The Gift of “How to Learn”

Published with Permission

Written by Jessica Hulcy


Early in homeschooling, I read the biography of American physicist Robert Oppenheimer, the Director of the Manhattan Project, who was responsible for assembling and leading the team that developed and detonated the first atomic bomb. True, Oppenheimer was a genius, but it was his “immersion method of learning” that struck me. At age 5 his grandfather gave him a collection of rocks, and he quickly learned to lisp all the difficult geological specimen names. After several obsessions with architecture, poetry, and painting, Oppenheimer, at age 11, returned to his rocks and began to correspond with the New York Mineralogical Club via his new found typing ability.

So passionately and professionally did Oppenheimer pursue his correspondence that Club members assumed Oppenheimer was an adult. When they invited him to present a paper to the Club, they were astounded to meet a 12-year-old boy, whom they made an honorary member. Throughout his life, whether at Harvard, Cambridge, Caltech, or Los Alamos, Oppenheimer immersed himself in subjects: chemistry, physics, foreign languages, sailing, and Sanskrit.

Units Utilize Immersion

Units provide an incredible vehicle for immersion learning à la Oppenheimer. A units theme approach uses multiple disciplines to study one topic.

By the time home schooled students reach high school, most parents are obsessed with three C words: covering, content, and credits. Give us a list of required subjects, study, pass the test, and move on. No time for fluff or fun activities—just the three R’s: reading, writing, and research. However, fun activities are part of the immersion process and make serious, heavyweight research palpable.

Let me give you an example: The study of Roman history is more than Roman history. It is making Roman mosaics and togas for art, studying Roman gods and goddesses for mythology, subtracting big roman numerals with L and C in them for math, acting out Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar for literature and drama, and having a Roman feast complete with mock stuffed dormice and vomitorium for history. Fun activities make reading Virgil’s Aeneid and writing a paper on the construction and uses of Roman arches in the Coliseum, aqueducts, and barrel vaults doable.

In addition to writing reports about Caesar, students should research theological questions that the Roman Christians struggled with. Church Father Tertullian coined the word Trinity, yet the word appears nowhere in Scripture. Using Scripture, students should be challenged to support their belief in the Trinity. Likewise, a single letter i brought on the divisive debate between homoiousious meaning “like” or “similar to” and homoousious meaning “the same” or “identical to.” High schoolers should know about early Church heresies that denied the preexistence of Christ, thereby denying His divinity. Arian heretics said Christ was similar to God, but not the same as God, because God had created Christ just as He had created the world, the animals, and man.

A read of historical novel Quo Vadis? by Nobel Prize winner Henryk Sienkiewicz is not only a read of the 1895 bestseller but is a read of one of the most widely read novels in the world during the thirty-five years following its publication. Against the back drop of Nero, gladiators, and Christians being slaughtered by wild beasts is an outspoken pro-Christian message, as we see lustful love change to sacrificial love.1

The CD Player of “How to Learn” 

Like every home school parent, I was overwhelmed by how I would teach every piece of information to my children before college . . . until I realized I could NOT teach my children all the information they would need in life and furthermore, I did NOT HAVE TO teach them everything they needed.

Information and its accessibility are increasing exponentially, and with the availability of the Internet and iPhones, almost everyone has information at their fingertips. The key is teaching children “how to learn,” meaning how to apply information rather than merely collect it and regurgitate it. The goal is application that turns information collecting into information using. Mere information is easily forgotten, but if parents give students the CD player of “how to learn,” the student can plug in any new subject/CD and apply newfound information to any task.

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