The Madness of Multiple Choice, A Guest Post by Andrew Pudewa

If you’ve ever wondered whether Excellence in Literature needed a few multiple choice questions to make it “better,” this delightful essay by my friend and publisher Andrew Pudewa will make our position clear. Like comprehension questions, another pernicious evil, multiple-choice testing is a blight on the educational process. I hope you enjoy this!

The Madness of Multiple-Choice

by Andrew Pudewa

At some point, one of the hardest decisions that a home-schooling family must make is whether to do “Home Education” or to do “School” at home. Many times this choice is made by default when a family jumps into home-schooling by purchasing a complete “curriculum-in-a-box” (or on a disk), in an attempt to find something that will “cover all the bases.” On the other hand, some families who choose to break free from a “complete” grade-level based pile of textbooks and workbooks feel like they are engaging in something radically different, which they may call “unit study,” or “unschooling,” or “classical,” or any one of several different labeled philosophies or approaches.Certainly these pioneering families are choosing paths less traveled, but they are doing so in greater and greater numbers. Some do it from the get-go; some begin the journey after years of slogging through worksheets and school books, wondering if there isn’t another, better way. Providing fuel for a change in direction, authors like John Taylor Gatto, Doug Wilson, Marva Collins, Glen Doman, and many others show a glimpse of how things could be different, even providing treasure maps, guidebooks, model classrooms and periodic pep talks. Most parents pursue these possibilities because they have three basic qualities that push them to it: love for their kids, a modicum of confidence, and common sense.

Writing is thinking and workbooks can’t teach thinking

And yet for many other parents, who also possess love and common sense, it can be hard to depart from the broad, safe road of “school-at-home.” The pre-designed lesson plans, the carefully programmed “teacher edition” textbooks, the daily and weekly suggested schedules, the tests with answer keys—in other words, the security of knowing that your fifth grader is doing what other fifth graders are (or should be) doing—these are the things which, for some, make home-schooling a practical possibility, and they hang on to it tenaciously. . . at least until they encounter the task of teaching writing. When parents come face to face with the shortcomings of the workbook approach in this area, they get concerned. They see the child’s frustration. Writing is thinking and workbooks just can’t teach thinking. Understanding the importance of composition as an important life skill, these parents search here and there for yet another workbook or computer program that will do the job, but they seldom find anything that actually works. Why?

Textbooks, workbooks, and “canned” curriculums cannot teach thinking; they can only seek a predictable, “correct” response. Their very existence is based on a multiple-choice fill-in-the-blank, right/wrong system of pushing information into a child’s head. There is no room for different answers, unique responses or independent views. The emphasis is always on what the child doesn’t know, not on helping him clarify and express what he does know. Epitomizing the type of instruction specifically designed to condition the child, multiple-choice tests and right/wrong workbooks can program correct responses, but they cannot teach a child to think.

Being tested on what we didn’t know

I and most everyone I know grew up in this educational culture. We don’t know (and can’t easily imagine) anything different. For the most part, conditioning is what school was (excepting the one or two truly remarkable teachers who may have taken the radical approach of encouraging actual thinking). For us, grades were based on homework and tests, most of which were designed not to test what we did know but specifically to test what we did not know. “Uh, oh… I didn’t know seven things on that test, I’m stupid!” “Johnny got a 100%… he’s so smart, he knows everything! But I’m just dumb. I hate this.” No, Johnny didn’t know everything, and he wasn’t necessarily any smarter than you or I. He was just good at learning the specific few things the system thought he should learn. You may well have learned countless other things–things that were more interesting or useful to you–but the system didn’t test you on what you did know, only on what you didn’t know. For us, school was an eleven or twelve year conditioning process, slapping us back into line, giving us a common and narrow set of information carefully chosen to make us think predictably and behave controllably, limited in originality and easy to influence economically and politically.

You see, the multiple-choice test mentality is not just stupid, it’s evil. By placing a continuous emphasis on what you don’t know, multiple-choice tests trivialize what you do know. To a multiple-choice test answer key, who you are, what you know, or how you think is irrelevant. But the painful irony of it all is, in truth: it’s what youdon’t know that is actually what’s irrelevant. You’re not going to know everything there is to know about everything anyway, so who cares what you don’t know? What you don’t know isn’t important at all! What is important is what you do know, and that you know that you know, and that you can communicate it effectively. And, by the way, that’s how tests have been done for centuries (the centuries before computers had maliciously promoted multiple-choice). The mentor or teacher would say to the student, “Tell me everything you have learned about what we’ve studied.” The test was to see that you had learned something, not that you had learned the narrow and specific facts prioritized by a particular worldview or sociological system. Real learning and thinking is about what you do know, and knowing that you know it.

