Saturday, September 01, 2007


Several times now, educational methods have come up as topics on this blog. A listener of the podcast commented that she felt I was being unfair in my assessment of the Duggar's homeschooling and drew a faulty conclusion about my thoughts on homeschooling. For the record, I don't have a problem with homeschooling. I also don't have a huge problem with public schools. And, I truly don't know enough about "un-schooling" to have a well-formed opinion. I think that families should choose the method that works best.
Our method is to send the kids to a traditional, public school and supplement their public education with more focused activities at home.

What I don't understand is any extremism in education. All things in moderation.
I dislike hard-core, exclusionary home school advocates because I *do* think there's some benefit in socialization and dealing with people of different ethnicities, religions, and backgrounds. People like the Duggars, and other fundamentalists, get my ire up because they're not promoting learning... they're promoting an agenda and a dogma. They fear public school because it might expose Jr. to another way of life.
I know many parents who've successfully home schooled. I salute them. If your child ends up being a productive, bright, intelligent member of society, then my hats off to you. :)
That said, I have little respect for "homeschool-ers" who don't take their duty seriously.

I think people who leave the education of their child entirely to the public school systems are also negligent. I loathe the parents who seem apathetic to the education of their child. I hate the parents who think public school is a babysitting service and don't support their child's educational needs. However, I am a product of public schools. I think I turned out above average. ;) I spoke several languages as a kid and had a great time forming friendships that I probably wouldn't have formed had I been home schooled. I had opportunities that I probably wouldn't have had, had my parents home schooled.

Mr. Possum is the product of 13 years of parochial education. He emerged largely unscathed...although, he has a ruler fetish. ;) Kidding...

What's disappointing, to me, is that each camp seems to go too far. Homeschool-ers and the unschooled sing the woeful tunes of "under-educated" and abused/neglected public school kids. They'll sit studies about how awful the public schools are.
Anti-homeschool-ers screech about socialization issues and the perception that home schooled kids are missing out.
I think the best answer is to choose a position somewhere in between the two. Why go to extremes?

My kids attend public schools. They love it. And, while I'm not always pleased with the things that happen at the school...I try to remember that I'm teaching them how to negotiate with the world (and others who may not be like us) by example. If I go off half-cocked about the words "under God" in the pledge and stomp about the school, I'm not showing my children how to be a rational person/adult. At the same time, I freely supplement their lives with information, knowledge, materials, and "in-put". I am, and always will be, their first (and most dedicated) teacher. I'm completely invested in their future. I want them to be the brightest and happiest that they can be.

I suppose I just don't understand why people feel like they have to stake a claim in one camp or the other. Wouldn't it be best if all kids were unschooled (play and individualized interest based education), home schooled (loving, invested parents making an effort to extend the learning environment into all aspects of life), and public schooled??


Bifrost said...

Excellent post!

My wife and I successfully homeschooled our only child, but not for religious purposes. We did not find socialization to be a problem. There were plenty of people to associate with in outside activities, including age peers and adults. The real jewel of your post is to point out the necessity of parental involvement regardless of the educational system used.

IMHO a problem with homeschooling, at least in my state, is a lack of student progress monitoring by the state to verify education. Some homeschoolers, not all, fail to educate and are not doing the kid any favors by keeping them ignorant. I have seen this among members of homeschool support groups we have belonged to during our years of homeschooling.

“Successfully homeschooled” means that the kid is now a junior in a very competitive program in a state university, with tuition, housing, and books mostly paid for by scholarships.

Eight Hour Lunch said...

Private school is great if you can afford it, but I'm a big fan of charter schools. Every parent is required to donate a minimum about of time to the school each year in the classroom or in other ways to support the school. The curriculum is solid, and the kids are allowed to advance at their own pace.

My little girl is working two years ahead of regular public school schedule--not because we push her. We don't. She's just finishing her work that fast. Around here, in a public school, I'd have to fight tooth and nail for the advancements, and in most districts the answer is just no. It's great that your kid is smart, but they'll have to just be bored and wait for everyone else to catch up.

