Monthly Archives: August 2013

Answer to My Own Question, “What is Context?”

Apologies for taking so long to respond to my own question (previous blog post, “What is Context?”). Actually, I am trying to prioritize writing my new homeschooling book which means this will be my last blog post until the book is finished.

So, I am now ready to answer the question, “What is Context?”

First, here are a few of my favorite quotes which should give away where I am headed:

“Some inner clock is ticking in every life, warning us we have appointments to keep with reality: real work to do, real skills to learn, real battles to fight, real risks to take, real ideas to wrestle with.” (John Gatto, former New York State Teacher of the Year, and author of A Different Kind of Teacher, Dumbing Us Down, etc.)

(Again from John): “In school, children are not asked to do anything that is real. There is nothing important to do there.”

“Textbooks inform; Context educates. If we want to educate and not just inform, we must first think in terms of creating Contexts.”

“…a whaling ship was my Harvard and my Yale.” (author Herman Melville)

Education is commonly thought of as entering a room where the student sits at a desk, reads from a book, and/or listens to a teacher. It is not necessary that the subject matter have any relevance in the student’s life.

I have a suggestion for every parent reading this post: Once you have decided your child really needs to learn a particular subject, instead of reaching for a textbook or searching for the “best” curriculum on that subject, ask yourself, “Can I create a context so learning this subject flows naturally from that context?”

When my wife decided it was time for our sons to learn the sciences of biology, genetics, physiology, and reproduction, instead of looking for a curriculum, she asked them “What mammal would you boys like to raise so we can learn these subjects?” I have to confess that this may have been a little too open-ended a question because they returned with their choice: Palominos.

“Wait a minute,” I said, “Aren’t Palominos horses!”

Thus began an entire series of unexpected possibilities, but we did end up raising Palominos and that context definitely taught them biology, genetics (Palomino-colored horses aren’t so easy to breed for), physiology, and reproduction.

For everyone else: How about mice (just a suggestion)?

All seriousness aside, it really doesn’t take much imagination to create a context for virtually every subject from history to writing, to math, to handling money. Speaking of handling money, my sons have had a checking account from the time each one could sign his own name (watch with fascination as the Wal Mart checkout lady deals with a 9 year old writing a check!).

I could go on and on with examples of creating contexts for each subject; however, one of the subjects parents think is the most difficult to put into a context is Math. This is so not true! To prove the point, I am simply going to let you read an article from one of my favorite people, Alexa Carter. Alexa was homeschooled and holds a degree in Math. She is one person who understands how to create a math context out of which understanding math flows naturally. Click on the following link to read her article, Math Around You. Helping Young Children Learn to Think Mathematically:

Please don’t ever let it be said, “In our homeschool, our children are not asked to do anything that is real. There is nothing important to do here.”

Think CONTEXT before you ever think curriculum. Besides, learning is much more fun when it happens within a Context!