Educare - “to draw out”

That’s actually the common sense approach to education. It’s what the word means. Educare - “to draw out.” Instructo, on the other hand, means “to pile upon.” Parents and teachers hit the wall of “instruction” when they begin to teach writing. You can “pile on” and test history facts, math facts, science facts, even religion and spelling facts, but you can’t “pile on” writing instruction. Writing is thinking, and once the tools have been taught, the shift is now to educate, or to “draw out” from the child that which he knows. As I travel and teach writing all over the country, I often meet children who don’t like to write. Now, if you ask a child why they don’t like to write, their most common answer is, of course: “I don’t know what to say.” One of the activities I do with children (after some practice in basic note taking) is an exercise I call “brain inventory,” or just making a list of “things that you know somethingabout.” After listing their dog or cat and their one or two favorite sports, many children can’t think of much else that they “know something about.” They just don’t they feel like they know a whole lot. The fact is, of course, that they do know much more, and with just a little coaching, they can find all sorts of “stuff” in their brain, but they are not used to that type of thinking. They’re used to having a workbook to tell them what they know. When it’s not there, they’re lost. What I do is very new to many kids. It’s a common sense approach, but not a common one in today’s multiple-choice culture.

As if requiring teachers to do more of what hasn’t worked will suddenly improve things

Originating as part of a clandestine effort by the inner sanctum of social scientists in their university halls and corporate board rooms, the madness of the multiple-choice mentality now unabashedly emanates from the most obvious sources of political and economic power—governments and media. Following the states and their legislators in striving for an elusive educational “standard,” our president and congress have hopped on the driverless wagon of national testing, as if requiring teachers to do more of what hasn’t worked will suddenly improve things. And the media, they love multiple-choice. Take, for example, the recent tragedy of terrorism and the “interactive” nature of the television and internet. One major news network gave three choices as possible responses to the question: “How does this terrorist attack make you feel?” Only three options were available: Surprised, Sad, or Angry. Any more complete expression of feeling or detailed response wouldn’t work in their bar chart, so everyone responding to their “interactive experience” was forced into one of three narrow but equally as vague little boxes. I personally couldn’t trim my complex feelings and thoughts to fit into one of those three options, and it seems to me that any thinking person would be equally as offended by the overly simplistic nature of that multiple- choice question. But this is the way children have been, for decades, trained to respond by their textbooks and worksheets.

Now we, as home-schoolers, have some options that other parents don’t have. We can, of course, do “school” at home, obediently following our worksheets and nicely administering our end-of-chapter multiple-choice tests. Or, if we can see outside the box of our own conditioning, choose to do something radically different. We can, right now, make the decision to care more about what our children do know, rather that being worried about what they don’t know. We can determine to draw out real thinking, rather than programming our students with the “correct” textbook responses. We can, if we have the courage, “just say no” to multiple-choice tests, and the whole mentality that goes with it. No, you won’t “cover all the bases.” Your children won’t know everything they’re “supposed to.” They will learn different things than what the other fifth graders are learning, but they may very well learn better how to think, and to know that they know what they know. And if they do the same for their children and grandchildren, we may find in a few generations a large number of people have become more thoughtful, more responsive, more diverse—in other words less controllable and less conditioned—and perhaps a bit more like our founding fathers. And that might be a very good thing for our country and our world.

What Happens When Teachers Aren’t Allowed to Teach

In a video that reminds me of some of John Taylor Gatto‘s work, Stephen Round, a dedicated second-grade teacher reads his letter of resignation from the Rhode Island school system.

Here are a few points Mr. Round makes in the video:

Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor GattoAdam Kirk Edgerton, another teacher who quit and told why, wrote, ” . . .  for now, I quit teaching. I quit not because of my students, who were wonderful, bright, capable, eager-to-learn, and deserving of a better educational system. …And I didn’t quit because of an administrator, or a boss, or a colleague. I quit because the system is demeaning. It’s a structure that consumes everyone in it, from the top to the bottom. I didn’t quit because of a single school –I quit because of the pattern of inanity that is replicated throughout the whole country . . .”

