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.