Stirring the pot

I’ve been mulling over the issues raised in the comments section of my recent post on homeschooling. I even typed a couple pages of incoherent notes in an attempt to flush out the key points of the conversation. Finally, I’ve settled on a few main thoughts that I think are relevant and worthy of sharing, but there are so many more. For now, anyway, these are what you’ll get.

Best I can figure, I think people are mostly concerned that homeschooled children will be behind the schooled kids. People worry that homeschooled kids won’t learn things in time (or not at all) and that when they do leave home and try to make a go of it in the big bad real world, they will fail in a big bad way. We’ve all heard the horror stories of inept parents who took their kids out of school under the pretext of homeschooling them and then let them run wild with nary a care to their physical well-being, let alone their academic success. Or, more commonly, we hear about the homeschooled kids who get to college and totally freak out, unable to handle the stress of term papers and dorm life. And it’s true; those things happen. They also happen with schooled kids.

More often then not, though, homeschooled kids do amazingly well, testing higher academically then both their public and privately educated peers. There are screw-ups and success stories on both sides of the fence, but, sadly enough, research shows that there are more screw-ups on the school-side of the fence. Our public school system is not doing so hotsy-totsy.

I didn’t decide to homeschool my children because of flaws in the public school system, but considering that our country’s students’ test scores are substantially lower (in this study, off-the-charts lower) than other country’s, it intrigues me that so many people clutch the measuring stick provided by our mediocre school system as a means of holding homeschoolers accountable. There’s a boatload of irony there.

If we can, just for a minute, step away from comparing ourselves to the school system—away from fact regurgitation, away from the standard time table for learning set by some unknown (and unknowing) being, away from the focus on one or two types of intelligence instead of the multiple intelligences that we, the human race, have been gifted with—we can start to figure out what it is that we really want for our children.

Here’s what I want. I want my children to know how to learn. I want them to be able to go after what they want and to be able to master whatever skills they need in order to accomplish their goals. Beyond that, I want them to enjoy life. I want them to feel comfortable in their own skin and to be confident enough that they can gracefully embrace the differences of others.

That sounds pretty lofty, no? Do you want more? Alrighty then—here you go: I want my children to know how to listen, to really listen. I’m not talking about do-what-I-say-right-this-very-minute listening, though that is quite nice and has its place—I’m talking about learning to listen for the rumblings below the surface, to listen for understanding, to listen with compassion and love, to listen to the spark of goodness in each person that, when understood, can then be appreciated and bring us closer together. Now that’s lofty!

How can we expect our children to listen to other people, to accept their differences and idiosyncrasies, if we have not listened to their—our own children’s—individual needs, instead choosing to cast our children into a societal mold that fits only a small fraction of the population? When we ignore our children’s different learning styles and emotional and physical needs, we are teaching them that differences aren’t acceptable. Without meaning to, we are teaching them to discriminate, judge, and be close-minded.

Oh my. That was quite a little speech. I’m suddenly exhausted.

But wait, I’m feeling some mental gurglings. Oh no! There’s more! Hold onto your seats!

Ponder these random points:

*Everyone’s goal in life is to find pleasure, so says my mom. And she’s right! If learning doesn’t have an element of pleasure (or joy), we shut down.

*You know how some parents are obsessed with making sure their children know their colors as early as possible? Well, guess what! Kids will learn their colors at some point and if they don’t, then they won’t, not for lack of teaching, but because they are color blind. If parents want to spend oodles of time drilling pink, green and purple into their children’s bald noggins, then more power to them—as long as both parties are having fun. If learning is a means by which you connect and bond with your child, then play teacher all you want. If you don’t like those games, then give them up—go read books, pick potato bugs, or make brownies together. Your child will learn the (basics: their colors and the three Rs) information anyway. Which leads me to the next point…

*We are not as important as we think we are. Yeah, yeah, parents are extremely important in many, many (many, many, many, many) ways, but really, our kids are capable of doing more then we think. They don’t need us to point out every birdie that flies by or to structure every minute of their day with educational experiences. They are quite capable of figuring out that stuff on their own, and a little boredom (or a lot) is a crucial part of the creative process.