So what does our kid think? She loves it. She's excited to go, and she constantly amazes me with the things she's learning--and learning years ahead of the pace I did.

Paul T. said...

Both of my children attended public schools and I believe that for the most part you can get an excellent education in them. The caveat being parental involvement in the process. While my sons were in high school people would perform the usual rant that the public system is a failure, and I just didn't see where that was true. Both sons are now successful, intelligent and productive, one a physician and the other a documentary film producer. They both acquired the foundations for their careers in the Florida public school system with the direct involvement of their mother and I.

Parental involvement is the key.

mama_nomad said...

the problem is that i don't believe there is enough time to do all of those things. public school takes up more than 40 hours of a child's week. i just can't swallow separating kids by age, then making them all learn the same thing at the same time and hold them up to the same standard. we all know to only stuff we really retain are the things we are passionate about. for me its more important that i guide my children to follow their interests, create their own curriculum based on that, and that they be empowered learners capable of obtaining knowledge, driven by their innate curiousity and desire to learn, not be merely obediant students. i dont think public school can achieve that, too many hoops to jump through and in what i beleive is over-socialization. grouping masses of children the same age together in buildings for the majority of their waking hours is less like socialization, and more like institutionalization, in my humble opinion.

that being said if all of those that could home/un-school did (with great public and gov't support) and as a result the number of public school students dropped, then maybe they could become a less waste-of-children's-time establishment. they could start by dropping grades, mixing ages, encouraging child-led learning, "teacher" as mere facilitators and not authoratarian figures, and getting kids out of the classrooms and into the real world along with young children and the elderly, shadowing and apprenticing....
Then let colleges be public as well! i mean isn't that what most of us barf over about religion--spoon-feeding followers pre-determined "curriculum" and then being evaluated as "good" and "bad"? *shudder*

um, er....that was a rant and a half. i guess my point is compulsory education should be questioned and alternative schooling should be more supported/discussed, and even though most of us "survived" public school mostly unscathed, i don't think thats good enough. kids should be where they THRIVE, and the percentage of kids thriving in public school is way way way way too low.

i still love ya p-momma! ;-) sorry, this comment had nothing to so with religion...

Atheist in a mini van. said...

I don't mind the length at all, mama_nomad. :) And, we can certainly have different opinions on education.

Forty hours? Where? I'll use P#1 for the purposes of this exercise:
Adv. Percussion - 50minutes
Public School Curricula (on campus)- 4 hours (excluding lunch and passing breaks)
That's only four hours and fifty minutes.
Adv. science curricula - 45 minutes.
Five hours and forty minutes.

And, note that she has two extra-curriculars.
Homework usually takes another two hours, but that's at home.

P#3 is in Kinder and she goes from 8:15 to 1:45, with a nap time.
That's only 4.5 hours. Homework time? Maybe 10 minutes.

There's still a large portion of the day for me to fill in the blanks with some materials of my own. And, I'm not one of those who feels that homeschooling has to be particularly formal. P#1 and I watched a Dawkin's lecture on DVD tonight... I would consider that part of the homeschooling because we had new material introduction and discussion.

I think we *are* a bit different from most families because Mr. Possum and I are home 365 days a year with the exception of his teaching schedule (two nights a week, five hours). So, we're not having the kids go to school and then day care (which might equal eight hours). We decided to make the sacrfice of not making as much money to have the time. This time, for us, is invaluable. I realize we're in a totally unique and fantastic position to negotiate from, so...your milage may vary. But, for us at least, I'm not "grouping masses of children the same age together in buildings for the majority of their waking hours". :)

Like I said, I'm not an over-zealous fan of public education; there are problems. I'm not 100% pleased. But - it's not quite as extreme as some make it out to be.

amarullis said...

...what i beleive is over-socialization. grouping masses of children the same age together in buildings for the majority of their waking hours is less like socialization, and more like institutionalization, in my humble opinion.

