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Rethinking Education

After my son was first born, I remember spending hours snuggled up with him, enjoying the feel of his soft skin, and that fresh baby smell. I took pleasure in the newness of motherhood, and reveled in my feelings of protectiveness and love. In those early days I indulged in daydreams about all the things we would eventually do together; I developed this vision of how I wanted our lives to be, and the opportunities that I wanted my children to have that had been lacking in my youth.

During that time, one of the things that caught my attention, were my feelings about my experiences in public schools. I felt that public schooling had few positives to offer me, and many negatives, so I began to worry about how these things would potentially impact my son and my future children. My hopes for my children have always been for their childhood to be centered in family, and for them to learn through living. Ultimately, I felt like those things couldn’t thrive to their fullest in the public school system, so I began immersing myself in research, trying to learn about alternative forms of education.

The information that I found astounded me, and the culmination of my exploration into the world of education, left me with the conviction that homeschooling would be the best choice for us. For parents that are concerned about the quality of their children’s education, homeschooling provides many of the things that seem hard to find in our public schools; the potential for quality-rich curriculum, approaching children as individuals with different learning styles and needs, and a more positive social environment for children to grow.

Public education has always had the goal of being “a pathway to opportunity” by giving education to all children, many of which might not have otherwise had any (Ravitch 241). While this is a noble goal, and a necessary part of society, we seem to be missing the mark on giving children an education of worth, as we rank average in education among other developed countries (“USA Today”). In her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Diane Ravitch, the former Assistant Secretary of Education writes, “At the present time, public education is in peril. Efforts to reform public education are, ironically, diminishing its quality and endangering its very survival. We must turn our attention to improving schools, infusing them with the substance of genuine learning and reviving the conditions that make learning possible” (242).

The president, leading experts in education, teachers, and even parents admit that our education system isn’t working for our children, but no one can seem to agree on the best ways to implement positive change. School reforms that actually work could still be many years off.  For those of us with school-aged children, these reforms might not come into effect until after our children have graduated.

Our current reform, No Child Left Behind, has it’s main focus on accountability and assessments of schools, teachers, and curriculum, which is judged primarily through statewide-standardized tests. (Popham 14 -18) In theory, holding our schools to a higher standard sounds like an excellent idea. However, since the implementation of this reform, there has been great pressure put on schools to show adequate yearly progress through testing scores, else they are labeled as “failing.” This has influenced many schools to follow strict curriculum guidelines, with the purpose of bringing up test scores. While other schools flounder with no set curriculum, leaving children to a “regime of basic skills and no content at all” (Ravitch 237). Emphasis has been put on the subjects of reading and mathematics, leaving less time for history, science, music, art, and physical education (Rubenstein).

Programs, such as these, don’t allow for variation or creativity. There is no flexibility, as the structure of the system is built around “average” children. This leaves many falling through the cracks. The innovative teachers, the ones willing to think outside the box and inspire learning, are the ones we most want to be teaching our children. Yet, many of those very same teachers don’t stray from the rigid rules set forth by administration for fear of being labeled “failing.” This results in children and teachers with little enthusiasm for school.

 Horsey, David. “Dismal learning is not the path to success” Cartoon. Seattlepi 7 Oct. 2010. Web.

There are amazing teachers in the public school system, schools that are above average, and even entire states that seem to fair better in the department of education, than the rest of the country. Sadly, we have little way of guaranteeing that our children fall into the category of youths that receive those benefits. We are bound by the school district that our homes sit in, and by the teachers assigned to our children. It is a small majority of people that can pick up their homes and move, just for the right to be in a better school district. Ultimately, we have no choice in the quality of education our children receive in school, leaving us with only the hope of lucking out.

As of 2007, the government estimates that there are 1.5 million children homeschooling in the U.S. In the four years since those figures were acquired, that number has likely grown considerably, as homeschooling has become more widespread (Toppo). While you lack in choices in public schools, you overflow with choices in homeschooling. Today, due to the popularity of homeschooling, there is no end to the options you have in curriculum for your children. All children learn differently, and families prescribe to different methodologies when it comes to education; there really is something for everyone. You could spend hours just researching the different philosophies, and investigating the curriculums available.


