‘They can do it’: Engineer’s book explores a dad’s discoveries in homeschooling his children

(The Lion) — We don’t need previous expertise in a topic to be able to teach it to others, Craig Harrison argues – challenging assumptions about homeschooling that people may not even know they have.

“If you don’t know something, then don’t let that stop you from teaching it,” he said in a recent podcast with the homeschool nonprofit Midwest Parent Educators. “I think this is a misunderstanding that we have of education in general and teaching in particular.”

Harrison drew from his background as an engineer when writing his book Your Child’s Best Teacher: A Father’s Perspective on Home Education.

In it, he details his experience homeschooling his two sons since 2015. Even though he was “a reluctant homeschooler” at first, Harrison now considers it the best approach for teaching children.

“If we just have the knowledge, that to me is an impediment, because just having the knowledge doesn’t make you a good teacher,” he said. “I think the important thing is to model to your children how to learn. And if you don’t know something, you’re learning alongside them.”

Fast-track to homeschooling

Harrison grew up in New Zealand, but he and his wife moved to the United States in 2010 when their first son was 1 year old. Once he began approaching school age, they considered enrolling him within their district. Both Harrison and his wife had attended public schools when they were children.

“We started looking around at local schools, and even at that point we thought that he would be enrolling in a local school,” Harrison said.

At that time, Harrison was still searching for work, as he hadn’t been able to find employment since their family’s move. “My wife had been offered a full-time job, and so I knew that I needed to take responsibility for the children at that stage.”

He still thought his children would go to public school, “But my wife’s family started talking about home education, and when I heard that, I thought, ‘Uh-oh, that’s going to end up being me that has to do it.’”

Even though he hadn’t planned to homeschool, Harrison threw himself into the task as something initially for the short term. More than eight years later, their family is still homeschooling.

“Looking back, we know that God directs our steps, and we believe that’s the best decision that we could have made – to educate our children at home.”

Providing for the family

Harrison’s greatest struggle in homeschooling involved laying down his identity as an engineer.

“As men, we feel a responsibility to protect and provide for our family. It wasn’t until I started writing the book that I began to wrestle with these questions – that one in particular, about whether, as a dad, I was a failure because I wasn’t providing financially for my family.”

Ultimately, Harrison came to realize providing didn’t just mean earning an income.

“I was sacrificing the opportunity for a career in order to provide for my children’s education and to raise them,” he said, noting how mothers worldwide are doing the same for their children.

“I realized how important that was to protect our family, to make sure that we flourished as a family. And that was my role as a dad, to protect and to ensure that my family grew strong. And so, in my particular case, it meant that I was the one that was at home. My wife was working.”

Unlike some homeschool moms, however, Harrison never lacked confidence in his role and abilities to teach his children.

“I hear about homeschool parents that wonder whether they’re doing the right thing, whether they can provide the education that their children need, whether their children will suffer because of it. That, to me, isn’t even a question. Of course they can do it. Of course they can do a great job, and you don’t have to have the background that I have had to be able to do a fantastic job for your children.”

Underestimated teaching tools

Teaching should also involve empathy – a secret weapon parents may not even realize they have, Harrison said.

“I think the biggest challenge for me is to realize that children will remember how you make them feel about something much longer than they’ll remember what you’re trying to teach them. If you make your children feel good about themselves as they’re learning, they will be much more willing to learn.

“And they’ll remember that much more than if you just force them to do the work that they need to do in order to tick that box, and get the grade, and move on.”

Struggling to learn new concepts can actually work to the teacher’s advantage, Harrison said, noting the example of his older brother. “It was a lot harder for him to learn subjects than it was for me. That made him a better teacher because he could understand when somebody didn’t get it.

“Whereas for me, if my boys didn’t get it, I would just repeat the same thing and berate them for not trying hard enough and wonder why anybody couldn’t understand the brilliant explanation that I’d given them.”

Ultimately, parents should take advantage of home education as an opportunity to build their children’s character and strengthen their family. The Bible emphasizes the importance of teaching children the value of wisdom, which Harrison defined as “knowledge within a moral framework.”

“The moral framework that we provide is more important than the knowledge that we’re teaching them. Education is the raising of a child, and instruction in social, moral and intellectual matters. And intellectual is only a part of it. But the most important part is how we’re raising our children in the moral sense.”

Harrison urges parents to re-evaluate their ideas on teacher qualifications for effective education.

“We have been led to believe by the public education system that teachers have the specialist knowledge that they need to be able to educate children. I believe that the specialist knowledge that they have is how to deal with a classroom full of 20 or 30 children, all at different stages and all coming from different backgrounds, and how to manage that classroom in order for them to learn.

“We don’t have to deal with that in home education. They’re our children, and we know them and we love them, and so we can teach them in a way that suits them best.”

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