Friday, November 2, 2007

Friday Fifteen: Fifteen Observations about Home Schooling and Traditional Schooling

Friday Fifteen

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!


Marianne Arkins said...

Um... yes. What you said! LOL...

Mostly, I homeschool because my daughter is very bright (that sounds like I'm bragging... I'm not, she just IS) and when I saw the quality of work a friends child (who is two years older than my DD) brought home from public school, I knew it wasn't an option.

Yes, I disagree with some of the ideas taught in public school. Yes, I lean toward being more conservative than liberal. That said, I don't believe in sheltering my DD from the world -- after all, she does have to live in it.

The homeschooling options today are astounding. The curriculum options, the co-op's, the available activities are amazing. My daughter is thriving. She learns the way she learns best, I can cater to her needs (she's weaker in math, so I'm able to spend extra time with her there), and she is learning to apply much of her schooling to the "real" world, because I never stop teaching.

If I believed a public or private school could provide a better opportunity for her, I wouldn't hesitate to enroll her.

I don't. So, I homeschool. And, yes, she's been offered the chance to attend regular school when she thinks she's ready. She's chosen not to at this point.

Now I'LL get off my soapbox. *G*

Rebecca said...

yes - blogger records the date you started writing a post rather than the actual date you posted it - this has happenend to me a few times. The only way I've worked out to get the right dat is to cut and paste the entire post into a new one. ( if that makes sense)

And thanks for another great post on homeschooling. I feel much better informed about homeschooling and how it works and why people choose it now!!

anno said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
anno said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
anno said...

Oh, thank you!

The only thing I have to add is that public schools are by nature highly normative, and depending on the funding available -- less and less each year -- that norm becomes more and more narrowly defined. Anyone who either needs more help or needs more challenge (and there's more overlap between these two groups than most would admit) are not addressed, and often told that they need medication or other state intervention to bring their child into an acceptable norm. Unfortunately, what I've seen is that with more money comes more "expert advice" to medicate children -- a cheap solution -- to help them fit the mold rather than to work with them.

Couple this with the fact that most schools are receiving more and more of their funding from state and federal sources and you have a situation where an entire community can feel disenfranchised from their schools: they have little say in what is offered or how it is taught. My opportunities for involvement last year were limited to helping raise money for cheerleaders' uniforms and chaperoning a bus trip that my daughter did not want to take. Nothing I could have done would have changed the fact that books were so limited in my daughter's language art class that all reading had to be done in school: they read ONE book last year. Or the fact that notes to the parents came home rife with spelling and simple subject-verb agreement errors. No wonder parents are angry. No wonder so many who can leave, do.

Jen said...

Marianne and Anno, thanks for providing your perspectives... this is helpful.

And Becky, that's exactly why I beat this dead horse, so to speak - I thought maybe it might break some stereotypes. It seems there's no one good answer - I know Connor's first best friend from public school would be absolutely miserable in any other setting - school is MADE for her. And I know many, many like her, including our very sensitive, very intelligent, very nice neighbor kids - a girl and a boy who are both my DS's age and who are thriving in the mega-school that he would have attended, had he not gotten into his lottery-based school, which is a much better match for him.

We're lucky, in both the States and in Australia to have choices. In Germany, there is no provision whatsoever for home schooling, and in the Netherlands and Belgium it is only permissible in instances of health issues, and in those cases it's done with state curriculum, state teachers, etc.

anno said...

And one of those inevitable ironies: I see that I made SEVERAL grammatical errors in my diatribe, including at least one subject-verb agreement error. So much for writing in the heat of passion!

Jerri Ann said...

Ok, since I apparently started this horrible dead-horse-beating (and please, no one check me for grammar errors!), I fell I must now chime in on some other issues.

Where I come from as a teacher, I'm in the minority. My only observation of home-schooled students is the one that I gave in the prior post. Therefore, obviously I may be a bit blind. Secondly, as I re-think it a little, I did work for this couple one time who home-schooled their 3 children. Those 3 children were very very immature for their age. At that time, I blamed that on home-schooling as well. Now, I have my own 2 children. One is 4 and the other will be 3 at the end of this month. The 3 year old is not potty trained. Nor does he have any intentions of being so anytime soon. He is VERY immature. He is immature because he is my baby, he is my baby and I had him at the ripe age of 36 and after numerous complications during pregnancy, I have just let the little boy be a baby as long as he wants. He is not immature because he or his brother is home-schooled. (If you are wondering why I keep putting that there hypen in there, it is because doggone blogger keeps telling me it is spelled it says I spelled hypen wrong...erg!).

Now, back to what I was trying to say. Those are my 2 experiences with the "option" of something besides public schools. And, that particular option is not pretty, even if you have to say so yourself. However, as a public school teacher, I saw some pretty cruddy stuff. And, all of that was prior to having my kids with the exception of about 3 months. As a daycare owner, I hear more war stories than I care to talk about. I always listen intently figuring that the parent probably only got 50% of the story from the child and that only 50% of that was true. Even if that is the case, the stories I hear, even that tiny percentage that I believe....well, it is pathetic.

