As our school semester has launched like a ship to sea, last week I found myself discussing our topic choices with a friend and former public school teacher. Though Ian is in full-time public school this year as a high school senior, Eva, now 11, is taking three 8th grade classes at the local middle school (algebra, band, and choir), one online class with Online G3 called Big History (which we’re totally geeking out about), and English, cooking, and Minecraft Java coding with me. We’ll also be taking long, chatty walks, and watching our favorite Vi Hart videos, Crash Course episodes, CNN Student News, Cosmos – you know, the fun stuff. I told all of this to my friend.
When I got to the part about cooking (this is Eva’s new passion, and she is bound and determined to run a bakery one day), my friend looked puzzled, and I could see her trying to put that subject in with a public school line-up; it didn’t fit. She paused and asked “oh, so, you’re offering cooking as an elective?”
I smiled and said “yes, it’s whatever you want to call it.” And really that’s how I see it. When you educate outside the norm, you can allow yourself to discard traditional categories and simply pursue meaningful topics. Some of these topics like math, English, science, and history, fall into those comfortable core slots. But I have never seen education in such a limited light. Coding, cooking, social development, current events, astronomy, crochet, origami, music, filmmaking, web design: these are all as essential as any core subject, because these topics resonate with my kids, helping define and enrich their lives, and isn’t that the point of education?
By calling some topics electives, we somehow degrade their value. What we mean is that they are optional, and of course we can’t study everything in this world, so in that way, I suppose each course is optional. But pursuing electives as a whole – finding topics you’re passionate about, ones that help you find your way in the world – that pursuit is not. And in our little Ridenhour world, these studies comprise the majority of our education.
Am I saying pitch the core? Of course not. There is incredible value to studying the sciences and humanities. It helps us understand who we are, makes us compassionate and curious. It sharpens our minds and pushes us forward. Studying the core has value. It’s just not more valuable than spending time with what are traditionally known as electives.
This is all such a freeing place to be. By allowing yourself to consider studying all the possible subjects in the universe, you change your whole life perspective, and the universe becomes a marvelous place – one that you just can’t get enough of. The act of learning becomes ravenous, not simply something to check off. This is the point of transformation: the point in which the fires of curiosity are ignited.
What about you? What excites you most about your upcoming school year? Do you have amazing projects or topics you’re diving into? What gets you up in the morning? I’d love to hear what you’ve got cookin’.
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