You description sounds like it would prepare kids for what it will be like when they start working. Lots of people with different backgrounds and personalities, grouped together, that have to learn to get along. I don't understand how you can oversocialize a child. Undersocializing is something that I can clearly understand.
I think many families could fit in education in addition to public school, like limiting TV to educational programming and encouraging their children to read during their free time. Sadly not many seem not to care enough to do anything, which I think makes the child less enthusiastic about learning, and therefore makes public school less effective.

Chris said...

I can personally vouch for the effects of undersocialization. During most of my childhood, and especially the ones most important for child development and learning how to socialize, my mom was a very over-protective and fundamentalist parent.

If you've ever seen Richard Dawkins "Root of all Evil", then you've seen a glimpse of the ACE program. I was part of that for 3 years, 2 in an actual "classroom" setting (as seen in the documentary) and 1 in homeschool. To give you an idea of how impersonal the education is in the program, and how little socialization, you can get the same exact effect through the ACE program in either way. Both ways have you on your own (if you're in the "classroom" setting, then they put you in little cubicles), learning the stuff on your own from packets and you do your own grading / assessment. My three years in the program, I knew maybe 3 kids names, and very rarely even talked to them. I wasn't allowed to go play with other kids, other than very rare occasions when a parent was with us at all times (other kids are eeeevil influences). The year I was homeschooled, despite there being a school playground and a park down the road, even with parents with me I wasn't allowed to even get close to them.

I could go on about this. I did originally, but it got too long and "ranty", so I'll stop. Basically, during those years where children should most be able to socialize so they can learn the basics of how, I wasn't allowed to. On top of that, I was essentially told that it was something to avoid as the other kids are dangerous, spiritually if not physically.

The long term effects? I'm 25 and just in the last couple years have I started making my own friends. I do have some long term friends from middle / high school that I'm still in contact with, but I made those only because they started following me around...I've never felt comfortable meeting new people, I just don't know how. It was a pain in school (And I've been told by people in my graduating class..."I didn't even know you went here"), but it's even worse when you get into the real world where you need to at least pretend to get along with people and socialize with them.

I do understand there's a chance that I'm just natually shy, so I will give that idea it's fair chance at the explanation. But then, I take a look at which parent raised us mostly (mom) and see how social she is (not a bit). My siblings are also like me, though my sister is less so since my mom was less strict in her social freedom (and she was never homeschooled). My brother has it worse, as I can't recall him having any friends in the 17 years since we were taken out of public school and into the ACE program. On top of that, his "shyness" is so bad, he's dropped out of college and still has yet to hold a job. He tried living on his own for a while, until mom offered him free rent / food to come back to live with her (almost 24).

Homeschooling can be done right, I'm not going to kneejerk it and claim that since I had a negative experience with it everybody will. But I do believe that if a parent is going to homeschool their children, they need to do it right. Don't isolate the kids, try to offset the lack of social development they're getting by not being in a public school type setting as much as you can. Give the children some real education with actual goals, not some stupid packet to have the kid read through on their own. It can be done right, but it's so easy to do wrong.

ShadesOfGrey said...

Hear, hear about the middle-ground view.

We began homeschooling because our children have special needs (ds#1 started reading by about 1.5 yrs old, and ds#2 had sensory integration problems where large, noisy groups wreaked havoc on his ability to concentrate and function).

We use what can be labeled as an eclectic system, venturing neither into the "school-at-home" nor "unschooling" extremes. Ds#1, at 11, has already taken a university level class, and is currently taking high school level classes, and is a voracious reader of Scientific American, Sky & Telescope, plus various other academic papers that dh brings home. As with Eight Hour Lunch, we don't push our child; he is allowed the freedom to advance where he wants to because we don't force him to adhere to a specific curriculum deemed by some "educational expert" to be right for his age. Ds#2, even though he has mild autism, is keeping on track academically, and is much happier in the small-group settings (6 to 10 kids at a time)that we have him in.

