Sunday, December 09, 2007

From the Archives: Why We Won't Homeschool Our Children

[NOTE: I wrote this a few years back. I've edited it a bit simply to update some of the time relevant parts, but thought I'd post it again because the basic content and gist of it still reflects my thinking on the subject.]

My wife and I seriously considered home schooling for our children. Ultimately, we decided against it; but for a reason that is a bit different than what one normally hears from home schooling critics, though the reasons most often listed by this group (social skill development concerns, etc.) certainly helped to inform our decision as well. But, I also agree with those who say that the social skills argument against home schooling is not a very convincing argument on its own. In my experience, home-schooled kids are perfectly capable and pleasant social beings, they just socialize in a way that we don't usually associate with conventional child social behavior. The problem my wife and I ultimately had with home-schooling can be gleaned in this comment by a home school advocate and practitioner, which I find to be fairly typical for homeschoolers:

There are so MANY options out there now for kids outside of school for this involvement in some form of greater supervision. A variety of sports, boy/girl scouts, karate, drama and dance, church involvement..and normal hanging out with other kids (again, homeschool families network like crazy and go out of their way to plan "get togethers.")
In my mind the two cautionary elements in this comment have to do specifically with the phrases "greater supervision" and "to plan 'get togethers.'" Both detract from a child's ability to have his or her "own" learning/life experience. All aspects of such a child's life are planned, supervised, and guarded. And all activities that such children do are tinged with parental sanction and approval. Not that this is bad, necessarily, but it certainly is a "conditioned" experience. And in my mind, this leaves little room for children to learn to deal on their own with self-control, moral behavior, and difficult problem-solving - minus the watchful, protective, sheltering gaze of the protective parent (or parental figure).

I think it is true that the most important teaching about social interaction and even the process of learning comes in the context of the home and in the way parents raise their children to think and behave ... BUT, children need an opportunity to put their discerning abilities to the test WITHOUT the umbrella of the parental and "home" cocoon. And the classroom of a good, respectable school (whether private or public) is, in my opinion, the best place for kids to come into their own.

In the end, my wife and I are sending our children to a good public school. It's not without its challenges, but it's worked great for our children so far. They are developing strong independent identities and are becoming very self-confident.


Jeffrey A. said...

"good public school"

Now that's an oxymoron if I've ever heard one. With public schools it's not a matter of whether they are good or bad. There are just different levels of bad.

Huck said...

jeffrey a. - What evidence do you have that leads you to your conclusion? I could just as easily say the same about private schools.

dana said...

All aspects of such a child's life are planned, supervised, and guarded.

For a moment, I thought you were talking about the public schools. This is an argument I have heard but do not fully understand, possibly because it seems rooted in a stereotype of homeschooling and the presupposition that the school somehow promotes a child's individuality.

The measure of supervision you will find over a child's social and educational experiences varies widely depending on who you talk to and what reasons that family has chosen to homeschool.

But a good many of us homeschool because we find the public school too planned, too supervised and too guarded. The child isn't allowed to develop a personality separate from the group which does seem to be the main goal of socialization.

I don't want to come off as too anti-public school, because I am not really. But I don't think your concern is applicable to all or even most homeschoolers.

Principled Discovery

Huck said...

Dana - Thanks for visiting my blog and for leaving a toughtful comment. I guess we should probably be more explicit when using the terms "planned, supervised, and guarded." As in any setting, whether it be public school, private school, or home school, there is structure. I am not really discussing structure, but moreso a space for a child really to develop his or her own experience that is removed from the parent/child authority dynamic.

I take your point about the varying degrees in the measure of supervision exercised by homeschoolers. However, it seems to me that supervision, as closely or as loosely applied, takes place in a more controlled setting of the homeschooling parent's choosing, especially for younger children. And I believe that the authority of the school teacher is never a substitute for the authority of a parent. Put a parent chaperone next to the school teacher in a child's public school experience and you'll get a much different reaction from the child.

There are many different strands of individuality, even in structured settings; but there is value in that kind of individuality that takes place severed from the apron strings of a watchful parent.

Every homeschooler parent that I have met has explained to me that a major part of the reason for their decision to homeschool is that they disagree not so much with the structure of a public or private school setting, but the content of that structure and the lack of individual attention to specific student needs that teachers and school administrators can give. Until your comment, I have never heard homeschooling advocates argue that school settings are too controlling, to supervised, and too guarded - but rather just the opposite: that the education is full of PC nonsense, that discipline is lacking and kids run wild, and that children, especially the sensitive ones, just never get the kind of special attention/protection they deserve.

