An education devoid of connection is one devoid of purpose.

A traditional education

In high school I trudged through two years of physics and one year of chemistry. I had no real interest in either of these subjects but, at the time, that detail seemed irrelevant. I was told these courses would “look good” on my university transcript.  I was told that they would raise my GPA (grade point average) and therefore raise my class rank. I was told that a job in the sciences is better (“it pays more”). For the most part, all of that was true. The content did not come easily, however, so the bulk of my study hours (and free time) were absorbed by these courses. By choosing to take physics and chemistry, I also sacrificed the disciplines that I would have preferred. Now 20+ years later, I honestly don’t think I could recall any of the content I learned in those courses, even if my life depended on it. 

What was missing?

What is it exactly that makes learning stick with a child and matter in the long-run? It has a lot less to do with the actual content being learned and much more to do with how a child connects with that content as well as with the world around him. 

For example, if there is no connection between a learner and what is being learned (like with me and physics), little is relevant in the short-term or retained for the long-term. In a broader sense, without connection, it is impossible to experience any sense of belonging, identity, or purpose within one’s community or in a society as a whole. Ultimately, without meaningful connection there is little, if any, responsibility felt toward the people and place where one lives.

To put it simply, when meaningful connection in education is lost, so is a sense of purpose- not only for learning, but for life.  It makes sense. When most of your childhood is spent within the walls of a building, with little say as to what or how to learn, with no real connection to the place where you live or the people in that place, it becomes more and more difficult to see “the point” of education. 

On the other hand, when learning is connected to the actual place, time and people where a child lives, to the interests and desires of that particular child, and with reference to the identity of the child, learning takes on new life. 

The key

How do we ensure, then, that such connections or relationships are developed so that learning sticks, purpose is found in it, and learners grow in their sense of responsibility?  First, it takes an awareness of which connections are essential to a healthy, thriving, education. Secondly, it takes a lot of space and time, which is why home education is the perfect platform for your child to be able to make these connections.  

In order of proximity, from self, out into the world, here are the connections (and there may be more) that are essential for a child to grow up with both a sense of personal satisfaction and public responsibility

1. Identity (connecting with self)

This is where a child has the space and time to learn about their background, their heritage, their intrinsic value and purpose (irrespective of anything they know or can do). This includes knowing what’s best for their bodies, minds, and spirits.  In our family, this would also include a growing understanding of how God has uniquely wired and gifted them.  

2. Connecting with family

Above any other relationship, our children should know that we, as their parents, are for them. All too often, family relationships are trumped by extra-curricular activities or laziness. Sometimes curriculum (what a child “has” to do) is put before family relationships which can cause extreme tension and bitterness.  Instead, home should be a place where members are most free to be themselves and feel most affirmed in their unique gifts and interests. It should be a space for children to confide in us as parents, to ask questions, and express doubts or concerns. Home is a place to learn how to resolve conflicts with grace, humility, and confidence.

3. Connecting with the content being learned

This has to do with the ability for a child to see himself in the narrative of what he is learning. It also involves the ability to choose content that is relevant to a child’s interests and desires, to his life and to his future.  To connect with content in a meaningful way means being able to dig deeper, doubt, discuss, dissect, dream, and debate. When children are empowered with these choices, motivation increases and real learning happens.  Read on HERE to learn more about the affect autonomy can have on learning.

4. Connecting with people in the community

Over the course of the pandemic we experienced the joy of community. We’ve had lots of free play in the street, book swaps, clothing swaps, and had so many other needs met without having to buy a thing. The kids on the street raked leaves, delivered goodies, washed cars, etc. I didn’t realize what a void we had until it was filled with neighbors! Read on to learn more about the impact of play on our street HERE.

5. Connecting with nature

There is too much to say in this small space about the overwhelming number of benefits of regularly spending time in nature. If you need a place to start, read The Last Child in the Woods, The Nature Fix, or The Unsettling of America (or all three!). We all live off the land whether we want to or not, and it’s critical that our children grow with a sense of responsibility and stewardship towards it, not to mention the sense of wonder and awe that is fostered by being immersed in the natural world.  

6. Connecting with place and greater society

This aspect has to do with our responsibility to our local community. Our family and our children live, not in the vacuum of a classroom, but in a certain time, on a specific street, in a specific city, in a specific country.  And place matters. Our children’s education must be connected to the community in which we live. How are we using our community’s assets? How are we partnering with local businesses? How are we instilling the fact in our children that this is our place, and we must invest in it and its people and businesses to continue to see it thrive? Without relationship, how will we know what to do and how to think about the immigrant or the homeless? 

“Ending poverty” is too broad of an issue to be dealt with on a practical level for our children, but we can get to know the names of the homeless that we regularly see on the streets.  “Climate change” is too vague of a concept, but we can make changes in our home to decrease our footprint and steward our place well.

What’s the big deal?

Perhaps your children successfully fill their days learning from a curriculum, ticking all the boxes, acing exams. Does it really matter if connections are being made with neighbors and nature? Isn’t all that just fluff when compared to “serious” learning? I probably thought so at some point in my life, but a word of caution recently came to me in the form of a dystopian novel.

In Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World, everyone was “happy”, wanted for nothing, and filled their days with work and leisure. Sounds more like a utopia, right? The only thing the people lacked were relationships. There was no marriage, no mothers, fathers, siblings, no meaningful connections, no love. Birth was artificial, death was uneventful and, because you could take a drug induced holiday whenever you wanted, there was little hurt or pain. In short, the only thing that was lacking in this alternate world, was everything that makes people distinctly human. Literally, robots could have existed in the same way. I think it is an important and timely warning. When meaningful connection is removed from our everyday life, whether it be with regards to our education, our work, or our play, we lose that thing that makes us human. With Artificial Intelligence on the rise, if we are not mindful, it won’t be long before we make ourselves redundant.

A thriving education, therefore, is essentially a life lived making meaningful connections.

Reflection time: 

  • If you had to rate your child’s education based on the connections they are making and the relationships that they are building, how would it rate? 
  • Is purpose being infused into your child’s learning or are they just downloading information in order to tick the next box? 
  • What might you need to adjust so that there is sufficient time, space, and resources for your children to make the proper connections in order to make learning matter; to make their education worth it both from a stance of personal satisfaction and public responsibility as they grow into adulthood?

Obviously, this is just a skimming of the surface into the importance of each of these connections and how they benefit both a learner and society as a whole. Keep checking back! I hope to go into greater detail with regards to each of these six areas of connection in future blogs.

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