Family, Parenting

Teaching or Educating: What is the Difference, if there is any?

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Someone asked me a really interesting question recently.  She asked me: are you teaching or educating a child?

My initial response made me look like a wide-eyed deer caught in the glare of oncoming headlights.  After a few clarifying questions though, I realised that her view is actually really thought-provoking, and thankfully she was OK with me sharing it here.

The way she defines teaching is as giving the child the information repeatedly until he absorbs it.  The way she defined education is as giving the child the opportunity to learn something, and the child repeats the same action until he absorbs.

My friend really felt that creating opportunities allowed for a parent to build on their children’s inherent capacities, and to eventually make up for their weaknesses.  For example, her son very early on started rolling around, but took his sweet time talking.  So, she provided him with a lot of safe space for him to roll around.  She indirectly encouraged the development of his vocabulary by naming the direction that he was rolling towards and the objects that would attract his attention.

Discipline, in each case, also looks very different.  My friend shared that discipline in the case of education is for the child to sit and follow instructions and absorb the information.  It’s something that isn’t inherent in young children.  In education, however, she felt that the inherent discipline that children have—to repeat, repeat, repeat, and repeat some more—is encouraged.

Now I have to admit that the only reason I kept listening to her was because of her own well-behaved, adventurous, curious, and hilarious children.  All three are between the ages of 5 and 12, and all three have this amazing combination of being mature children.  How was she able to raise these well-behaved children if she didn’t discipline them?

Because, she answered, they have it in them, and their father and I just brought it out. The couple always believed that each child is spiritual in nature and that a parents’ job is two-fold: to hone his inherent strengths, and to build on these strengths to develop more capacities.

My husband and I are still at the beginning of our own journey as parents, so we are focusing on what this means for babies.  My friend’s advice was simple.  Just like children, babies need a balance of both education and teaching.  There are some life-threatening things that you just have to teach your baby as soon as possible—sometimes using a physical reminder (ex: stairs are off-limits and here is a baby gate to remind you.)  But so many other things are opportunities for them to learn so much more than just an action.  My friend shared how letting her son to keep trying to reach for something on his own allowed him to develop perseverance and determination; letting her daughter to carefully examine things at her pace allowed her to develop focus and patience.

Is this going to work?  How well with it work?  And since nothing is formulaic, how will we have to adapt it to our baby?  We have no idea at the moment, and probably whatever idea we develop over the course of the next few weeks and months, well…  Let’s see how this is going to change over the next years, huh?

If you are a mom, I would love to hear about your experience of teaching versus educating!  Or even, if you think there is a difference between the two!  If you are a blogger and have written about this topic, please drop your link below with a small introduction on what you wrote about!

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6 thoughts on “Teaching or Educating: What is the Difference, if there is any?

  1. This is such an interesting post. I appreciated your sharing your friend’s distinction between teaching and educating.

    I try very hard to instill and encourage my children’s curiosity. We ask a lot of “I wonder” questions in my house. And when my daughter asks a question I don’t know the answer to, we try to find it together.

    I’m also doing a lot of encouragement of science experiments, even if that entails my daughter putting ketchup into her water and “experimenting” to see how it tastes. (Result: yucky!)

    1. I love, love, love that you guys ask a lot of “I wonder” questions and then look for answers together! And do you by any chance blog about both this wonderful attitude as well as the various experiments you do? It would be lovely if you could post some links for anyone else interested in reading up on this matter!

  2. thanks for opening FASCINATING!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’ve never really thought about it this way before, other than in a discussion with a friend who home-schools her kids and loves that she can spend more time on the things they want to learn and less focus on what they are told to learn. I think I try to “educate” my kids, based on how it’s defined in this post . .. but I think a bit of teaching, too. Thanks for opening my eyes to this perspective – I’ll have to gauge my own behavior and see what I really do?

  3. I hope I try to do both but sometimes I think we definitely need to help with the direction. My son is so curious about so much and I try to answer everything I can and then we look up what mummy doesn’t know. I love them to be naturally curious and I try to encourage them to always be learning themselves and learn about themselves and the world around them. Interesting topic that I would love to discuss further!

  4. As a “teacher”, I find the distinction between education and teaching very interesting – I always strive to be an ‘educator’ according to this perspective.
    To be honest I’m unsure about the whole discipline thing, but that’s only because my son is 7 months old and discipline is only starting to come out now (for example, when he accidentally bit me while feeding!, or when he tries to grab cords that he has found). It’ll be a step-by-step process for us I think, as we find our feet as parents and as our son matures and learns in his own way.

  5. I truly wish I’d read this 15 years ago! My boys are now 10 and 15. While they are good boys, I wish I’d even thought about this approach. Good luck in your parenting journey, I wish you many years of beautiful memories!

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