Monday, March 19, 2007

Why we home-school FAQ

Not long after the birth of our first child, some good friends of ours began home-schooling their oldest school-aged child. Before long, the results were obvious. Their child began to excel at a rate beyond her peers. Some of it was due to here innate abilities, but we just could help but believe how much of it was due to the focused and customized attention her parents were able to focus on their child based on the child's abilities and interests. Based on my own experience as a student in the government school system and as a teacher in a private school, I knew that home-schooling was the most natural solution to the problems I had observed and pondered over the last 20 years of my life.

When we considered the nation-wide failure to deliver quality education represented by the massive social works programs of government school systems in our country, and that government-hampered competition has not yet produced many private systems that are both affordable and provide remarkable quality (although this is now rapidly changing with the emergence of University Model Schools), home-schooling became the apparent practical and economic solution to our desires and needs for our children.

Essentially, we home-school our children because we believe that no one else other than the parents of our children (that's us) comprehensively know what our children need and respond to best.

The following represent a few questions we have received over the years and how we respond to them.

How will your children learn socialization if they aren't around other children?
First of all, you are assuming that we have isolated our children from other children. That is not the case. Our children participate in church activities, local sports, and scouts. In addition, we have next-door neighbors who have children, and they play with them regularly. Childhood is a beautiful time of life, and we believe that children should play often with other children.

However, we do not believe that children should learn their life skills nearly exclusively and largely from other children. Traditionally educated children do learn their life skills by being associated with other children for the largest part of their waking day. Rather we believe that the purpose of childhood is to learn to be a successful and contributing adult. The best place to learn the skills required to be such an adult is in the presence of successful and contributing adults. In other words, we believe that children should learn their socialization skills from adults first and from children second. The best way for them to do this is to spend the largest part of their time with the adults who have a vested interest in their personal well-being and development. Children are not concerned about the development of other children nor do they have the life skills to know what are ultimately in the long term interests of other children. Only adults have such experience and skill.

Why don't you trust the public school system?
If I sent my children to a parochial or other religiously affiliated school, I would expect that the world-view of the body that organized the school to inculcate their values in their students. Education naturally entails a transmission of values. It is not value neutral. We personally do not agree with the values (or lack of them) being transmitted in the schools organized by the government. We simply do not trust that people who do not have a personal, vested interest in our children, and yet would have the largest daily influence on their lives, will attempt to inculcate the values we believe are important for our children to understand.

Secondly, most government bureaucracies do not exhibit a high degree of efficiency or accomplishment in achieving the goals that our Constitution established as the appropriate purposes of government. When you consider the overall state of decay in the current government school systems, the question really is: "Why do YOU TRUST the public schools systems?"

Won't your children feel left out if they don't get to participate in a school setting like their friends?
Actually, our children feel a high degree of pride that their parents have made many sacrifices to home-school them and that they are getting probably the best form of education available from the people that love them most. More often than not, they feel sorry for children that go to traditional schools.

Secondly, as a parent, we have to discern what is best for our children regardless of our children's feelings about our decisions. There are many things we withhold from our children that they often want that we believe are not good for them.

I know a family who home-schools, and their children are behind academically. Aren't you afraid that your children will be behind as well?
Currently, our children are performing at or beyond grade levels beyond their peers, depending on the subject. Unless we quit what we're doing or decline in our commitment, it's not likely that they will slow down or get behind.

Also, it is not rational to extrapolate a singular experience to an entire population. This type of thinking is the basis for prejudice and bigotry. Most measurable outcomes, such as academic achievement, generate a distribution of possible outcomes. The family you know may for many reasons simply be falling out on the lower tail of the distribution. There are many reasons that the family you know may not be excelling, and not all families are characterized by such reasons.

Statistically, home-school children outperform their peers in private and public school, in that order. They score higher on standardized tests, perform at higher grade levels for their age, and excel in national contests such as the National Spelling Bee and National Geography Bee. Statistically speaking, then, the desired outcome is on our side.

