity

Part 3: Rethinking Education: The Overrated College Degree

Part 4: Rethinking Education: “School” vs. “Education”–How to Kindle a Love of Learning

Part 5: Rethinking Education: How to Kindle a Love of Learning, The Practical How-Tos


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Laura September 17, 2012 - 6:28 am

It is hard to imagine “school” different from what we’ve always known. There have been so many variables that have influenced over the years that it can be hard to see the ramifications of different decisions apart from other circumstances. I know that when society began to move towards an industrial/manufacture for profit rather than an agrarian grow for food/subsistence things began to shift. A question I’ve also asked myself, Kelly, is this: If the “discipleship” style of education was so effective for our children/families, then why did we all let it fall away? Why did a good thing peter out? Ultimately, I would say because it’s NOT the EASIEST thing to do. In an age (back a hundred years ago) when women had all the typical housework plus sewing clothes, gardening/preserving, weaving, milking and so on, I wonder if the temptation to send the children to school was simply because it made her life somewhat easier…And human nature being what it is, we, I think, generally slide to the easiest option by default, unless we are alert and thinking about the far reaching effects of our choices both individually and as a society. And just to say, 150 years ago, I would have had no qualms in sending my children to school, in that discipline was stricter, values were Christian, and parents had the authority to keep them home to help on the farm or in the business or whatever, without legal ramifications against them. There were no homosexual rights back then being forced in the schools, or morning after pills being handed out in the nurse’s office. A lot to think about, Kelly! I’m somewhat like you, however, and enjoy a good debate and a sticky subject!

RaShell S September 17, 2012 - 7:20 am

Kelly- I so needed this today. Our home educating does not look anything like what most other folks do. My sweet husband and I just has a conversation about this again over the weekend. We talked it over, again, and decided that yes, this is the path we want to take for our children.

To some, it may look “lazy, unstructured, and harmful”. To us, it looks like life. Living right next to our children, accomplishing what needs to be done, having lots of time to help each child develop the talents God has given him, and not being bogged down by a bunch of useless busy work. One of our goals is to educate, not school our children!

I know that educating children plays out differently for every family. I do not presume that we have a “corner on the market” as to how to educate children. We are too busy trying to figure out what the Lord would have us do to worry about how everyone else should run their families. That being said, sometimes I do listen to others and worry that we aren’t “doing it right”. Praise the Lord, that as I get older I am able to care less what others think and listen more to what the Lord is telling us.

Thank you for the thoughts. They are just another confirmation from the Lord that we are on the track He has for our family!

P.S. Yes, yes, yes please… I would LOVE to see a series on this!!!

Belinda September 18, 2012 - 1:32 am

Maybe you should school your children because in your post you wrote ‘My sweet husband and I just has a conversation.’ Shouldn’t that be ‘my sweet husband and I just had a conversation.’ By schooling our children we are giving them tools to further their education if they so wish, yet if they do not have these tools when they are younger it makes it so much harder get when they become older

Word Warrior September 18, 2012 - 8:54 am


May I kindly point out that the comment section of a blog post isn’t a place where exact grammar and editing should be expected? We are busy wives and moms answering hurriedly and when there is a typo or mistake, it is not an indication of one’s intelligence. Most people recognize that so your attention to it seems strictly condemning and sarcastic.The “s” and the “d” are side by side. I should hope no one holds you to such perfectionist standards as the basis of your intelligence. After all, you didn’t end your sentence with a period 😛

Furthermore, you seem to have missed the point completely. The articles are precisely about “giving them the right tools”. The author is asserting, and has good evidence, that “schooling” does NOT give students the necessary tools they need for life.

Jennifer September 18, 2012 - 11:10 am

You articulated perfectly what I could not get out. That may have been because my mouth was hanging open 😉

RaShell S September 25, 2012 - 8:24 am

Thank you.

GiGi January 28, 2016 - 4:03 pm

Belinda, perhaps you missed the fact that the “s” and “d” are right next to each other on the keyboard?

MelissaJoy September 19, 2012 - 11:24 pm

Are you RaShea’s sister? (I’ve never seen the name “RaShell” anywhere else)

Sorry for the segway 😛

RaShell S September 25, 2012 - 8:24 am

Yes! I am RaShea’s sister. How do you know my Sis? 🙂

MelissaJoy December 27, 2013 - 5:33 pm

We fellowship at the same church together. I love her dearly 🙂

Chelsey September 17, 2012 - 8:42 am

I have been struggling with this notion. In fact, when I started this school year I had notebooks, calendar time, handwriting practice, and math, phonics, science, and social studies. My son is in first grade! I am slowly eliminating some of those things, but it is hard to break the mold of what has been ingrained. I would love to see a series and more information and support to break the mold. As far as our children needing more white collar education, I would disagree. There are numerous jobs out there needing someone with experience. That is where internships and apprenticeships are invaluable. Young adults leaving college have a sense of entitlement. We need to get back to the basics of hard work, sweating for a living, and taking pride in something you have earned. Not getting something because you completed four years and passed the tests. That means nothing and should not be the focus of education, let’s get back to thinking fro ourselves and researching to find out what we believe and why. Sorry for the rant, this has been on my heart, too.

Lisa September 17, 2012 - 8:56 am

My instincts as a mother have been telling me there’s a better way. One that is based on learning not a copy of public school education. I always tell my children being smart isn’t knowing the answer, its knowing how to think and find an answer. However, putting a different way of educating into practice is the hard part, when a copy of public school education is all we know. I would love to hear the how to implement this into our life. Please, please do a series!

