Observations on home schooling

Don't get too close, though. I might regale you with tales from art history...or something.

Year one of home school in our family has ended and year two is now beginning (if you go by the start/stop dates of public school systems, which there’s really no point in doing).

So, here are some of our family’s observations about home school thus far:

Our daughter’s social skills, and those of her home schooled peers (many of whom have been home schooled their entire lives) are not worse than their public schooled peers. In many ways, they actually exceed the social skills of “normal” public school peer behavior for their ages. Indeed, instead of being lumped together in a room full of people their same age, they’re in and out of fluid groups of people from ages 0 to 80. This has made more and more sense to us as the alternative to public education “socialization” for two reasons:

  1. Describe a time, in a typical adult’s job or social life, where, year after year, people are put together exclusively and have to work well within an entire group in the same age and even in the same neighborhood? And, each year that group was promoted to another level of job status or work ability simultaneously?
  2. Which makes more sense: teaching a child, against actual conditions on the ground, to be courteous and kind in a group of thirty same-aged students who are constantly at odds with each other for unattainable individualized attention of one teacher OR exposing a child to a group of educators and peers that includes people in different settings and situations, from a variety of older age and wisdom levels, from which they can choose to seek and establish attention? Which would more naturally produce an outcome of well-roundedness, cooperation, and courtesy (learning it by example and giving it in return)?

More Observations We’ve Gathered

  1. Following a Leadership Education track, focusing on the moral and social values of the Founders while exploring academic subjects through the classics is FUN! Even and especially for us as adults.
  2. Reading with your kids, whenever, about whatever, is FUN!
  3. Taking your kids to the largest planetarium in the Midwest, only to have them surprise the docent not only with answers about what a constellation is, but how to find it, what kind of stars it has, and the names of its individual stars is FUN!
  4. Visiting family during the day, and not after the kids get home cranky from school is FUN!
  5. When the children are learning about the subjects that they are passionate about (currently astronomy, art, Merlin/wizards/magic, polar exploration, earth science, horses, fairies, Spore, and fictionalized American history diaries in the “Dear America” series), not only do they remember what they learn, but they also can freely make connections with other areas they have learned.  Our discussions around the dinner table are FUN!
  6. Did I mention not having kids be cranky after a day of white-knuckling it through teasing, taunting, “fitting in” and “being good” at school is a good thing for family unity and character development? I cannot adequately express how much that has helped our kids.
  7. When our oldest son, still in public school, was in the hospital for an extended period of time, he breezed through 2 weeks of grade-level school catch up work in the short span of three days, doing a little here and a little there. The rest of his time was spent glued to the History and Discovery Channel programs on the TV in his room and he was actually sad to leave the hospital because we didn’t have those channels at home at that time. When not resting, he spent the remainder of his time reading novels at a sophomore reading level…college sophomore…or chatting loquaciously with nurses and staff about what was going on with his body. He’s eleven. What does this say about the idea that kids need to stay within their grade level to be appropriately adjusted academically?
  8. The same oldest son’s scoutmaster approached me after his recent Board of Review to tell me how impressed he was with my son’s vocabulary and way of articulating answers to requirements questions, and a whole bunch of other stuff. They conversed for over 45 minutes without a single “can I go now?” He’d never seen anything like it.
  9. Comedy (and tragedy) occur when truth and folly are mixed together in just the right combination. TV shows about public school angst such as “Freaks and Geeks“, “Glee“, “Saved by the Bell“, and movies such as “Mean Girls“, “American Pie“, “Bring It On“, “Napoleon Dynamite“, etc. would not be very funny if there wasn’t a degree of truth to them. And there are hefty doses of truth to them from the perspective of this publicly schooled author.
  10. Is a purpose of public school really to expose children to negative peer pressure, ostensibly to “toughen them up”, “make them competitive”, or “give them experience” to go out and face the world? Would it be appropriate or expected, then, for a home school family to make each other run the gauntlet of humiliation, abuse, deprivation, control, discipline, negativity, and fear that public school kids are regularly subjected to by peers and even educators? If that’s the case, why are there all of these programs in public schools to combat negative and pressure behaviors (which often end up in failure)? Why, then, do schools hand out trophies and ribbons and awards to everyone rather than the real winners of school “competitions” if learning to win and lose is truly a core value of public education? Are there truly no other ways for kids to learn to compete, outside of a public school setting? No community or regional sports, arts, science, or academic teams they can turn to? Even though the ability to compete seems to be everyone’s lot in life, is competition truly the ideal, what God expects of us? Or is the ideal goal of human interaction to be unity?  We’ve learned that less pluribus and more unum is a good thing.  (Side note:  can anyone who comes from a family with more than one child say that they never experienced teasing, bullying, and competition right in the walls of their own home?  Life lesson learned.  =)  )
  11. Negative statements about home school education typically come from people who have never experienced it on a personal level, or people who have heard those statements and stereotypes from others without having a statistically valid sample size from which to draw inferences. I know, because I used to have stereotyped perceptions about home school myself, even arguing with a good friend, from my perspective as a loyalist employee of a textbook company, about whether home schools and public schools have convergent enough goals to be able to cooperate together. That was until it became something we needed to do to preserve the the best parts of the souls of our kids from destruction in a public school setting when the public school was administratively powerless to help. Then, home school seemed less like a satan and more like a savior. (Suffice it to say, after personally observing more about how the public education sausage is produced, while simultaneously working furiously to try to improve it, that friend and I have come to see eye to eye on the fact that public and home school goals are less convergent than I had once imagined.)
  12. Faithful members of our church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are taught that education begins in the home. While the Church is neutral on the issue of whether to home school or public school, the emphasis is that education begins in the home. If that’s where it begins, why can it notcontinue there, even exclusively, if that’s what the child needs or wants?  Why is there this unspoken imperative to depend on the schools exclusively, or to mandate that public school and home education be mixed together in a way unnatural and untenable to a family’s independent goals?
  13. If a wealthy person, or someone with exceptionally bright children, decides to provide a private tutor for his/her kids, no one bats an eye.  But, when an “average” person decides to provide his/her children with a private tutor under the title of “homeschooling”, all of a sudden s/he is barraged with questions about socialization, grade-level standards, and so forth.  Ironically, one of the hallmarks of a “good” school district is small class sizes.  Why is that?  Because then students get more individualized education!  How can a student get a more personalized education than by receiving it with, through, and from the people who are most invested in his/her outcome not just for a school year but for a lifetime (i.e. the parents and even siblings, grandparents, etc.)?
  14. Some would say that the solution to a less-than-satisfactory school environment is for the parents to invest themselves more in the school by attending school board meetings, volunteering in the classroom, and being a catalyst for change.  While those are certainly noble goals, are they more important than a parents’ individual children?  In other words, at what cost does one choose to leave a child in the school district where s/he is under-challenged, bullied, and so forth while working as an agent of change?  I don’t think anyone would say seriously that change happens quickly within the bureaucracy of public education.  It makes little sense to spend months and years in the hope of improving our children’s education with no assurance of success, when we can invest the same time directly in our children and be assured of a high probability that those efforts will improve their outcomes.  Perhaps this sounds selfish, but most parents put the well-being of their own children over that of others’.


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