After receiving some comments yesterday and writing some e-mails, especially to some blog friends that I SO like and respect, I decided to use the Friday Fifteen to address some possible misconceptions about homeschooling and traditional schooling. I feel I have some things to say on this having been a professional teacher for more than 25 years. I've worked in public school, private school and home school settings. I've taught children in the former Soviet Union. I've been on several national education policy projects. I've participated in countless national e-mail lists of teachers and of home school teachers/parents. I've been an active member of several national education organizations. I have two advanced degrees in education. Despite all this, what I'm writing below is just one teacher's observations. These are MY experiences. I hope I don't offend anyone - this is a post that is simply in the spirit of information:
1. The first home schoolers I knew were my cousins. They lived in a geodesic dome that they built themselves, ate mostly from their own garden, conducted a family business out of their home and integrated all of their learning experiences within their day. Their children learned to cook, balance books, do carpentry, write well, compute, and do artwork. They were all allowed to go to public school when they wanted to. Two opted for starting in high school. One started school in 4th grade, and one started in middle school. As adults one has four children and runs her own business as a single mom, one is a professional chef, one is a dance instructor at a community college and the youngest is still in college. Their parents wanted home schooling because they didn't feel that their rural community would provide the kind of rich education they envisioned for their children.
2. We chose to home school for six years because my ds had some serious learning issues, was traumatized by certain situations that came up in school, had a grade of students in the school with many, many difficulties and many students in that grade were suffering due to the needs of a few, and he wasn't learning (second grade he brought ALL his work home every day, and we generally spent three hours doing work together after his exhausting day in school. He couldn't work with the noise and chaos in his classroom, and no, he's not now, nor has he ever been, ADD). Additionally, a very young and inexperienced principal was brought in the year we decided to pull him out. I was a teacher, I abhorred the idea of home schooling and this was an incredibly hard decision for both my family and for me.
3. The result of that choice is that I now have a happy, mostly straight A, friendly DS, who has a variety of incredibly nice friends, both home schooled and from public school, and he is happy and thriving in his new public school setting. He learned to work, he was able to get over his learning difficulties (he still has them, but has clear coping mechanisms now and can succeed in most settings). He was happy, a good student, and had a variety of teachers and friends in his former home school co-op, and he is happy, a good student, and has a variety of teachers and friends in his public school this year. By last year, even though he was "home schooled" all his teachers were outside our home.
4. In our area, there are three different types of home schoolers, for the most part. Yes, there are the home schoolers whom people tend to think are the norm - families who make the choice to home school so that they can keep their children from outside influences with which they are not comfortable. And while those are usually for religious reasons, in our area that includes Christian, Jewish and Muslim families, although mostly Christian. The second group, and an equally large group, are folks like us, for whom school settings weren't working. This group tends to have many kids who are either learning disabled, gifted (we have no programs for gifted students in our school system) and sadly, many children of teachers and University of Michigan professors. I say sadly, only because it means that many of our most educated parents feel our schools are failing. The third group I'm going to lump together, probably unfairly - these are parents of "unschoolers" folks who feel that children learn best when they are completely in control of their own learning setting and parents who feel that learning within the family unit is the most natural learning environment. This last group is the minority.
5. In our area, the majority of our home schooled students are out in the community much of the time. Our kids have home school service clubs, sports teams, co-ops, social clubs, academic teams, etc., etc. Many of our high school students take on unique challenges - one of my former students, who's now pre-law, ran a business (and managed to take challenging high school classes while earning good grades) importing and training special Czech police dogs that were then sent to police departments all over the U.S. One of my current students is assisting a naturalist at a community wilderness site tracking benthic populations in a local river to test the river's health. Another young woman we know spends many of her hours volunteering and mentoring at a local zoo. One of our home school 4-H chapters focuses on veterinary medicine, and their strong, dedicated group has volunteered with vets, taken trips and worked with professors at MSU and observed surgeries, etc.
6. There are now special recruitment policies at many top universities, including Princeton and MIT, that are set up directly to attract home schooled students, because they have found that these students are more mature, more responsible, have better social skills and have a better chance at succeeding than their average freshman.
7. Most of the home schooling families don't have the "luxury" to do this. I know many moms who work evening shifts, parents that tag team, families that never go out to dinner, go on traditional vacations, wear clothes bought new or have their kids play with brand new toys. They have stepped out of the cycle of consumerism to get what they feel is the best education for their children. In low income areas, single moms and others have banded together to co-op so their kids can be schooled in safe, caring environments. Even given that, it is very, very difficult to home school if you are without any kind of financial resources.
8. People who don't have enough education to school their children shouldn't do it. Nor should certified teachers who don't have enough education in their subject area to teach their subject (a far more common practice than districts admit to).
9. There are tons of low-cost programs available with very rich curricula that are set up to support home schoolers and traditional schoolers alike. Both MIT and the Annenberg foundation provide wonderful, free course materials. Places like PA Homeschoolers provide online, real time AP courses for home schoolers. Both Stanford and Johns Hopkins provide higher cost programs for gifted students, both home schooled and not.
10. There are a wide variety of accountability laws regarding home schooling. Most of these laws make those who are home schooling far more accountable for their children's education than they do for their own school districts or teachers.
11. I am teaching two courses for home schooled high school students this year. Some of them are getting credit for this through a public school "bridge" program that is run by my son's public school. I am required to supply a weekly syllabus, grading rubric, materials list, etc., prior to the class start. My son's teachers have not been required to provide any of those things. We have no idea, as parents, what the weights of his projects are in terms of grades, and only one of his teachers has provided any type of syllabus, and her syllabus is accompanied by a weekly assignment list. Should I also mention that I think she's his best teacher?
12. I strongly believe that all public schools in the country should provide a strong education to our students. I don't feel that a weak education is acceptable. I feel professional standards should exist for ALL teachers - public school teachers, private or parochial school teachers and home schooled teachers.
13. Parents HAVE to be partners in education. It's hard to get a child to buy into doing home work, working hard in school, attending on a regular basis, etc., if parents don't hold this as a value. I think this, more than any other single factor, determines student success. Good teachers and great schools still can't save children from completely dysfunctional families (although they can help - bad schools on top of the rest can make things worse, though).
14. I have not seen an environment yet, in 25+ years of teaching, in any traditional schooling environment, where parents are TRULY welcomed in the classroom - as volunteers or in any way, shape or form. This is also true for many PTO situations. Parents can bring food, but not usually ideas. I have taught in Michigan and Massachusetts and have many colleagues in New York, Kentucky and Arizona. There seems to be universal agreement on this.
15. The No Child Left Behind Act, and the renewed emphasis on testing, has done more to disenfranchise children who are "outside the lines" than any single educational act in this country's history. The soaring numbers of home schoolers have just as much to do with that as they do with the conservative Christian movement.
Okay, I'm off the soapbox! Also, I DID post my first, November post for Nablopomo - I'm not sure why yesterday's blog exchange post was listed at October 31st because I did WRITE it on the 31st, but I POSTED it around 6 a.m. on the 1st. Does anyone know why this would be?
P.S. - Tomorrow, just fun stuff - I promise!