As always, I recommend reading Gatto’s Dumbing Us Down for a brief overview of the institutional education system. You’ll find his larger work, An Underground History of American Education, posted on the website.

Things to Know About Public Libraries

A library is a wonderful resource. Not just for thousands of free books, but also for access to a reference librarian who can answer almost any query, free use of a computer and internet, and more. The library was always a treat for our boys, though I most often went alone (so I’d have time to choose excellent books). When I was young, I went by myself, walking several blocks with as many books as I could carry. I learned to speak quietly in the library, put books back correctly, turn pages gently, and to generally be a good citizen– amazing what a civilizing force a library used to be!

I’m not sure if libraries realize it, but I think the statistic that circulation of children’s books has increased 17% over the past decade is at least partly due to homeschoolers who use the library to supplement purchased curriculum. If you have a local library, I encourage you to support it through regular visits, volunteering, and any other way you can.

As a homeschooler, you can help to shape your library’s collections and programs through strategic requests (nicely conveyed, of course!). You also have the ability to make librarians look forward to or dread your visits, so be aware of that, too, as the actions of one homeschooler affect all to one extent or another. Enough said on that;-). I hope you enjoy the informative infographic below.  Read more

Patriot Day 2012: A Page From our Family Album

"We the people . . ."-- a design from Heather at Simply Fresh Designs.

Below is a page from our family album– my aunt had treated us to a week of sightseeing in New York City, and of course, the World Trade Center was on our list of places to see. You’ll notice the date on our ticket was 9/25/2000– less than one year before the towers were destroyed. One of the most memorable things about being so high on the observation deck was seeing small planes and helicopters flying lower than we were standing.

When I heard that a plane had flown into one of the towers, my first thought was not one of surprise, but of acceptance that such an accident could happen. As the news unfolded, it was shocking to find that it hadn’t been an accident at all. It was sobering to see such clear evidence of hatred, of unbridled evil. It was also a reminder that “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.” (Thomas Paine) I am grateful for each of the servicemen and -women who support the cause of liberty, and I’m grateful for the first responders who are daily heroes.

From our family album: the World Trade Center 2000.  Read more

Literature Connects Disciplines

Why study literature in the context of art, music, history, and worldview?

Excellence in Literature Handbook for Writers

Excellence in Literature Handbook for Writers

“Developing intelligent comparisons between different works is one of the great tools of criticism, informed discussion, and cultural enrichment. Learning to develop such comparisons will also help to remind us that just because we have finished with one work and are moving on to another, that is no reason for setting the first one aside. As we progress through Liberal Studies, English, and Philosophy courses, we are continuing and enriching a life-long conversation with and about our culture, a process which will include more and more material for comparison and argumentative discussions.”

(From the Excellence in Literature Handbook for Writers* by Johnston and Campbell, Section 10.2)

*It’s in the proofreading stage right now, and should be available soon. At 400+/- pages, it includes detailed instructions for writing essays as well as a basic style and usage guide. I think it will be immensely useful for both high school and college.

For a short while, you’ll be able to order a beta version of the e-book. Read more about it on the Handbook for Writers page.

Blog Carnival: Summer Isn’t Over Yet

Welcome to the August 9, 2011 edition of Carnival of Homeschooling. Although a few of you are ready to
Carnival of Homeschoolingjump back into school or have already done so, others seem to be stretching those happy summer moments for as long as possible.

I suggest that you pour a frosty glass of lemonade, find a cool spot, and enjoy the delightful posts that have been submitted.

Summer fun isn’t over yet

Not quite ready for “regular school?” Tiana Krenz shares a delightful idea in Plan a Vacation, Learn Geography (Awesome FREE project!) posted at God Made Home Grown – Tiana Krenz.

Nikki Olivier invites you to journey along on an interesting family outing in I can officially call them kids! posted at Our Journey in Him, commenting, “spending time together as a family out in nature….there’s so much to learn!”

AnnieKate shares beautiful photos along with many great reasons why a garden can be a wonderful addition to homeschooling at The Gardening Homeschooler posted at Tea Time with Annie Kate.

Can you tell the difference between a plant and a weed? How about in your children’s lives? Joan Girkins presents ~Thoughts from My Garden~ (Part 4) posted at I Love Truth!.