We are all individuals. Do you know anyone in your life that is exactly like you? Someone that learns the same way you learn? Someone that enjoys or excels at the same things you do? Well, children are the same way. One might excel in language arts, and flounder in mathematics. One might be an overall slower learner, or someone that churns through new concepts at a fast pace. You have to meet children where they are at in their learning, if our goal is to have well-educated children. With classroom sizes of twenty students or more, how can public school teachers accommodate everyone equally?

Children instinctively want to learn; sometimes this instinct seems to be defused in the school system. Children are typically in school six to seven hours per day, and can sometimes look forward to upwards of two hours of homework time at night depending on grade level, and the curriculum being used. When you are homeschooling, you can free up many hours in the day for self-motivated learning. Self-motivated learning is one the biggest qualities I aspire to instilling in my children, because I feel that is how information is best remembered. Think about the things that you know the most about; even as adults, we tend to retain the things that we actively sought to learn.

When self-motivated learning is encouraged, and then flourishes, it never fails to amaze me what you will see children accomplish. When left to their own devices they might take on projects like writing and acting in dramatic plays, starting websites or blogs, building and repairing computers, wood working, community service, and other experiments in life. It isn’t unusual to see them start their own businesses at a younger age. I once met a very impressive 9-year-old homeschooled girl, running an exhibitors table at an event, selling beautiful jewelry that she had created. She was quite passionate about her work, and for me that was a perfect example of what I wanted for my children as they grew.

Proponents for public schooling tend to hold strongly to the belief that being in the school system is the only way to socialize children; homeschoolers don’t know how to interact with people or function in the “real” world. I wonder if being surrounded by their still-maturing peers for the majority of their time is really socializing our children in a good way? The socialization of our children in violence, profanity, drugs, peer pressure, and blatant sexuality are very realistic expectations during the school experience.

Bullying in schools has become an epidemic in the United States. Although, not a new problem, the far reach of the Internet has made it possible for bullying to follow children home, and suicides caused from bullying are showing up more frequently in the media. According to a 20/20 special called Bullied to Death in America’s Schools,  “160,000 kids per day miss school because they are too afraid to go. (Dubreuil, and McNiff)” This is a very disheartening number to me, and realistically it is important for people to understand that many kids that are being bullied do not speak to school faculty or parents about the problems they’re having.

It is the responsibility of you, as parents, to ensure that your children are exposed to a variety of different social situations, and have the opportunity to grow friendships. Homeschooled children actually tend to spend more time in the “real” world, while other kids are stuck in an institution for the majority of their days. They interact and form friendships with children of all ages and backgrounds, as well as adults. It has been my experience, as a public schooled person, and someone that has been living quite successfully in the “real” world for many years now, that there is not much correlation between your experiences in school, and the ones you will have once you are no longer there. Now we have new longitudinal studies that are showing that, “Not only are home-schoolers actively engaged in civic life, they also are succeeding in all walks of life” (“Washington Times”).

The social outlets available to homeschooled children are numerous, especially when you live in an urban area, you tend to have multiple options on groups to associate yourself. The size, goals, and philosophies of individual groups will vary, but typically you can expect a sense of friendship, support, and community within them. They plan outings, such as park days, field trips, and parent’s events; while some other groups, like cooperatives, may have parents volunteer to teach classes for the children in subjects that they excel.

My family keeps membership with a large homeschool cooperative, which has about 90 families total. Very diverse families make up our group, and it has been an amazing resource for us. Every Wednesday morning, my son takes three hours of classes, taught by other parents. This affords us the benefit of being able to spend time with friends, take advantage of the knowledge base of others, and gives my son the experience of a “school-like” setting, in which he is learning how to take instruction from someone other than my husband or myself.

Picture from my son’s Fun with Nature class, performing community service by cleaning up the park.

Another strongly held assumption is that parents do not have the ability to adequately teach their children at home. Although, I don’t believe testing is the only way to determine how much a child knows or how successful their schooling has been, the most recent large scale study done on the success of homeschoolers showed that, “the average home-schooler scored 37 percentile points higher on standardized achievement tests than the public school average” (“Washington Times”).

