We recently watched the Pixar movie Ratatouille again and, as usual, our family enjoyed it immensely. The movie—the major theme of which is the motto Anyone Can Cook!—provides a positive message of encouragement and empowerment, along with a healthy dose of humor, dream-chasing, and vignettes on French cooking.
As fun as it can be to watch the story of a rat following his dreams of becoming a master chef, I think the movie also provides a valuable analogy for our educational aspirations. It’s good to be reminded that much of what seems daunting and out of reach can truly be very accessible if we are motivated by passion and a desire to succeed, especially if our aspirations are tempered by reasonable expectations.
As Remy watches his cooking shows or gazes at the fancy restaurants of Paris with longing, it’s easy to identify with the wistful sense of eagerness to belong, to aspire, and to achieve. It’s also easy to identify with Linguini’s nervousness at the prospect of cooking a meal for the famed restaurant critic, and his pessimistic certainty that his efforts won’t measure up.
You would think that this might have been a more widespread phenomenon in the early days of homeschooling, when homeschoolers were often looked at askance as oddities and outcasts, their credentials challenged, and their achievements overlooked. Nowadays, homeschooling really has gone mainstream and has gained tremendous respect in the public consciousness.
But there are still plenty of self-appointed critics and self-important experts out there prepared to lecture on the shortcomings of parent-led and home-based schooling, and it can still be tempting to feel intimidated by shiny new textbooks, imposing school buildings, and the general sense of authority exuded by the professionals. Surely they know what they’re doing! They’re the experts!
As always, appearances can be superficial and misleading. Dazzling new school buildings, expansive budgets, and expensive education degrees don’t necessarily predict a successful outcome. Time and again, it has been empirically proven that parental engagement and individualized attention are far more predictive of success than money spent on students.
The triumph of homespun wisdom, intrinsic passion, and a do-it-yourself attitude is an enduring theme, and for good reason. After all, anyone can read! Anyone can teach! Anyone can learn!
I want my children to become imbued with the conviction that determination, passion, and a willingness to learn can overcome innumerable obstacles. I want them to stand firmly on the merits of their own accomplishments and never let anyone overawe them with a vaunted sense of superior ability.
Is there a universal consensus on the best way to teach children? Certainly I think there can be some obvious best practices (phonics is a logical way to learn to read), but so much of what will work for any given family or individual is based on unique circumstances and cannot be contained in some one-size-fits-all formula. That’s why universal standards and large-scale attempts to enforce conformity in education end up producing so many frustrated, miserable students who don’t fit well into the artificial construct of the system.
When it comes to teaching your children, there really is no one right way. To extend the cooking analogy, some people are going to want to cook “by the book,” following recipes precisely, carefully buying all the exact ingredients, reading the explanations for why you must cream together the butter and sugar instead of melting it, and so on. But precision and attention to details matter more in some recipes than in others. Not all budding cooks aspire to be expert pastry chefs!
Teaching children doesn’t have to be that complicated. We are truly blessed to be able to live in a time and a place where we can choose what works best for our family’s educational needs. Combine a parent’s passion for transmitting knowledge with a child’s innate curiosity and love of learning, and you have a prodigious recipe for success.
Photo Credit: Graphic design by Charity Klicka