*On the whole spelling issue: The best teacher of spelling is good literature, and a dictionary or spell check. If a certain teaching method works, then go ahead and use it, but by far and away, a love of words will be the best teacher and that is only acquired by firsthand enjoyment. So read, read, read and write, write, write. (And remember, I am a by-produce of private and public education, with three years of homeschooling thrown in, and somehow, even though I’m weak in spelling, I still ended up receiving the English award at my highschool graduation—a Webster’s Dictionary that sits on the shelf directly above my computer!) Spelling is not an indicator of smarts or ability or anything, really. And I think the Bard would agree with me.

*Conformity does not equal getting along. Getting along is much more complicated (and rewarding) than being in the know about the latest video game or fashion styles.

*Remember, I’m still in the early years of growing up my kids. As my children become more advanced, more will be required by way of in-depth study. I’m not going to blithely say, “The US Constitution? Wha-a-at? You want to know about that old thing? Huh. You know where the library is—go figure it out yourself.” But then again, I might. I think I can go either way on this one, and I’ll probably end up doing a bit of both (as I am already). I’ll tell them to go figure out what it is they want to know if they really want to know it, and I’ll introduce them to, and make them learn, some of the less interesting things just because I think they hold merit. And when it comes time for the SATs (if they’re not already in school by then), they’ll put in some good hours of study, just like their peers in the public school system. And like any parent, I’ll cross my fingers and hope they do well.

So there you have it. Did my ramblings serve to answer your question and ease your minds, or did they only bring more bothersome questions bubbling to the surface?

Whatever you do, don’t keep your questions and concerns quiet because, like lies and dirty socks that are kept buried down deep away from light and fresh air, they will fester. And festering questions give off a killer stink. I know this for a fact.


  • Jennifer Jo

    Dr. P, You comments are valid, whether or not you have children—keep 'em coming! Re the self-esteem issue: you hit the nail on the head.

    MAC, I could HEAR your evil cackle coming through cyberspace! Now I'm going around, mwuh-hahaha-ing in my children's startled faces. (They come back at me with The Puck Giggle.)

    You are right—good spellers have a special gift, not something to be sneezed at. The swimming analogy is a good one—a person can still be a good swimmer (stay afloat, not drown, even move fast) without knowing the butterfly stroke…but it's still a good stroke.

  • Anonymous

    I don't let mine out. Ever. They are prisoners. Mwuh hahahahaha.

    My (Your?) Freakwentness, you have a compelling writing style. My own history's similar to yours, and I think the presence of the guilt questions ("should I have done this more" "if only I had worked harder") is evidence enough of how that education worked. Those of us who disliked guilt-based learning often find ourselves devouring knowledge (of any kind) when we pass the forcing age. Do you find that, yourself?

    MJJ, good post. I am always impressed with how patiently and calmly you explain things, regardless of what comments you get. Only thing I'd take issue with is the spelling argument. I don't think one can say an ability in any area is indicative of… nothing. It may not be one you value, but it doesn't mean it's useless. It can mean, for example, that a good speller knows a lot about latinate and Greek roots, or that they've learned historical spelling patterns, etc. I'm not particularly good at swimming the butterfly stroke, but that doesn't mean it's a pointless, silly stroke. (Though I do sort of resent it for not letting me master it.)

    We homeschool for similar but primarily academic reasons.

  • dr perfection

    Sarah, that is key. If indeed your children get exposed to wide varieties of role models and experiences, they should be fine.
    That wouldn't have happened in my home.

    Since I have no children I probably shouldn't even participate in this discussion, but here is what I think. The most important tool for a child is strong self esteem. If that is not given to a child in the formative years, all else is lost. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are secondary to that. It seems to me that if a child falls behind,and senses that he is not on par with his peers, his self esteem could suffer. But there are so many factors that contribute to strong self esteem. And the most important one is probably how the child's parents view themselves and respond to their children's needs.

