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We have been programmed by society to see education in terms of school grades or levels including: pre-preschool, preschool, kindergarten, elementary, junior high, high school, and then post-secondary. No one seems to question these levels or terms.
Many years ago, I started thinking about the term “post-secondary.” If there is a post-secondary, shouldn’t there be a secondary to “post”? And if there’s a secondary level, shouldn’t that require a primary level, first? The more thought I gave this, the more I realized that there may be levels to learning, but not as we have been trained to believe.
Levels work if we are to grade people in a structured learning environment, as in grade 1, 2, 3. A child completes one level and then moves on to the next. However, life outside of school is not like that. We are constantly learning what has been presented and move on.
Since learning is continuous, progressive levels may work when there is a focus to what is being learned as we see in school. But learning as we grow is best described as going through stages rather than levels. Describing learning as occurring in stages is more in keeping with where we are in life, while levels describe where we are in our “education.”
Now, let’s look at the four stages of learning.
The first stage is the pre-structured (pre-school, pre-kindergarten level). This initial stage includes learning to communicate using language. Little children, full of questions, ready to learn, casually growing while being exposed to an enormous amount of information. It begins before birth and is determined largely by the environment in which the learning occurs.
Some folks think this is a good way to leave things and essentially encourage students to “go with the flow” or learn as you go as they get older. Without getting into too much detail at this time, this can be described as the un-schooling approach to home education. I just need to point out that this does work with some families.
Now, the second stage is a bit more formal and begins when the child is ready. At the primary (elementary) stage, you learn the fundamental skills. You learn the basics of reading, you learn the basics of math, you learn a lot of what works and what doesn’t. This stage is largely pre-puberty. It can begin at any age, not necessarily at age six as prescribed by the school.
In fact, research has shown that it takes approximately one hundred hours to acquire the fundamental skills of reading and basic computation. So, if your child is six, seven, ten and not reading yet, don’t worry about it. If it takes about two and a half weeks to learn the fundamentals once you get going, there is no need to start when the child is not ready and risk academic child abuse!
That may be the research, but has anybody proved it? I’ve actually seen it many times in my career. For instance, I’ve seen a nine year old learn to read in two and a half weeks. In less than three months he was reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
Many times I have heard a mom voice her concern about her daughter or son not reading during one visit, only to hear her admonish the child to “put down that book” at the next visit. I find it amusing, but moms usually fail to see it, as the child seems to learn to read, “overnight.” They literally transitioned from being illiterate to book worms without capturing mom’s attention.
Remember, we’re brainwashed with “school” thinking. School seems to take forever to accomplish what can be done in a short time, perhaps because school is first a daycare and then an institution for learning! Seriously, you could take everything they learn in six years of school and likely do it in one at home. We don’t have to worry. So much for that fear or concern!
The secondary stage of learning generally begins after puberty. Now the child expands in knowledge by applying the skills learned during the primary stage. Again, “school” starts this level roughly at age 12 (junior high) and makes it last until the child is roughly 18 (high school). However, I have witnessed this stage take less than a year with the student then advancing to the next stage of learning.
Simply put, the post-secondary stage is what happens after the secondary level. That can be anything. It can be part-time or full-time employment, entrepreneurship, college or whatever awaits the student as they transition into the adult world.
Two things are for certain. Everybody is headed for post-secondary and learning never stops. And another thing, children never stop one level and start another while being educated. They slowly transition from one level to another when they are ready, doing so as they grow through each stage.
If we consider the post-secondary stage to be a level of formal training, we need to consider one more stage of learning. Indeed, this stage is essentially “adulthood after formal training.” If we give this stage the title of “life,” it becomes obvious that it actually starts at birth, transitions from one method or process or level or opportunity or stage to another, and considering that learning transcends the temporal into the eternal, it never ends.
To wrap it up, the primary stage is when learning the fundamental skills, the secondary stage is applying those skills, and post-secondary is the specialization of skills. Life continues both before and after these “levels” of formal learning, occurring in stages as we mature and grow older and wiser.