Nicole September 17, 2012 - 9:11 am

I love this post! As someone who is ‘starting school’ ‘late’ because of lack of finances for my desired curriculum, I have been feeling like everyone is looking at me with shock “What do you mean you haven’t started yet??!!! It’s almost October!!!???” I really don’t care. We are living outside….and learning every day. I am still hung up on having them ‘at grade level’, and wish I could break that mindset, but I’m learning 🙂 I am surrounded by public school teachers in my family and it’s hard to push their condescending attitudes away sometimes. I truly feel that ‘unschooling’ is awesome, but struggle with the thoughts of not teaching enough or screwing up my children…so I plug on with curriculum to show/prove that they are actually learning. I would love a series on this topic….

Laura Z September 17, 2012 - 9:17 am

Amen! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! To quote Voddie Baucham, “Parents, you know you’ve been institutionalized when your children know what grade they’re in…” Once my husband and I finally surrendered what we thought was “right and normal” and started to really pray about our children’s education, our structure changed dramatically. We confronted the lies that we had believed about education and started to clear the clutter. Sherry at Large Family Mothering has been a huge source of encouragement to me.

I am hugely interested in a series on this subject! It is near and dear to my heart. My heart’s desire is to see families set free from this society’s idea of “good education”. And like RaShell mentioned, we have in no way, “cornered the market” or think we’re doing everything perfect. We’re too busy seeking Christ for ourselves, to be critiquing others homeschooling style.

But, I believe, that if we cleared all the ulterior motives for homeschooling, and focused on Christ, having the smartest, cleverest, most well mannered little homeschooler would take a back seat to a child who loved Christ and others well. Of course, then I would have to do that too, “more is caught than taught”, and my children would be teaching me.

I look forward to your next post in this series! 🙂
In His Grip, Laura

Amy September 17, 2012 - 10:39 am

Voddie Baucham has been such an influence to our family homeschool! We heard him speak at a homeschool conference 2 years ago. We don’t have grades (1st, 2nd, etc.) and my son loves it when people (especially strangers) ask him what grade he is in. He will just look at them and shrug his shoulders. Most people will then say in shock “you don’t know what grade you are in?” He will then tell them that we homeschool and don’t have grades. I am surprised by how upset total strangers will get over this answer.

Tami Lewis September 17, 2012 - 10:45 am

I love this post! I am often accused of being lazy and not teaching my children properly , even after 22 yrs of homeschooling.! I still go back and forth, due to my fear that I am wrong. I will set aside some prayer time today for more guidance 🙂

hsmominmo September 17, 2012 - 10:48 am

A thought-provoking post.
“…it is time to go back to basics.” — I’m curious, what are the ‘basics’?
Asking that question, I usually get the pat answer “The 3 R’s” — but I hear you saying loud and clear “Critical Thinking, Reasoning Skills”

Word Warrior September 17, 2012 - 11:29 am


I think he summed up “the basics” pretty well in the article…”People then and people now, had to learn how to function in the world they inhabit. This means being able to communicate, get along with others, function economically and physically, and in general reason about issues that confront them. It didn’t mean then, and doesn’t mean now, science and mathematics, at least not for 95% of the population.”

In another article, he said, “reading, writing and basic math…those are the only subjects that make sense”.

If we pretended that the subjects we know didn’t exist, and we set out to best equip our children for life–personal growth, job, marriage, etc., what and how would we teach them? There are basics like reading and numeration. Analyzing and critical thinking. Evaluating and learning good judgement, though each child will naturally be bent toward particular interests. (I have a child who loves physics–but only in the context of stuff that makes sense–he loves to build catapults, so he’s constantly figuring out what weight/height/tension he needs to get it to shoot farther).

Those basics–ultimately the ability to understand information, reason and learn–becomes the foundation for anything they seek to do later in life, whether it’s become a doctor or a homeschooling mom.

Elizabeth K. September 17, 2012 - 12:55 pm

I wonder if we are assuming that our children will not need to attend college for the calling they feel God has placed on their lives. What if they want to become doctors, lawyers, scientists, accountants, nurses, etc. (careers that require schooling and degrees). I agree that we can place too much emphasis on “worldly pursuits” but I also would not want to put my children at a disadvantage for pursuing God’s will for their lives by “unschooling” or “not focusing on grade levels.” Although, I firmly agree that if a child can read well and think critically, he or she will usually be able to score well on tests like the SAT/ACT which are usually required for advanced schooling.

Word Warrior September 17, 2012 - 1:33 pm


You are right. This philosophy of education does *not* discredit the real fact that some children will want to pursue medicine, science and more advanced forms of academia. That’s the beauty of understanding it. A student who has formed basic habits of problem-solving, analytical skills and understanding the world around him is not limited by anything. He has no problem studying what he needs to (and attentive parents can see his gifts and tendencies quite early). Although I think the author would argue that too many employers make jumping through the hoop of college a requirement when an apprenticeship-type approach would be far more valuable. Even in early time, this is how doctors and higher professions were attained. But while we’re jumping through hoops, if necessary, I think a parent simply needs to be sensitive to that and jump through as few as possible to be able to ensure he gets a full education AND what will be required of him.

Overall, the author is seeking to reform the entire thought-process of education, making a TEST far less powerful to determine one’s abilities. Does that make sense?

Word Warrior September 17, 2012 - 1:46 pm

As a real-life example of how this college mindset needs to be loosened, at best, is a close friend of ours.

He was allowed, during his homeschool years, to tinker, explore and problem-solve. His mother saw it and was smart enough to allow him the freedom to discover.

As an adult, he applied for a highly specialized job with a corporation because he said, “I knew how to do it”. The problem was that the position “required a college degree”. Isn’t it interesting that we equate “college degree” with “know how to perform the job”?

