Tuesday, July 16, 2013

It Takes More Than Love to Homeschool

Joanne Jacobs quotes Paula Bolyard in How Badly Can we Mess up Kindergarten:
“Parents, who love and understand their children better than anyone else in the world, are well-qualified to educate their children at home and should seriously consider taking on the challenge,” concludes Bolyard.

Well, actually, that's a very simplistic statement lacking in any knowledge of the realities of education, akin to saying that owning a box of tools is enough to fix the brakes on your car or that attending high school school in the 1970s is sufficient to call yourself an education expert.

Homeschooling is much more than just love and understanding. Anyone who goes into it feeling they "can't possibly mess up Kindergarten" and "screw it, that wasn't so bad, we'll just keep on going" is a fool.

Despite their stupidity, I would never argue that they be forced to give it up. They have just as much right to screw up their children's lives as anyone. Religion is the usual reason for homeschooling and seems to be a major reason here. Religious parents often wish to raise their children with more spiritual classes and teachings, which is fine. Some wish to avoid contact with children who don't share their beliefs, which is silly, but it's still the parents' choice.
But then I have a picture in my mind of my precious boys snuggled up with me on the couch as I’m reading Johnny Tremain to them. . . . The American Revolution is jumping off the pages and coming to life for them as Johnny helps Paul Revere warn that the British are coming! We have already read a couple chapters from the Bible that day, a chapter from a missionary biography, and have worked on memorizing Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem “If.”
I just hope that everyone understands that Johnny Tremain is fiction, not history, and that she can find someone to tutor math and science.

UPDATE (after PeggyU's comment):
"I struggled with discipline and consistency in my personal life; and of course, that spilled into our homeschooling world."
This is the first sign that this education is going to be less than ideal. Homeschooling isn't just a matter of eliminating the schedule and bustle of public school; it needs it's own structure. The children will take their cues from the parent, as they always do, but there won't be a counterweight.
"I struggled with frequent migraine headaches, so we planned a 4-day school schedule in order to allow an extra day for my health issues."
The number of days isn't the issue here, but the reasons are. This woman isn't prepared for this task and, subconsciously at least, seems to know it.
"We worked through learning disabilities and speech therapy and the year we all now laugh about and refer to as 'Algebra with Anger.'"
As a high school math teacher, I cringed at this line. The biggest problem I have is the residue of math fear left by previous teachers. It takes weeks, sometimes months, for me to break through that and get the reluctant to try, to realize that they DO know some math and that they CAN learn it.
"It wasn’t pretty and we’re not proud of it, but I remind myself that lots of kids in public schools went through much worse things in 9th grade than a grumpy dad with a whiteboard who worked an 8-hour day and, after an hour commute, tried to teach algebra to an uncooperative student. (I don’t recommend it.)"
Yeah, and some kids had lost their fathers in Afghanistan while some are orphans, and others got beat up on the school bus. This is rationalization, self-delusion and denial, and total bs. Instead of admitting they had reached a limit, they forged on regardless.
... we had both completed first grade in school, so we surely possessed at least a rudimentary grasp of the course work, right?
... we used the curriculum because we didn’t know any better ...
... other parts of the curriculum were too structured for our more laid-back family style ...
... you can find a curriculum that fits your individual family and your kids’ learning styles ...
There are too many misguided educational tropes here leading to one more kid, screwed over by his parents.
Homeschooling can be a wonderful, rewarding experience for a family and, I believe, the best educational choice for many — if not most — families. 
Except if you want the kids to get a decent education. Unqualified and unknowledgeable parents do not make good teachers. A rare few percent of homeschool kids can succeed on their own, but they're the exceptions to the rule.
Parents, who love and understand their children better than anyone else in the world, are well-qualified to educate their children at home and should seriously consider taking on the challenge.

Oh, well. As I've often said, the public school system is provided by the community for any of its residents who choose to make use of it. It's too bad this family chose the way they did but I guess they're satisfied.


  1. You make it sound so bleak! :) No, love is not enough - but it does at least provide motivation, which is generally needed for success. I have found that most of the home schooling parents I know, if they feel over their heads in a subject, will trade off with another parent who has the knowledge to fill the gaps. Many parents also sign their kids up for classes organized through homeschool associations or churches. In our particular case, our sons took classes from certified teachers who moonlight at the church, but who also work at a local community college.