    I am not against homeschooling. I just question whether it is the best choice in every family. And I rebel against those who champion their ideas to the exclusion of other choices.

    Do any of you homeschoolers think that perhaps some children could thrive more in a school situation?

    I am not against

  • Sarah

    In reply Dr. P's comment… We homeschool 4 out of 5 of our kids and they are not home all the time. I find it interesting that you equate homeschooling with being home and being taught only by a parent. My 11 year old works next door at a horse farm with a former English teacher. She occasionally does her schoolwork there or spends several hours at night on school so she can work or ride during the day. The other kids are involved in lots of activities that get them out of the house so they can interact with other kids and learn from other adults. Just because our kids are homeschooled doesn't mean we don't let em out!

  • dr perfection

    my schooling experience was one with fond memories. I would never have wanted to be at home with my brothers and sisters being taught by my mother. That would have stifled me beyond measure.

    But hey, that's just me. I'm sure your children enjoy being at home all the time.

  • Sarah

    I don't homeschool my kids, but if I did, and if I ever entertained the thought (I do often) I would do it for every reason you mentioned above.
    Great post. It bugs me when people come down on homeschooling…everyone I know who homeschools has the smartest kids…who LOVE learning.

  • MERoot

    I agree with you. As you may or may not remember I teach middle school science, and I struggle to reach students and create a desire to actually understand what I teach and not just regurgitate the answer they think I want to hear. Scarier yet is asking them to tell/write me an opinion on something and I get almost carbon copies of the “correct” answer. More often then not I wish I could homeschool Peyton. He’s so innocent now, and I fear what will happen to that innocence when he goes to public school. Now he wants to learn to read, to do experiments, to explore the world. Will this be stifled when he goes to school and it’s not the “cool” thing to do? (Part of the conformity thing.) Students still complain even in 8th grade that they don’t want to or have to work with someone. When you explain that when they get a job they will need to learn to work with others a blank look crosses their face. Also in this day and age how well are student prepared to do actual research and determine if it’s valid! They still need guidance and the school requires certain things be taught in a timeframe without considering the background work which must be laid down first. I think you’ve heard enough of me on my soap box, but I wanted to commend you for standing for what you believe is the best thing for you and your family.

  • My Freakwentness

    I hope my comments here will be enlightening as Truth itself and fresh like clean socks.

    I was home schooled through the 7th grade. It's hard to remember that time, but I generally disliked learning. But I grew up in a household that emphasized sacrifice. My parents made me work hard to reap a rich harvest, both in terms of food and spirit. I was taught, by deed if not so much by words, to actively suppress my reluctance to do things I didn't want to do. Sacrifice was a big part of my religion and my work ethic. At the core, I was a pleasure-seeker, but I believed that hard work and sacrifice and suffering was how you get there, and that belief gave meaning to the struggle. Working to overcome my weaknesses usually had little to do with social conformity. It was more to do with conforming ot the will of God and conforming to the demands of survival. I learned math not because I was the slightest bit interested it, but because it was part of an education that would one day help me achieve a career and provide for myself. Growth was struggle, and often pain. Happiness during the struggle was celebrated, but mostly irrelevant to the decision to push myself. God requested obedience, not happiness. Career success demanded skills, regardless of whether it was fun to gain the skills.

    My struggle led to much of the success I sought. Sometimes I wonder how much successful I would be now if I had been pushed harder in my brain's most formative years? If I had to do math twice as much during the home school years, would I now sit in a higher position, with greater self-confidence, greater power, greater excitement about my work? Or would I be a less interesting and less interested person on various levels? Usually I wish that I had been pushed harder and sooner in those years before I had the emotional will to push my self.

    But what do I know? Maybe I would be a happier, more laid-back, more centered person if I had been given more freedom to develop a less struggle-centered approach to life early on.

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