The interview was rather surprised to find out the young many had even applied for the job without this obvious requirement. But the young man said, “take me inside and let me show you”. He was allowed to perform the task that he was applying for and did it quickly and, according to the interview, better than many others before him.

They hired him on the spot. And while that story isn’t meant to be the “proof” that college is never needful,(there are good reasons for students to go to college sometimes) it stands to demonstrate that it is often overrated and there are a myriad of ways to acquire skills and knowledge without the standard hoops.

My brother’s life is also an amazing example of being able to learn and excel in all sorts of professions, without a college degree, given the basic foundations are in place…I hope to share more about him in a post during the series I’m planning.

MelissaJoy September 19, 2012 - 11:38 pm

Quickly, as it’s time for me to snooze, and hopefully proper and articulate enough so as to not get the grammar-police on me…

I was homeschooled up to college, which I attended with no expectations but just out of my own curiosity. Before and during college I never once got turned down for a job but in fact excelled quickly in each vocation I took on. You see, my parents taught me how to learn, rather than what to learn. A few months before graduating the junior college (which I attended at my own pace), I was hired as an administrative assistant (or, secretary) for the “top” lawyers in our area. To make a long story much shorter, I was informed that the attorneys were hoping to train me as a legal assistant to replace one they already have, though I had absolutely no training in law whatsoever. I discovered that they actually found my un-schooling on the subject to be a huge asset because all of the “paralegal” graduates needed to be retrained once in the workforce, and thus were not sought for.

Who would have thought?

Well, I became pregnant and needed to quit only a few months after beginning the job, so I turned down the big promotion… for diapers 🙂 (oh, and I now have the best job in the world, by the way)

Word Warrior September 20, 2012 - 7:22 am


I love it. And this DOES happen a lot, contrary to what people think. Perhaps a post with real live examples for those still convinced there’s only one way, would be helpful. The only way your comment could be improved is to have said, rather, “Who’d a thunk it?” Just for fun.

Tonya September 17, 2012 - 3:40 pm

Oh, I so agree! I have avoided testing my kids for 12 years now and people ask me “don’t you want to know how they’re doing?”. This makes me laugh. My reply is “I talk to them. I know how they’re doing.”

I, too, taught in a public high school before I started home schooling. It is very hard to shake off the mentality of dividing things into subjects and making sure they all get done every day. I’m still working on it. I’d love to see some more posts on this subject!

Carolina September 17, 2012 - 3:46 pm

I am not completely sure that students in India and China are studying science in depth bc they want to come to the USA. Some may, but many more now bc right now the future of the corporations seems to be in Asia, not in the western world.
Europe and USA are falling down economically, while China, the countries in the Arab Gulf (or Persian Gulf), Malasia… keep opening new factories and companies. And some western companies are sending the jobs there. We may have to send our children there too…

Erica September 17, 2012 - 3:50 pm

I recently found a program called “Unschooling” and it touched on a lot of issues that so many parents don’t think about! There are websites, books, & support groups all over the Internet that you can check out.

Kelly, thank you for being willing to post about this!

Carolina September 17, 2012 - 4:09 pm

Erica, I do not think unschooling is the best solution either. Unschoolers normally make everything gravitate around the children, as though they were little gods. Some of them do not even discipline their children. Unschooling removes the God given authority away from the parents… I could number several more reasons. No, unschooling is not the solution.

Carolina September 17, 2012 - 4:18 pm

I keep going about unschooling. Unschooling teaches that if you do not want to do something, you do not need to do it, unschooling does not bring forth good habits of intellectual -or whatever kind- discipline, unschooling is based upong the wrong premise that the child know what is good for her, unschooling does not help to create a Christian culture.
Not all unschoolers are radical unschoolers. Some of them are just flexible or not curriculum bound. I am not talking about that kind of people -I would be one-, but about the ones who put the education of their children in the hands of the own children even at a young age when they do not really know what they need and what is best for them. Some parents think they do not have the right to interviene in their children education -or whatever it is-, and I think that is very sad.
I am cooking dinner. i have to go.

Erica September 19, 2012 - 11:48 am

Carolina I obviously should have takenmore time in my response to clarify what “unschooling” means to me & my family. We have used bits and pieces of the unschooling method and incorporated it into our homeschooling. I have 2 teens that attended public schools for quite a few years (until middle school). In deciding to homeschooling I was at a loss in how to go about homeschooling, so I went with an online school, only to discover that while I was able to supplement their education with Bible studies along with things like budgets, cooking, laundry, skills needed to survive as adults. I realized how flawed the public schools were & ultimately saw it carry over through the online school. I realized that my kids needed to unlearn quite a bit so that they could reach their full potential, instead of continuing to be little robots the schools have taught them to be! I have been able to pull SOME of the concepts from “unschooling” and utilize that in addition to my own homeschooling methods to teach my children to use their God given talents & abilities to their fullest.

While some may disagree with “unschooling” I have found it incredibly helpful in reversing problems caused by traditional public schools. I also have pulled bits & pieces out that I was able to use with my younger children. I have seen success in my 6 yr old using some of the “unschooling” principles with her. She learned to read and do simple addition & subtraction at 4 yrs old – and have done the same with my younger siblings.

Obviously we are not all going to have success using the same methods, as each child & each family is different. Justbecause you may not agree with the method does not means that certain concepts can not be used to better our children’s education.

Word Warrior September 19, 2012 - 1:44 pm

Carolina and Erica,

I’ve had random thoughts about unschooling–considering how opposed many Christians are to it, and asking myself, in light of my responsibility to raise disciplined children who respect authority and structure, about the advantages and disadvantages of what is called “unschooling”.