You are your child’s first teacher, and regardless of whether you have any specialized training in teaching, no teacher will ever know or understand your child the way that you do. This within itself offers a strong foundation to build a child’s education upon. We are parents. We will never get things just right, all the time. We will make mistakes, and we will learn from them. We can always look for help; resources for parents abound, including the Internet, tutoring, and online school options with access to experienced teachers. If you need it, you can find it! You should view homeschooling with your children as an adventure, one where you both learn and grow together.

Lastly, some people feel concerned about homschooled children’s ability to get into college. As the number of homeschooled children rises, more colleges actively seek them for their schools; you will find no shortage of colleges working tables at large homeschool conferences around the United States. Colleges are also reaching out to these children in other ways, such as advertising in homeschooling magazines, and offering specialized scholarships.  Prestigious schools such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and MIT, now all accept homeschooled students, making the choice of colleges for students fairly unlimited (Romanowski 127).

Homeschooling is a time investment, and is surely not one that every parent can or would be willing to make. It requires that you spend most of you time with your children, which let me be honest, can be emotionally and physically draining at times. This is a huge commitment, aside from doing actual schoolwork, you also have to take on lesson planning, field trips, and researching topics on which you need a better understanding; it can be a very timely exploit.

Every parent has to choose what will work best for their family; maybe homeschooling isn’t for your family. Parents can offset some of the potential negative aspects of public schooling for their children by keeping the lines of communication open. Talk to your children, and see if there are areas that they are struggling. You can involve children in extra curricular activities, community services, and tutoring as you feel your children need or would enjoy doing them. There are also other education options, such as charter schools, private schools, and schools of educational philosophy, like Waldorf or Montessori. Remember that all of life is an educational experience, and take advantage of those teachable moments!

My son is in Kindergarten now, and we are only in the beginnings of our homeschooling journey. Having experience in reality, and not just in theory, has left me with many revelations. I must confess, homeschooling can be hard, and is rarely convenient. There are days when I just want to give it up, days when I want to cry in frustration, and days that we fight.

Then, there are those moments that make it feel worth it; we have our leisurely mornings, still snuggled in bed when the school buses drive by, our impromptu educational moments, and all those times that we get to experience as a family that would otherwise be lost. Though, my absolute favorite moments are the ones when my son realizes he just learned something new, that he “gets it,” and the look of pure joy and elation that I get to see on his face. That is when I feel like I come full circle, and I know that despite some of the sacrifices, ensuring quality education and experiences for my children, and living life experientially with them is worth it.

* This is an academic paper, originally written for one of my English Composition classes. 🙂

 

Resources

Types of Homeschooling

Charlotte Mason

Classical

Eclectic

Montessori

Online

Traditional 

Waldorf 

Unit Studies

Unschooling

Books

Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything

The Everything Homeschooling Book: All you need to create the best curriculum and learning environment for your child 

The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home

The Unschooling Handbook : How to Use the Whole World As Your Child’s Classroom

Websites

Homeschooling Reviews – Reviews on curriculum

Rainbow Resource Center

Home School Legal Defense Association

 

Works Cited

Dubreuil, Jim, and Eamon McNiff. “Bullied to Death in America’s Schools.” ABC 20/20. ABC, 2010. Web. 23 Feb 2012.

. “HOME-SCHOOLING: Socialization not a problem.” The Washington Times. N.p., 2009. Web. 23 Feb 2012.

. “In ranking, U.S. students trail global leaders.” USA Today. The Associated Press, 2010. Web. 24 Feb 2012.

Popham, W. James . America’s “Failing” Schools: How Parents and Teachers Can Cope with No Child Left Behind. 1st ed. New York: RoutledgeFalmer, 2004. 14-18. Print.

Ravitch, Diane. The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education. 1st ed. New York: Perseus Books Group, 2010. 237-242. Print.

Romanowski, Michael H. “Revisiting the Common Myths about Homeschooling.” Clearing House. 2006: 127. Print.

Rubenstein, Grace. “No Child Left Behind: The Good And The Bad.” Parenting . Parenting Magazine, n.d. Web. 23 Feb 2012.

Toppo, Greg. “More higher-income families are home schooling their children.” USA Today. USA Today, 2009. Web. 23 Feb 2012.

 

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