Sunday, August 22, 2004

homeschool considerations

i wrote what amounts to an essay pro/con on homeschooling. i did it primarily because i wanted to clarify in my own mind some things i've been thinking on the subject, and so herewith i record them for public consumption. in the unlikely event someone comments, well, so much the better.

the background: i was prompted to write this by a post to a mailing list i'm on, and so it's phrased as a response to her. you've been warned.


Your email prompted me to sit down and write in detail some stuff that I’ve been rolling around in my mind over the past few months about home schooling. Much of this may not be useful to you, and that’s okay. You only prompted me to write it, but I’ve really written it for myself and my wife. [By the way: I write like a lawyer. It’s a common complaint and I can’t do anything about it now.]

Our background: My wife was raised Catholic; I myself am Jewish, and we have chosen to raise our children as Jewish. They are 2, and twins age 1. (They are boy, Ian, a girl, Samantha, and a boy, Benjamin.) I’ll spare you our school life stories, but suffice it to say that I’m considering home schooling for our children based in part on my desires for their education, and on my experiences in my own education.

The folks in on HS Friends have suggested that I focus on the positives of home schooling, and while that suggestion makes sense, I find that it’s important to also look at the positives and negatives of public schooling, as well as potential negatives of home schooling. For me, any other approach means that I can’t make a fully-informed decision.

One of the most important things I’ve realized is that, while whatever choices I make will have a profound effect on my kids, obviously, they are reversible. If it turns out that home schooling isn’t right for my family, we can always go back to public school. And if it turns out that public school is a miserable experience, I can always withdraw my kids and bring them home.

So, here’s my list of considerations, many of which overlap for obvious reasons. Where these will fall in your scale of importance will vary, and where they fall in my scale depends on exactly when you ask me.

Public school pros:

- There is a large population of students in most public schools in our area. This means that your child will have a large group of kids from whom to choose friends, and will have plenty of social opportunities.
- Public schools have a large selection of extracurricular activities that home schools frequently lack, like bands and organized team sports.
- Commercial support systems, like after-school daycare, are geared to the schedules of public and private schools, not to home schoolers. This means that if your children are too young to be left alone, you will have an easier time finding daycare if they are in public or private school.

Public school cons (there are many):
- Public schools are very good at catering to the needs of about the middle 70-80% of students. If, however, your child is either extremely intelligent (top 10-20%) or has some sort of learning disability (bottom 10-20%), the public school system will have a hard time teaching your child and keeping him interested in what’s going on. If your child loses interest, your child could become a victim of depression from boredom, or depression from difficulty in learning. Both of these can result in poor grades (even if your child is really smart!), which can in turn lead to more depression and failure.
- Public school curricula use a state-formulated one-size-fits-all approach. If your child finds herself excelling in reading and having a hard time in math, the public school system may be unable to readily compensate while keeping the rest of your student’s studies at level. Also, if you find that you want your children taught (or not taught) about such subjects as creationism and birth control, you may find you’ll be unhappy with the public school approach, meaning you’ll have to figure out how to teach your child what you want them to learn without making their lives more miserable.
- Public schools are driven by standardized test scores, and have been for many years. These scores appear to be a stick used to beat school administrators, which is in turn used to beat teachers, who in turn endlessly drill students to the objectives of the exam. This means that students spend an inordinately large amount of time drilling for the test rather than learning new material. While it’s true that you shouldn’t get a high school diploma if you can’t pass these tests, it’s also true that the tests look for baseline minimum, not the level we want our kids to learn at.
- You won’t have control over the social interactions your child is exposed to. If your school is filled with little kids you wouldn’t permit in your neighborhood if you had a choice, that’s too bad. And telling your child to stay away from those kids only goes so far. You will have to un-teach the back alley education your child receives from these peers.
- You are largely constrained by your public school’s schedule for your family schedule. For example, if you want to attend a family wedding in February, you must hope that the wedding is scheduled in such a way as to accommodate school, and that you can get travel arrangements that fit as well. Otherwise, you could be harassed by truancy officers and your child could be disciplined for “unexcused� absences. In addition, your child will miss that school time and possibly fall behind.
- If you are of a religious persuasion (read non-Christian) that requires its adherents to dress in an unusual manner (like head scarves for Muslims or skull caps for Jews), your child could be subject to harassment by students for dressing oddly, and by the administration for contravention of school rules (such as the “no hats� rule). Even if you’re not of a religious persuasion subject to this kind of harassment, your child may witness (or even participate in) such situations despite your own convictions of equality and justice.
- Every public school has its cadre of bullies. Your child may become one of their victims, and the administration may not care. (Lawsuits over equal educational opportunity have been spawned by bullying and administrations not taking action about it.)
- Whether you have a boy or a girl, your child may be sexually harassed by other students (or, much more rarely, by an instructor). Again, administrations may or may not notice or care.
- If you find yourself unhappy with the curriculum your child is learning from, your only option will be to try to supplement with your own teaching. That’s all well and good, but you must then figure out how to get your child to be interested in it. If you force your child into additional learning she doesn’t want to be a part of (after being dragged through school all day long), you may engender resentment and dislike of learning.