To me, unschooling takes its cue from natural learning processes. And this is the part I find most agreeable and intriguing. When a child is born, he is learning. We haven’t enrolled him into “school” yet, but he is learning as much as any student will once formally considered school-age.

Isn’t he unschooling? And does that mean that I’ve removed all restraints and am instilling bad habits in him just because he is learning according to his own curiosity? He still has boundaries. Expectations. Structure. Discipline. But his learning habits are following precisely what intrigues him. (Didn’t God think of this?) If he picks up an object, I tell him the name of it, repeat it again, and maybe add “isn’t that interesting?” If he points out the window, I follow him there and help him identify what he is interested in. Isn’t this “unschooling”? I can’t think of any other method by which this toddler could learn more than the natural curiosity given to him at birth.

As such, why is this kind of learning suitable for our toddlers and suddenly harmful for our older children? That question, by the way, isn’t meant to be “my conclusion”. It is a question to myself, and for others to ponder and input as they would like 😉

And also, I certainly see that many parents who advocate “radical unschooling” DO violate my personal Christian beliefs about child/parent roles, authority, etc. I can see where this might cause us to reject the whole idea. But I’m wondering if we are throwing the baby out with the bath water? Or at least that there are some fantastic nuggets of wisdom we could glean from the general idea behind unschooling.

tereza crump September 20, 2012 - 12:19 am

Some unschoolers like to call themselves eclectic, or relaxed homeschoolers or interest led learners… or whatever just so people won’t put them into the same box of the “radical unschoolers”. It’s sad that we are still labeling each other when we left school so that we could pursue our own path and become “unschooled” (not part of the school of fishes!)

I tell people we unschool and that I am a Christian and that I follow the Bible. So if they are interested after that, they can continue to get to know me and find out how “radical” I am!!! 🙂

My kids when asked where they go to school like to say “we don’t do school. We do life!”

Anna Mary September 30, 2012 - 10:08 am

Two books that I have really enjoyed recently are Christian Unschooling Growing your Children in the Freedom of Christ by Teri J. Brown and Finding Joy: A Christian’s Journey to an Unschooled Life by Julie Polanco. I also enjoy books by Mary Hood.

This has been a very interesting topic.

Word Warrior September 30, 2012 - 6:17 pm

Thank you for these recommendations, Anna. They sound really helpful!

Jane September 17, 2012 - 6:11 pm

I really disagree with this, I do believe that life skills and thinking skills are important. I also believe we need better job training and apprentice programs. Not all kids need or want to go to college, but they better have some skill that can translate into high paying wages!
So yes there are ways we must improve our education system. I believe there should be more variety because definitely one size does not fit all. BUT for many kids (maybe most) the subjects are critical. Math and science is pretty important unless you want a society without engineers, doctors, researchers etc. History creates an informed citizenry, and is anyone going to argue that it is not important to read and write well?By not teaching this stuff you significantly limit your students options unless you are training them all to be homesteaders like back in the 1860’s. Newsflash this is not possible
npr desirable in my opinion. You seem enamored with those “good ol pioneer” days. Well we now live in a more complex rapidly changing society. We must prepare our kids for the exciting opportunities they can choose from, not limit their options from the get go.

HeatherHH September 17, 2012 - 7:02 pm

I think the point was that higher-level math and higher-level sciences are specialized subject areas. Requiring every student to take algebra 2, trigonometry, and maybe even calculus, along with high school biology and chemistry and physics (or at least 2 out of 3), is kind of like requiring every student to take accounting. Sure we need accountants, but most other people don’t need to take accounting classes.

My husband has a Ph.D. in engineering, and I took math up through 2 years of calculus in college. I use arithmetic and very basic algebra a lot in daily life, everything beyond, not at all. We both agree that it’s not desirable for all of our children to focus their time and effort on automatically taking math up through trig or calculus. For most of them, there will be better things for them to do.

Word Warrior September 17, 2012 - 7:35 pm


The author (nor I) is fixated on the pioneer days, nor does he think we need a society without engineers and doctors. Heather summed up the premise–most people are not going to end up in specialized fields. And even those who do, and most will testify, that their real learning took place in the intern–“doing” part of their education, much like was once practiced.

The crux of the philosophy is that with a basic foundation in “how to learn”, each child will be able to move on easily to whatever field he desires. This has been proven in theory and in experience.

As John Taylor Gatto said,

“if we’re going to change what’s rapidly becoming a disaster of ignorance, we need to realize that the school institution “schools” very well, though it does not “educate”; that’s inherent in the design of the thing. It’s not the fault of bad teachers or too little money spent. It’s just impossible for education and schooling ever to be the same thing.”

and again…

“By preventing a free market in education, a handful of social engineers – backed by the industries that profit from compulsory schooling: teacher colleges, textbook publishers, materials suppliers, et al. – has ensured that most of our children will not have an education, even though they may be thoroughly schooled.”

We simply have to get past our sacred cow, and really think about the what an education is and how people really learn.

Michelle B. September 17, 2012 - 7:05 pm

This is a subject I’ve been thinking about recently, even though mine are just 3, 1, and not born yet. Right now we don’t have any sort of “schooling”. We spend lots of time outside, playing at the park and exploring the backyard. Reading is, to me, probably one of the most important “subjects” we can teach our children, because if they can read, they can learn about anything they wish to. And basic math is part of life. Everyone needs some math, and should my children want to go further along that particular path, they are free to. Writing is very important too, in that being able to communicate effectively is vital to getting along in life. And I wouldn’t see focusing on those three basic things as limiting our children. By giving them a strong foundation in those, along witth the ability to *think* about what they’ve learned and give them a chance to put it into practice, rather than just fill in bubbles on a test sheet, they will be far ahead of many kids who can pass a test, but don’t know how to use what they’ve been taught.

