Monday, November 02, 2015

Why our family believes in homeschooling

My wife and I began homeschooling our children a few years ago. It has been one of the best decisions we have made for the benefit of our children. Our children are learning faster, better adjusted, and have more social interaction with other students than when they went to public school.

The Common Core curriculum, which is now being forced upon teachers and students in schools across the country, is using students as guinea pigs. We choose to not participate.

Many good teachers and many thoughtful parents I have spoken with agree firmly that the standardized tests have been a disaster. It has forced schools to teach to the tests, to the great detriment of students’ overall education.

Schools are dropping untested subjects such as art and music. After all, why provide art and music classes? They aren’t tested. Yet, it’s self-evident that art and music are necessary to become a well-rounded person, and they complement science and math, as many a scientist will testify.

Schools are no longer emphasizing creativity and critical thinking (to the extent that they ever did). Why not? Because such things are not tested.

Common Core has promoted a form of national mediocrity when what many children really need is teachers who are free to tailor the curriculum to the individuals, rather than force the individuals into an increasingly standardized little box.

Homeschooling in its pure form as well as variants such as online high school is doing just fine. Homeschooled children who learn at their own rate and often have virtual lessons, are ahead of their peers in government schools.

Many (though not all) charters are outshining the average public school because of the ability to customize coursework to the individuals.

Most private schools are showing the same difference.

How long before government at all levels wakes up to the idea that competition makes a difference, and the Bismark model of public schools is in epic fail mode? Try parent vouchers to any school or homeschool of their choice? Why not? Every solution by government has wasted resources and time with declining quality.

Far too many inner city schools that mostly serve poor minority populations simply cannot be compared with suburban districts where the achievement level is miles above them. These schools will require stricter discipline, clear lines beyond which students must not pass, and a pervasive belief that the students can and must do better.

This belief does exist idealistic teachers who tend to get chewed up and spat out by a cynical bureaucracy.

Individuality and self-reliance are American virtues which have made us a great nation. We should not disregard these things lightly.

Schools in the 1940s may not have been pleasant places, but they had much higher standards than today. Students who misbehaved faced real punishment both at school and at home. Teachers educated generations of hard-working scientists, engineers, historians, and well-rounded people who could speak and write correct English. They achieved all of this without the red herring of standardized testing.

No amount of heavy-handed federal tinkering and mandates is going to fix the problems in our public schools. It has to come from the grass-roots, the local communities, who must be involved in their local schools and demand better results from them.

Attempting to dictate from on high what schools can and must do to educate our children is doomed to failure. The nature of the students, resources, and school personnel available is too diverse to be managed according to top-down commands or administrative guidance.

Standardized tests are lousy, true, but every other method currently in use is worse, with many worthless at best and some impossible to apply uniformly or equitably.

Holding teachers responsible for student performance is not unfair. Teachers are responsible for student performance, and should be rated on how they handle that responsibility.

Yes, parents (and their DNA, and culture, and encouragement) and community involvement and a host of other things are important, but the teacher is where “rubber meets the road.” If one cannot obtain traction, it’s time for a replacement.

The results of nationwide standardized tests of those about to graduate from high school tell me that students are doing no better today than 40 years ago, and with the percentage of those graduating down slightly (losing presumably mostly those who would score lowest on the tests) it looks like things actually are worse.

And this despite the cost of education per student having quadrupled in real terms over that period. That far outpaces inflation, so you cannot tell me that funding is the problem.

One more point. There has been an exodus of good teachers from the public school system all across the country. All the teachers who have the choice are quitting or retiring in droves because they too have come to the conclusion that the common core curriculum, as well as continued pressure for a centralized federal school system is hurting education.

We have 5 children. Our two youngest have always been homeschooled, while the three oldest had become bored and unchallenged in the public school system. They all work at their own pace, are tested more frequently to ensure that they have absorbed the material, and record all of their work on-line.

