Saturday, January 26, 2013

Making Educational Confession

Where to begin.
Julia with her nemesis, Math. See how she draws, to make it more tolerable?
We've done it all. Two sons spend two years each in public schools, and not great ones at that. All four kids spent many years in private Christian schools, with average to mediocre results. And we've homeschooled eight years total. The girls both loved it. The boys both hated it.

I've always defended homeschoolers. Even when I was a high school English teacher vigorously defending the rigors of the classroom, I supported their right to homeschool. I'd admit that some homeschoolers did rather well, and that excellent homeschool parents probably produced the best students around.

Lately, I've voiced a kind and moderate opinion: "Homeschooling works for some families (or even many) but not for most."  Penelope Trunk says this is a mean-spirited, classist statement by homeschoolers. One of her blog commenters said this: "We don't say 'homeschooling is not right for everyone' to be classist. We say it to make people feel better because they are not homeschooling their kids. I suspect most people know homeschooling is better. Deep down." (much truth in this)

I'm not a huge Trunk fan, but here's another post by her, "The Real Reason Parents Don't Homeschool." She makes two big points: 1) It's a lie to say you can't homeschool because of finances.You're making your child pay the price so you can have the standard of living you want, and 2) The real reason parents don't homeschool is because they'd rather their kids be bored in the classroom than for the parents to be bored at home.

There you go. Penelope never pulls punches. Don't read her if you don't want to be slapped up a little.

I'm trying to decide whether I agree with her.

Is it true that people know down deep that homeschooling would be better for their kids? That they ignore that niggling voice inside that whispers to them, "You ought to be homeschooling"? Really? I do not find this to be true of the parents I know who choose classroom education. They're often content with their choice. But is their happiness delusional?

And is it true that homeschooling is the best choice for all children?

Teachers tell me they know this is not true, because they see their children learning, growing, and enjoying themselves, every day. But that's no proof. They could feasibly learn, grow, and enjoy even more, at home. How do you know until you try?

We did try with our boys. Both ended up in public schools briefly. I personally felt they suffered academically, socially, and spiritually  in the public system. I wish we'd made different decisions, but we didn't. I wish the boys had accepted being at home, but they didn't. Will permanent damage be done? Perhaps not, probably not. Did they have the best educational situation possible?  No.

That's the question parents must ask:  "If I'm willing to sacrifice, what is the very best educational situation I can give my children?" And since most parents don't know much about education, nor about the huge potential of homeschooling, they answer that question (if they ever ask it) in ignorance.

Is your child bored with school? Does she find joy only in the social or athletic aspects? Are the academics she's getting there valuable to her at all? Do you even know? Do you assume because she says she's happy, that her school situation is the best one for her? Do you simply not want to rock the boat? Is your child inwardly miserable every day at school? (I was. My daughters both were.)

A gutsy, engaged parent who's willing to shake up family life and take some risks, has phenomenal potential to give the child a massive educational boost, and enjoy it. Does your child need his educational experience "shaken up"? Would you like to rouse him out of his academic drowsiness? Appeal for one year to the thing he desperately loves? Travel with him for 6 weeks? Build a boat? Rebuild a car? Focus on horticulture, chess, rockets, dance, art, or ancient Egypt? If you assume this is impossible, you've just robbed your child of a chance to re-energize his life with wonder.

Most of our homeschool days are loosely scheduled, and full of reading, and groaning over math problems. That's just real life. But Julia's learning tons. And she likes it. (If she didn't, I'd try something else more radical.) And she also does a great art workshop, plays chess with friends, and gets to boat on the creeks, weekly. This, and playing with the dog all day long, makes her life magical. I know that literature, writing, art, and history are also still magical to her. That magic is what I long to retain.

I know from being the teacher in the front of the classroom that the classroom is about the best place to kill the magic. It's built into the system to kill the magic. Maybe I should write a blog post on that too. But it's true.

I haven't decided yet whether Penelope Trunk is right in her assertions. But I confess I'm thinking about.