Word Warrior September 17, 2012 - 7:42 pm

I loved this testimony I received in my inbox, from a reader who wished not to be identified:

“I am a prime example of what you’re saying. I was, however, not homeschooled growing up. Neither did I take A/P classes or calculus, physics or chemistry in high school.

I never did well on standardized tests even the one to get into college and when I had to apply for physical therapy school. It wasn’t because I lacked intelligence, I just don’t do well on them. One of the criteria to get into PT school was to score high on the GRE because it supposedly correlated with your success in the program which is difficult and demanding – I didn’t. However, I was still accepted…I graduated 3rd in my PT class and cum laude, and I was the first person in my family to got to college.

Now, for another point…many courses they make you take in college are only meant to 1) take your money because you will have NO use for them later 2) waste valuable time 3) to catechize you with a godless, humanistic worldview. I was not a regenerate believer when I went to college, and it’s only by God’s grace He saved me from the lies that spawn from “higher education”.”

Kristen September 17, 2012 - 9:51 pm

Interesting thoughts. We homeschool and lean very traditional/classical. My children would not do well in an “interest lead” setting at all. And yes, we are re-thinking the importance of college. However, one subject that has been lacking, and I believe purposefully, in the govt. schools is history. We are very heavy on history in our homeschool, my children love it. A good grasp of world history (and political philosophy when they are older) will help our children understand where we are, where we’ve been and where we are going as a civilization.

Jennifer September 17, 2012 - 10:24 pm

Math and science are VERY important, math for everyday use; even I know this, and I was known as a math rebel. Besides, math and science degrees and careers are where the big money is these days; they’re what’s in demand.

Word Warrior September 18, 2012 - 8:45 am

Jennifer, I’m curious…did you read the articles? Your comment sounds like you didn’t. The presumption is not necessarily that “math isn’t important”. It is, like you said, important for everyday use. Schank’s point is that there are far better ways to learn what needs to be learned for everyday use. In particular, he argues that very few people ever need higher math to be successful; but if they do, they can always go that route. He would suggest, as one of our commenters did, that apprenticeship-type training is far superior to hours of trigonometry.

Jennifer September 18, 2012 - 1:34 pm

I did read a great deal of the second article, Kelly, and found it interesting. Your comment makes even more sense; thanks for confirming!

Sherry September 17, 2012 - 10:36 pm

I had never heard of Schank before, so I am so glad you pointed him out to us all. My grandmother was “apprenticing” to become a doctor in the ’40’s–she was a nurse working for an older doctor who was going to help her undergo the board certification process–much better than our current system. I understand accountants can still go this route. Why not? Why couldn’t we open this up to more professions? These are the questions I place before my own children. Two of them have landed jobs which doctorate-carrying persons were in competition for, but they have more expertise and ability, since, instead of focusing on things they were not interested in, I allowed them the time to hone their skills in the areas of their greatest interest and ability. For some children, this just might be math and science, but for mine, it was in a different direction.

Word Warrior September 18, 2012 - 8:49 am

Sherry–love it. If I had to choose between a doctor with eight years of only classroom lectures and one with two years of hands-on experience under an experienced doctor, I’d take the experience every time. There are simply more sensible ways to train professionals (or non-professionals) outside of what we’re used to thinking. We shouldn’t be locked into such a narrow idea about learning and recognize what value apprenticing and mentoring have had for centuries.

LVH September 18, 2012 - 12:59 pm

This is a strange comment. Practically every medical school and nursing school that is licensed and regulated (in the US) are required to go through a certain number of lecture hours, labs, clinicals and internships.

A huge reason why doctors don’t go straight into apprenticeship programs is safety. There is a huge base of knowledge that doctors and other medical professionals must know before even leaving the classroom. They must learn how and why the body functions the way it is, pathology of diseases, pharmacology and other very important subjects. Considering how far medicine has come within the last two hundred years, I cannot wrap my head around how that type of knowledge could even be discussed and taught in an apprenticeship without it taking many years or hours on part of the instructor.

As a nursing student, I’m so thankful for the time I’ve spent on my pre-requisites and foundation courses. I’m glad that I have time to practice and “mess-up” during stimulations or my labs. This has made me much better prepared for when I start clinicals next semester.

A person shouldn’t only be taught how to do a job, but why; the history and research behind it. As a (future) nurse, I’m perfectly capable of giving a patient their pills. However, I should also know what the pills do, what side effects to look for, how it interacts with other drugs, allergies the patient must have and so much more. This foundational knowledge is incredibly important and very hard to teach in an apprentice-style type of setting. Nurses and doctors in hospitals and clinics do not have the time to teach so much basic knowledge; its frustrating, time consuming and dangerous for patients.

There are many other professions that require the combination of classroom lectures and internships including: social work, education, psychology, counseling/therapy, law, and so on.

LVH September 18, 2012 - 1:05 pm

Oops, I meant “simulations” and “patient might have.”

Word Warrior September 18, 2012 - 1:33 pm

Surely you didn’t conclude, by my comment, that I think learning the things you mention here are unnecessary. I gave a “two ends of the spectrum” example to make a point…that even a highly specialized profession doesn’t necessarily require the degree of lecturing, testing and rote memorization that we’ve been conditioned to think. Schank mentioned, for example, that doctors don’t use the chemistry they are taught in college. Could some of the “hoop-jumping tests” be replaced with more valuable, practical experience-based learning? Yes, I’m sure it could. Understand that this discussion doesn’t imply “throw all learning out the window”. It is a challenge to rethink old traditions of education that by and large, haven’t proved very successful, and find better ways of learning what a person needs to be successful. I’m sorry if my comment wasn’t clear to you.

