Thursday, August 23, 2007

Home-Schooling: Point vs. Counter-point

Note: I have written two previous pieces on home schooling, one quite some time ago and one recently. They have both evoked thoughtful, passionate posts from parents on both sides of the issue. In order to further that discussion, I am posting two of those responses: one, from a mother of five children, who sent her kids through our Catholic school, and the second from a home schooling parent named "Ginnie", whom I don't know, but who posted a particularly poignant response to my last article.

I appreciate the responses so far, and hope the "point-counterpoint" format of this post continues to engender lively debate!

Why I Didn't Home-School:

I have tried many times to identify why I feel "in my gut" that homeschooling is not the best thing for a child, unless, as you say, one lives in such a remote or dangerous place that there are few good options.

Part of my reasoning is that schooling leads children from within a strong, supportive family OUT of that family in incremental steps to a bigger community to belong to, as public citizen and member of the Mystical Body of Christ.

Keeping the child within the confines of the family seems to negate the child's innate need to grow up and out of the family, learning to leave as well as learning different subject matters. Parents are always primary educators, but it would be proud and wrong to think that they can or should be the ONLY educators. We as parents teach our children to trust by modeling for them that we trust other people to love and care for them. We teach them that it is all right to trust others outside the family, to grow close to adults other than one's parents. We teach them that we do not have all the answers, that others have expertise to share with them. These are faith values.

One of the important functions of schooling outside the family is that the educational experience is not tailored to one student's needs. It may be educationally enriching for a home-schooler to pursue in depth his/her own interests without being "held back" or "forced ahead" by the needs of other students. But unless we are hermits, we are made to learn to live in community, to acknowledge that others besides ourselves have needs that we need to acknowledge, anticipate and empathize with. We need to learn that others have diffent actions and reactions than us and that we have to learn how to respond usefully and gracefully. Even a school without a specifically religious agenda teaches these natural law values.

Students also need to see that faith values are shared by others besides their parents, that this is not something only their parents do.

While I do not believe that home-schooling is the best choice for a child, I also have seen how poised, calm and confident home-schooled children I have met seem to be.

In Defense of Home-Schooling:

I really posted here to address the assumption that home-schooled children are social misfits. *Maybe*, just maybe, its not that they are misfits, though I'm sure some are (although I must confess I've met many adults who went through the public school system who are socially inept). Anyway, my point is, is that its possible that maybe they are more mature, that they in fact do not find humor in what some teenagers nowadays (and kids in general) engage in. Sponge Bob? Drivel.

I have an advanced 7 yr old, just turned 7 a few weeks ago. She is reading years past her grade level, well, she's reading at the 6th grade level to be precise. I never taught her to read, she did it all on her own. Now, having been exposed to the written word in higher level books like she has, its quite possible that she won't find the same things interesting or entertaining as other newly turned 7 yr olds would.

I don't know, I think part of the reason you feel home-schoolers don't fit in is because they haven't succumbed to the group mentality. I just don't picture teenagers of 100 yrs ago engaging in the same kind of silliness that is so prevalent now. I went through the public school system and I found most of the kids in my classes immature back then, and it just seems to have gotten worse..

I truly don't understand the problem of sophisticated language, I thought we were EDUCATING our children. I thought I was raising adults, not children, and as an adult, where my children will eventually spend the bulk of their time on earth God willing, I want them to be all that God has called them to be, based on their talents and His will for their lives. And its not about standardized tests, I personally don't care about standardized tests, they are just hoops I have to jump through. I don't teach my children to the test, they have knowledge that they wouldn't be tested on, so the test really is mute.

And about a former homeschooled child not being able to get voted in a leadership position in a Catholic private school, maybe its not all the homeschooled child's fault. That's why I asked if these kids in the private school attended this school for the bulk of their education, its probably kind of hard for a new kid to fit in, and if you had been homeschooled, well that just makes it harder once the other kids find out. There is quite a bit of misinformation out there perpetuated by others not in the know, and the other kids hear that and pass judgments.

I'm raising my children to be leaders, but not to seek approval from other children. I don't want them to be social misfits, but they need to learn early on what really counts. Men? God? ;o) They need to seek HIS approval first, and their Dad's and Mom's.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Effects of Home Schooling

I have written elsewhere about the Catholic Church's support for parents as primary educators to home school their children, provided they seriously investigate the Catholic school option. In this article, I intend to present my own views on the effects of home schooling on students based on my experience of 22 years, observing these students as they integrate into Catholic school environments in high school.