Pros of home schooling:

Many of these reverse the cons of public schooling. Generally, the pros boil down to control over curriculum, schedule, and environment.

- You can cater your home schooling environment to your child. Does your child like history? Why not use historical novels as reading texts? Why not learn mathematics in the context of history, or study the history of mathematics? If your child is slower at math and faster at reading, you can progress at your child’s pace in both subjects, even if it means that she reads at 6th grade and does math at 4th grade. A public school can not offer this individual attention.
- The curricula you select will fit your needs, and those of your child. Do you want to use a religious instruction set? That’s available. Would you prefer something secular? That’s available as well. What about a combination of learning styles? With home schooling, exactly what you do is up to you.
- Your child will not be required to take standardized tests. This means that a big stress in kids’ lives is eliminated. You can focus on quality of learning, rather than on filling in the little bubbles.
- You have more control over your child’s social interactions. Simply by virtue of choosing to take her (or not take her) to a given place, you can restrict your child’s interactions with undesirable influences. While it’s important to help your child understand what’s really out there in the world, you can also control your child’s exposure to the less savory parts of the universe so that you can guide her through the experience.
- You can wear what you want, from jeans and a t-shirt with a political statement to a burkah to complete nudism if that’s what you prefer.
- Your child’s learning experience won’t be distracted by bullies and meaningless social nonsense.
- Sexual harassment at home is generally not a problem. And you can guide your child through the sexual maturation process in a protected, supportive environment to help her make it through a difficult, sometimes scary time in life.
- If you find yourself unhappy with the curriculum your child is learning from, the authority to change it is yours. If you think a different learning approach is appropriate (like switching from classical to Montessori) you are free to try it.
- You choose the schedule. If it works for your family to start school at 1:00 p.m., that’s up to you. If you want to take two hours off in the middle of the day for a social activity, that’s perfectly reasonable. Studies have shown that teens do better if they’re permitted to sleep later in the day; if your child is this way, you can let her sleep until 10 or 11 am and nobody will mind. Even if your school time runs until 7 or 8 pm, that’s perfectly acceptable. No public school would be caught dead operating at 8 pm.

Cons of home schooling:
- Home schooling can be difficult if both parents work. While not impossible, it can lead to challenges in childcare if both parents must be at work at the same time. This is especially difficult if you both must be away during the day; it may be hard to find childcare for a school-aged child during school hours.
- Discipline is required to make sure that you actually spend time doing learning. You are the teacher, so you are responsible for making sure that your child actually progresses in an appropriate manner.
- You may be subject to harassment by family, friends, neighbors, or legal authority who disagree with your decision to home school your children. While the law on home schooling in Texas is clear, many people (including Child Protective Services case workers) frequently don’t know it.

I’d be pleased to hear what other items you think about in any category.

1 comment:

  1. [...] ecially if they’re percieved as non-conforming)? so anyway, i printed out my essay (previously posted) and we’ll see what she has to say about it. [...]