LVH September 18, 2012 - 2:26 pm

Is Mr. Schank a medical doctor? Please tell me he’s joking that doctors do not need/use the chemistry they learned in undergrad.

Chemistry lays a huge foundation for learning and practicing medicine. One of the major reasons is because doctors prescribe medications and they should/need to know at least basic chemistry of these medicines ( and I would argue biochemistry & organic chemistry); what these medications are made up of, what effect they have on/in the body, reactions to other medications….this all goes back to Chemistry. However, chemistry is so essential in many other aspects of medicine.

Personally, I’m so thankful for my chemistry courses as the foundation they have laid is essential to what I need to know as a nurse; things like protein synthesis, enzymes, oxygen transport, blood-brain barrier, respirations, ketoacidosis, filtration processes of the kidney, HCL and other digestion system chemicals, radiology, chemotherapy, IV therapy, anesthesia, and so on. Shall I make a longer list of how much chemistry is used in the medical field?

I’m genuinely interested in education reform, but I cannot consider arguments from someone (Mr. Schank) who doesn’t seem to have a clue what he’s talking about.

Word Warrior September 18, 2012 - 2:53 pm

I doubt Mr. Schank, after decades of education and cognitive science research, doesn’t “have a clue”. Granted, he may make extreme statements with a lot of truth to get a point across.

Whether or not the actual hours spent in an organic chemistry class prepares a person to be a doctor is debatable. AND…the point isn’t even being argued that “no one should ever take chemistry”, but that it most certainly shouldn’t be required as a course for the mainstream, and should be, at best, used as a tool for those needing it in their profession, and not as a master.

I certainly am not arguing that a doctor doesn’t need chemistry. I would be willing to assert, though, that most of what those in the medical profession learn is largely through their experience and residency. I think this was the main point Schank is trying to make.

LVH September 18, 2012 - 3:36 pm

Ok, I was confused when you stated:

“Schank mentioned, for example, that doctors don’t use the chemistry they are taught in college.”

What did you (he) mean by that?

Second, Schank seems to suggest that we teach the same subjects, the same way as we did in 1892? Where is his research for this? Do I need to buy his book in order to see it?

While some of the subjects are the same, he completely ignores how much has changed regarding methodology, research and technology. I mean take reading for an example; we’ve gone from using the Bible to learn our ABC’s to various forms of books, videos, and games. In the classroom, methodologies have changed from sight reading to phonics, to whole language.

So I’m not sure what he means by our system being traditional and based on 1892 Harvard courses. Education has changed over time, in the US.

Now, I don’t think the system we have is perfect or even amazing. There are many reasons why our education systems is in need of repair. However, Mr. Schank suggests that students don’t need to learn history, science, math, grammar and so on.??

Grainne September 18, 2012 - 7:08 am

Thank you for this Kelly-please do a series. I was a weirdo who actually enjoyed higher maths but I’ve never had call to use it. I could however have used a much better grounding in the Bible, homemaking/home economics skills esp. cooking though. We hope to hs our bundle (under a year atm) and would love for him to learn the practicalities of life and the facts of faith as the basis of his education. I trained as a teacher and both my parents are teachers/lecturers, my in-laws are not Christians so I *know* we’ll have to fight for our beliefs. Thank you for the links to such well written arguments for practicality and thinking versus busywork.

Word Warrior September 18, 2012 - 9:09 am


I too, loved math, even competed in math, and went on to take two semesters of college calculus, encouraged by my college advisers, “just because”. Real math…that’s what I wish I knew more efficiently. Who cares about solving a logarithm if I can barely make change at a yard sale. 😀 As one of our math studies, I’m requiring my older children to read “Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey.

Jamie September 18, 2012 - 7:47 am

Very interesting! We are not homeschooling right now, but are leaning in that direction. (My heart is there, but my husband is not, quite, yet.) And a lot for these reasons.

We both graduated from an expensive state university and we have successful careers (we’re not drs or anything, but we make a stable living in a rural area) and we were both hired at least in part because we could check the box on the application that said we had a bachelor’s degree–and we both use our degree NOT AT ALL in our job. We’re successful and have grown at our jobs because they utilize our personal skills, talents, and learning styles–not because of the 4 yrs of book learning at the university.

I’ve been a professional in local government for 10 years and I’ve seen kids come out with multiple degrees in my field, and they can’t present at a podium in a public meeting without sweating, turning red, stammering and stuttering, and nearly passing out. I deal with engineers who make 3 times what I do and have great ideas on paper, but can’t explain it to anyone that’s NOT an engineer–so how can I get someone to vote to approve it? Or designers who feel their beautiful design can’t be inhibited by mundane issues like a BUDGET and turn in assignments that basically amount to a fantasy because I’ll never be able to get them approved back in “the real world.” There has got to be a balance between book learning and application learning.

I often say the biggest thing college did for me was to teach me to think and expose me to new thoughts and ideas to explore so that I could find my talent and my niche. But a parent could easily do the same things at home if they were aware and intentional about it.

Word Warrior September 18, 2012 - 9:11 am


Thank you for sharing these interesting observations from your experience–very interesting! I’ll pray your husband’s heart is drawn to the beauty of homeschooling!

Kara September 18, 2012 - 8:32 am

Hello Kelly,
I had recently come across your blog. Thank you for your articles. I have really enjoyed them.
I appreciate your article on this topic. It is something that has long been on my mind, but like so many others feel bound to the traditional style of “schooling”. I think we feel safe following what we already know, and we are often afraid of the unknown. I am slowly ( and I do mean slowly) breaking out of that box. I good resource I found is Ruth Beechick’s book ‘A Biblical Home Education’. She writes very much along these lines. I hope to start to implement it with my younger children and even some with my older ones. I only regret I did not have this resource years ago. God bless you and I would look forward to seeing more posts on this topic.