As for a child not "allowed to develop a personality separate from the group," I have not found that to be the case. And I think it is quite an exaggeration to say so. As I follow that line of argument, it seems as if inserting a child in any group setting would tend towards group conformity. How do groups of homeschooled kids, when they get together as a group, not tend to conform to the group? I would very much like to hear your answer to that question, because the only way to prevent a type of group socialization is for there to somehow be an intervening force that conditions such an experience. Second, school, after all, is not a 24-7 part of child's life. In that sense, aren't we all "homeschoolers"? There are many, many parts of a child's life separate from the "school" environment where a child's personality develops. The presupposition among many homeschoolers is that somehow parents who send their kids to a structured school environment are sending lambs into a den of wolves, and what kind of caring parent would do such a thing? There is a kind of protective elitism that, fairly or unfairly, comes with the homeschooling movement.

Finally, I think it is healthy for a child to have his or her own experience, both personal and educational, far removed from the "home" and the watchful eye of parental authority. Believe me, as a caring and involved parent and educator myself, my inclination is to insert myself in my children's lives, and particularly their schooling, as often as I can. After all, who knows how my children learn and thrive better than I do; but I have to resist lest they never have their own experiences unfiltered by me and my own good intentions.

Again, thanks for your comment.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting how blogs and forums tend to present an us/them mentality. Why can't education be the responsibility of the parents and come from a stance that the vast majority of parents seek to choose the best educational environment for their child, be it public, private, charter, virtual, coop, or home school? There is no one environment that can be right for every child or every family situation. Why can't we just advocate for a public policy that support parents regardless of the choice they make for their family?

Huck said...

anonymous - Thanks for visiting my blog and for leaving a comment. I understand your questions, but I think they come from a premise that isn't quite accurate. When you ask why education can't be the responsibility of parents, it presumes that parents aren't currently responsible for their children's education. That simply isn't true. It is always up to parents to figure out what is the best educational experience for their children and act accordingly. And I don't see anyone in this discussion thread trying to tell anyone else what to do with regard to their children's education. All I see are people expressing the fruits of their responsible decision-making and what led them to that choice over other alternatives. Second, what kind of "public policy that supports parents" are you thinking of? Vouchers? Greater child tax credits? Subsidized childcare? Your question assumes that we currently don't have public policy that supports parents. But it seems clear to me that there are public policies that benefit parents (i.e. the per child income tax credit). It seems to me that when you put some meat behind your suggestions and offer some concrete answers to your questions, you're going to essentially be aligning yourself with some side in an us/them debate.

Sunniemom said...

I can appreciate your desire to provide your children with the best possible educational experience. And it will be because of the caring involvement of you and your wife in the lives of your children, more than the quality of the school, that ensures their success.

Parenting is a process- what we expect and allow from and for our children changes based on their maturity, interests, and abilities. Supervision is not necessarily a hovering of the parent over the shoulder of the child- it can just as well be an overseeing of the child's activities and interactions, so the parents can better respond to the child's needs, and actually encourage their individuality, rather than hinder it. I imagine you yourself filter your childrens' experiences and don't expose them to certain things until you feel they are ready. This isn't to stifle them, nor is it being over-protective. It gives them security and confidence that will carry them farther than if they were slammed with exposure to ideas and experiences they weren't ready for.

While children in traditional schools are highly supervised, supervision does not equal discipline. The children learn what's in the lesson plan, sit with whom they are allowed, eat when they are allowed, and answer nature's call- again, when they are allowed. There is more of an adversarial relationship between educator and student, because of the natural peer dependency that occurs when children are placed together in such an environment. These are reasons why homeschoolers feel they have more freedom to learn and be themselves in whatever manner fits their interests and abilities.

I went to public school, and I remember teachers being frustrated with me because I was reading so far above grade level, thanks to my parents. I experienced violence for being 'a brain'. I was sent to the school library to read by myself because I had finished the textbooks they gave me. But I was trotted out for every academic dog&pony show, you can be sure of that. Traditional schools are not the best experience for every child.

There was a recent article in the Boston Globe about the fact that home educated children are not always sitting at the kitchen table with Mommy- they have many opportunities to freely interact with people of all ages and backgrounds. The stereotype of the homeschooling Mom dressed in a blue jean jumper and white tennis shoes is slowly but surely being demolished as more folks become involved in homeschooling.

As for 'the homeschool movement'- there are extremes in any group of people. People can be rude, obnoxious, ignorant, elitist, opinionated, hurtful, and just plain stupid- and they can be public schooled, homeschooled, or private schooled.

Anonymous said...

It completly made me laugh that you think homeschooled children don't have the ability to negoiate life on their own. Our "sheltered" homeschool chilren are constantly meeting new people and often attend 'gatherings' where they don't know a soul. If an interesting and/or educational experience presents itself to us we go, we don't wait to see who else will be there. Their friends who are public schooled refuse to attend any function without a friend in tow, because they need to be sure that they will know it summer camp, a free concert or a workshop at home depot my kids go - it's an adventure! it's life enjoy it.