As for socialization, I think that anyone who takes homeschooling seriously probably over-commits on that front. We have so many group classes and co-op offerings (in addition to Park Days, fieldtrips, special events, and parties) in our homeschool group that I need to find excuses not to book ourselves solid so that my introvert child can relax.

A huge bonus for me about homeschooling is that we can avoid all the religious trappings at school that happens all over the country and not just in our bible-belt midwest region - Christmas this, Easter that.

I always tell people that homeschooling is not for everyone, just like public schools are not for everyone. Both dh and I are products of public school (well, with me, it was both public schools and Catholic schools...shudder), but we feel homeschool is, so far, the best route for our kids.

As you pointed out, a bad parent is one who is apathetic to education, no matter whether they are keeping them at home or sending them to school, and doubly bad is a parent who shields a child from other points of view (whether it be religious or social).

Erp said...

A description of a family that mostly homeschooled back in the early 1800s. Though I don't have any children, I see the results as one thing to aim for in any education (a nephew who spent a fair bit of time in this household later became somewhat well known for overturning accepted truths).

"I never saw anything pleasanter than the ways of going on of this family, and one reason is the freedom of speech upon every subject; there is no difference in politics or principles of any kind that makes it treason to speak one’s mind openly, and they all do it. There is a simplicity of good sense about them, that no one ever dreams of not differing upon any subject where they feel inclined. As no things are said from party or prejudice, there is no bitterness in discussing opinions."
"They have freedom in their actions in this house as in their principles. Doors and windows stand open. You are nowhere confined. You may do what you like. You are surrounded by books that all look most tempting to read. You will always find some pleasant topic of conversation or may start one, as all things are talked of in the general family."

A son later wrote some instructions for teaching his children. "Children's eternal questions are very often troublesome enough and people are apt to check them either by dry cold answers or telling them to hold their tongues--now inasmuch as a child will learn twice as much of anything he is interested in, I look upon it that the answering questions readily and in a way rather to encourage than discourage them--is one very material branch of education....What one has to do is to give them all the information one can--in an agreeable shape and in a way that they will understand."

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Glad you're getting back up to snuff, Possummomma! I had a slight setback with my lupus because we had TMS during our recent vacation. (TMS = too much stuff; combined with FMS, Fear of Missing Something, it can be downright detrimental!).

I am a product of private and public education, and I think I did just fine. I also taught high school science and then elementary gifted in the schools. That was my 2nd career. I'm on my third now!

And I homeschool my special needs son. I have several reasons for that. The first is that I could not find a program within the public schools that could meet his educational needs or his social needs. He has Asperger Syndrome.He is also very bright. But with the dogma of inclusion sweeping the nation, he was placed in a classroom of 24 other kids with a general education teacher who had to try to meet the needs of a wide range of kids. She had no training in the education of the special needs kids (6 of them) in her class. She was supposed to have support--but that's an illusion. So he spent the first three weeks of 4th grade hiding under the table. He has great difficulty with noise and confusion, and with forced social interactions with too many people at once. He has sensory integration problems, too, and could not abide the lunchroom or the gym.

My second reason is NCLB. Although my son is very bright, he had difficulty with the extreme amount of testing involved. Three weeks of it in the third grade. I have a good deal of experience with statistics (I was an evolutionary biologist in my first career) and even I could see problems with test validity in that the tests were not standardized and yet they had too few items related to each skill to be truly "standards based."

We took N. out of school last year after four years of fighting the district to get the appropriate label--it matters!--and interventions for him. Our purpose is not to isolate him, but rather to provide meaningful social interactions for him, and to separate the "duel curriculum" that AS kids face in large classrooms where they have to try to cognitively process the social rules (neurotypicals do not--we respond naturally to social cues without being aware of them) as well as cognitively process academic content and skills.

We have found that our homeschooling adventure has been very successful. N. is much calmer, he is more confident, and he is better able to learn the social skills in smaller groups, such as the museum science classes, the Boy Scouts, Wilderness camps, the skate park, etc.