Guess what? To everybody’s surprise, they are completing their work in an average of 4 hours a day. I see this as an opportunity. I’m helping my children conceive of a business to start with their extra time–a much more practical way to apply themselves.

All in all, homeschooling is a win-win for us, so far.

Homeschoolers are consistently among the very best students. While I have no research data of my own to support my conclusions, I have ample anecdotal evidence that college students who have been homeschooled outperform their public school counterparts in both technical skills (writing, grammar, mathematics, historical knowledge, awareness of current affairs) and — more importantly — analysis, reasoning and critical thinking.

If I were running a college admissions office, I would be making a concerted effort to recruit these well-prepared young people.

I offer the following observations concerning homeschooling:

1. Virtually every study I’ve seen shows that homeschooling produces children with test scores that are above children with a public school education.

2. A significant determinant on how well a child does in any school setting is the amount of parental interest and involvement. So, in one sense, the homeschool population is self-selecting. It obviously does not mean that those who are public schooled do not have parents that are interested or involved, it just means that if one is going to homeschool then one most likely is highly interested and involved in the child’s education.

3. Homeschooling does offer flexibility in tailoring a child’s education in ways that is hard for a public or private school to match. Whether or not that is a good characteristic depends upon one’s viewpoint.

4. Homeschooling does lend itself to a more “sheltered” environment than does a private school which lends itself to a more “sheltered” environment than does a public school. Once again, whether or not that is a good characteristic depends upon one’s viewpoint.

5. The courts have held repeatedly that homeschooling is legal in this country (interestingly it is not legal in all countries – Sweden, China and Germany come to mind). If nothing else, this fact allows additional comparisons to be made between the different education models being utilized in the various settings. It should also allow educators (home, public, private, university, etc.) to see if changes could be made in the various education settings to utilize what works well.

6. Homeschooling does tend to raise eyebrows and emotions whenever it comes up.

7. And in the interest of full disclosure, we are Christians and yes we have taught both the Genesis as well as the “Big Bang” origin accounts to our children. We have also taught that all of humanity is imperfect and as a result one should not treat any other human any worse or better than any other because we all far short of what we are supposed to be.

When it comes to the socialization issue, I know dozens of homeschooled children (including my own) and can tell you from first hand experience they are as normal, well-adjusted and confident as any other kids I’ve interacted with.

On the other hand, public school exposes these children to vulgarity, drug use, sexual promiscuity, relative value-schemes, liberal indoctrination, history revisionism, dogma portrayed as science (see global warming, oh I mean climate change), and many other evils.

What is amusing is that so many adults ask this question “aren’t you worried about your children’s social skills?” Yes, absolutely which is the biggest reason that we homeschool them.

Public schools have embraced education without morality, and the social skills that children learn they learn from other children, not from teachers. They learn the social skills of the pack, of dog eat dog, shame, groupthink, and meanness.

Too many kids in public school learn that to be in, you have to use meth, or pot, or coke, perform any variety of sexual acts and act like it’s nothing. Some public school kids learn nothing but contempt for their parents, because they don’t get you and all your friends.

And more than anything you have to reject any and all forms of Christianity, because only a fool could believe in God.

In the end, many of these highly socialized public schoolers, are so lost and so well socialized they believe in nothing, and fall for anything. They have no core values and have been taught to despise themselves, their parents, and their nation.

The silliest aspect of the “socialization” question is that it makes the preposterous assumption that the social interactions of the high school environment prepare one for the real world. I have been a professional for over 25 years, and have never worked in a successful organization that was anything even remotely like high school, although I have seen some of those behaviors.

When I have seen them they have been a key aspect of organizational or dynamic failure that was painful to see or interact with.

High school “society” is an utterly artificial environment which resembles few if any professional or social environments in which adults can expect to participate. This may be why so many high school super stars go on to flame out in real life.

High school “socialization” takes most young adults years to recover from, why would any sane parent subject their child to that hell?

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