When I saw my two youngest children cuddling in an armchair one morning, I couldn’t resist snapping a photo. And then I thought, “I’d rather have my little ones spend their mornings cuddling with each other than sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher.”
I don’t make academics the top priority for my children’s pre-K and early elementary education. I don’t care if at this age they can read, write, count, paint, play chess, and achieve any other academic goals. However, I do want to make sure that they develop a deep bond with their parents and siblings, learn moral values, and form healthy eating and exercise habits — these are the objectives of my early childhood homeschooling.
Don’t get me wrong: we have ambitious goals for our children’s intellectual development. We want them to read many books, including those we’ve prepared for them, we want them to master writing and public speaking, to be well-versed in math, technology, sciences, economics, and arts. Eventually they will, no doubt about that.
Academic education alone doesn’t make one a better person
I have seen many educated people who are unethical, lack basic morals, and don’t love their family. These people get arts and sciences right, but they get life completely wrong — what’s the point of their education then? We don’t have to go far for examples: Germany was a highly educated nation yet they accepted the Nazi rule and all its atrocities. Throughout history, people who considered themselves enlightened issued criminal orders and other educated people obeyed and executed these orders. We can see that academic education by itself does absolutely nothing to improve one’s moral qualities. One can be an accomplished scientist or an outstanding engineer, but what really matters in the end is the person’s moral qualities, family values, and good character traits.
Academics can be learned at any age
My kids will learn everything with time, there is no need to rush. I don’t trust education “experts” like Masaru Ibuka who say that kindergarten is too late. It’s never too late to learn anything. As John Taylor Gatto once wrote, “David learns to read at age four; Rachel, at age nine: In normal development, when both are 13, you can’t tell which one learned first — the five-year spread means nothing at all.” Similarly, most academic disciplines can be picked up and mastered at any age if there is a will to learn (and if there is no will, nothing will be learned no matter how early). There is no need to stuff academic knowledge into little kids early in their lives.
Moral values should be taught early
Unlike academics, moral and family values cannot be picked up as easily, they need to be deeply ingrained into the person’s consciousness. It takes a long time to cultivate these values, and the sooner the child starts learning them, the better. This is why these values should be the top priority of early childhood education.
What kind of values?
Here are some values that I teach to my children in our own early years home school:
Love for your family. My children have an opportunity to spend unlimited time with each other and with us, their parents, because I want them to learn to love and appreciate their family, to develop close relationships with their parents and siblings, and to learn to support and help each other. If they get family values right, they will grow into happy, fulfilled individuals who will hopefully create strong families of their own.
G-d exists. I think it’s illogical to assume that we came out of nowhere and that our existence has no higher purpose. It’s interesting that many people who make fun of religion suddenly stop laughing when they get into a big trouble and need a miracle to save them. Maybe there is something to it, isn’t it? Awareness of G-d’s presence may save children from getting in trouble later: if you know that someone up there is watching you, you will feel accountable and will try to do fewer nasty things in life. Yes, there are many people who claim to be religious and yet knowingly commit crimes — that means that such people don’t really believe in anything. I hope that, unlike those people, my children will get it right.
G-d is only one and there are no other gods, which implies that there is only one true power which controls everything in the world. Idolatry doesn’t just mean bowing to stones, it also involves worshiping the human authority and blindly taking human knowledge as a gospel. Understanding that there is only one G-d will keep my children from putting too much faith and trust in the big government and worshiping the authority of experts such as teachers and scientists. I want my children to develop critical thinking so they don’t buy into someone’s propaganda and so they know to check facts and do their own research before trusting anyone.
Life is sacred. I want my children to understand that human life is priceless and must be preserved, so that they feel no guilt about self-defense (such guilt has cost many victims their lives) and so that, when my children grow up, they resist gun control laws that take away people’s means of self-protection. Also, understanding the value of life will keep my children from buying into the myth that killing a baby (a.k.a. “abortion”) is an acceptable “choice.”
Man was created in the image of G-d. G-d has put man above animals, which makes human lives infinitely more valuable than animal lives. Of course, we must treat animals with compassion, and I personally despise big game hunting, but I don’t believe that a person’s life should be ruined over animal rights. I don’t think, for example, that someone who shot a lion should be handed over to a criminal regime to be put in jail or, worse still, to be hanged. I want my children get this value right so that next time someone tells them that animal rights should be equal to human rights my children will know better.
