Every once in a while, educational fads turn toward “back to basics.” Schools emphasize necessary and useful subjects–meaning, useful for getting a job. Math, reading, and science take center stage. Other subjects get cut. In fact, one of the biggest criticisms of the new Common Core Standards is its utilitarian, vocational perspective on education.
In contrast, I urge you to teach your children “useless” subjects. The liberal arts were so-called not because they appealed to left-leaning politicians, but because they were free. They do not serve any utilitarian purpose. They will not necessarily earn you college admission, a steady job, or a good salary. But they will enrich your life. They have value in and of themselves.
Remember why you chose to homeschool?
Think about the reasons you teach your children. If you keep them home in order to teach them about the Faith, your main focus is “useless” according to the world’s standards.
Some people homeschool primarily to help their kids excel on tests, in college, and in their careers. I am not one of them.
We waste a lot of time in our homeschool on such useless things as:
- reading and memorizing the Bible
- art appreciation and art projects
- music lessons
- cursive handwriting
- listening to opera
- acting in plays
My boys may use one or two of these things if they choose specific careers. But that’s not why we do them. We do them to make our lives beautiful, virtuous, fun, and meaningful.
I read aloud nearly every day after lunch, and I plan to continue this until J finishes high school. Some of my favorite memories are of my dad reading aloud to the family in the evenings. I would not deprive my children of this for all the prestige in the world.
It is said that the best things in life are free. Teach your children the best things. Teach them the free arts. Teach them subjects that are useless.
Share with us: What is your favorite “useless ” subject? How do you make time for impractical studies?
We are spending some time identifying trees! Totally useless in the eyes of the world, but totally useful in the landscape of our reality as created stewards of our created landscape.
That’s an interesting handle you have, Erin! You must have a story behind it. I bought a book on identifying trees as a souvenir when we visited Custer State Park a few years ago. We haven’t used it as much as I hoped we would, but the beauty is there is no time limit on learning useless stuff. No one is going to say (or think), “Your son’s in 6th grade and he doesn’t know an elm from an ash?”
I’m a lay Dominican, and my first blog was/is recipes for year-round meatless Fridays. Hence the handle!
I love that there’s no time limit as well. That’s a great way of looking at it!
One doesn’t meet many lay Dominicans. I know lots of lay Carmelites, Benedictine Oblates, and TORs. Maybe it’s just my part of the country. Anyway, thanks for your comments.
I agree with many of the *useless* subjects you mention. Our favorites? Art class, listening to Classical music, going for nature walks and reading historical fiction aloud. These are scheduled in with the other subjects and take just as much precedence : )
Nice to hear from you again, Theresa. i have been thinking about you. We too schedule these subjects in. We are doing some kind of art project every Friday this year. It’s the boys’ favorite class, and why shouldn’t it be? Our culture needs beauty.
Thanks for your kind thoughts : )
I agree wholeheartedly…let them learn appreciation for beauty and truth…everything else will fall into place.
An interesting perspective worthy of further study and discussion. Have a great weekend. God bless!
Good morning, saintly. This is not something I usually hear homeschoolers proclaiming. We’re more apt to defend ourselves against accusations of wasting time. But this relates to the spiritual life too. Prayer is a huge waste of time if you look at material results only. But it’s the most important part of my day.
Great post – reminds me of when I was a professional seamstress for theatre companies and my roommates mother replied “Oh, what an obsolete skill”. Yep, totally obsolete – the skill I was using to pay my bills. Of course it was even more ridiculous by the fact that the mother was an oil painter. Here’s to useless, obsolete skills and knowledge! You’ll never know where they’ll take you.
Molly, I would hire you–I can’t cut a straight line, let alone sew one. Sure, you don’t need to make your own clothes any more, but I bet you are glad that you can if you want to. I don’t need to learn to cook Chinese food, because I could always get take out these days. But it is one of my joys.
When I home schooled my children we took a day off to help a new family unload their u-haul as they were moving into our neighborhood. Every month or so, my daughter and I would visit an elderly parishioner who was homebound and have tea and treats with her. There are many opportunities to teach this subject!
The works of mercy. Yes. totally useless–unless you want to be on God’s right side on the last day.
Some things cannot be taught only caught! I really like your blog!
Did I read it rite..”reading and memorizing the Bible”…you say its useless ?.
C’mon, reading or memorizing good preachings…shall fill your mind and these thoughts will help you make decisions to overcome a lot of negative emotions in life whenever you come across them in life :-).
Of course, Ryan, besides maybe helping you to come closer to God so you can be happy forever. But the point is, unless you are a priest, teacher, or preacher, or mega-Church leader, it won’t earn you any money or prestige. So, in the eyes of the education establishment, it’s “useless.” It certainly isn’t really a waste of time, or I wouldn’t be basing my curriculum upon it.
Sailing and navigation are popular in my house since we have a sailboat. We just got back from England where we went to Greenwich Royal Observatory to see the prime meridian. History and world cultures are also big with my kids.
How cool about the sailing and Greenwich! I love history myself. I haven’t seen my kids really catch on to it in the same way (yet).
Hi Connie. I love this post. I don’t homeschool. We have 3 at a private, Catholic, classical education school and one 13 yr old boy that transferred to our diocesan Catholic middle school. I just heard about common core standards, a few weeks ago. We will not adopt those at the classical ed. school, but a parent I met at a party thought the diocesan school is adopting them, or parts of it. Please let me know via her or email where I can learn the truth about common core and I would love to know your opinion on them!! Thanks Connie, you are a wealth of information!
Hi, Natalie. There is a lot of hysteria going around about the Common Core State Standards. I don’t think it’s helpful to spread misinformation, so I’ll try to stick to the facts. First, it’s sort of like an updated version of No Child Left Behind. The basic criticism is that it seeks to impose a single standard on all public schools in the nation, instead of letting local control have sway. States don’t have to adopt Common Core, but they lose a lot of funding from the Feds if they don’t. The second criticism is what I alluded to in my post: it emphasizes testing on subjects geared towards getting a good job. Third, there are some really bad books recommended for students. They are not required as part of the curriculum, but some districts will no doubt start using them. I have read for example that a very sexually explicit (we would say pornographic) book by Toni Morrison is among them. Finally, it demands (I think) 200 data points of personal and family information be collected on every student. In the past, all students’ personal info was kept confidential. Common Core allows many outsiders to access this data, including curriculum vendors. This is the part I find most nefarious.
Catholic schools that are adopting parts of Common Core are probably concerned about testing, since tests beginning in 2014 will be geared towards its recommendations. That means your kids and mine might not do as well compared to their peers as they have done in the past, because we emphasize different subjects.
I do not home school, but I could not agree more! It is part of the reason I send my boys to Catholic school versus the excellent public school in my neighborhood. They have more art, more PE, more music and yes, there is that thing that everyone wants us to forget — religion!
Our country and our world would be ever dull without the arts that illuminate and bring to life all the rote memorization.
Lara, just make sure your diocese is not adopting the Common Core standards. Many are. If yours is, find out what parts they are adopting. Hopefully, your kids will still get a high-quality education.
Thank you for making me aware of this. I am going to look into it.
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