I do not fight about the quality of public schools. There is simply too much variation from place to place. But I will say that good teachers who are not close to retirement are becoming very frustrated with the NCLB lock-step curricula that focus on teaching to the test. Many of us are leaving the classroom, as I did, a year before we began homeschooling. As teachers, we know that what we are currently mandated to do is more and more looking like training, rather than education. This is a political problem and it will take time to fix.

At the same time, I do not argue that homeschooling will work for everyone or that everyone "should" do it. I dislike people who insist that everyone "should" live a certain way. Freedom means that people make the best decisions for themselves and their families.

To me, the odd thing is that I think that people who would be good homeschoolers are also the same people who do well by their kids in school. They care and they are involved. The univolved parents fail in either setting. So it seems to me that this is the real battle--not these false dichotomies about homeschool v. school.

Sue Doe-Nim said...


Don't be apologetic.

Any woman that has more children than fingers hasn't got time (or the brains) to properly educate her children.

I'm sure there are plenty of well schooled children at home but the ones who aren't won't ever know it because their parents are idiots.

aimee said...

I started to home school this year because we knew we would be moving pretty early on in the school year and I didn't want my kids changing schools again. Also my oldest has ADHD and we don't have him on medication, so he could use more one on one. Last year at their previous school, they would be up at 6:30 a.m. to be on the bus by 7:20, school started at 7:40 and my oldest which was in 3rd grade last year wouldn't get home until 5:30 p.m. 4 days out of the week. My husband would often beat him home from work. My son was put in an after school program to get him extra help which wasn't really helpful at all. That is an extremely long day for a 9/10 year old. From the time he got up till he got home, he put in an 11 hour day! Plus whatever homework he still had left when he got home.

Anyway, we will be moving to an area with one of the best school districts in the state of Colorado and I am wondering if my kids would be better off there than at home with me. I don't know how teachers do it day in and day out. I also have a toddler at home so it makes it difficult to get what they need to get done, done. Home schooling is definately not for everyone. Even for parents with the best intentions. If anyone has any advice though, I'd gladly take it.

Hound Doggy said...

If people would realize that MODERATION in all things is the key, we would all be a lot happier.

Laura said...

The problem that I have with homeschooling is that parents think that they (or often only one of them) can do just as good a job as dozens of people who have been through college specifically to teach in one particular setting. A kindergarten teacher has a degree in teaching young children, while in high school, the teachers for each different subject have had extensive training in those specific subjects.

I would never dare to presume that I could teach, say, a 12 year-old as well as six or seven different people can.

That's not to say that public schools are sufficient on their own. I attended public schools, but my parents were major supporters in my educational process, even as they both worked 50+ hour weeks. I was in daycare at six weeks old, but by my parents' involvement, I was reading by the age of 2 and doing math and writing by the age of 3.

Parents are important, but they aren't enough. I think that kids ought to be sent to school, not only to learn to socialize (not everyone can be a social butterfly, after all) but to take advantage of the people who have dedicated their lives to knowing how to teach them. When the kids come home, spend time with them, and help them in their education.

kat said...

Good post!

We have and continue to homeschool our kids. There are 8 of them, ages spread wide. One chose to go to public school in 8th grade, one went to a private high school (back when we had money for things like tuition). Right now, one teen is just about ready to start a class or two at the community college where I teach.

We might be dubbed "unschoolers" but I'm not big on labels. The kids prefer the term "learner-directed education" with a home base. Some of their education takes place in the larger community so I don't even like the term homeschooling so much anymore. It was okay at the start, 20 years ago, before the Christian right co-opted the movement. Even back then, we were out in the community quite a bit, doing things.

I always like to say that one reason to homeschool is to make sure they get taught evolution (we live in a very right-wing Christian community and some public schools don't even touch it) and get taught evolution decently.

We are actually one of those families some homeschoolers homeschool to keep their kids away from. The irony. We pioneered it in our area and that's the thanks we get! ;)