    Where we live, there is a thriving homeschool community which is more culturally and philosophically diverse than you might think (by virtue of the large number of families involved, and the fact that there are a significant number of immigrant families). Maybe that support makes the difference. The one thing we do seem to have in common is the desire to be more involved in our children's education. That doesn't necessarily mean isolating, smothering, or inhibiting them. In this day and age, it is difficult to shelter kids from what some would view as cultural degeneracy; better to address issues openly. In my son's debate group, families sometimes discuss morally loaded topics, and since these families come from various religious (and one non religious) background, I think we all benefit, adults included, from hearing alternate views. It is certainly acknowledged that our common goal is to raise people who have a conscience, as well as academic skills, and so that is deliberately included as an aspect of teaching. That teaching simply can't be expected of the public school system.

    Are "religious" parents intellectually stunted - or is that an over applied stereotype? It really depends on the family, and they don't all fit neatly into a mold. I don't think the faithful hold a monopoly on ignorance, but I will also concede that there may be homeschooling families whose extreme religious practices prevent them from interacting with strangers. I have to tell you that, by and large, the people I have met through homeschooling seem to be more informed and literate than the public as a whole. None - and I do mean absolutely none - of the parents in our homeschool group would mistake Johnny Tremain for "history".

  2. I appreciate your deconstruction of this family's approach to schooling. It does not sound ideal. However, several of the home schooling families I know - ours included - have chosen home schooling at least in part because of very unpleasant experiences with public schools. I decided I'd rather work with my kids than fight with school administrators. I feel as though it has worked out well and has been largely rewarding.

    You can home school your children "except if you want the kids to get a decent education." Do you really believe that? I was advised by a veteran teacher whom I respect to take our boys out of school and teach them myself. Even then, they took some online classes from a public school. Ultimately, we also opted out of that after we realized that our 6th-grade son had better grammar and spelling skills than his teacher. I was very surprised to learn that the teacher had an English degree. He's not the only poor public school instructor our kids have had. I won't bother you with the details, unless you want them. Our kids' public school experience was very uneven. (You, yourself, have dealt with this. Your comment about removing the "residue of math fear left by previous teachers" indicates that poor public schooling can impede learning as effectively as poor home schooling can.)

    That being said, I believe that some students can get a good public school education, but it's only likely if the parents are involved and somewhat know the ropes. It also doesn't hurt to have connections in the school's administration.

    I would like to mention that I have tutored the children of school teachers, and that two of the parents in our group are ex-public school teachers who now teach privately. Most of the other parents have college degrees. And, as I have said before, home schooling doesn't always (or even usually) mean a parent is the only teacher. The families I have known trade off teaching, hire private tutors or enroll their kids in privately taught classes. Our youngest son belongs to a club started by a professor at a nearby university, and he has benefited academically from that association. Learning is just something we want to do, as a family, and we don't have to function within the restraints that are imposed on public educators. I like that freedom. But I also appreciate that other families prefer public schooling, and I don't see the need for antipathy.

  3. "Homeschooling can be a wonderful, rewarding experience for a family and, I believe, the best educational choice for many — if not most — families." I replied to that statement ... "Except if you want the kids to get a decent education. Unqualified and unknowledgeable parents do not make good teachers. A rare few percent of homeschool kids can succeed on their own, but they're the exceptions to the rule."

    And I stick to that. I do not believe it's good for "many, if not most families" because many, if not most, families don't know jack-diddly about teaching. It's this idea that anyone can be a teacher that is so destructive. Sure. there are some who can, but they're a vanishingly small minority and they're already doing it. It's why so many people point to those who are succeeding and say "Look at all the successes, so I must be able to as well", not realizing that those people are the ONLY ones who can do it.

    I'm not knocking homeschoolers ... I'm knocking people who shouldn't be homeschoolers but who can't admit it.

  4. I would like to know what that "rare few percent of homeschool kids" who succeed is. How do you define "success"? Where may I find an unbiased study that compares education outcomes for these two groups of students?

  5. You may be correct that the majority of parents should not do this alone. I realize that the people I work with are not a good sample of the general population, and there are likely more uneducated people out there than I am routinely exposed to. I would be surprised, though, if those same people would be likely to attempt schooling at home. According to the Department of Education's site, only 2.9% of families do this. The number is growing, but I don't see it being a huge threat to public education. Of those who are homeschooled, again according to the Department of Education, a strong majority of families who do this are white and come from two-parent households which are able to afford it. That would mean that most of them belong to a class of people we are told is privileged. Their loss of a quality education is someone else's gain. The disadvantaged stay in public schools, where they can receive the better education. If children are removed from the classroom, shouldn't class sizes decrease, and shouldn't this improve the education of the remaining students? The resources will be focused where they are most needed, and social justice will be achieved. Homeschooling families don't get a tax break, so there shouldn't be a drop in school funding. If there is, it is because of how legislators allocate the tax dollars, but that is a discussion for schools and the government. Put the responsibility where it belongs.