  1. I am still thinking about your interesting and thought provoking post. I also read the Trunk posts you linked to - and confess I got a little irritated with her remarks- but I suspect that is because the system in the US is SO very different from that in the UK, and I do not really understand her perspective. It is much, much harder to homeschool here.

    The one phrase which leapt out at me was 'the girls loved it, the boys hated it' - but you never said WHY that was.

    The other issue which I haven't fully resolved is that of homeschoolers involvement with the community. Over here, the majority of HS kids really only mix with other HS kids - whose families have the same values as they do. It mattered to me that my children went outto school and met with a wide section of society, whose backgrounds and values were different. That helped them from a very early age to meet and to understand and respect others - and was also an opportunity for them to be the Christian 'salt and light' in their schools.

    PLEASE do not take any of this as criticism of your choices - which I appreciate have been made after much thought and prayer - I am just trying to understand the different perspectives on HS issues.

    Thank you for what you have said, and the way it is helping me to understand.

    Blessings on you and your family!

  2. Hi, Angela -- Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments and questions. I'll try to give answers, as much as I can.

    Regarding our girls and boys: the girls had had painful social experiences at school (which in turn affected their academics). Thus they loved the safety and escape from pain, at home. The boys? I'm not exactly sure why the older boy disliked it. He tolerated it for 2 years. He didn't ask for public school. I know he didn't like my classroom (having his mom as teacher) in high school, when I was teaching at a school. He needed no assistance to absorb information, and could be 100% self-taught. I think he was bored and unstimulated at home.
    Boy #2 had lots of conflict with his dad and claimed he needed more social scene. He is a very social person, or at least he enjoys lots of people around him. He's active, the type of boy who leans back in his school chair and thumps on the table to keep himself engaged. He hounded, nagged, cajoled, and threatened his dad, until dad caved, and sent him to school.

    Community and socialization: Trunk has some wonderful blog posts on these issues. She says (and it's true) that H.S. kids are more community involved than classroom kids. They have more time, their parents tend to be more involved, out-of-the-box people, who want their kids volunteering for community service. Trunk says that "socialization" just means learning to value people outside your family unit, and that H.S. kids actually learn this more effectively b/c their parents are intent to do it.

    Socialization (i.e. the peer group setting) in schools is awful, unnatural, and unuseful, IMO. At no other time in life will my kids spend all their day hours with humans who only happen to share their birth year. It's not natural to do so. A good H.S. family who gets out their front door even a few times a week, will do a better job at giving their kids a more normal social experience of knowing neighbors, store clerks, tutors, mentors, volunteers, or other families.

    Regarding "salt and light," I personally do not think children should be put into a pagan environment, immature and untrained as they are, and told to sink or swim, spiritually speaking. How many Christian parents actually evangelize at the workplace or marketplace? Yet we claim we want our 3rd graders to do this at school? Not really. I'd rather train them in their faith for 12 years, solidly, and send them out as salt and light when they're ready.

    But you're very right that Trunk is talking to a US audience, b/c H.S. is so hard in other countries. Trunk is not a Christian, I think. The H.S. community in the U.S. is increasingly diverse and mainstream. A religiously devout mini-minority no longer has to defend the practice. Millions of people homeschool here. If you put yourself mentally into that kind of situation, it might take away a few of the arguments against the method. That ... and the fact that our public system is so very bad.

    I hope that helps? I hope I didn't offend. Thank you for reading and sharing!

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  4. I think the key idea here is that you are thinking about it and you have always been thinking about it. You didn't just go with whatever the system told you to do. You tried this, you tried that. You learned things about your children, and they could be confident that you were deliberate in your actions and not making excuses for laziness of mind or heart.
    I would say, yes, that ideally homeschooling is best for everyone. But the reality is, many parents are not ideally prepared for the work, academically or psychologically. Many moms are low on emotional resources, and many dads are low on vision and don't support the moms. The society we live in can't be discounted as a huge factor at many levels, and battling the culture -- or creating truly Christian culture -- is not for the fainthearted.
    Many marriages -- perhaps most marriages -- can't stand the stress, though ideally :-) they would be strengthened by the effort. That's my assessment after being a home school support group leader for 20+ years.
    Then, about the boys-- one of my boys only did his best work when he had the competition of a classroom -- but that was in his teens. When he was 6 and 7 he couldn't take the social stress of school and had physical ailments resulting. Oh, he learned plenty when he was in the home school setting...but then he also had many men in his life mentoring him in various ways.
    Even admitting the negatives of the home-educating option, sometimes the child would be better off staying home learning nothing (an impossibility, of course) than being in the particular school setting.
    Each child is unique, each household is unique. That's why it's so important that each parent or parent-couple engage with these issues and decisions to be made for their own children.
    I appreciate the way you discuss many of these questions, M.K., and again, just that fact that you do discuss them, and have done.