I could go on and on with examples but I'm gonna try to stick to my favorite 2 or 3.

1. First of all, I abhore homework. I had homework as a child. These kids today have an entire school day of work waiting on them when they arrive home in the afternoons. Ask me how I know this, my daycare takes school-age kids. They come in, eat snack and do homework. (Against my wishes I mind you. I suggested to their parents that they be given at least 30 minutes to run, be loud, be wild, be silly and not even think about school work before they had to get started on it. The parents uniformly disagreed with me.) These children have so much homework that it is impossible for them to be children. Now, I'm not just talking about the kid who goofs off in class. I'm talking about some straight A students here. The degree of homework is unbelievable.

2. I taught tenth grade biology a couple of years ago in a school that was not accredited. They were so bad that they had be given the option of allowing the state to take over the school, or hire their own company to "make it better". The school system chose the latter. And, with that, this company from another state quickly hired up as many retired teachers (out of this same system that has many un-accredited schools) to "make this school better". Now is there not a great deal of irony there? If they were not teaching and making the schools they taught in accredited, what business do they now have trying to "teach" someone else how to do it? Help me with this one please?

3. This team would come into your classroom three times a week. They would sit in your classroom and watch you. They would take notes and then issue you a form that they had marked up with things you needed to improve upon. One of the criteria was "gave class assignment and homework EVERYDAY". They checked your lesson plans for it, they checked your gradebook to see that you were grading these assignments and they then gave you a grade based on this set criteria.

4. I was a freakin' substitute and they were subjecting me to this crap. Given, I wasn't your regular ol' run of the mill substitute. I had a degree, I was teaching long-term for someone on maternity leave. But they were forcing my hand on an issue I didn't believe it. Study for a test? Absolutely! Do homework to help enforce some learning when needed? Absolutely! Take homework home five days of the week and be graded on it? HELLS NO! I gave up when that woman came back and I didn't go back.

5. I know it took a long time to make that point. And, I do have some more to make. But, homework is a serious sore spot with me.

6. My oldest son is active, very active and he has already been tested (yes I know I know I know) and he is....let's say...he is "bright". And, let's say he is....A FREAKIN' BATTERY ON CRACK when it comes to his activity level. I hear stories everyday that let me know that there are certain teachers he will not do well with. And, you know what, no one freakin' cares. Class rosters are made one of two ways in this school system. The first way is that the boys names are put in one pool, the girls in another and each teacher pulls out an equal number of boys versus girls. BAH! The other way is that the principal sits down and sorts the kids out according to the way the teachers ask them to (even though they say they don't) and according to who the parents know that are friends with her and can make a phone call and have their child put in a certain teachers room. Now, neither of those bode very well for my son. I am not an ass-licker. If you ask me how I know this happens, I have a cousin who has had every teacher she wanted for 7 years. Two years she was listed as being in a room with a teacher she didn't want. Her mother cleaned houses for a woman that was "friends" with the principal. She was asked to make a phone call. When school started, my cousin was miraculously moved to the preferred teachers room because of "over-crowing" in one room. BAH BAH!

7. In 1979, the teachers in this system went on strike. My father was head of the teachers association that year. It made national news. People knew he didn't take any bullshit. They know that about me as well. That happens to be a downfall of mine. I don't play games. I'm not going to play the social games. I call it like I see it. The more stories I hear, the more often I think to myself...I will be homeschooling my children.

8. Am I capable of home-schooling my children? Probably not. Will I try? God I hope not. My husband, who I refer to as "boy-genius" because his brain is like my oldest sons and it functions on an entirely different level than most, could academically teach our children anything that they will learn at a public school in our area. Will he? Hells no. Why? Because he is not a teacher and can't even teach me how to do simple things because his brain works on such a different level.

(I promise I'm not aiming for my own Friday Fifteen.)

9. So, right now, the public schools that my child has a choice of attending (we have no zoning laws, no lottery anything, you simply pick a school and if the bus doesn't come by your house, you simply drive them to where you want them to go to school, plain and simple) are in 2 different ball parks. One is the political social pool principal and the other is the draw the names out of a hat principal. Again, neither of those bode well for my 4 year old. The almost 3 year old....OMG is all I have to say. The teacher that draws that kids name out of hat better be one smart cookie.

With that, I'm shutting up. I was given the task of debating public schools and given the task to take on the position of "pro". I did it and I used the option of home-schooling as the "con" that I spoke about because in our area, that is the only option. There is one private Christian School in the area and I know kids who move out of there and go to a public school (one that happens to be on the state's black list) and they are so far behind it is ridiculous. So, my options were what I used to base my thoughts on. And, I could have easily taken the "con" and went to town with it as I have here.

