Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Delight-Directed Study

The Wright Brothers
Overview: This post was written in 1988 and 1995 for The Christian Home School by Gregg Harris, (1995 Noble Publishing Associates). This has been our family's approach to home schooling for over 30 years. The photo is of the Wright Brothers, pioneers in aviation, as young adults building bicycles in my home town of Dayton, Ohio. Their story provides a good example of the fruit produced in history by delight-directed study.

A delight-directed study is like a wonderful fire in the mind of a student. It starts small, but as it grows, it begins to consume vast amounts of information until it bursts into a roaring blaze of insight, understanding and creativity. It takes on a life of its own.

In a delight-directed study, a child’s interests are fanned to flame and supported in ways that increase his interest in his studies. The child’s delight is the spark that ignites everything. Once established, like a fire, it is self-sustaining. The student begins to study for his own personal satisfaction, and the fruits of his study begin to flow outward to others.

This approach is especially helpful for the child who has been "burned out" on school. It helps restore his love for learning. But delight-directed study is more than just a method of remedial instruction. As we shall see, it is the foundation for all true scholarship. Once the basic concepts of delight are understood, the approach itself is easy to implement.

Is this anything like unschooling?

At first glance, delight-directed study, with its emphasis on enjoying study, may sound a bit like the unschooling approach mentioned earlier. [See my book, The Christian Home School, from which this post was excerpted.] Unschooling, developed by the late education reformer and author, John Holt, emphasizes the child’s freedom from adult control. It takes a more or less non-directive approach toward instruction. Like Rousseau, Holt viewed adults, and especially parents, as the major defilers of children. The result of his liberal bias abandons children to their own limited resources and further disarms parents in the face of child rebellion. There is little place for discipline in unschooling. [I was talking here about "unschooling" in its original or typical context at the time c. 1988; not necessarily what some Christians have now "re-defined" it to be, within a godly context.]

Delight-directed study is child-responsive, but still parent-supervised. Dad and Mom remain fully in charge, and discipline is a constant part of the mix. Delight-directed study strategies are more responsive to the interest of the student, without being indulgent. Rather than allow the student to study whatever he sees fit, however he sees fit, delight-directed study urges parents to guide their child’s studies and establish clear accountability for his work. Also, whereas unschooling is deeply humanistic and therefore disdainful of the Scriptures, delight-directed study is based on a distinctively Christian worldview and has substantial support in the Bible.

The foundation of delight-directed study is the Goodness of God. While most of us agree that God is good, we may not realize just what that means to our day-to-day experience. But the Bible is clear that God is good. "How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me?" (Ps.116:12) The word good means "beneficial." A good God does everything He does for good reason. That means there are real benefits in every aspect of God’s activity. When God observed, in the first chapter of Genesis, that everything He had made was good, it meant that everything served a good purpose.

But when it comes to schooling our children, we Christians doubt God’s goodness. In a fit of uninformed conservatism, we bring out the "hickory stick" and demand that our students submit to their instruction without regard for their enjoyment or pleasure. School attendance is compulsory. Teachers must be stern and mean. We suspect that something must be wrong if our students are actually enjoying their studies, because we didn’t. "It’s not supposed to be fun," we say. "Studying is a discipline."

Is it really? Granted, children need discipline for their disobedience, and they are as likely to disobey in school as anywhere else. And there is, of course, a general need for self-discipline in their studies, just as there is in their development of skills in music, art or sports. But nowhere else do we find it necessary to make everything so joyless and compulsory. In every other area of human need, the wholesome pleasure of satisfying what is needed draws the person into the activity.

Why is there so much emphasis on teaching young people to endure hour after hour of boring, disjointed and generally uninteresting activity? Why is schooling such a deadening experience for so many, even in high school and college? Is it possible that the main objective of our school system, with its passion for responding to school bells, blindly following instructions, and fitting in to the social pecking order, is not academic at all, but rather preparation for the labor force? Could this be the education of pawns? John Taylor Gatto, former New York City and New York State Teacher of the Year, believes it to be so. And I have to agree.

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