  5. Thank you, Gretchen. I know you're right. P. Trunk is SUCH an idealist -- she's always pushing, pushing for the best, the maximum, the potential. She won't settle for less. It's a little contagious, and I forget that.

    Of course you are very right that there's an IDEAL, and then there's real life! So many families just couldn't handle the homeschooling lifestyle, I suppose, although after these years, it feels so natural and easy to me, I forget what an adjustment it is at first. So, I'd say that, in ideal situations, homeschooling would probably be best for every kid, and even in a somewhat-less-than-ideal situation, it's still best for most kids. Trunk would be disappointed in that, I bet.

    And you're right about the boys too. Both mine needed the social encounters, and perhaps (as you said) it wasn't really for social reasons, but for academic (or other) reasons. Worth thinking about.

  6. I agree with both you, MK, and Gretchen. I homeschooled five children for 28 years. My youngest, 14, is at a Christian school sponsored by our church where our older four all graduated. She is flourishing! She is by far our most social child and would die of boredom here at home with just me for company. Plus after homeschooling for so long, I'm tired and was glad to turn over her education to people much more qualified in their fields than I could ever be.

    My oldest daughter is going to be homeschooling her six next year. I may do an art class for them.

    I can say without a doubt that I'm very close to our children because of homeschooling. To me, that's the biggest benefit. My adult sons come up and hug and kiss me without a qualm. I've had many mothers say that wish their sons would do that.

    Homeschoolers are some of the most well-adjusted children you will ever see, because they aren't stuck with just their own age group for eight hours a day. I took my children everywhere with me. They were there when I picked up the young couple hitchhiking because their car had broken down. They were there when I brought the crying teenager home that I found standing in a convenience store because her parents had kicked her out of the house. And there are many more stories like that they were able to be a part of because they were with me. Life education is what they were getting.

    I get so tickled when my daughter comes home from school saying that her friends tell her that she knows the most random facts. Her history teacher will say a Latin quote, and Darcie will know what it means, or her English teacher will use some obscure word on a test and again, Darcie will know what it means, because I talk, and talk, and talk to her about things I'm interested in and learning.

    The key is to be a parent that loves learning and life and is interested in everything, or to find someone trustworthy for your child to be with that can teach them these things.

    I've never read or heard about Penelope Trunk, but from what you've said about her, I'm not sure I'll agree with her wholeheartedly. I probably would have twenty years ago, but now I don't think anyone can homeschool. There are many different situations people find themselves in that make that impossible. And some people are capable but unwilling.

    One thing I can say wholeheartedly and with much conviction. Our children would have never gone to public schools as bad as they are here in the US. I would rather they sit at home and teach themselves than to be in an institution where God is absent and Christianity ridiculed. We have friends in our church whose children go to public schools. I don't understand it or think it's right, but I don't condemn them anymore. I've seen God work in and through bad educational situations and the children come out just fine. Not that that takes away parental responsibility to do our duty and give our children a Christian education, but God can turn a bad decision into good results, and praise His name for doing it!

    Good discussion, MK! I'm off to read P. Trunk's blog.

  7. Debbie, I had a nice long response going, and then my computer crashed :( DARN! Oh well. Many thanks for the wisdom of your reply, based on so many years of experience! Trunk is fascinating, different, but young, and she bases her assessments on her own experience. She makes little allowance for others' weaknesses or limitations. But she's fun to read! I hope you enjoy browsing around her site.


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