I asked Mr. Shiller about his curriculum company and for advice for the many homeschoolers who are just stepping out along this journey. Here’s what he said.
The Epoch Times: What inspired you to start a curriculum company?
Larry Shiller: There are two main reasons: I have always loved math, from the earliest I can remember, and thought everyone did, too. When I was 7 or 8, I discovered with great disappointment that not everyone loved math as much as I did, and wondered how they lived each day without experiencing the joys of struggle and epiphany that studying math brought me. It’s been my goal since my youth to bring the excitement of learning math to children everywhere.
I had the opportunity to familiarize myself with the Montessori philosophy and methods because my children attended Montessori school as young as six months old, and we all found the experience to be both respectful and effective. I realized I now had a vehicle to deliver math in a way that young children could enjoy and parents could employ: ShillerMath was born! A few years later, we added Montessori-based language arts and our product line now encompasses what I consider to be the two key subjects from which knowledge in all others springs.
The Epoch Times: Your products incorporate a Montessori educational approach. What differentiates the Montessori style of learning from others?
Mr. Shiller: Montessori may be summed up in one word: Respect. Respect for the child, respect for family and others, respect for the environment. Montessori doesn’t care about intelligence or comparisons to others; it merely seeks to encourage children—and their parents and educators—to reach their own individual capabilities. Montessori uses language that keeps children motivated and avoids stress. Knowing parents likely have not studied Montessori, we provide scripted lessons that by and large accomplish the same excellent results, without the need for any lesson preparation.
The Epoch Times: Homeschooling has experienced a surge in popularity this year. What advice would you give parents who are just starting out?
Mr. Shiller: Montessori ideas, such as follow the child and never interrupt a focused and concentrated child, are so simple yet so powerful. And we encourage parents to learn about the importance and application of competence and closure, and the 2 Cs that explain all four outcomes—see our YouTube video on the 2 Cs and four lesson outcomes (Youtube.com/watch?v=rqQgZcGrWN8). Finally, take comfort in knowing that the journey you are about to embark on will have its struggles that the rewards far outweigh.
The Epoch Times: What are some common mistakes you see parents making in homeschooling their children?
Mr. Shiller: We’ve observed that some parents who homeschool their children make the assumption that their job is to recreate the public school experience in the home. That may work for some students, but homeschooling offers each family the opportunity to develop an educational experience that matches their child, not the nonexistent hypothetical “normal” child. We can get sneakers with our name on them—why not an education? Forget about putting children into buckets that bureaucrats have developed to make their jobs easier, and remember that your child offers the world a unique view and presence.
The Epoch Times: What do you believe are the keys to a successful homeschool experience?
Mr. Shiller: Ultimately, it’s about principles and values, and how well parents help children develop those first. At Rising Stars Foundation, which is the nonprofit through which we provide ShillerLearning, we have only two principles: one, when ego and truth collide, we value truth; and two, we follow our passion and do so in such a way to better both ourselves and the world. Parents are welcome to adopt these or discover their own; what’s important is for the family to believe in them.
Next come abilities, without which we cannot live with integrity with our principles and values. How can we know the truth when we don’t know how to prove something? How do we know we’re getting better if we don’t know how to measure that? These questions point us to the specific knowledge we need to be able to live with integrity: What are common logical fallacies? What forms the basis for calculating those measures? This flips the knowledge-first public school approach to a values-first homeschool approach. Children become eager to learn, not because they’re told what they need to learn—ouch!—but because they are driven to learn what they themselves decide is important to behave and grow in support of their passions. That goal is what drives me and ShillerLearning.