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Holding Children Accountable

Accountability In Children

By Tammy Takahashi

Although I understand the perspective of children being accountable for their own learning, I don’t agree that it’s a child’s responsibility to show to other people that they are learning.

What does it matter whether a child learns things through a book or from projects or by just thinking about them? Especially when they are young. And, why is it important that someone take record that this child has actually “learned” this information? What purpose does this serve?

Children, heck, humans in general, have a natural desire to constantly learn more. They are born with this. By making learning into something that they are required to do, rather than allowing them to naturally learn at their own pace and with their own personal flair, we take their natural inborn love of life and try to control it for our own liking.

I understand that we want to our children to grow up into responsible adults and thrive in our world. But, expecting them to prove their learning and to be accountable doesn’t do that. They learn to be responsible and to continue to be curious about their world by example and practice, not by being made to do arbitrary things for no reason other than to check something off a list. This is why many children balk at schoolwork and some children struggle in homeschooling with their parent as “teacher”. So much of “being accountable” involves doing a lot of uninteresting, impertinent work, instigated by a teacher.

In our family, we have had very minimal struggle over this. I don’t see kids as little robots that I can mold and bend to my will by manipulating their life in such a way that they have no choice but to perform for my expectations. There are enough things in life that we all have to do just in order to function in our world and survive. Why take learning, which is one of the most wonderful things that humans can do, and compartmentalize it so that kids it loses all its intrigue and splendor?

Indeed some kids do LOVE workbooks and doing school. I’m not saying that school work is in and of itself a bad thing. Heck, we have a whole bookshelf *stuffed* with workbooks. It’s how we present school work that brings kids down and makes them struggle. There are a million and one ways to learn everything, yet schoolwork, workbooks and textbooks are the preferred regardless of whether or not it takes the joy out of a child’s love to learn. Why does it have to be, that if a child can’t learn through a book (regardless if they do indeed know the material by some other means), then he is not being accountable and not living up to his potential?

Children don’t need to be accountable for their learning; they need to be given opportunities to learn and have someone around who will explore with them. They need someone to ask questions to, to help them do research on things they want to know more about, and to point out interesting things in the world.

Kids don’t shut down to learning for no reason. Unless a child has brain damage or some other physical thing that prevents him from wanting to learn more, he has a natural drive to always seek more information. When he stops seeking that information, it’s not because he is bad, or lazy, it’s because the curiosity of learning has been sucked out of him, and he no longer cares anymore. “Why bother? If I can’t learn the things I want to, and do the things I like, what’s the point of learning stuff at all? And what’s the point of doing all this learning for someone else? It doesn’t get me anywhere. I’m not happy.”

Find the things a child loves and the style of learning that he loves, and know him well, and his curiosity for learning and life will be there. It may not be in the form of doing worksheets and taking tests, but it will still be there, perhaps in the form of sorting toys a certain way, or calculating the cost of his video games, or figuring out which monsters will defeat each other depending on their numerical values, or reading his favorite stories and talking about them.

By being around our children all the time, if we pay attention, and engage in conversation with them, and explore the world with them, they won’t need to be accountable, because it is so incredibly obvious that they are learning all the time.

Now that I see how much my kids learn and I can appreciate the many facets of their learning, thinking of having them do a worksheet, or take a test, or answer questions I already know the answer to in order to show me that they know stuff, just seems completely absurd.

So, that’s my take on the whole accountability thing on an individual basis, especially in homeschooling. I understand that in a school setting, the reason for accountability changes and that a school can’t function without it. That’s a different discussion. This is about working one on one with a child everyday – a child that we have known since birth (well, for most of us), and with whom we have endless time and opportunity to allow their strengths and interests manifest themselves. We’re in no rush when we’re homeschooling. We’re lucky we can just live our lives and be happy. Isn’t that the whole goal of life (and therefore homeschooling) – to be happy?

Bio: Tammy Takahashi shares the joy of life with her three children and supportive husband. She is the former editor of the Homeschooling Association of California magazine, an activist for homeschooling rights in California (as well as anywhere else she can be of help), and a contributor to several homeschooling publications. She can be reached at [email protected]



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