Now, I do feel like I must add this disclaimer. The children that I have been in contact with (via teaching physical education, junior high science, high school biology, or in the daycare setting) show obvious differences in social skills when they have attended some form of daycare, mother's day out, headstart, pre-k. It is a marked difference. Does that mean that EVERY home-schooled child I have EVER seen was anti-social? Of course not, it just means that in my opinion, it happens more times than not. If you think your child is socially well developed and you haven't spent some time in another room when they didn't know you were there and listened to them interact with other kids, you really don't know. My oldest son is a communicator. He talks all the time, he never meets a stranger...I call him my little politician because when new kids come to daycare, he bends over backwards to make them feel welcome. Most all of the kids that have come into daycare here since we go there, know Walker and ask about him often. He knows the kids, their parents, their grandparents, their siblings...anyone who ever picks them up. However, when I sit in my office and I listen to him in the other room, his social skills are a sight. He has a lot of difficulty. You say that I am over-reacting because obviously all the kids wouldn't like him if he were as bad as I say...but trust me, he has issues socially. My soon-to-be 3 year old will not talk to anyone he doesn't know. He hides behind my legs, he is immature, HE WON'T POTTY TRAIN, and he doesn't like new situations. I listen to him in the same room with the same kids (sometimes) and he has no problems at all, EVER. When I tell his teachers how he acts at home, they think I am kidding. I AM NOT KIDDING.

So, before you can adequately judge your child's social adeptness, try my little test out and make sure. I don't mean that to sound as hateful as it does when I re-read it, but again, my experiences have shown that the kids who have had much interaction do better. So you say, what about my son who has had the interaction and still isn't doing well. I say to that, we've only been here 7 months, he is much better now and part of his brain. I feel the need to brag. We evaluate our pre-k kids 4 times a year. My son has already tested out on everything he is suppose to know on next July's evaluation. That eval is the one that the kindergarten teachers in our area use to test for readiness. Just for kicks, I had him check for first grade readiness and he missed only a few things. I attribute that brain of his to his social inadequacies and because he is so much better now than say, even 3 months ago, I know we made a really good decision in buying the daycare.

I really am shutting up now...really, I am. Please don't bash me too hard...just speaking up.

Jen said...

Wow, Jerri! If you'd e-mailed that to me, I would have posted it. I wasn't upset when I wrote my piece today. It really was in response to come correspondence I had the day before.

Your points are all well-taken. I think all of us who know our kids have social skills DO base that on other reports - not just our own observations.

My sadness has more to do with the state our schools are in these days.

And btw... my background is in gifted education, so you and I could probably write back and forth and commiserate on THAT one for a long time!

I love the blog exchange - SMID got me started on it, and she was right - it's great. I've really enjoyed discussing it all with you and I hope there was no offense taken on your end. I've just gotten so many questions about home schooling from folks that have no experience with it, I thought I'd respond so some questions/points I'd heard.

Thank you for such a heartfelt and thorough response!

Jenn in Holland said...

Gosh, Jen, you have several posts within posts here in your comment section! Brilliant.
Obviously, this is a great topic for discussion and a real hot issue for some.
So much of what you said here just rings perfectly true for my experiences too and if there had been a "record your reactions" audio link with your post you could have heard my many exclamations of "darn right" and "exactly" as I read your post! Especially your point about the ridiculous NO child left behind act. What rubbish that horrible piece of legislation is. What a mess it is making. Ugh.

As to your blogger post date question, it's actually easy. (and you can still fix it now if you want to). When you finish your draft there is a section at the bottom of the page which says Post options. Click that bar open and you can change the date and time there to have it reflect the actual date you wish to publish rather than the date you wrote it. Does that make sense? I use that option all the time as I tend to write in bursts and have posts waiting in the wings, so I just queue them by date and post daily from that line up. Hope that helps! Now I am off to read the debate which sparked this fun controversy!

Jerri Ann said...

Are you kidding me? You would have to get really dirty (and talk about my children) before I would get offended. I'm a loud mouth by nature and basically most everything roll off of my shoulders. I was afraid my post sounded victim'ish and hateful and I didn't mean it that way. I meant as a way to's why I am not real fond of public schools.

If you think they are bad where you live, you should check out Alabama. We rank right in the bottom in the nation with Mississippi. Sad, but true.

As for the gifted stuff, my husband was in an awesome gifted program in Louisiana even when he was young, but here, it is pathetic. That is a bridge I'm sure I'm gonna need to cross...just maybe not too soon.

I've seen ritalin work magic. I've seen it make kids drowsy and lethargic. HORRIBLE stuff sometimes. My husband is ADD and takes Adderall and that medication is the only reason we are still married...I kid you not! The man can't function without really.

I certainly wouldn't be offended by you guys here at all!

Anonymous said...

I am just soaking up this information!

Julia isn't quite school age, yet. But, the stress about school is already here. The hardest part for me right now is most of what I know comes from hearsay. It's what the ballet moms say, what the YMCA moms are telling me. I've heard horror stories that make me want to cry. I've been in a panic over pre-schools. A teacher from our local school district (who is also a ballet mom) told me that Julia could be put in a special needs class if she does not attend pre-school prior to Kindergarten, simply because children without that experience are considered "socially inept." That frightens me! I worry about the pigeonholing. I worry that she'll be labeled or ignored. Of all the decision we have to make about Julia's future, education is the one that has me the most concerned.