Robinson Curriculum

Teach them to Teach Themselves

The student who masters a subject on his own learns more

By Dr. Arthur Robinson

Home schools have many different purposes each unique to the particular family and their family goals. The academic part of those purposes usually includes the accumulation of skills and knowledge that cannot be as effectively acquired later in life.

Although often overlooked in the morass of subject-related teaching materials, the single most important aspect of early education is the acquiring of good study habits. These can be learned through the regular mastering of challenging academic material in an excellent study environment, on a regular schedule, and by means that will be available throughout life. Without such habits, the academic life and mental achievements of the student will eventually hit an artificial ceiling far below his inherent ability—a ceiling that will probably remain impenetrable for the remainder of his life.

Not a Team Sport

Learning is not a team sport. Learning is an activity that involves solely the student and the knowledge. Everything or everyone else that may become involved in this process is essentially superfluous—and is potentially harmful as a distraction from the fundamental process.

In the adult world this is, of course, self-evident. Adults ordinarily do not have special teaching aids and dedicated teachers available to hold their hands when they need to acquire new knowledge. Usually, they have only books. When the knowledge comes directly from other repositories such as computers, people, or other sources, that knowledge is seldom tailored for spoon-feeding to an unprepared mind.

Good Study Habits

Since certain skills need to be acquired at an early age—particularly mathematics and reading, writing, and thinking in one’s native language—it is sensible to arrange the homeschool so that learning these essential skills will automatically lead to the development of good study habits. This is one reason that self-teaching homeschools have a special value.

Consider, for example, the teaching of math and science. Many homeschools use Saxon Math. Although produced with teachers and classrooms in mind, this series of math books is so well-written that it can be mastered by most students entirely on their own without any teacher intervention whatever. This self-mastery usually does not happen automatically, but it can be learned by almost any student with correct study rules and a good study environment.

While the subject matter, can be mastered with or without a teacher, the student who masters it without a teacher learns something more. He learns to teach himself. Then, when he continues into physics, chemistry, and biology— which are studied in their own special language, the language of mathematics—he is able to teach these subjects to himself regardless of whether or not a teacher with the necessary specialized knowledge is present. Also, he is able to make use of much higher-quality texts – texts written for adults.

Practical Advantages of Self-Study

Besides the great advantage of developing good study habits and thinking ability, self-teaching also has immediate practical advantages. Many children should be able, through Advanced Placement examinations, to skip over one or more years of college. The great saving in time and expense from this is self-evident. These and other comparable accomplishments await most children who learn to self-teach and then apply this skill to their home education.

Even children of lesser ability can, by means of self-teaching and good study habits, achieve far more than they otherwise would have accomplished by the more ordinary techniques.

Just Say Nothing

Self-teaching is an “extraordinary” technique today, but it was ordinary in the past, when most of the great scholars in human history learned in a similar way.

No one can claim to have complete knowledge about the best techniques for human learning. This is a very complicated subject. It is possible, however, to observe individuals who excel and to notice characteristics which they have in common. Self-teaching, excellent study habits, and a well-disciplined approach to independent thought are characteristics of these people.

These are skills that can be taught to any child. When your eight-year-old child is all alone at his large desk in a quiet room with his Saxon 65 book and has been there three hours already—with most of that time spent in childhood daydreams —and says, “Mommy, I don’t know how to work this problem,” give him a wonderful gift. Simply reply, “Then you will need to keep studying until you can work the problem.”

For a while his progress may be slow. Speed will come with practice. Eventually, he will stop asking questions about how to do his assignments and will sail along through his lessons without help.

These study habits can then spill over into the other subjects—with astonishing results.

This article is Copyright 1994 Home Life Inc. Used by permission. Originally published in Practical Homeschooling magazine. PO Box 1190 Fenton, MO 63026, 1-800-346-6322, fax 636-225-0743, email: svc@www.home-school.com,  website: http://www.home-school.com. Prices are $19.95 / 6 bimonthly issues or $35 / 2 years.  This publication should be read by every homeschool family.

* It has been said we remember 14% of what we hear, 22% of what we both see and hear, 70% of movies in our mind, and 91% of what we teach others. – Educator Robert Brand, lecture at Western Washington University, Nov. 28, 1989