Musings on Home School

I have really enjoyed reading Julie’s comments about her day over at FMH.  She has a very fixed and vibrant determination about how things are and should be, which is quite refreshing most of the time (and grating a small minority of the time).  Her comments about home-schooling have made me pause and reconsider some things.

(I am writing them here because this is a "blog on life, family,", etc., and I have not been using it very often to air out thoughts like this. I used to get a nice release by blogging, but have been apprehensive lately about using the blogging tool. I saw an expert witness in a deposition once get slammed with questions about something he had written (probably as a joke) on his blog.  It was not pleasant, but that is a story for another day…)

Our oldest son is in public school right now (we homeschooled him for kindergarten). He really, really wanted to go so we let him. So far he is thriving in school (2nd grade)- reading well beyond his "level," (personally, I think they set the "level" too low) and he actually gets sent to another class for math because he is so far ahead of his peers on that.  He loves school, but they work him so hard there. Between school and his extracurricular activities (chess club, music lessons, athletics, and scouts starting soon), he gets so tired and worn out.  It doesn’t seem right for a seven year old kid to be so busy- and though he does have extra-curriculars a lot of that "busy-ness" and grinding comes during the day at school.

We are currently home-schooling our next oldest daughter for her kindergarten with the Oak Meadow curriculum: a sort of "waldorf-like" approach to home schooling.  Here in Texas, the schools have all day kindergarten, and there is no other option in our Plano School District.  The reason is that there is supposedly so much to learn before first grade that all day school is required to teach it to them.  That doesn’t seem to be accurate, though.  Anecdotally speaking, our oldest learned everything he needed (and apparently more) during no more than 2 hours of "formal" homeschooling most days of the weeks when he would have been in Kindergarten for 7 hours each day in the school district.  The main goal for home-schooling during kindergarten is to teach them how to read, do some basic math, and most of all, gain/maintain an appreciation of, as well as a sense of wonder for, books, nature, art, and music. 

We constantly toy with the idea of taking our son back out of school and home-schooling him again.  Julie’s post was a positive nudge in that direction, to be sure.  But homeschooling with four children just seems so daunting.  It seemed easier when I was in graduate school with a bit more time to take on my fair share of things, like Julie’s husband does.  I know I chose the big law firm life, but it frequently cuts into my family support time which would be so vital to home-schooling.  I am convinced that a successful home-schooling experience requires massive support from BOTH parents.  Just keeping the house up, keeping up with the kids lives, with church callings, with our friends, with work, etc., seem so daunting as it is. 

Many of my concerns center around the following questions:

Will the younger children (3 and 7 months) be a hindrance? Will our son be able to make friends (besides us)? Will other people in the ward look down their noses at us as that "weird home-schooling family" and spend their time on Sundays picking out odd traits in our children (which I can assure you would exist with or without home school) and attribute those traits 100% to homeschooling? Will we be dismissed as fanatics by friends and family? Will we have time to make a good go at it? Will we be so frazzled by the end of the day that we will go insane (it is kind of nice sometimes to have a break from the kids when they go to school…)? Will we get pressured/harassed by the state/school district to send our kids to public school? And finally, as romantic as home schooling sounds, is it really the best option for our children?

Some of these concerns are selfish ones- what will other people think?- but they are still considerations, at least for me. My wife does not worry so much about that one.

Some of the most well-adjusted and brilliant people I have met in graduate schools and in my career thus far were home schooled. These people are not just book smart, they have very innovative approaches to problem-solving and thinking. One reason I think our son is very good  at math is because we did not teach him mechanical rules for adding, subtracting, multiplying, etc. Rather, we taught him how to solve problems abstractly, by thinking outside the box.  The human mind is an amazing problem solver.  Of course, all of this can be done by parents of children in any educational situation, public, private, or at home.

The point is, I do think home-schooling can work very well when parents take the requisite care to really facilitate education.  For that matter, heavy parental involvement is key to success in any type of school, in my opinion.  Just some thoughts as we mull once again the prospects of home-schooling, and the dilemma we always face about it.

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7 Responses to Musings on Home School

  1. john f. says:

    For us, I just don’t think we would be able to do it. And the stakes are so very high that, for us, the mere idea of it is insurmountable.

  2. Julie M. Smith says:

    I enjoyed this post a lot. It sounds like you and your wife put a lot of thought into what is best for your children and that’s the most important thing you can do. (It also leads me to think that no matter what you decide, your kids will turn out find because they have attentive, reflective parents.) Here’s my take on the questions you pose:

    “Will the younger children (3 and 7 months) be a hindrance?”

    Of course they will be. I think we have to admit that 5s and that homeschooling reduces the quality/quantity of parenting that

  3. Jordan F. says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Julie.

    I probably am too worried about what other people think. There are a few homeschooling families in our ward (so a good support system there) who are doing a bang-up job. But I still hear people singling out those families’ children as “different” even though they seem no more different than any other kid- they just have their own quirks like anyone. They would probably have them no matter where they went to school.

    Sometimes I think they are scrutinized more carefully and critically then they otherwise would be just because they are home-schooled, and I am not sure I want people to dismiss my children that way just because of how we chose to educate them. I am not so worried about what people think of me, personally, but I do worry about my children being scrutinized more critically than others because people are “expecting” odd behaviors from them simply because they are home-schooled.

  4. After growing up amid a lot of popular myths about the church’s position on home schooling, I was delighted when the searchable CD-ROM containing all the Ensigns up to 1999 came out. I spent a long evening searching through every possible reference to home and private schooling, and found there is only one Ensign issue in 28 years where the topic of home schooling is directly addressed (don’t have my laptop with me right now, so sorry, I don’t have the reference).