Mrs. S September 18, 2012 - 2:43 pm

I agree that a lot of schooling is a waste of time and that is probably one of the top reasons we homeschool. All those years of being in school plus homework, projects, fundraisers, meeetings ect. People think I spend a ton of time on formal schooling because my son went from not reading to reading at 5th grade level in 1 year and he could do addition in his head at a young age. My children spend most of their time just creating, exploring, and playing together. They also spend a lot of time doing home repairs with my husband, helping me cook dinner, and all the day to day living life stuff that they will need to know! Also, being able to impart our faith all day every day through a life of dicipleship is so important.

About the question of having scientsts/engineers/doctors…My oldest child (who is 8) is one of those kids who wants to be a scientist/inventor so we give him science kits and supplies to experiment and invent with because he loves it now. If this is indeed his calling we will nourish it and help him take appropriate action as he gets older (classes, internships ect). We are not going to force our other children to do hours of science kits just because they might want to be a scientist though. My midddle daughter, for example, is very different and loves to be read to and is highly artistic so I do more things like that with her. I think our job as parents is to try and see who God has made them to be and help our children flourish in their God given gifts. I have yet to see a school setting provide that.

This feels like such a natural a wonderful way to live life and feel very blessed to be able to homeschool this way!

Rethinking Education: School Kills Creativity | September 18, 2012 - 3:31 pm

[…] (Part 1: Rethinking Education: Are School Subjects Necessary) […]

Suzanne September 18, 2012 - 5:12 pm

Kelly, I’d love to read a series on this and get some resource ideas to help along the way. I’ve homeschooled for 8 years and am in the process of a paradigm shift in my thinking after all this time. God’s been bringing about this change in thinking for some time but it’s a lot to take in nevertheless. Old habits die hard!

Melissa September 18, 2012 - 9:25 pm

Thank you for your articles. I have enjoyed reading them. I agree that the education system in America is in serious trouble and that Roger Schank makes some valid points about college. However, his article seems to discount the possibility that one’s college education could be academically rigorous and personally beneficial. I believe that mine was both. I graduated (4 years ago) from a private Christian college with a BA in English. While I have not used my degree professionally (I am currently a stay at-home mom), I feel that my liberal arts education made me a more well-rounded person, better equipped to face life. Even those subjects which do not seem “practical” can benefit a student by broadening their perspective. For example, I learned from my study of contemporary American literature in college that a profound sense of isolation and a deep longing for community pervades our current culture. This realization has greatly influence how I think about unbelievers and the way in which the church should minister to our world. I would not have learned this lesson to the same degree had I not studied literature in college.

It seems to me that you, and those you are quoting, are taking a very pragmatic look at education. While a certain degree of pragmatism is perhaps wise (i.e. we want to equip our children with practical knowledge and skills), the current state of the American education system is in part a result of the pragmatism of John Dewey and his followers who changed the educational goal from making the student a better person to making him a “useful” person. Let us not, as Christians, make the mistake of discounting the ability of education to help us learn more about God as we learn more about the world He has created. In his book Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, Douglas Wilson writes:

“The Puritans knew that all truth is God’s truth. Leland Ryken, professor of English at Wheaton College, refers to the fact that the Puritans were committed to God as ‘the ultimate source of all truth.’ This led, among other things to the study of science. One Puritan, John Cotton, said, ‘To study the nature and course and use of all God’s works is a duty imposed by God upon all sorts of men.” (page 119)

May I suggest that studying such “impractical” subjects as higher mathematics, biology, English poetry or all manner of things which will not be used on a regular basis can still greatly benefit the student by helping her to better understand the world that God made and widening her ability to appreciate the God who created nature and who orchestrates history.

The Provision Room September 20, 2012 - 1:01 pm

Years ago, when I was in fifth grade to be exact, my mother faced a real challenge. My father had lost his job, we were between homes and life generally had a lot of heartache in those years. My mother had been homeschooling my brother, my sister, and me. But, that fifth grade year she had no money to purchase curriculum. She really cried out to God! Should she put us back in public school? She felt the Lord say, “You take care of their hearts and their hands. I will take care of their heads.” Meaning, she was to give us hearts to love and serve God and others; she was to mold our characters. Also, she was to teach us how to do meaningful work and to have some skills for life.

We spent that year serving in the church, working in a garden and ranch and spending every spare day at the library reading great books and listening to records. (Yes, records! No DVDs or CDs then!) We were there so much that my sister and I became library volunteers!

At the end of the school year we took the state’s standardized tests. My mother held her breath. And when the results came in, we had dramatically (and I do mean dramatically, not just a point or two) advanced in every single subject–even subjects we had never covered.

That word from the Lord and that year of unschooling completely reshaped my parents’ view of education.

Today my brother, sister and I are all happily married with 17 children between us and are all homeschooling our children on that foundation.

Word Warrior September 20, 2012 - 1:51 pm

LOVE. IT. It’s a perfect summary of this whole discussion…we discredit the idea that God built into children an amazing curiosity and capacity to obtain information in a myriad of ways, and have bought into the lie that a classroom/lecture/only-the-expert way of doing things is superior. It’s insane, really.

RaShell S September 25, 2012 - 8:30 am

What an encouraging testimony of God’s faithfulness. Thank you so much for sharing. I love it!

Kim M. January 26, 2016 - 7:19 pm

What a great testimony by “The Provision Room”!