Is it learning or is it just plain fun? Lisa Nehring offers a bit of both Summer School Shop Class posted at Golden Grasses.

Tasty treats from the garden.

Tasty treats from the garden.

In her evocative post, “Degrees of Separation” or “Your Child’s Future Sanity” posted at Sage Parnassus, Nancy reminds us to make time to touch, taste, and smell the reality around us.

Robin Phillips offers nine creative ways to connect real experiences with real learning in How To Homeschool At the Zoo: A Mini Unit Study – Crack the Egg posted at Crack the Egg Blog.

Preparing to take the plunge

Adam Faughn shared Homeschool week #3: Some of Our Preparation Steps posted at The Faughn Family of Four, saying, “We started our first week of home schooling this week, and this post shares some of the memorable steps we took to prepare for this change in our life.”

It’s awfully hard to homeschool in chaos, and it’s really not necessary when you have a built-in team of helpers. Carol J. Alexander talks about how to make it work in Getting Your Kids to Do Chores posted at Everything Home with Carol.

In This Year’s Homeschool Curriculum at her blog,, Conni Smith shared a rundown of the core subject curriculum her family will be using this year.

The longer you homeschool, the more likely it is that you’ll forget what you’ve taught to which child. If you do, it’s easily remedied. Elena LaVictoire presents helpful tips on Making sure they get it all covered academically and otherwise! posted at My Domestic Church.

The veterans offer tips

Is it ever too early to start reading to your child? Read Aloud … Dad presents When To Start Reading Aloud To a Child? posted at Read Aloud Dad.

It's never too early to start reading to your child.

It's never too early to start reading to your child.

Denise shares a great visual tool in Do You Mix Up These Words? posted at Blogging 2 Learn.

Billy Hart presents Danbury Baptist Association to Thomas Jefferson, Separation of Church and State posted at HistoricWords | American History | Founding Fathers | Politics | Faith | Quotes, saying, “The Danbury Baptist Association wrote this letter to Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson‚Äôs reply is where the phrase Separation of Church and State comes from. The Danbury Baptist Association said, ‚ÄúThe legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor.‚Äù”

Denise presents The (Mathematical) Trouble with Pizza posted at Let’s Play Math!, saying, “My daughter thinks her way through a challenging middle-school math problem.”

Laura O muses about learning a foreign language as a high school homeschooler.Tackle a foreign language? Which one? posted at Day By Day in Our World.

What’s it like to be the graduate of a Charlotte Mason education? Kaley Struble shares what she’s learned in Starting in the Right Direction on the ChildLightUSA blog.

Kaye Swain shared Bible Memory Verses Fun-Teaching The Ten Commandments to Our Children & Grandchildren-1 | SandwichINK for the Sandwich Generation posted at, saying, “The 10 Commandment Bible memory verses for children and grand kids was a fun summer project for my grandkids and me, but it’s also great for a homeschooling project any time in the year.”

HomeGrownKids presents Through the Bible overview (Week 1-4) posted at Kerugma, saying, “Kerugma Family Bible reading guide for use with young children. This guide is a no-fuss, easy to implement, overview of the Bible for the whole family. Preschool to highschool, homeschool, family bible reading.”

Technology might make it easier . . .

Does technology have something valuable to contribute?

Does technology have something valuable to contribute?

Merit K presents Back to School with Tech? posted at Mission Possible!, saying, “Modern technology has some drawbacks and dangers, but there are ways to make technology work for us as parents and educators too!”

Angela Gray presents On Digital Media in Education – Team Gray! posted at team Gray!, saying, “While public education has come to mean crowd control and classroom management, digital media could mark the return of true learning–if the teachers would just get out of the way.”

Henry shares some thoughts about the nature of education and the benefit of homeschooling in Can education be automated? Should it? on Why Homeschool.

Heartfelt reminders

Trisha Poff reminds us of the importance of taking the time to give good words to those we love in Letters Never Written posted at A Multitude of Mercies.

Remember to take time for things that matter . . .

Remember to take time for things that matter . . .

Are you at a difficult place in life? Learn more about Homeschooling Through Sicknesses, Pregnancies and Other Distressing Times at Beyond The Silver and The Gold – A Filipino Family’s Homeschool Journey.

If you’re in the early years of homeschooling, and juggling many children of different ages, don’t worry–it won’t always be this hard. Nebby offers encouragement in Homeschooling: Some Parts Get Easier posted at Letters from Nebby.

