I had an email this morning from a friend of mine who teaches at Ivy Tech, a college in my hometown of Columbus IN. He told me that he has several students who were homeschooled, and the one area in which they struggle is essay writing. None of them had ever done it and didn’t know how. He encouraged me to make sure that my kids know how to write essays.
I thought a lot about it and decided that from one aspect he is correct. If either of my children decides they want to attend college then it would be prudent to know in advance the parameters for writing a well thought out essay, or the rules for constructing a research paper. If, however, Maya and Ben don’t attend college, essay writing may not be something they need, which is why we probably won’t dig in on essay or research paper writing any time soon. (Unless for some reason they decide they want to, in which case we’ll have at it.) Let me just add that Maya already does a lot of writing, in the form of fiction or short articles for a kids‘ website in which she participates. But she does those things completely of her own accord, without any ‘instruction‘ from me. I haven’t even read most of what she’s written.
I think my friend was, with the best of intentions, trying to encourage me and other homeschoolers to ‘learn essay writing’. But learning without application or purpose doesn’t usually stick around very long. Another example from our life is the German language. I speak German, and once each year get together with my German friend Tina and her son Linus. For years I mentioned to Maya and Ben that it might be nice to learn some German so that they could speak to Linus in his own language. Big yawns all around. Then suddenly in the last six months or so, Maya started saying that when she is with people who speak another language, she gets frustrated when they speak in their native tongue and she can’t understand them. We have a trip to London coming up in October, where we will meet Tina and Linus and hang out together for a week. Maya insisted that we get the Rosetta Stone for German and has been working on it every day, on her own, without any encouragement from me. I know she will learn the basics by the time we leave, because she has set that goal for herself. Learning the language suddenly has a purpose; a practical application. She isn’t just learning a foreign language because someone said she should.
Purpose is everything when it comes to learning. Without a purpose, the knowledge will be fleeting – held on to by our brain only long enough to satisfy the goal of passing a test or getting the grade or pleasing the parent – and then it is gone.
So my friend is right. If a child plans to attend college and knows that essay writing will be required, they should learn how to do it. Preferably before the college term starts, but at least before the assignment is due.
It’s amazing how fast and well we learn when there is a purpose.