    It was one of those “I Have a Question” topics answered by an academic specialist and the advice was essentially to weigh the pros and cons, pray, and decide what’s best for your children. No, there has never been any statement by the First Presidency urging LDS families not to withdraw their children from public schools because they need to be missionaries. There likely have been stake presidents or bishops who have made such statements, but I’ve come across no such statement by a general authority during the years when I heard people claiming “the church” took that position.

    Yet in my present ward, I have definitely come across the attitude that it is selfish of parents to keep their kids to themselves. One conversation about the deplorable condition of the local schools led a fine woman in my ward to say, “How are we going to turn the schools around if parents pull out all the good kids?”

    I realized this is a widespread atittude and it reveals the sad notion that good kids, not good adults empowered by good policies and good curricula, create good schools. Certainly a school filled with only well-behaved kids is going to be a fun school for teachers and students alike, but there are strong reasons to believe that even in those schools most of the learning is done at home, and most of the behavior problems begin at school. Well-educated parents always make up most of the difference for the inadequacies of a bad curriculum and a disruptive learning environment. Hence we have teachers’ unions that oppose home schooling while the same teachers insist that the secret to children’s success is parent involvement.

    Well, there’s no way for parents to be more involved in their chidren’s education than to home-school, yet that’s where the public teachers claim that we’re going overboard; that without their expert hands on the helm, our own involvement is wasted or even counterproductive.

    I recently married my Army-days sweetheart 16 years after we first met, and a big reason I was anxious to renew my once-frustrated intentions was because I learned she had become a home-schooling mom. The kids are 6, 8, 10 and 12 and they are wonderful. They all read well ahead of their grade level. They used expensive commercial curricula in the past, while today they are using the inexpensive and LDS-oriented Kimber curriculum, which seems at least as effective as the costlier ones and has the advantage of interweaving faith with academic subjects.

    I feel it a great privilege to give my stepchildren a better education than I got. I had to spend much of my adulthood unlearning warped attitudes about all types of things. I also had to spend most of my spare time reading about subjects I didn’t have time in school because of the cumulative man-years spent waiting for the rest of the class to catch up, walking between classes, waiting for the teacher to return with handouts, sitting in pointless pep rallies or watching videos because we had a substitute teacher.

    After my 8th grade teacher thought it was important for us to watch “China Syndrome” it took me 16 years to overcome the notion that nuclear energy was morally evil. It took me almost as long to realize that the pictures of cave men in the “ascent of man” posters were drawings based on someone’s unrestrained imagination and theories that weren’t really theories, rather than documentary evidence of our pollywog parenthood.

    It’s sad to consider how much mush my head was filled with, and how much study and discovery it has taken to get rid of some of it. Then why should I saddle my kids with a public education more warped than the one I got, send them to a school filled with violence and drugs and where there is no hair or dress standard (unlike where I grew up), just so I can call them normal?

    The teachers unions have stopped accusing home schoolers of being less educated, and that is telling. Instead they warn that kids will not become properly “socialized.” A home-schooling mom I recently interviewed for my paper said that her primary reason for removing her kids from public school wasn’t because she was worried that they wouldn’t learn — her tutoring could overcome that — but because of the social environment. The words the kids came home saying, the clothes they started wanting to wear, the blood that came home on their faces — those were the types of social lessons she didn’t want them learening.

    Home-schooled kids learn their social skills from adults, who themselves have generally imbibed skills in self control and politeness. Kids turned loose on each other make “Lord of the Flies” seem like prophecy.

    My advice is, weigh the pros and cons and pray, but among the cons don’t list “what other people will think of us.” There will always be a few who criticize, but there will be just as many who applaud you. They balance each other, I think.

  5. Jordan F. says:

    Preston:

    Thanks for the comment! I know I should not have the “what other people think” very high on my list, but some people who I really respect and admire (and want to have their respect in return) really, REALLY frown on homeschooling families. Your comment is encouraging to just discount their opinions on that.

    I do agree with the “Lord of the Flies” scenario. Of course, the other side of that argument is that they will have to face the “Lord of the Flies” scenario in the real world anyway when they grow up, and that mastering it in public school (where it is definitely a very, very real phenomenon in my observations) will prepare them to navigate better our dog-eat-dog world. To which I say, true, but do they have to be exposed to this as children? Don’t they already get some of this at Church, on their athletic teams, in their families and extended families, and in their circle of friends, some of whom will invariably attend public school anyway?

    Thanks for the encouraging words, Preston!

  6. Comparing both the “real worlds” of childhood in school and adulthood with the Lord of the Flies isn’t really accurate. Human capacity for good decision-making increases dramatically throughout the first 20 years of life. Also, the real world has many authority figures who can effectively exert their authority to try to change adult behavior (jails, firing, foreclosures, traffic tickets, lawsuits, etc.). Today’s schools no longer have much authority or ability to effectively discipline out-of-control children; because of that, the Lord of the Flies is an apt analogy for many present-day schools.
    We are thinking seriously of homeschooling our children until they show a developed ability to make good decisions – around age 8 or so. After that, we’ll probably do a mix of home, public, private, etc., depending on what best works for the family and the individual child at the time. (We don’t understand why people act like homeschooling is an all-or-nothing proposition; all forms of schooling have much to offer and there’s no obviously good reason not to use a variety of them.) That way, they’ll benefit from loving parental authority during some of their most critical developmental years. The actual “education” part of homeschooling doesn’t worry us too much since it really doesn’t take much time to give a child the skills and knowledge needed to be “past their grade level” – a rather low mark, I think, too.

  7. john f. says:

    the Lord of the Flies is an apt analogy for many present-day schools

    Ouch! But too true, Catherine. Thanks for the thoughts. And, as always, say hi to Weston for me.

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