Rethinking Education: The Overrated College Degree Drives the System…& Apprenticeship (Part 3) | September 20, 2012 - 11:41 pm

[…] Part 1: Are School Subjects Necessary? […]

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Rethinking Education: Kindling a Love of Learning (Practical “How-to’s”) Part 5 | September 26, 2012 - 8:21 pm

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Linkage. And like all good things… | Breathing Grace September 28, 2012 - 7:03 am

[…] Cedar: Rethinking Education: Parts 1, 2,  3, 4, and […]

Jolene @ The Alabaster Jar September 29, 2012 - 10:52 am

Wonderful post, Kelly! It’s a message that needs to be said. Believers need to remember that we are here to lift God up for all to see and sometimes we lose sight of that. God’s standards are different from the world’s. We get caught up in the State’s Standards, which is more like Satan’s standards, so much so that we lose sight on raising our kids to build the Kingdom of God. The best ‘curriculum’ that we can give to our children is ‘us’; a parent emulating Jesus Christ. Teaching them how to walk the Narrow Path, showing them how to love others, encouraging them in their God-given talents, skills, as well as their spiritual gifts. A pursuit like this will look very different than how I was taught in the public schools.

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[…] not always a fan of text booky kinds of things but we do love fun learning tools to supplement our […]

Kim M. January 26, 2016 - 7:23 pm

Thanks for reposting this series! We have a high schooler this year and another one next year. I’m so glad that I’ve homeschooled this long, because I have seen -from experience- that this mindset really does work!

Kelly Crawford January 26, 2016 - 10:44 pm

You’re welcome, Kim. I thought it was time to revisit them.

D. January 29, 2016 - 1:31 am

I didn’t read all of the article links included, but I did enjoy what you wrote Kelly.

I’m glad that we (homeschooling mothers) don’t have it all figured out – we were not meant to. I have found that in these 4 years of homeschooling, I have prayed more diligently as a result of recognizing my weaknesses and knowing we need heavenly wisdom.

To me, the most important calling of “homeschooling” is to simply live out what Deut. 6 refers to. My conviction was leading me to believe that I simply cannot talk of Christ as Deut. 6 commands me if we sent our kids to public/Christian school for 7 hours a day. My convictions also led me to believe than the window of opportunity towards our children is best in their younger years. Having our children home with us is primarily for training them up in God’s Word, without the public school system tearing that down every day. And as we keep our children home, we are raising them up to function in this earthly realm: how to make a bed, how to sweep, work together as team, how to deal with conflict, preferring others, showing respect for authority, caring for those outside the home, etc…..

I am probably unaware of what unschooling really is, because within that is another spectrum. My understanding of it has left me feeling hesitant, much like one commenter posted. The unschooling that I am familiar with allows the child to decide if they feel like learning or not. If they don’t want to sit down to practice reading, they don’t have to. If they don’t feel like learning about how amazing and significant plants are to our planet, they don’t have to. Granted, this may be the case only in some unschooling families. What I do tend to gravitate towards is not simply following the outcomes that need to be met for a certain grade level. For instance, if my third grader should be learning about structures, we will cover the basics. Why not? God is the author of structure and all the original materials that now make up our structures! If she is interested in it, we will delve deeper. If not, we will move on to another subject and allow for exploration into the areas she has a passion for.

Actually, all the subjects are important to a degree, because God is the author of them. He Himself is History (His Story). He created the world we live in therefore elements of science are important. Earth runs by time, seasons, etc…. therefore the solar system and learning to tell the time are important. Socials Studies is important as we learn about the world God created and the communities/cultures that exist, as well as how our nation is governed. Reading is SO important as it gives our children the foundation to look into God’s Word for themselves. Writing is a means of communication and math enables understanding for the value of money and simple problem solving. And while all subjects are important, it is up to each family which ones will take precedence. Really the goal of our life is to glorify God and know Him and every subject that is taught should always be in light of the Gospel!

We do our kids no favour when we only allow them to seek out what they enjoy. That is not the reality of life, even as an adult. The nature of our fallen world means we WILL have to do things we may not enjoy, but our goal should be to teach our children “in whatever they do, do it all for the glory of God,” yes, even learning your times tables! What the public school system got wrong is that they expected they could teach every kid the same material, at the same level and have all the same, wonderful results. Homeschooling gives us the opportunity to teach our children all material, but at their pace, their way of understanding it and not simply just so they can pass.

In the end, if we mothers are truly seeking God’s guidance for our journey in homeschooling, we must trust that God will perform whatever necessary in spite of our weaknesses and failures. If God has ordained that one of my children will be a doctor, then it doesn’t matter if I feel like I missed the boat on giving them a really solid education. But I also need to take my responsibility seriously to equip my children to love learning and to cling to Jesus in that process. Sometimes we make it more about us, then we do about Jesus!

Kelly Crawford January 30, 2016 - 9:52 am

So many great thoughts here, D!

Kristin February 1, 2016 - 11:31 am

Hello. Kelly I love your blog and have grown so much as a wife and mother through all that you have taught and encouraged us in. I was wondering if you had read or researched how the Jewish families (in the OT and NT) had taught their children. This is a good article about how they were taught.


Just thought you might find it interesting that they also went to school from a young age.
Thank you again for all you do and the encouragement that you give us all! You are such a blessing.

melissab February 8, 2016 - 1:36 pm

Thank you for sharing. It was so interesting!

jordan March 24, 2016 - 2:39 pm

I’ll immediately clutch your rss as I can not to find your email subscription hyperlink or e-newsletter service.
Do you’ve any? Kindly let me recognise in order that I
may subscribe. Thanks.


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