Since what I will say is likely to be controversial, not just to the anonymous reader but also within my own family, I would like to make a few preliminary comments. First, I do not mean to suggest my comments are universally valid for every student and every circumstance. Each kid is different and responds differently to different conditions. Second, it is not my intent to judge people's motivations or intentions; parents I know who home school are some of the very best parents I've met--serious in their commitments to their children, active in their parish and typically well educated themselves. Finally, I am not a psychologist, nor do I presume to speak with the authority of one with advanced degrees in adolescent psychology.

These, then, are my observations:

1) First, as to professional educator's concern that these kids may be academically unprepared, my experience is exactly the opposite! In general, home schooled kids receive an excellent education from their parents, who are usually well educated themselves and serious about passing on their knowledge to their kids. In addition to having a solid core foundation, they are more likely to have toured local museums, attended literary and fine arts offerings in the city, and to have traveled broadly. The flexibility that home schooling affords families allows families to do these things, and most of the home schooling families I know have used these opportunities effectively. At Montgomery Catholic Preparatory School, though we review the academic credentials of incoming home-schooled students, we generally don't have concerns about their academic preparation.

2) On the other hand, in-coming home school kids tend to be socially awkward. This is not a failing on their part or their parents, but the natural result of being separated from their peer group during their formative years. I think that every parent of a home-schooler knows this intuitively; in fact, many parents embrace it as a good thing, not wanting their children to be part of the stereo-typical "in" crowd, with the attendant vices associated with socially skilled teenagers.

Sensitive to this concern, most home-schooling families I know make real efforts to schedule joint programs with other families, giving their children the chance to inter-act as they go to museums together, join parish athletic teams or take part in common community activities. But as helpful as these things are, they are programs which are typically highly structured and dominated by adults, not typical of the unstructured, free-lance interaction of peers on the "play-ground" (used heretofore as a metaphor for unstructured time with peers). There is a lot learned on the play-ground, and not all of it is bad! How to brush off an unkind comment, how to go outside of oneself and start up a conversation with a stranger, stumbling through embarrassed conversations with the opposite sex, and yes, even how to "defend oneself" in verbal banter, are all things that kids learn over many years afforded them by "traditional" schooling.

Some of the things experienced on the play-ground may not be desirable, such as cursing or bullying. I contend, however, that learning how to deal with the bully, however painful, is very much a part of growing up, as is the learned ability to bracket off other behaviors which are inconsistent with our faith. We cannot ultimately shield our kids from being hurt by others, but we do want them to learn to handle hurt and persevere through it.

Often, too, the social awkwardness is exacerbated by the child's language and diction, which is typically more sophisticated than their peer group. Astute educators can pick out a kid who has been home-schooled almost immediately: they use phrases and make comments that reflect the fact their dominant social interactions have been adult-adult, rather than peer-peer. I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing, as it will certainly help the child on future standardized tests! But it does make his separateness more apparent to his peers and his integration that much more difficult.

3) As a result of the social awkwardness, very few home-school children become leaders in their peer group. They don't have the social skills within their age group to be so. Further, even if the child desires to be so and runs for a class office, for example, his peer group will generally not allow it as a result of the awkwardness they feel.

This, in a nutshell, is my greatest concern about home-schooling as an educator and as a parent. Because these kids come from such good families and because they have unusual attention and care from their parents, if one were projecting their future while they were younger, one would expect them to become real leaders of their peers by high school. It simply doesn't happen (very often). My greatest desire for my children, second only to having them become people of faith, virtue and wisdom, is that they become leaders to help others live with faith, virtue and wisdom. By taking them out of their peer group at such a formative time, I believe home-school children are stripped of this opportunity--and the whole suffers from it.

Controversial? I suppose so, among home-schooling families, but not among educators who have the ability to compare kids from different backgrounds and training. In general, the effects on home-schooling I note are less pronounced the earlier home-schooling parents place their kids back into traditional schools. Arguably, the social effects of home-schooling on a first or second grader is minimal, since if one watches the typical child that age, one notices the child isn't socializing much whether he's around peers or not! As the child moves on to 4th, 5th and 6th grade, however, the desire to interact with peers becomes more innate and thus more important. With-holding kids from traditional middle school has a pronounced effect, making the high school years very difficult.

So if you're a home-schooling parent and you're still reading this article without having written me off completely(!), I recommend considering traditional schooling by 3rd or 4th grade, and definitely by middle school. If you do so, I believe your child can have the best of both worlds: your undivided attention, with all the love, security and flexibility that home-schooling affords, with the opportunity to grow socially and become a leader later on.