My contribution for this carnival will be the Of Daffodils and Diesels Revisited post from the archive. It was hard to choose– there are articles on everything from literature to caregiving to learning styles to homeschooling boys– but Daffodils and Diesels is especially worth reading at the beginning of a school year. It’s important to teach the student we have, rather than teaching a particular curriculum. Enjoy!

That’s all for now. I hope you enjoyed the carnival!

Submit your blog article to the next edition of carnival of homeschooling using the official carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on the blog carnival index page.

What Does Education Look Like? Part III: Immune to Elephants

Hannibal crossing the Alps with war elephants.

Hannibal crossing the Alps with war elephants.

It’s been awhile since I posted the first two parts of this series, but the contrast between a true, living education and the stale, dead imitation that often replaces it continues to niggle at my thoughts. So here’s another brief scene that highlights the contrast.

Scene 1

The elephant turned his trunk toward the audience, and surprised them with a cold shower. The twins pressed closer to the edge of the enclosure, shaking water from their eyes. “Read us what it says, Momma,” they asked, looking at the sign on the rail.

“It’s an Asian elephant,” ventured one twin, pointing at the map.

“And it eats roots, grasses, fruit, and bark,” said the other, looking at the photos of the elephant in the wild.

The twins listened intently, eyes studying the elephant’s leathery hide, giant ears, and stringy tail, as their mother read the information. They had watched a National Geographic video earlier in the week, and had been talking about Hannibal crossing the Alps with elephants during the Second Punic War.

Scene 2

Later, another family stopped at the elephant pen. A toddler laughed and pointed, while a slightly older child tugged at her father’s arm. “Please, Daddy, can you read what it says?”

As her father began to read the information, the oldest child sighed in boredom and pulled out his iPod. He didn’t bother to look at the elephants– after all, he had learned all about them in first grade. The class had seen the giant leg bone of an elephant, felt a piece of dried elephant hide, and filled out a worksheet on the life cycle of the elephant. What more was there to know?

Inoculate: To treat with a portion (usually dead) of a virus or infective agent to prevent disease.

To think about: Why does institutional education so often inoculate students against further learning? (There’s a clue in the definition above.)

Previous posts on this topic:

Part I: What is a Chicken?

Part 2: What Does Education Look Like? A Look at Socialization

Read to Learn, Not Just for Story

Read daily, for love and for learning.

Read daily, for love and for learning.

I’ve always loved to read. My earliest memories involve wonderful, imaginative stories that enriched my life. The Little Red Hen, Johnny-Go-Round, Sendak’s Wild Things, Anderson’s fairy tales, the Bobbsey Twins and Happy Hollisters were all as much a part of my life as was the freeway traffic that flowed endlessly across the street from our home, the railroad at the end of the block, and the liquor store where I bought my weekly treat– a fudgesicle, or if I was feeling flush, a 10-cent Rocket Pop. Every day I’d pack my school bag with at least two books with which to stave off inevitable boredom. Trips to the library or my favorite thrift store were highlights of my week; I knew I’d come home with at least a few more books to cherish.

Perhaps I was an odd little kid, but even then I wasn’t reading only to find out what happened in the story. I read to discover new worlds, different lives, deeper meanings in everyday matters. Read more

Advice for Friends of Caregivers

In traditional flower meanings, a pansy stands for loving thoughts.

In traditional flower meanings, a pansy stands for loving thoughts.

When you have a friend who is caregiving, there are a few things to remember. Caregiving is something that will come to most of us at some point, perhaps only for a short while, but possibly for decades. Whether you’re the caregiver or a friend of a caregiver, it helps to know a bit about what it’s like. If you missed the first article on this topic, you may want to read it for a little more information on the subject.

Here are a few comments and suggestions that come from my experience and the experiences of caregiving friends. Please feel free to comment if you have additional ideas.

Carnival of Homeschooling: The Beach Reading Edition

The homeschool carnival makes great beach reading.

Carnival of Homeschooling

I’m delighted to host the June 22, 2010 edition of Carnival of Homeschooling! It may be summer, but homeschoolers never stop thinking and learning. To celebrate the season, let’s imagine that we’re at a lovely beach with waves breaking, a gentle breeze blowing, and palm trees rustling. Now…. relax and read while your dear children build sand castles!

Read more

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