My last name is Nale. Often, when I am giving someone my last name, they instinctively spell it Nail. I don’t mind when that happens; it gives me an opportunity to share one of my favorite anecdotes from my family’s history:
Just over a century ago, my family’s name was in fact spelled Nail. One of my great-great grandfathers had a daughter, and the kids teased her because of her last name, calling her “Tack.” The next time the census man came around, her father changed the spelling of the name to “Nale”, and so it has been ever since. Or so the story goes.
Likely, my last name indicates that my forefathers were “nailers.” During the 17th-18th centuries, the production and selling of nails was itself a full vocation, sort of a specialization within the field of blacksmithery. No surprise, records show that the official seal of the house of “Nail” featured a nail at its center.
Here is my point: in those days, it was commonplace for sons to take up the vocations of their fathers. If I was living in colonial America, it would have been a well-grounded assumption that my sons would grow up to continue the family work. Their education would have been geared towards this future – a future they did not choose but rather were born into.
How different is the day in which we now live. I have no idea what God might call my sons to be or do. They might be farmers or lawyers or businessmen or missionaries. If my wife and I try and orient the education of our sons to the vocation we think God might call them to, we might one day look back and realize we were way off the mark. If we choose the subjects they are going to study based on our vision of their future, time might reveal that we prepared them for careers they were never going to have.
This is why skills matter more than subjects in our homeschooling. Skills have application across callings. Whatever God calls my sons to do, if my wife and I have taught them how to memorize material, exposit texts faithfully, write clearly, think logically, and speak with persuasiveness, then we have given them skills that will help them succeed. We want our children to keep learning long after they have left our homes; therefore, we must give them the tools of learning.
Just a few years ago I read an article talking about what CEOs are looking for in new hires. The article said that employers are looking for candidates with college degrees, but do not care so much about what field the degree is in. Rather, they are most interested in candidates who can be quickly trained in the operations of that particular business, and then can turn around and train others. In other words, CEOs are looking for candidates who can memorize quickly, reason well, and then use this knowledge to influence others.
If you have never read Dorothy Sayers’ essay The Lost Tools of Learning, I highly encourage you to do so. If we want our children to be equipped to serve God well in this world, let us focus on giving them the skills of learning that they will need.