How long will you home-school?
As long as we feel it is appropriate.

It is important to understand that home-schooling does not necessarily imply sitting around the kitchen table for all learning. Home-schooling simply means that the family is the controlling moral, legal, and economic authority with the responsibility for educating our children. As such, we may opt for tutors and other collaborative educational groups as the need arises.

In October 2007, I took my son, Forrest, on a sailiing trip with a friend down the Atlantic coast. While on our trip, Forrest learned to navigate, take soundings, establish his bearings, and learn to tie knots from Pop. We saw numerous examples of wildlife rarely seen in the north Georgia mountains such as dolphins, sharks, bald eagles, osprey, and alligators. We had some great meals and some that were quite Spartan. We learned to cope, adapt, and make rapid decisions in a quickly changing enviroment. We learned how to suppress the inclination to complain in the face of sea sickness, cold wind, and peanuts for dinner. We realized just how insignificant we were in the grand scale of the sea and sky, and that regardless of how resourceful we were, we were still at the mercy of forces beyond our control. We relied on God to protect us and secure our faith in His grace. Like Odysseus, we recalled how much we love home and looked forward to getting there, enjoyed the friendship of great comrades (Jeff, the captain, and Pop, the first mate), and learned to embrace adventure. This was not schooling in the home, but a life-time enduring education on the high seas. If my son had been in government school, I could have been fined for what would have been an unexcused absence.

Aren't home-schooling families right wing religious nuts?
Many home-schooling families are probably rightly characterized as being religiously and socially conservative. However, many families are socially liberal, atheist, "left wing religious nuts", etc. In short, there are many reasons parents choose to home-school, and the diversity of the social/political/religious make-up of these families is reflected in the diversity of the reasons they choose to home-school. Many of the early families in the home-schooling movement were probably best described as hippies - hardly right wing religious nuts!

How do home-schooled children compare academically to children who go to private school or public schools?
Statistically, they exceed the performance of private and government schooled children.

Can your children get into college? Will they be able to compete once they get there?
Recognizing the superior character and educational accomplishments of many home-school children, many colleges and universities are now actively recruiting home-schooled children to attend their schools. These include Ivy League schools as well. Also, as the prevalence of home-schooling is increasing, many colleges are being established now that recruit only home-schooled children.

All the evidence indicates that home-schooled children continue to excel both in and beyond their college experience.

You were educated in public school. It didn't seem to hurt you.
While I agree that the government schools I attended were not devastating, I do not agree that the experience did not harm me. In government schools, I was under the tutelage of many lackadaisical teachers and administrators, constantly exposed to the disruptive behavior of children who did not receive appropriate guidance from home, and drilled in an academic environment that is considered by most of the industrialized world standards as substandard. In the government schools I was exposed to drugs, violence and sex at age-inappropriate times. The level of involvement and discipline I received from teachers and administrators was minimal and commensurate not so much with people who don't care as much as people who are overwhelmed with an impossible task and did not have a parental level of vested interest in my development and growth.

Would you please buy wrapping paper, candy, etc. to supplement our child’s school’s educational budget?
In addition to the financial burden we have undertaken to personally educate our children, we still pay federal and state taxes to support your child’s school’s budget. We haven’t asked you for additional support. Please do not ask us.

What do you think is the solution to educational reform?
It’s really quite easy. Education should be opened up to the same forces that efficiently deliver housing, transportation, food, clothing, labor, etc. at affordable prices; that is, the free market. The current government monopoly on education effectively masks price transparency through the use of taxes that are not directly associated with the services purchased. Consequently, most people think of government education as essentially free. It isn’t. In order for free market education to produce the same gains we have experienced in practically all other sectors of the economy, we need to open education up to competition through transparent pricing and the profit motive. Let people choose what their children are taught and the manner in which it is delivered without undue meddling from inefficient bureaucracies.

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