People are created equal, each person has basic rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness and property, and these rights are to be respected — those are the basic principles of Libertarianism summarized in one sentence.
Stealing is wrong. This concept gives children a good start in understanding of economics, because it essentially sums up the issues with our depraved taxation system. If my children get this one right, when they grow up they will be wise enough to resist the expansion of welfare and other tax-funded social programs because they will know that these programs involve the government taking the money from hard-working taxpayers and giving it away to other people, which is, in other words, stealing.
Good manners and ethics are, in my experience, the most important qualities of a successful business person, so if my children start their businesses, these qualities will get them far. It’s my firm belief that, regardless of how savvy and successful a business person is, if they engage in unethical and dishonest business practices they will go down sooner or later. Sticking with honest and ethical treatment of clients and employees may be much harder than cheating your way up, but that’s what will bring you personal fulfillment, public appreciation, and eventually business success.
Humility. I would argue that being humble is more important than being knowledgeable, especially for scientists or doctors. When you are trying to assert your expert opinion, it’s good to remember the famous Socratic Paradox: “I know that I know nothing.” Unfortunately, many modern scientists lack this important quality when they arrogantly think that they know it all and try to play G-d with human cloning, GMOs, and other experiments that may potentially cause disastrous consequences for the entire mankind. If my children become scientists or doctors, humility will open up their mind to critical thinking, proper risk calculation, ability to tell when a mere hypothesis is claimed as a proven truth, and acceptance of the fact that they can be mistaken and that their knowledge is limited. Such understanding will keep them from being arrogant and may help them avoid making mistakes that can potentially cause dire consequences.
Gratefulness, appreciation, and responsibility. In some third-world countries children are brutally exploited; in the Western society parents fall for the other extreme: they spoil and pamper their children and raise them to be entitled adults who don’t understand that money has to be earned and who expect their parents or, worse still, the government to provide for them. Academic training doesn’t teach responsibility: a child can be a math genius but if he is not taught the right moral values, he will blow through money, get in debt, and become dependent on welfare or parental support. I want my children to appreciate that their parents work hard to provide them with good food, comfortable living, nice clothing, and colorful toys and books. I want my children to be grateful for what they have, not demanding for more. I want them to learn that rewards are not given away but have to be earned through extra help and, later, through work. The earlier my children learn to be appreciative and grateful, the better their and our lives will be. Eventually, these values will help my children become self-sufficient and fiscally responsible adults.
Healthy habits. Just like moral and family values, healthy habits are much harder to pick up later in life, so they should be an important part of early childhood education. If my children get used to healthy eating at a young age, it will be easier for them to follow their dietary standards later in life because they will not be hooked on junk food. If my children get into the habit of exercising regularly, it will become their second nature, not a dreaded chore. Sticking with healthy habits early in life will improve their health in the long term and will help them avoid troubles and costs associated with illnesses and medical treatments.
Where do academics fall in place?
Academic education will definitely have an important place later in my children’s lives. The way I see it, the development of a true intellectual consists of two layers: values and academics. Moral and family values form the foundation which gives children a basic understanding of the principles of life, helps them develop the right judgement and intuition, and provides children with a moral compass that guides their future actions and decisions. Academic education is layered on top of the moral foundation later on to provide children with knowledge which will supplement, strengthen, and enhance their character and moral standing.
For example, when my children learn math, they will have the tools to budget and manage money effectively. When they learn statistics, they will be able to prove their position on social or economic issues with calculations, data analysis, and statistical evidence. When my children master creative writing and public speaking, they will write articles and actively engage in investigative journalism to publicize the moral truths. When my children read more books and learn how to use computers to do online research, they will deepen and expand their knowledge and discover historical facts that confirm their moral beliefs.
Academic education can help my children become better people only if it’s layered on top of a solid moral and ethical foundation. Without that foundation, education is useless and empty. If it’s not supported by moral values, academic knowledge is reduced to nothing but knowing a bunch of facts while lacking the moral judgement necessary to use these facts to draw correct conclusions.
As my children get older they will add that second layer of academic education to their intellectual development. It will all come with time, but for now, while my children are young, academics are secondary. The moral foundation has to be laid first.